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31 years later...Back in Spanish Bear Country I’m In Europe to make a film about Italian bears...

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Photos above:

Top Left: Agrapina and I, with her happy son in the background.

Bottom Left: Me there in 1990

Top Right: Agrapina with my mum (next to tractor) who came to visit her after I’d left.

Bottom Right: Agrapina milking the cows with her son in 1990 was 1990 and I spent 2 months searching the mountains. Hard to describe the feeling being back for the first time since. Surreal and beautiful and sometimes pretty overwhelming. Because when I was here back then it fueled my life’s bear path in some really evocative ways.

So yesterday I went back to a tiny village in the mountains where I stayed in my ramshackled little camper van in 1990 for 8 days. I wanted to see an old lady….the farmers wife, who’d helped me out here as a wandering youngster. She kind of adopted me because she couldn’t believe I was here alone. Her name was Agrapina. She was like my Spanish mum or grandma.

But as I approached the village yesterday somebody told me that she had died a few years ago. I was gutted. An old man cutting wood pointed me to her house….so I went to see. I knocked on the door, her son answered… I said in Spanish “Hello…..sorry to bother you, but I have a story”. It was one of the most amazing responses I’ve ever had, he looked at me for a few seconds and then he knew….he wrapped his arms around me and recognized me …from 31 years ago!. He was 14 years old when I was there, and now he’s 45. I said to him “and Agrapina?”. He turns to me and says in Spanish “she’s right here”. And there she was sitting in the same kitchen in her little mountain home! She was alive! I got to know her so well when I was 21 that my mum and dad visited this isolated little village just to meet her as well back then. I was in floods of tears seeing her. It brought a lot back. She taught me how to milk cows, gave me fresh jamon each morning for my long hikes, amd was so curious about my mum in particular back then.

We reminisced in my broken Spanish, and then her son scrambled around for a minute and pulled out a photo album that was sitting in a pile of papers next to the TV…..there were the photos I had on my phone of Agrapina, the cows, the village from all those years ago. They’d been sitting next to their TV for 31 years!

I filmed the whole thing on my phone yesterday ……my dad just texted me in tears after watching it too.

I kept a 100 page journal of my every move and experience back then in 1990, and I have it with me. It’s an amazing page-turner (for me at least!). …..this place was medieval back then and still feels a lot that way today. Between us, I’m thinking of making an documentary about my return here… 1990 there were only 65 Spanish brown bears….now there are over 400! So it’s a wonderful conservation success story.

Amazing thing the passage of time.

Tugged my heart right out of my chest.

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