hidden europe 63

The goat keeper: life in rural Galicia

by Amy Aed

Picture above: The landscape of eastern Galicia is dominated by forested ridges (photo © Alfotokunst / dreamstime.com).


The connections between people and the land, between people and animals, were once taken for granted. No longer! Amy Aed travels to rural Galicia and discovers simple pleasures as she spends a few weeks on a goat farm.

As they often say in Spanish, la cabra tira al monte — ‘the goat is drawn to the mountains’. And in the mountains was where I found Juan.

I was standing on the side of the road near the tiny town of A Fonsagrada in eastern Galicia, surrounded by sunshine and sweet air and locals who grinned at my pale complexion.

A tanned, dreadlocked guy pulled up to the side of the road in his beat-up, old car and asked me where I was going.

“The goat farm” I replied apprehensively.

“Please, come with me.”

As I pulled open the car door, the outer metal frame of the door came off in my hands.

“Just ignore it,” he said, as I tried to close the door after me, having to reach over to the outside of the window to thrust it back in. As I sat down and pulled at the seat belt, the ragged bit of fabric tore even further than it already had. I hoped that I wouldn’t be needing that seat belt.

We drove through countryside, the road gradually narrowing, and each village seemed even smaller than the one before. Our destination was a tiny community — a place with the grand sum of just three people. The driver introduced himself as Juan, and explained that the other two people in the village were pig farmers.

Juan pulled up by a large, run-down farmhouse. Several mastiffs came to greet us, looking up from their raw meat scraps to welcome back their owner and the small Welsh stranger. As livestock guards, they all bore war wounds from fights with the local wolves — big, ugly scars that still looked as fresh as on the day they received them. But at least these dogs were alive — Juan told me about how he lost six dogs to the wolves last year, and that was a small number in comparison to the usual tally of fatalities.

I walked past goat skulls and cow hides to my bedroom at the far end of the house, hidden away at the back of a delapidated corridor. Right next to the chicken hut, with a sheet of slate separating me from the birds, I would quickly find that the many biting insects that lived on the chickens would soon start a commune on me, too.

The ceiling had been removed, so that the walls broke off several feet before the rat lairs just below the roof. The floor was thick with rat droppings and fleas, and my bed consisted of a limp mattress on the floor. There was a single light bulb above the bed which hung down from the rafters holding up the roof. The only way to turn that light on and off was to unscrew the bulb and ignore the little jolts of electricity that flowed through me every time I did it. It had personality.

I unpacked my bag and explored the house, discovering an abandoned livestock slaughtering area below my bedroom. There was also a cheese store, and the coolest room in the house — the kitchen. It was painted a bright blue, with thin rickety wooden stairs leading up to an even more rickety platform with another mattress on it (the guest bedroom), a large window thick with cobwebs that looked out to the fields, and an old stone oven on which Alba’s daughter had painted bright red parrots several years ago. A child’s depiction, perhaps, of what she thought of as the most beautiful place in the world.

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