Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2006/22 posted by hidden europe on

Viewed from the plane descending to land at Almería's airport, El Ejido is a shining sea of plastic that dazzles the eye. For mile after mile, plastic covered greenhouses and plastic cultivation tubes rely on drip feed irrigation to produce tomatoes, capsicums and other vegetables and fruit for the supermarket shelves of northern Europe. But this plastic-wrapped agricultural El Dorado, nowadays a bustling city of some 70,000 people, conceals a shadier side of European life.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Mick Jagger's untimely bout of laryngitis last week scuppered plans for a Rolling Stones concert at El Ejido. So many music fans didn't get to see one of the most extraordinary towns in southern Spain. Thirty years ago, El Ejido was little more than a dusty road junction on the main coastal highway that runs west from Almería towards Málaga. Then came the plasticultura revolution that transformed El Ejido into a boom town.

Viewed from the plane descending to land at Almería's airport, El Ejido is a shining sea of plastic that dazzles the eye. For mile after mile, plastic covered greenhouses and plastic cultivation tubes rely on drip feed irrigation to produce tomatoes, capsicums and other vegetables and fruit for the supermarket shelves of northern Europe. But this plastic-wrapped agricultural El Dorado, nowadays a bustling city of some 70,000 people, conceals a shadier side of European life. El Ejido is surrounded by shabby settlements where migrant workers live. These are the people who toil in suffocating summer heat in the greenhouses of El Ejido. A decade ago, the workers were, in the main, Moroccans. Then came the riots of early 2000, and El Ejido was engulfed in a tide of racist violence as local thugs burnt the town's mosque, destroyed what little property the Moroccans could call their own, and drove the migrants out of town.

The Moroccans were replaced by a new wave of poor émigrés, who arrived from the Baltic States and the Balkans to feed El Ejido's self-inflicted shortage of unskilled labour. Not a lot has changed, as unscrupulous farmers exploit the migrant workers. It is a familiar tale of poor wages, and the social and spatial marginalisation of a group who are perceived to be pariahs just like the Moroccans they replaced. El Ejido retains a truly wild west kind of atmosphere, and tourists in Andalucía who chance upon it must surely wonder what to make of the place.

a hidden europe anniversary - and a special offer

In little more than a week, hidden europe 10 will be ready for distribution. We think that completing ten successful issues calls for modest celebration. There must surely be many subscribers to our e-news who have never actually seen our magazine, so we are pleased to make a special offer: click here for details of our mini-subscription which allows you to catch the flavour of hidden europe by having our upcoming issue and the two following issues delivered to your front door.

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The full table of contents for hidden europe 10 can already be found online on our website, and the full text of selected articles is also available. In this upcoming issue, we explore abandoned synagogues in over a dozen countries, visit a few extraordinary cemeteries, check out what has happened to all those Lenin museums of yesteryear and discover an interesting new use for some disused railway lines.

Enjoy a typical hidden europe geographical roller-coaster as we sample Thai curry in Spitsbergen, Japanese sushi in Nagorno Karabagh, visit Europe's largest summer rock festival in Poland and find North Frisian villages on the island of Sylt where it is easier to buy a gold watch than a litre of milk. As usual, we unravel some of the more peculiar aspects of European life - as we encounter devotees of a pastime called tri-pointing. These are eccentric but harmless souls who like nothing better than to be able to stand at the very point where three countries converge.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.