Wild camping in Spain
Charles Davis is the author of numerous walking guides and several novels. Here he reflects upon the experience of camping wild in Spain.
Having spent a large part of the last two decades trailing back and forth across Spain camping wild, I have cultivated a lively appreciation for the Spanish phrase “No pasa nada.”
On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a very welcoming term, promising a heavily negative interdiction like ‘No entry’, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Those three little words articulate a comprehensive attitude to life, something along the lines of: “It is not a problem, it will not be a problem, and I refuse to even contemplate the peculiar notion that it might conceivably be a problem of any stripe whatsoever.”
When applied to a kleptocratic political class, a somewhat cavalier attitude toward building regulations, or what was until very recently a stupendously haphazard ‘system’ for disposing of household waste (I think it’s called fly-tipping in English), the insouciance of no pasa nada has its drawbacks as a concept. But for those of us who like to get out into the wilds and stay there awhile, it’s a boon.
Coming from a country where “Can I help you?” often means “What are you doing on my land?”, I am constantly amazed by a culture in which “Can I help you?” actually means “Can I help you?” When we first started camping wild in a clapped out Nissan Vannette, we would leave the road somewhat timidly, and search out the most isolated and least visible spot we could find to spend the night. But by the time we had graduated to a Volkswagen camping-car and working with Discovery Walking Guides had turned a weekend passion into a full-time profession, we knew that keeping a low profile was superfluous.
I’ve lost count of the number of times when no pasa nada became our passport to paradise. There was the occasion in the Alpujarras (Walk the Alpujarras) when we had installed ourselves in the entrance to a field, only to see the farmer approaching in a battered van, which he had just driven half way up the mountain on a rough dirt track with the express intention of inspecting his field. Scrabbling to make ourselves scarce, we apologized for any inconvenience caused and said we’d get out of the way pronto. The man wasn’t having any of it. “¡Tranquilo! ¡Tranquilo! No pasa nada.” He would come back the next day!
Likewise, the time in the Costa Blanca Mountains (Walk the Costa Blanca Mountains) when we had set up camp on the edge of a dirt track and were settling in for the night when the landowner turned up. In this particular instance, it wasn’t just a question of no pasa nada. The man insisted on taking us further up the valley to an even more attractive spot. Maybe it wasn’t really his property at all, maybe he was just shifting us onto his neighbour’s land, I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain the move was engineered with our comfort and pleasure in mind.
Perhaps one of our most triumphant periods of no pasa nada was when we researched guide books to La Gomera (Walk La Gomera – new edition) and La Palma (Walk La Palma) in the Canary Islands. Camping was strictly prohibited, yet we spent four months between the two islands, most of it camping wild, often as not with the complicity of the people who were meant to enforce the ban. I was recently reminded of our time in the Canaries by the publication of a new edition of our guide to La Gomera.
One of our favourite camping spots on the island was the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, near Gerian. Hermitages are usually good spots for camping wild. For one thing, they are nearly always spectacularly located. Secondly, they often have a parking area attached, a rubbish bin if you’re lucky, and sometimes a standpipe, all of which are welcome. Third, they are regarded as communal property, so that even those rare and benighted individuals who haven’t cottoned onto the no pasa nada mode of life are unlikely to complain about your presence. Fourth, the people who tend them are so delighted to find foreigners venturing off the beaten track to venerate their favored monument that the chances are you’ll be feted as much as the local icon.
Naturally, in all these situations, speaking Spanish helps. But even if you don’t intend learning the language, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with certain key phrases. And in my experience, nothing is more axiomatic of the Spanish character than “No pasa nada.”
Books4Spain sells all of Charles Davis’ Discovery Walking Guides maps and books about Spain as well as many other walking books and maps for your holiday in Spain and Alan Rogers – The Best Campsites in Spain & Portugal 2013