I am writing this from the backseat of our campervan. With in the drivers seat my friend Amine, working his way through French traffic. Behind us, the coolest office on wheels you can imagine. The KantoorKaravaan caravan. We are on our way back to the Netherlands, after a rural coworking tour through Spain. With my hiking shoes still dirty from walking around in the country side all over Spain, it is slowly dawning on me that we will back into the city soon.
What started as a wild idea to take the office on a tour down south, resulted in a very inspiring trip all around rural Spain. Full of exciting experiences, encounters and learnings that I would like to share with you here.
Rural coworking safari
The tour through Spain was a collaboration with Pandorahub. The aim of founder Diana is to bring life back into rural areas. Urbanization is a real problem in Spain. Young people are leaving their hometowns to go work and live in cities. Rural areas are momentarily not offering the jobs and lifestyles that younger people are looking for.
One way that Pandorahub is sparking life in towns, is by bringing digital nomads to the countryside. In collaboration with locals, they show them the possibilities for remote working all around Spain. Places to find peace of mind, inspiration, and meaningful interactions with locals. This will stimulate local economy and hopefully initiate collaborations between both groups, in order to make rural life attractive again for younger- and future generations.
With a small and changing group of people, we visited different places in the countryside. Besides working from the caravan and other spots, most important was connecting with our local hosts.
Our first stop was Masia Castelló. After the last inhabitant left Castelló in 1940, nature soon took over. For about fifty years the village was abandoned. Until in the late nineties, a group of people from surrounding villages got together and decided to restore Masia Castelló in all its glory. And beyond. At this moment, eleven of the houses have been restored. All of the work is done voluntarily, mostly in weekends. In order to raise building money, the association organizes a yearly festival and rents out spaces for weddings and band practices.
During our two days here, we had an extensive tour of the property and its surroundings by Xavi. Who also made us his specialty paella with self picked mushrooms from the mountains around. He told us about the way they are working together as an association in order to restore the village. We were the first group to have stayed in the new guesthouse.
In the future the association would like to attract more digital nomads, or even find a partner to create a permanent coliving space with.
In San Mateu we spent two nights in the hacker home of Filippo and Iñaki. This was the place where I learned a lot more about blockchain and bitcoin. During our dinners and coffee breaks, we talked about the huge potential for decentralization that blockchain offers. Taking away thick layers of bureaucracy, making self organization way easier. As a co-founder of the Blockchain Education Network Italia, Filippo is an amazing source of information and inspiration in this field.
Entropy Factory is another place where they put this potential into action. It is a rural coliving home and startup incubator, where some of the startups working with blockchain and bitcoin. Inside techies are typing away lines of code, while outside the sheep and their shepherd are walking by on their way home from the fields. It is great location to build on startups with a social mission.
For a small monthly fee you can move in, have your food prepared, and roam the hills when work is done.
Sun and Co
With their picture perfect coliving home, Sun and Co is a great example of making a smaller town attractive for digital nomads. They organize all kinds of activities and mastermind sessions in order to build group spirit and have people enjoy the town and its surroundings. The house used to belong to Edu his grandmother. As an architect, he put his soul into the remodeling of the house. In May this year I had my first stay at Sun and Co. This time I was welcomed back with open arms. A home away from home.
Besides working from the main house, we loved working at the beach from our KantoorKaravaan office. Edu and Jon even arranged for their friend Juan to shoot some pictures during this great working day. It is at Sun and Co that you get to meet many location independent workers and entrepreneurs. To hear about the different things people do that allow them to live and work around the globe. „Where are you from?” is not a simple question here. Many of them have a home address at their parents place, just as a formality.
Go and meet them at Sun and Co. Stays go for minimum seven days, because Jon and Edu believe it takes some time to really connect with each other. In the end, almost everyone overstays their initial booking period. Not seldom for months at a time.
With around thirty people living and working at Sunseed, it is the largest (eco) community we visited on our tour. As they put it, Sunseed is a: “hands-on practical centre for low-impact living and environmental education”. What is interesting about Sunseed is that there is not just one founder leading the project. It is run by the group. People stay here from a week up to maximum one year, so its energy and team are ever changing. Since the community is located in a very dry region, one of their specialties is desert technology.
While I was spending some quality time with our campervan because of a flue, the rest of the crew got a tour of the place. The gardens, sanitary systems, solar energy station. Together with their neighbor David, the team is fighting against ecocide. The area of El Rio de Aguas is facing a complete drought in around three years, because of unethical water stealing practices by a large scale olive oil producer upstream.
Against a small weekly fee, you can stay and volunteer at Sunseed, to learn about low-impact living.
Molino de Guadalmesí
At around forty minutes by car through a breathtaking landscape lays Molino de Guadalmesí. A small eco community, situated in a valley and surrounded by windmills. Its founders, Johnny and Alicia, are both working as facilitators. Johnny shared some of his knowledge and unique worldview with us during a workshop. The 360º Sustainable Business Workshop at Molino took us from „Eco No Mia” to „Eco Si Nuestra”. A collaborative economy, based on synergy and with a holistic approach. All that we have learned needs a blogpost on its own, but if there is something I can recommend you: dive into the world of spiral dynamics. Besides having the workshop, we briefly experienced what it means to be living in a small community like theirs. We had communal meals, went to milk and herd the goats, learned about wet- and dry toilets, relaxed in the yogaroom/library. We also got to experience what i means to have a week of pretty much only rain, and the impact this has when you depend on your energy to come from the sun. It means you really have to think about which usage is truly necessary. You can’t have all the lights on and charge six laptops at the same time. It puts your energy use into perspective.
We also went into Tarifa. Both our first and our last night we spent at digital nomad hostel La Cocotera. A great place to host another event. It was here that we watched the livestream of the meetup about Blockchain backed governance systems (DAOs etc.), hosted by the Barcelona Bitcoin Community. Before we started the livestream, Johnny hosted an open space about bitcoin at Tarifa EcoCenter.
Keep an eye on the interesting events and workshops that are being hosted at Molino de Guadalmesí. For example their yearly twenty-eight days program for reconnecting to yourself and nature. Payments go through conscious economy, a way of giving back that is based on costs, value and possibility of giving.
As the first B-Corp in Spain, Alma Natura has a business philosophy we enjoyed hearing about. (B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.) They build partnerships with public- and private parties in order to develop rural communities. One of their local partners, Tomates Felices, presented their project and took us, together with AlmaNatura’s Juan-José, on a field trip. The goal of Tomates Felices is to give people with mental health problems something to get up for in the morning: growing food in their local vegetable gardens. The money that is made from the produce covers part of the project costs. In the future there will be more hectares of land, so that the project can be fully self-sufficient.
Another day, with Juan José’s brother Israel, we visited Quesería Artesana Mamá Cabra. Owners Carmen and Dani make award winning handcrafted organic cheeses with milk from their own goats. Before going into the small cheese factory, we went to visit the animals. My favorite moment was when Dani called his goats, who were grazing all over the hills, and after his lure came running towards us. After having learned more about the milking process, we went for a tour and cheese tasting in the small factory.
AlmaNatura has good insights in the opportunities of different rural areas. Get in touch with them if you’re interested in collaborating.
Our only non-rural visit during the tour was to Las Indias in Madrid. Las Indias Club is a non-profit association that uses free software and distributed structures in order to create spaces for learning, debate and knowledge. Besides initiating their own projects, they are often hired as a think tank for businesses and governmental institutions. The core group of Las Indias does not only work together, they live together as a community as well. Based on total egalitarianism, the group shares everything from duties, incomes and recourses. They welcome us with open arms, inviting us for dinner and to stay the night.
During a very long and late night the team explained us a lot about the way they work and the type of projects they are working on. True activism mixed with a business mindset. Also, David showed us the extensive art collection on community living. Amongst them some original photos of the first Kibboets in Israel.
When you’re interested in learning more about Las Indias’ view on communities, you can download their free ebook ‚El libro de la Comunidad’ here.
Although it is not easy to summarize so many encounters and experiences, here are some learnings that are sticking with me.
– We use the word coworking nowadays for any space that offers seats and wifi. Usually I think ‘working alone together’ might be a more accurate term to describe what is going on. During our trip, true coworking happened at the times that our laptops were closed and we were involved in deep discussions and plan making.
– Rural areas offer an incredible amount of business opportunities. There are so many empty buildings, gaps in the market, and very willing communities that are welcoming entrepreneurs with open arms. Especially with the possibilities of working location independent, rural settlements can offer great work/life balance. All it takes are some eager people who put their creative ideas into action.
– Technology is really going to change things around in the coming years. Education and governance will not be the same anymore, because of factors like the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, decreasing costs of solar panels, and more people getting acces to internet. All great developments for a movement back to rural areas.
– We have to step up our game regarding the protection of our water and land. In rural Spain, especially down south, the effects of climate change and desertification are very tangible and already a real problem.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blogpost. For me personally, it was yet another confirmation that rural life can be amazing and freeing. I can’t wait to go back into the fields to run with the goats and get my shoes freshly dirty. If you have any questions about the locations we’ve visited, want to collaborate or share something else, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
At last I want to shout out a big thank you for our amazing hosts during this trip. You opened up your homes, hearts and way of seeing the world. Thank you!
And another huge thank you for everyone who helped make this happen: Seats2Meet, Seats4Silence, KantoorKaravaan,Pandorahub, Ecotechnomads, and CamperExperience.
With rural love, Manon (KantoorKaravaan/Ecotechnomads)