Tourist’s eye view

The popular concept of the Los Monegros region in Aragon is aptly summed up by the view from the AVE high-speed train on the Madrid to Barcelona line. In Zaragoza the view from the eponymous taxi driver was polite but clear; the ecologists had an opinion, of course, but really there was nothing in Los Monegros but ¡Quatro lagartos! “Four lizards”, slang for nothing at all. Herein lies the nub of the problem for groups opposing the Gran Scala casino development project. Despite the fact that the ‘dessert’ areas of Huesca and Zaragoza provinces do indeed host a rich environmental heritage there seems to be no way to change, reverse in fact, the popular beliefs that undeveloped, or poorly developed land is worthless and that all progress is, by definition, a good thing. He went on to say that once outside of the city, Aragon is “Todo pueblo”, that is to say completely backward. The trouble is, he’s right! Maybe the way forward for the opposition is to propose a viable alternative to the scheme?

Los Monegros

I’ve been doing a lot of research into the issue of Los Monegros and the proposed Gran Scala casino development. In fairness I still have a totally open mind; taking on board the environmental concerns but also the social issues, which are complicated to say the least. But in the meantime I was able to actually go there last week – something that I feel few of the protagonists are actually doing right now!

It’s been over twenty years since I was last here, and lately I just seem to view Los Monegros from the luxury of the High Speed Trains that wizz through the region at over 300 kilometres per hour. What I see is that the term ‘desert’, often used by protagonists on both sides of the debate, is far from the truth; the region is farmland, although the living there is clearly very hard.

We drove through Otiñena, one of the key villages in the controversy, but didn’t stop as it was clear that the World’s press had been there before us. But a quick appraisal showed that the poverty in the district is real enough – it reminded us strongly of villages in the Western Sahara; is this modern Spain, we asked ourselves?

But the region has a stark beauty all of its own, and I feel for the environmentalists who are afraid that this will be lost or severely damaged by the development. Most of us have a feeling for the sense of ‘wilderness’ but how many know, or care, what that term actualluy means, I wonder?

I want to write a serious feature article on Los Monegros and would welcome views from all sides of the debate. But in the meantime I just want to share a few images of a landscape that could soon change forever.