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My Caveman Experience: Squatting With Gypsies In Spain

Cave Bed Spain

My Luxury Cave Accommodations

Granada, Spain

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.

Spain

Typical Sacromonte Gypsy Cave

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.

Romanian Gypsies

Sorina From Romania

Cooking Dinner in the Cave Kitchen

Cooking Dinner in the Cave Kitchen

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.

Luis from the Canary Islands

Luis from the Canary Islands

A Glimpse at Life in a Cave

A Glimpse at Life in a Cave

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!

Cave Neighbors From Senegal

Cave Neighbors From Senegal

Iwan Practicing Flamenco Music

Iwan Practicing Flamenco Music

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.

Building A Community Garden

Building A Community Garden

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. ★

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I hope you enjoyed my story about squatting with Gypsies in Spain! Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Could you live in a cave like this? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Radu

Monday 10th of August 2020

For some clarification on the G word watch from minute 6 to what this Roma woman and academic has to say: https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/video/we-call-ourselves-roma There's allot of pain felt by the Roma communities everywhere and the tragic thing about it is it's not new. Not by far. And allot of that pain is linked to such racial slurs like the G word that in the pursuit of the romantic doesn't do a people who are doctors, academics, professors, journalists, politicians, etc. justice. It places Roma in exactly the categories they are boxed in this article: "nomads", "unusual", "caveman". But yeah, the Roma community as a whole wants to refer to itself as it pleases, sometimes the G word but those not in this minority just use the less romantic term of Roma (Rroma, Romani, anything but the G bomb). What is described here is not always as romantic as it's made out to be anyway (poverty rarely stays romantic in it's 30ies, 40ies, 50ies and older).

Eeta

Friday 30th of June 2017

Wow! That seems quiet an interesting experience. I traveled and lived in hostels mostly. But I often fancy mountains, valleys and caves.

Iain

Thursday 11th of May 2017

As a full time trog (Orce, Granada) I have to say this post is very refreshing compared to the usual perspectives from expats in modern day cave houses in the Altiplano - thoroughly enjoyed this read. How did you get on with the didgeridoo by the way?

Jellis Vaes

Thursday 28th of July 2016

Very enjoyable read Matthew! This people over there must experience an incredible feeling of reconnection. A true community feeling of being needed and working closely together. I am sure you might have felt this as well.

Stevie Vagabond

Saturday 11th of June 2016

Love it man!!! I too got the experience of living in a cave. Mine was on a random island in the outer Bahamas. Got some video from it on YouTube linked through my website.

Matthew Karsten

Wednesday 11th of July 2018

Love hearing all these cave stories from other travelers like yourself! Thanks for sharing Stevie.

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