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The Funny Side of the Mountain

A Humourist's view of life in Spain. As a comedy writer, rural Spain is often a great source of inspiration. These are just some of my random scribblings.

Horses to Water
11 December 2019 @ 12:10

When we bought our house here in the Alpujarras, it came with a plot of land adjoining which was designated as ‘Rustic Land’. Essentially this means it’s agricultural and cannot be built on. For this reason, Rustic Land in this area is very cheap as all one is allowed to do with it is keep animals on it or grow vegetables. Or, more often than not round here, cannabis. The other things which are very cheap around Andalucía, are horses. One can pick up a mongrel lump of a horse for a hundred euros or if you’re prepared to look harder, they are often going free.

Rural Andalucían men have a strange relationship with horses. They are seen as status symbols in much the same way as guns are in Texas. The bigger the man aspires to be, the more horses he needs. Which is why the area is full of very small men with even smaller bank balances but who own several horses they can’t afford to feed. Eventually of course, the matriarch of the family instructs the man to either get rid of the horses or find a job. Consequently, there are many horses in need of a new life.

My wife had always nursed an idea that she might eventually want her own horse, so we decided that as we had the land, we might as well set about organising the relevant legalities to allow a horse to live on our little piece of rustic land, should we ever decide our life was missing a horse.

This was the point at which we collided with Spain’s interesting bureaucracy. For those who don’t know, this is an amalgamation of the laws of the seventeen separate states, layered over the original Roman legislature laid  down in the second century, added to by a few Royal Decrees, several Papal directives, improved by Franco and eventually tinkered with by the paper-mongers of Brussels. After that, they are passed down in sacred ledgers to be stored in the vaults of the Town Hall.

As most of these laws are totally ignored by the indigenous population, nobody has ever bothered to redraft any of them or even translate most of them from the original Latin. However, they lay in wait ready, to trap the unwary newcomer in a tangle of paper which would make the Gordian Knot look like a shoelace tangle.

Step one, we need permission to have animals on the land. This is handled by OCA, the Spanish version of the Ministry for Agriculture, and should be simple. For a domestic animal such as a horse they require a shelter and a way to dispose of the manure which doesn’t involve chucking it over the fence, which is what the locals do. It also requires a supply of fresh water fit for the horse to drink. It was here that things started to fall apart.

As our house was next to the land, a simple hosepipe down to the field would seem to do the job. OCA agreed and they approved our lean-to shelter and all looked good to go. We just had to get Council Permission now. This involved showing the local Council that we had a shelter and a source of drinking water for the horse. While they were quite positive about our shelter, the hose pipe was more problematical. Apparently, some dusty law states that animals must have access to agricultural water. Back in the OCA office, they confirmed we could only secure their permission if we had a supply of fresh water for the animal. The only solution appeared to be to set up two water supplies, one to please OCA and one to please the Council.

Agricultural water comes from a system known as acequia channels and was another thing the Romans left behind. Using vast amounts of slave labour they created a network of water conduits that drift down from the mountains to feed the livestock and horticulture of Andalucía. For the most part, it’s an efficient system and works well. However, these conduits are controlled by a political system of such complexity it would make even the most dedicated Brussels bureaucrat cry. Each acequia is run by a Committee which is headed up by a President, a Treasurer, a Membership Secretary, an Auditor and a Chairman. They also have their own rulebooks and convene regular meetings to discuss the water.

As we already had an unused acequia channel running across the land, we figured that all we needed to do was ask that we be allowed to access it and we would have our horse permission. Not so.

Firstly, we needed to locate the President of this particular acequia who would provide us with the right piece of paper to show the Town Council. The only problem was, nobody knew who it was. After much asking around, we discovered his name but that he didn’t own a telephone or any email facilities but that he sometimes sat in a little shed at the top of the village. Try as we might, we could never catch him. Eventually we tracked down somebody who knew his wife and so the message went out. When we eventually found him, he was more than happy to oblige, provided we paid the appropriate fee and oh, could we write out the permission for him to sign as he didn’t actually read or write himself.

Happily armed with our permission, we returned to the Town Council only to be told they didn’t recognise this particular acequia channel as it had never been formally approved, despite the fact it had been in constant use for the last two thousand years. Not wanting to give up just yet, we set about trying to secure formal approval for this particular acequia, a process which required raising the matter to a higher Provincial Council in Granada.

After much petitioning and an endless stream of paper, we finally secured formal recognition for this particular channel and we headed back to the President to ask for our supply to be turned on. It was at this point we were told that there was no actual supply of water in this channel as it had all collapsed many years before. So, while the Committee was still conducting their meetings, the Treasurer still counted his money and the Membership Secretary still communicated regularly with the members, there was no actual water going anywhere.

We did however, obtain a written notification from the Treasurer that we had paid our dues, a notice from the Membership Secretary that we were indeed members and a confirmation from the President that we were now entitled to draw water from this acequia. We presented the pile of permissions to the Council who marked the whole lot with their official stamp and informed us all was now in order and that we would receive our piece of paper in due course. Move on three years and we are still waiting so a series of follow up visits to the Town Hall resulted in a flurry of conflicting responses. These ranged from ‘We have no record of your paperwork’ through ‘It will be ready tomorrow’ and even, ‘Shush, don’t say anything, just go ahead anyway’.

In the end, we decided to get another dog.

Like 4


jeffsears said:
14 December 2019 @ 11:53

An accurate description of bureaucracy in Spain. A sense of humour is essential otherwise you would go mad.

Ten66 said:
14 December 2019 @ 12:47

This should have finished not with "we got another dog" but "our horse is 3 years older now and like us, none the wiser re the permissions!"
Such fun

jokamac said:
14 December 2019 @ 13:58

Sums Spain up in a nutshell

marelison said:
15 December 2019 @ 22:37

What kind of new dog are you thinking of ??

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