Spanish stoner paradise
About one year ago, Dutch coffeeshop owner Nol Van Schaik packed up some Dutch seeds, got in his car with his life partner, Maruska, and moved to the Southern Spanish coast.
He rented a hilltop villa surrounded by semi-arid mountains and olive trees. He planted his seeds and kept them watered as Spanish summer temperatures reached 110degF (43degC).
Van Schaik now enjoys smoking Spanish marijuana and Maroc hashish with friendly Spaniards as he sits in a hammock by the sea at the Mambo Beach Club near Malaga.
Mambo's owner, a tall, muscular, amiable Dutchman named Jacques, used to own two coffeeshops in Amsterdam. In 1999, he sold his shops and bought the run-down Spanish beachfront caf? with the dream of turning it into a trendy garden spot on the coast near the upscale yachting port of Benalmadena.
He slept onsite, accompanied only by his faithful dog, and rebuilt the place from the ground up.
Tourists and locals see Mambo's signs advertising everything from Dutch pancakes to Indonesian ribs. They smell cannabis and hashish smoke mixing with food scents, blending with the cry of sea gulls, sea air. They feel the throbbing rhythm of Mambo's hip-hop, trance, Latin house, acid-jazz, 400-watt sound system.
Van Schaik sits in Mambo's garden, sprinkling Moroccan chocolate hash into an almost-rolled Dutch joint. Police cars are parked on the beach just outside the Mambo's green hedgerow, but police never bother Mambo's guests.
"This is why I came to Spain," Van Schaik says, licking the joint. "Sunshine, ocean, friendly people, weed, good food, and no worries about the police. It's hard for a Dutchman like me to admit it, but Spain is far better than Holland."
|Pot plants peeking over the balcony: a common sight in Spain.|
In the rugged mountains that frame the Mediterranean near Malaga, I sweat in late summer sun, hiking a creekbed canyon, trying to keep up with Elliot, a Spanish growmaster.
We first met at his fourth-floor apartment in Malaga, where he showed me double-balcony gardens containing 12 varieties of cannabis. Among the beautiful ganja girls growing in individual pots of soil were Nebula, Purple Haze, Super Silver Haze, Skunk, Purple Fat Top, and Chronic.
As I took pictures in full view of construction workers repairing a roof on a high rise building nearby, I was paranoid on Elliot's behalf. But then I climbed on the roof of his building and saw that about a third of the balconies all around had cannabis plants on them. And when we walked to the car to begin our journey to the mountain grow site, Elliot pointed out several balconies with pot gardens visible from the street.
Up the canyon, Elliot bounded ahead of me, eager to get to a remote grow site where he had planted and tended two cannabis plants. At his apartment he showed a picture of the main cola on one Purple Haze plant; it was a foot in diameter at the bottom and nearly two feet tall. The monster plant had numerous side branches. Elliot was expecting nearly a kilo of dried bud from the plant, which was about nine feet tall.
Rocks tumbled from his feet toward me, so I slowed down. He disappeared off the main trail, turning to the right into a thicket of thorny scrub. When I arrived a half-minute later, I expected to find two huge plants and a jubilant Elliot. Instead, the handsome Latino was sitting on a rock, with tears in his eyes. In front of him was half a marijuana plant, harvested prematurely, by a thief. Nearby was the other plant, similarly pilfered.
I tried to console Elliot, but he could only speak angrily about all the work he had done to keep the plants alive that summer. He had started in late spring, driving a tiny motorbike up the winding dirt road to the canyon mouth, carrying heavy sacks of soil and water-holding crystals, as well as huge balloons full of water. Then he'd hike up loaded down, wet the rocky clay soil, claw at it with a shovel, pull the rocks out, wet it more, add rich soil and crystals, until finally he had a hole four feet in diameter and four feet deep.
The summer of 2003 was unusually dry and hot in Spain as it was across Europe; the creek Elliot had been counting on began to dry up in July, and temperatures soared to record levels. He made dozens of trips to his plants, not just to bring them water, but to stabilize inner branches by tying supports from them to the main stem.
|60-year-old cannabis activist Fernanda de la Figuera|
And when he saw the cut top of his first plant, the expectations and weight of all his labor, hopes and dreams came crashing down, and his tears fell to water the ground around the forlorn plants.
Elliot harvested the side colas left by the robbers, wrapping them in newspaper, as we discussed the mentality of pot thieves, how they had discovered his plants, and what he would do them if he caught them.
The next day, we went to a different canyon closer to town, hiked down a hillside to a fast-running creek, and trekked through thick undergrowth. We were expecting to see two major plants first, with another three plants further down the narrow watercourse 100 yards away.
Instead, we came upon another big disappointment for Elliot ? all that was left of one of plants was a stalk in the ground, and the other plant had been tipped over to lie on the ground with its root ball left exposed to drying sun and air.
We hurried to reset the tipped plant. Elliot had some B-12, generic N-P-K fertilizer, and a bucket hidden in the bushes. We mixed a weak solution in creek water, and poured it on the wounded plant while adding new soil and stabilizing the bent main stalk. Two days later, the plant had fully recovered and its long, small buds were filling out in the late summer sun.
We crawled down the creek, splashing in water, to a place on the waterside so impregnable that I felt nobody could ever find it and rip Elliot off. Three intact plants glistened in the sun, and Elliot leapt for joy.
He added up the pounds he hoped to harvest from the four plants, spoke about making his fianc? happy with the Euros those kilos would net him, and promised another hike another day, this time to see a "monster Yumboldt plant" that had its own water reservoir, nitrogen and other nutrients courtesy of two dead rats that had drowned in the res trying to get a drink in the arid bone-dry summer.
"Now I have to come here every day and hide to see if the banditos come back," he said. "I hope, for their sake, that they don't. If I catch them, they will end up as fertilizer."
|Grow shop owned and operated by Jose Molina|
Spanish hash history
Spain has a long and illustrious history. Muslim invaders brought cannabis with them when they took control of Spain in 700 AD; the country's proximity to Morocco and the rest of Africa has long made it a major trans-shipment point for hashish and marijuana.
Spain endured centuries of religious wars, monarchs and military rulers until a dictator named Francisco Franco rose to power in 1939 during a bloody civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Spaniards. Franco instituted brutal repression that killed another 100,000 citizens, while also isolating Spain from Europe and the US after World War II.
Franco ruled the country with an iron fist, but he gradually allowed Spain to modernize and experience increasing economic prosperity. He died in 1975 and was replaced by his hand-picked successor, Juan Carlos. Since then, Spain has hosted the Olympics and become a popular destination for tourists.
On the patio of a sprawling hacienda surrounded by olive trees and hills near Van Schaik's house, 60-year-old cannabis activist Fernanda de la Figuera talked history with me on a sunny late summer afternoon.
Figuera has been involved in marijuana growing since 1968, and is a powerful leader of ARSECA, which is the regional chapter of ARSEC ? the country's premier marijuana legalization organization.
She says Francisco Franco was partially responsible for the presence of marijuana in Spain during the 20th century.
"Franco brought in Moroccan mercenaries to help him during the civil war, and the Moroccans brought their hashish with them," she explained. "Spanish soldiers who traveled to Africa also used cannabis and brought it back with them. When I was a child, during Easter celebrations Maroc soldiers would become high on hash and kif and then play drums and entertain the whole town while they were high out of their minds."
Figuera's use of cannabis derived from her association with jazz musicians, artists, bohemians, and American soldiers; they all shared marijuana with her in Madrid during the early 1960's.
Ironically, Figuera says, the "communist dictator" Franco had a more benign attitude towards marijuana than his so-called "democratic successors."
In the last decade of Franco's rule, and continuing a few years after his death, cannabis and hashish were widely available; there was no drug war.
Figuera attended parties where prominent judges, celebrities, jet-setters, artists, musicians, prostitutes and politicians sat around tables that contained kilo bricks of Moroccan hashish.
"I loved marijuana and the marijuana culture right from the start," she recalls. "My life would not have had as much quality in it if it were not for marijuana. I use marijuana as a medicine, sacrament, lotion, tincture, cr?me and food."
While we talked, she shared with me two different tinctures; both of them more powerful than any cannabis tinctures I've ever sampled.
Figuera's cannagricultural expertise developed early. In the late 60's and early 70's, she grew cannabis seeds from Guatemala, Brazil, the Middle East, Christiania (Denmark), and Africa.
"At first, we didn't know about seedless female marijuana," she said. "Friends who went to America heard about it there, and brought the technique back to Spain. In 1981, I was raising a baby and had a lot of time to devote to my crop, which was grown from seeds from Angola and the Congo. The plants turned into trees 20 feet high. The side branches yielded a half-kilo each. The villagers would say, ?Fernanda, we can smell your plants a kilometer away,' but they never stole from me."
In 1973 in Barcelona, Figuera, growers, and smokers got together to form ARSEC.
"We formed it as a cooperative organization that grew and shared weed, while also exploring ways to make cannabis more available and more politically acceptable," Figuera said. "We were also into research, which eventually included hemp, and we saw the rise of many other organizations that sought to liberalize Spain's laws."
|Elliot, the Spanish growmaster enjoys the scent of his towering canna-tree|
Figuera and other activists, like grow shop guru Jose Molina, explain that Spain's constitution gives considerable protection to what people do in the privacy of their homes.
"The Spanish law says that personal behavior in a private place, and this includes private land and outbuildings, is protected by the constitution," Figuera explained. "The controversial issues are that police are allowed to determine if what you are doing is personal or if it is meant for distribution, which is illegal, and they are also allowed to arrest you if your cannabis activities or possession are outside of your private domain."
Compared to the United States and other hard-line drug war countries, Spain's penalties for those convicted of trafficking offenses or public possession are relatively mild. Public possession of less than two ounces of cannabis is not a criminal offense, although heavy administrative fines can be levied. Possession of more than two ounces, growing for sale, or selling are considered criminal offenses, but prison terms are not as severe as those levied in the US.
Spanish cannabis law has been partially shaped by activists from ARSEC and other organizations. In 1993, Barcelona ARSEC activists publicly stated that 100 people were going to cooperatively grow 225 marijuana plants in an outdoor field, all for personal use (CC#12, Spain: activists growing their own).
Police raided the field when the plants were 7 weeks old, killing the crop and arresting four ARSEC officials. The officials were acquitted in a trial three years later, but prosecutors appealed the acquittal, and in late 1997, the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the acquittal in a harsh ruling that dealt a serious blow to legalization efforts (CC#18, Spain's Supreme Court rules on pot).
Fernanda de la Figuera was arrested in 1995 for growing a pot plantation
"They were trying to give me five years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines, but my lawyer successfully argued that it was personal use and in accord with the Spanish constitution," she said.
Figuera then organized a regional chapter of ARSEC, called ARSECA, to help other people who ran afoul of the law.
"ARSECA helps people find lawyers to fight such charges, and also pushes on the politicians to change the laws," she said. "We have a thousand members. Politicians have come to our events, such as the Malaga Marijuana Manifestation, a five day protest in April 2003, where we presented a declaration for cannabis freedom to local officials, smoked, danced, and made speeches in public in Malaga, and made an impact on the media and community."
Despite the impact, and despite the fact that 35% of Spain's 41 million citizens smoke marijuana at least occasionally, the government has not further liberalized its cannabis laws.
"The socialist governments and the conservative governments, even if they are wrong on other policies such as the current government's support of the US Iraq war, would like to give Spaniards more cannabis freedom," Jose Molina explains. "They would like to help Spain benefit from the tremendous demand for cannabis internally, and from cannabis tourism. But Spain is a signatory to international drug war treaties, and so our government feels that it cannot liberalize as it would like to."
Regardless, Spaniards and foreigners are increasingly viewing Spain as a haven for marijuana businesses and growing. After many foreign growers were run out of Switzerland, where they were involved in massive seed production grow ops, they fled to Spain, along with dozens of other major seed producers from Holland and other countries.
Molina, Van Schaik, and other cannabis entrepreneurs intend to set up Spain's first-ever cannabis resort. They've contacted government officials about the legality of a private members-only club that would provide cannabis cultivation, education, entertainment, research, medicine and products.
"The lawyers are telling us that if we do this on private land as a club, it's legal," Van Schaik reports. "We have a large investor who wants to help us get a beautiful piece of land near Malaga. People will be able to come here and learn about cannabis, smoke cannabis, grow cannabis, relax with cannabis. We see this happening within a year."
|Part of Nol Van Schaik`s Spanish garden.|
Banditos and heroes
Van Schaik and I harvested his plants in late September. The stalks were so thick, he had to saw them with a hacksaw.
We had three dozen plants to work on. The varieties included Blockhead, Flo, Skunk #1, Sweet Tooth 3 and 4, Ultimate Indica, Blue Satellite, Golden Leaf, and Old Ed. Most of these had been grown from seed. Van Schaik also had some younger Northern Lights plants, grown from clones, as well as two distinct Thai plants; neither the Northern Lights nor the Thais were anywhere ready for harvest.
Indeed, some of the seed-grown plants, which Van Schaik planted in late March, were also not ready for harvest, but we had to cut them anyway because Van Schaik's garden was being eaten by budworms and caterpillars that burrowed deep into his phat buds. The worm damage looked like mold ? the buds turned black and started to fall apart at the point the worm was working.
We hung the plants to dry in a heated bathroom in the side bedroom of the villa where I was sleeping.
Pretty soon, cannabinoid-laden caterpillars began exiting the buds, and I awoke morning after morning to find myself, my luggage, and my clothing covered in creepy worms. Van Schaik joked about throwing the caterpillars in tequila, as is the custom in Mexico when Mescal worms are placed in tequila.
"They're full of cannabinoids and we can probably get high off them," the Dutchman said as he stomped another worm into oblivion.
We visited Fernanda de la Figuera's impressive outdoor garden a few days later. The bulk of her garden consisted of better-developed Indica-Sativa hybrids growing in a large cage near the front of her property.
Figuera's heart has been broken many years in a row, when her large, uncaged outdoor crops were stolen at harvest time. She and her daughter built the cage, determined to protect this year's crop, and had been keeping 24-hour vigil for weeks, along with locking the plants in the cage at night, to prevent rip-offs.
However, a security lapse just after my visit left her property unattended for about four hours one afternoon. Thieves or insiders, who Figuera suspects must have been watching her 24 hours a day, took advantage of the brief time-out to rob her of her plants. They also broke into her home and stole personal belongings and freshly-harvested drying buds.
The loss was particularly devastating to Figuera this year, because she had been planning a year-long travel sabbatical and was counting on having a large supply of buds to see her through.
A few days later, I hiked through thorn bushes to another of Elliot's secret gardens; this one was nestled in a wooded area between two freeways; the sound of vehicles and smell of car exhaust permeated the air.
No banditos had found this garden, which contained 15 tall, mostly-Sativa plants. Some plants were wilting in the hard, dry clay soil. Two friends were supposed to assist in gardening chores, but had dropped out in the heat of the summer, leaving Elliot to shoulder the burden alone.
He had carried in a water reservoir and water for one massive Yumboldt plant, which now towered over his head like a ganja Christmas tree. We estimated that the Yumboldt would yield two to four kilos of dried outdoor bud.
|Two sweet flowers, bred under the Spanish sky.|
Outdoor growing produces 90% of the marijuana in Spain, but Jose Molina, a grow shop owner and secretary of the Asociacion Andaluza de Comerciantes de Growshops (ACOGROS), says the rip-offs and hard labor experienced by growers like Elliot and Figuera are convincing many growers to begin indoor grow operations.
Molina's well-organized Growsur grow shop in downtown Malaga contains lights, irrigation equipment, nutrients, grow mediums, and everything else an indoor grower needs.
When I attended an ACOGROS/ARSECA conference in the fabled city of Seville, Molina and other grow shop owners discussed educating Spanish growers about the benefits of indoor gardens. There are about 400 growshops in Spain; most of them are located in Madrid and Barcelona.
Some of the shops sell smoking accessories, seeds and cultural artifacts, but an increasing number of them are, like Molina's, professional garden supply stores.
Molina says he is optimistic about Spain's green future.
"The Spanish sun is free, and the climate in some parts of the country is good for growing cannabis 10 months a year, but we see indoor growing as superior because it offers a controlled environment, and avoids the possibility of rip-offs and problems with insects and lack of water," Molina said. "Growers can combine indoor and outdoor growing, using their indoor gardens during cool weather, and also getting a head start on making plants for transplanting to outdoors. Pretty soon, Spain is going to be bigger than Jamaica or Holland as a cannabis growing and tourism destination."
SPAIN FAST REFERENCE GUIDE
BEST TIME TO VISIT
March to October. Temperatures average 68degF (20degC) in winter and 86degF (30degC) in summer.
BEST PLACE TO VACATION
Southern Spain's Costa del Sol. The Mediterranean coast is more fun than the Atlantic coast.
BEST SPAIN TRAVEL AND TOURIST INFO ONLINE
BEST PLACES TO HANG OUT, CHILL, BEACH IT, ENJOY HERB
The Mambo Beach Club (www.mambobeachclub.com) and La Cubana Beach Club (www.chillzonelacubana.com).
BEST PLACE TO RAVE
The island of Ibiza, which features legendary beach raves during spring and summer. Check out www.brianx.com/ibizareview.html
QUALITY AND COST OF SPANISH CANNABIS PRODUCTS
Spanish outdoor is about six to 12% THC, usually overly-dry domestic varieties. It costs $9-$20 US per gram.
When buying Moroccan hashish, look for the dark, chocolate-colored type. Ask the dealer to slice it and see if it has a dark, wet interior, which is a sign of potency.
Also worthwhile, Moroccan golden double-zero hashish. Cost: $10-$25 US per gram.
BEST WAY TO ENSURE YOU WILL HAVE STRONG WEED AND HASH IN SPAIN
Spend a day or two in Holland before you go south to Spain, and buy cannabis there. Bring it with you, as there are no border controls inter-Europe and you will not be searched when you land in Spain.
BEST PLACE TO SMOKE HERB AND GET LAID
Estark 92 Brothel, near La Cubana. 20 minutes south of Malaga at Fuengirola, on the coast.
BEST WAY TO SPAIN FROM NORTH AMERICA
Fly to Amsterdam or London, then take BasiqAir or EasyJet inter-Europe to Malaga.
BEST PLACE TO STAY IN SOUTHERN SPAIN
BEST SPANISH CANNABIS INFORMATION
Jose Molina: 011 34 952 66 0029 (serious inquiries only)
FUN THINGS TO DO IN SPAIN
Swim, run, bike, hike, get high, parasail, eat, fish, boating, shopping, tanning, historic-architectural-art tours, learn Spanish, horseback riding, golf, soccer, bullfights, sex.
PROBLEMS TO WATCH FOR
Traffic-jams in cities. Most Spaniards only speak Spanish. The Euro is a very pricey currency. The sun is very strong!