Ortiz: the last shepherd of Caroig II

Ortiz: the last shepherd of Caroig II

September 10, 2009. Caroig

Jose Vicente is the last shepherd of Caroig, he represents the last hope of a thousand-year-old profession on the verge of disappearance. At 42 years old (2009), he cares for one of the last herds of Celtiberian white goats in the Valencian Community.

Together with uncle José1 we went up to the Caroig peak in search of JV’s herd of goats. This shepherd is one of the few who still guide herds of white mountain goats. We found it in the corral of the Casa del Cura in Teresa de Cofrentes. JV is giving barley and straw to the breeding males, which at this time have them locked up in the pen so that they do not mate with the females.

The rest of the herd grazes peacefully in the area of ​​La Tona-Fuente de la Carrasca. Later we went out in search of the goats, going down a path that leads to a watering hole, where we found the herd sestero. It’s noon, and summer still refuses to abandon us…

JV has about 500 heads, not completely pure (the Celtiberian ones are totally white), there are different colors, mottled black, brown, etc. His objective in a few years is to purify the herd until he achieves one hundred percent purity of the Celtiberian race.

We see the silhouette of a small falcon that emerges from a copse and rises into the air, JV is quick to point a finger at it while saying: “it’s a hawk”. I had also identified it but not so quickly. I am amazed. I am more and more convinced that not everything is taught in universities. A little further on we see some blue flowers that stand out against the ocher boulders on the path and the dry grass of late summer. Uncle José, who has taught him everything in this magnificent University that is nature, tells us that it is the border saffron, a flower that indicates that autumn is approaching and the cold will not be long in coming.

JV tells me about an attitude that goats have and that is that, in spring and summer, they always move facing the wind, whether from the east or west, so the air scares away insects.

He laments that it has been a very bad year, because it has rained little since winter and everything is very dry. Uncle Jose says: “The garroferos only have four garrofas, this year there won’t even be for wild boars.”

Uncle José tells us that: “When I was 18 I had a girlfriend in Jarafuel, I met her at the Ayora parties. I was dating her for a year. I went from Bicorp on foot to Jarafuel, it took a day to get there. One day I told my father that I wanted to go live with her in her town, but he refused, he wanted me to be with the cattle. I told her that I had already asked for her hand and everything. My father got even angrier and I never saw her again.”

1 A retired pastor from Bicorp who is currently 82 years old. This vital and conscientious grandfather told us about his memories and offered us his experiences, without an iota of bitterness, proud of everything that life has given him and with a simplicity and nobility as only those men who traveled for so many years can do. along these roads of Caroig.

 José Rey Gandía is a retired pastor who lives in Bicorp. He is known, and so we will call him from now on, as Uncle Pepe. He is seen as a man with the normal infirmities of age, but, above all; with the intense pain of the sudden death of his wife, whom he loved and loves so much. Of course, it retains the spirit that nature gave it when walking its paths daily. At the age of 7, he already left with some goats for the mountain. An uncle of his, who was called up, asked him to take care of his flock and he did. The uncle never came back, and nothing was heard of him: Uncle Pepe was the one who took charge of the farm. He confesses to having been very happy “I liked it a lot, boy”. He recalls the difficulties that the State, mistakenly, put to the shepherds “they ate the pines, they told us” and, now, he affirms that they would pay them to return with the cattle to the mountain, because what they do eat is gorse and Kermes oak, and so, they clean the mount. Undoubtedly, those were other times, and now, unfortunately, the pastoral world writes its epilogue. Today there are practically no shepherds left in the mountains and the forest seems deserted, abandoned by its natural inhabitants. Cattle were once a wealth and are now disappearing from the natural landscape onto farms. Uncle Pepe confesses to having been happy in the mountains, he remembers it with melancholy under a pine tree that he confesses to having seen grow and that now serves as a roof for him: “I shit on ten, I wish I could go back to nature and be happy”. Certainly life has hit him, the death of his partner has submerged him in great sadness, in the middle of the mountain he is seen reviving and longing for a life full of love and rich experiences. Blessed is the time that heals wounds and makes us forget past sorrows, and hoping that our tears can wash our memory, we hope to forget and feel better tomorrow (seeing our friend’s pain).

He was a friendly person, kind to everyone, he does not remember having enemies: neither with other shepherds nor with the forest rangers. He never had problems with the Civil Guard. Once, only once, they denounced him: “They fined me 200 pesetas in Millares for not having the guide1”. He lived for many years in the Hoya del Sal, in the middle of the mountain, but he was born in Anna, because “his mother went to Anna to give birth to him”. Once married, he lived for 30 years in Alambin, the last house in the Quesa district, and from there he stayed in Bicorp. With what he got from the cattle he married a woman from Mallorca, where he did his military service. She was the daughter of a brigade, and Uncle Pepe, falling in love with her, had the opportunity to have a military career, but he was drawn to the freedom of the mountains and she followed his steps out of love. They came to have 800 goats and 100 sheep, so much was the work that they even hired shepherds2 to take care of different herds. His wife, faithful and solicitous, helped him in everything. Uncle Pepe remembers how the lamp held him, when at night they had to work hard in the barn.

Uncle Pepe did not transhumance, but he did transtermite; It went from Casillas (Millares district) to Alambin (Bicorp district), with the intention of providing pastures, always fresh, for the cattle. In this way the food could be recovered for another occasion. As Uncle Pepe affirms “the goat is very young, it is like the women who are flourishing around there. The sheep, on the other hand, eats what you give it. Of course, the goat is more docile and the sheep very goofy”. His dog (Bartolo) was a great help to him, because on many occasions he would take care of the goats by himself when Uncle Pepe got the better of him due to work or fatigue. The goats were marked on the horns by a sign that identified their owner, in order to prevent theft. Although worse than a robbery, it was any disease. There was an ailment that attacked the goats called gout: their knees swelled and they fell to the ground, where the foxes cut their throats when they were left behind. On one occasion –he confesses-, “he had a great ruin”. Another disease was scabies, which was caused either by lack of water and food, or by crowding the cattle in a corral, because the animal suffered from heat and suffocation.

1 The guide is a report prepared by the veterinarian where the state of the cattle was reported, in order to avoid contagion.

2 A hired pastor “was worth nothing.” Uncle Pepe gave them 100 pesetas a month, food and clothing. In addition, he would give them a party one day and the contract was already done, with a simple handshake. Today neither the handshake nor the papers are worth anything. He remembers having lost a hired shepherd, when, after the civil war, the maquis populated the hiding places in the mountains and the Civil Guard alerted him to their presence, which scared him and he left.

Uncle Pepe had great devotion to Saint Anthony, patron saint of Benali, in fact on his journeys through the mountains he did not lack a picture of the saint, and on how many occasions and difficulties did “San Antonio Bendito” take refuge in him. He clarifies that it is the San Antonio de Padua de Benali. He made many promises to him and carried him on his shoulders in procession at important moments in his life. Uncle Pepe sold his cattle about three years ago: “It was the only time I cried, that and the death of my wife. If he had 300 heads, he had them all baptized and he knew them one by one, by name.” He remembers the times he made the herd because in September food was already scarce and the animals had to be taken out at night. He stayed all night with the cattle and watched the Milky Way, the sky; He has searched the sky on many occasions and, during those long nights, he has found the answers that were presented to many problems. The stars have heard his most intimate confessions and, without a doubt, they will shine with their most intense light the day Uncle Pepe meets his beloved. He will have wanted to die when the day declines, on a high mountain and with his eyes high; where the soul takes flight and follows the majestic flight of the eagle. That day the sobbing will turn to rejoicing; Although life grabs you and drags you, you will not be able to, because you will see the light of hope.

Uncle Pepe tells us some curiosities: “you can’t remove cattle on a waxing moon, because fleas will come out, on the other hand, if you remove it on a waning moon, this won’t happen. In the same way, if you plant garlic in crescent, the root will come out of the ground, and not in waning.

Uncle Pepe tells us about Alonso, a shepherd from Zarra nicknamed El Manco, who was banished from his hometown of Alcalá del Júcar for hitting a Civil Guard. “He was a bragao man, quite hypocritical, in the end we became friends, because when we were young we had our quarrels since he entered my pastures without permission.”

We say goodbye to JV who is going to Ayora. Uncle Pepe and I sat under some pine trees, near the Fuente de la Carrasca, from there we could see all the mountains of Caroig dotted with old cattle pens, now in ruins due to the relentless passage of time, for a few moments we remained in silence in that desolate place, only the whistling of the wind is heard, Uncle José seems to have a lost look, but it is not like that, he is observing those corrals where many years ago each of them housed hundreds of head of cattle and that now They remain abandoned forever and are a living reflection of the decline of these lands rising like a breath of sadness in the middle of the fields. Everything is silent, and not even the birds dare to sing… the same wind that seconds before had brought to Uncle José’s mind the memories of the times when he traveled through the mountains, brings him to his senses and tells me: “Let’s go to the town , who are waiting for me for the game of dominoes”.

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