Published in Jungles in Paris
Juan Martin spent his boyhood roaming the Spanish countryside as a goat herder and farmhand. When he was a young man, he met a woman as she was bringing cattle in from the fields and fell in love. Her name was Sinforosa. She lived in La Estrella, a tiny village in Teruel, a harsh and hilly province located midway between Barcelona and Madrid.
Juan Martin courted Sinforosa there. In the evenings, they danced at the town's two remaining taverns. The village had 200 residents, fewer than in former days. People had been trickling out for decades, ever since a flood devastated La Estrella in 1883. The Spanish Civil War, which ended in 1939, had created a new wave of painful departures.
Still, La Estrella had everything a functioning village needed, including a beautiful church and two schools—one for girls, one for boys. Juan Martin and Sinforosa married and settled down. Mostly for economic reasons, the village continued to empty out. The schools shuttered; Juan Martin and Sinforosa's children did not stay. For the last 45 years, these two octogenarians have been the only two residents of La Estrella.
Many towns in rural Spain have dwindled in like fashion. That is especially the case in the isolated, autonomous region of Aragon, where surveys indicate that deaths outnumber births. Teruel province is home to some of the fiercest winter weather in Spain. Entire ghost villages are for sale, for less than it would cost to buy a one-acre suburban home in many parts of the U.S. Recently, a regional campaign called Teruel Exists has helped attract a smattering of curious visitors.
Juan Martin and Sinforosa inhabit an old vicarage. They eat simply in its large dining hall. They have radio, but no Internet or television. What little power they use comes from solar panels they had installed a few years ago. Before that, they relied on flashlights after dark.
Most days, their only company apart from each other is animals: a couple dozen resident cats, a few dogs, some hens, a rooster, and the bees they keep. Honey is one of several products from which they derive a meager income. Cherry trees are another. Recently, they started foraging for black truffles.
Juan Martin says he would have left long ago, but his wife prefers to stay in the town of her birth. And so he stays too. “What else can we do?"