There’s a remarkable community of gypsy travelers who squat inside abandoned caves in Spain. This is my unusual story of spending the night with them.
Dinner was surprisingly delicious. You’d never know it came from a dumpster.
Earlier that night, my Romanian hosts Sorina & Alex disappeared for about an hour to go “recycling”. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Had I known they were out collecting free food, I would have joined them.
Sacromonte is a fascinating neighborhood on the outskirts of Granada.
For over 500 years, families have been living in the caves carved into hills around here. Primarily the Roma (Gitano, Gypsy) people, but also farmers.
However these days another group has also moved in, a community of more modern gypsies (hippies/travelers) from all over the world.
The Sacromonte Gypsies
They hail from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and even North America. Travelers, hippies, nomads, and immigrants who have made their homes in these previously abandoned caves.
It’s estimated that 30-40 of them live here full-time, while many more stay for a month or two, just passing through on their travels.
Sorina & Alex are part of the latter group. Originally from Romania, they were road-tripping through Europe in a van when their driver (who possessed the special truck license needed) left the group, stranding them in Granada for a few months.
I met them while walking around the community. They invited me inside to check out their temporary cave home.
Living In A Cave
The cave has three main parts, or rooms, with two mattresses per section, for a total of six beds. It includes a very basic kitchen area with a gas burner, and even electricity for lights, a blender, and hot-water heater for tea & coffee.
The entrance has a metal door with open bars at the top. A thick blanket covers these bars at night to help keep the cold out. They have a small fireplace inside too, complete with chimney. But the cave is surprisingly warm on its own.
While there is no toilet in this cave, they share a porta-potty with the neighbors. A few open-air community bathroom areas exist too.
Earning An Income
Because rent is free, it doesn’t take much money to make a living here. Many of the gypsies who live in this community earn income from busking (playing music) on the streets of Granada for tourists. Others use their artistic talents to create and sell home-made jewelry, bags, or other crafts.
These types of activities can earn them €10-€20 euros a day.
For instance, Sorina makes beautiful necklaces, earrings, and bags out of colorful leather scraps she finds around town. She sells her custom creations to tourists for €5-€10 each.
Dumpster Diving For Food
Food is often free too — like the tasty pasta, curry, vegetables, and bread they shared with me that night. If you don’t know anything about dumpster diving, it’s actually not as gross as it sounds.
Supermarkets, bakeries, and produce markets throw out a lot of food every week. Most of it is edible, it just won’t sell. If you know when they throw this stuff out, it’s easy to find. Much of the food is even still wrapped in plastic!
Spending The Night
After hanging out all afternoon, they eventually invite me to spend the night with them. The core group consisted of Sorina and her boyfriend Alex from Romania, Iwan and his Spanish girlfriend Maria, and Luis from the Canary Islands.
They’ve been living in the cave for at least 2 months. The night I showed up, four hitchhikers from Germany had just arrived too.
So there were 10 of us sleeping in the cave that night…
We spent the evening eating, drinking, smoking, sharing stories and playing music late into the night, with other members of the community popping in to join us from time to time.
I tried my best to understand the different conversations going on in German, Romanian, French, and Spanish. I made a fool of myself by offering a Muslim a glass of wine. I practiced playing the didgeridoo. I watched a Senegalese religious ceremony next door. I shared photos from my adventures, learned about their travels, and told them about life in the United States.
Giving Back A Little
The next morning I awoke from my cave bed and strolled outside into the cold air to watch the sun rise over the city of Granada down below. There were a few others up early, sharing coffee and fruit for breakfast while planning to build a community garden.
I walked over and asked how I could help.
The leader of the project, Manuel, handed me a shovel and we all began breaking ground. After a few hours toiling in the sun, the garden’s borders were set, a rainwater catch system was in place, and the soil was ready for planting.
The residents of Sacromonte provided me with food and shelter for a night, asking for nothing in return. Helping them build a garden was the least I could do! I was sad leaving for Malaga that afternoon, as I wanted to stay longer.
I certainly won’t be moving into a gypsy community anytime soon, but it was a wonderful experience. And when modern society eventually collapses?
Well, I’ve learned that life as a caveman isn’t all that bad. ★