Anchored in the summers of old Cartagena, where days of sun, fishing and bathing on the beach never ended, a small town, located at the mouth of the Rambla de Benipila, refuses to plunge into the overwhelming technological world as if it were the Gaul of Asterix and Obelix with the Roman Empire.
La Algameca Chica began to come to life a hundred years ago from a few fishermen, miners and vacationers who, with a temporary permit from the Navy, decided to create their little paradise, which a century later still shines full of vivacity. “This place has a special charm, there are humble people who live in their small barracks here, but who enjoy the day fishing, bathing in crystal clear waters and walking with their boats. It is a quality of life that only the rich are expected to have” , says José Ibarra, historian and author of the book ‘The beginnings of contemporary settlement in the area of the Algameca Chica de Cartagena’.
A trip to the past
This colorful town of barracks, sometimes compared to Shanghai, differs from the image one often draws of outlaw settlements. In La Algameca Chica, her neighbors boast that they have no crime, no drugs, and no dirt. In its streets, highly cared for by the neighbors, the elderly enjoy the sea breeze sitting with their chairs at the door of the houses to the rhythm of the pasodobles that emit radios, while the young people flutter in small boats and in the bathing areas. “It has that essence of a lifelong town. It is a vestige of the old-fashioned Cartagena summer, a trip to the past,” says the historian.
This peculiar stamp was proposed in 2017 as an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC) by the Department of Culture and Heritage of Cartagena. Ibarra, for his part, is committed to the need to “know” it more in depth, and analyze its development, not only historical, but also anthropological. “” I managed to make a kind of X-ray of how Algameca has evolved, but this place unique, which I do not think is repeated anywhere in the Mediterranean, has much more to study “.
No worries about the price of light
La Algameca Chica has persisted over the years, transmitting the barracks from parents to children, without running water or conventional electricity systems. “We are still in the same place where we used to spend the summer as children, most of us have improved the houses, but we continue to support ourselves with water tanks or bringing it from nearby freshwater areas. Electricity, on the other hand, we now obtain through solar panels and there is failures with this system. We do not need anything else here, we are not affected by the rise in electricity “, laughs the president of the neighborhood association, José Manuel De Haro.
De Haro is in this town “the moral authority of the place.” “Nothing happens here without him finding out, they ask him for advice and respect the statutes that he establishes in the association,” says the historian. Recently reelected for the third consecutive time, José Manuel justifies this respect that others process him. “I’ve been from here all my life and I get along well with everyone, many have known me since I was a brat,” he says.
For the president of the neighborhood association, the narrow streets of Algameca take much longer to travel than they would take someone else. His passage through them, although firm, awakens affection and respect in the neighbors. “Everyone stops me and greets me or asks me for advice, we have always known each other and, as I worked on the construction site, they always ask me for help with the small reforms they do or with the problems they have in the barracks, here we always help each other “narrates De Haro.
In this town, its few inhabitants organize themselves autonomously, with no external services other than garbage collection, so De Haro’s knowledge is always welcome. “With the cold drop of 2019, the bridge that connects the right area of the Algameca Chica (the oldest) with the left fell and we had to rebuild it by hand together,” explains the president of the neighborhood association, “is the third time we have had to build it in the history of the Algameca and we have been perfecting the technique to make them more solid “.
All these neighbors live in “harmonious anarchy”, according to the historian, registered through a list in the local Neighborhood Association and maintaining their own rules to avoid conflicts. “The streets are narrow so they try to make the main one always accessible. It is forbidden to park on it and they respect it without the need to apply fines for it.”
Despite these agreements, which try to create peace and protect the inhabitants of the Algameca chica, not all have always respected the statutes drawn up by De Haro and his team. “New people have arrived who have settled in the place and others who have renovated their barracks from scratch, when both things cannot be done,” says the president of the neighborhood association. “Recently the Civil Guard has intervened, investigating eight people because, although the settlement is illegal, the Navy consents to it due to its historical journey, as long as it is not expanded and these people were doing it. We cannot forget that those who have Protection is the barracks and not us, so if we tear them down they will not let us raise them again, “says the president of the neighborhood association. De Haro assures that “the statutes that are established in the neighborhood association do not have legal validity, but are drafted to avoid conflicts with the authorities.”
This small settlement does not have 15 neighbors throughout the year. However, in summer it can accommodate up to 500 people. “Most use the barracks as a summer resort, but in reality they reside in Cartagena or Murcia,” explains De Haro. “Those who live here are always usually because they are retired, since there are no jobs or schools here.”
Put aside prejudices
María del Carmen, a journalist for Onda Cero in Cartagena, met Algameca Chica through her husband, but she no longer imagines her summers or retirement away from her. “We bought one of the barracks a few years ago and renovated it entirely. I love being here and disconnecting from the stress that we have in the city, it is a totally different climate, here there is nothing you should worry about. As soon as I stop working I will I will come to live here permanently, “he says. For this information professional, spending the summer at the Algameca Chica was a challenge at first. “You arrive with prejudices, you think that you are not going to be comfortable because you are going to be afraid that it is all dark (the streets have a very dim lighting system that is only enhanced when a sensor detects movement) or that wild animals are heard, but the truth is that now I would not change it for anything. Here I find peace “, says María del Carmen. Despite this, the journalist confesses that, due to the lack of knowledge of the Algameca Chica, she has sometimes responded with fear when friends or colleagues asked her where she was or was spending the summer. “Being an allegal settlement, people have in mind that image that it is marginal or problematic, but it is because they do not know the area; those friends who have really visited it, would change their house in La Manga for a barrack in this town “. María del Carmen assures that she gave up these types of places to go to Algameca, “I would not go back for nothing.”
The historian, Ibarra, believes that “one of the main requirements to visit this place is to remove prejudices when visiting it.” “This is not Santorini – a Greek archipelago located in the southern Aegean Sea – but there are beautiful houses and it is a different place that is worth seeing. superiority about this place, they are working-class people who have inherited these houses from their parents and grandparents, so they maintain a special attachment to the place. ” This is the case of De Haro: “I have grown up among these streets, now that I am retired, even if I do not live here I like to come every day to do the usual, to fish, to bathe, to talk to people …”.
The arrival of COVID-19 prevented during the confinement that those people who own their barracks as a second home could go to Algameca, which significantly reduced the number of its inhabitants. De Haro, however, decided to confine himself there. “It was clear that I was going to be better off here than locked up in an apartment in Cartagena. It was very curious to spend the confinement here because, as there was no more murmuring of people, you would find wild boars and foxes at the doors of the houses.”
“We want to pay the taxes that correspond to us”
The main threat that the residents of this place now face, far from being wild animals, is precisely the allegiance in which they live and the fear that they want to destroy the town. “We want to pay the taxes that correspond to us for living here and being able to have public services,” explains De Haro. However, the latter is extremely difficult today, according to Ibarra. “It is impossible to legalize it because you cannot put a sewage system, but it cannot be made illegal either because of the social opposition that this would have.” The historian assures that “everyone in Cartagena already knows the existence of the Algameca, knows what it is and knows that it is something that does not have to disappear.” “I think it will continue like this forever, living in institutional abandonment, with the advantages that this entails, but also its drawbacks. The good thing is that they let them do whatever they want, the bad thing is that they do not provide any type of service” , describes Ibarra.
This town “that lives in peaceful anarchy”, according to the historian, organizing guided tours, poetry and photography festivals and summer parties (this year suspended due to the pandemic), also knew how to get up in the nineties when the Navy for “suspicions of terrorism “He denied neighbors access to their homes. “That was a lie, but they said they needed the area for their maneuvers,” explains Ibarra. “They were the hard years of the ETA and as there was an attack in Cartagena they went a little crazy, because to think that the security of the State depended on whether these neighbors entered their homes or not was nonsense, very paranoid and an abuse.”
The president of the neighborhood association, De Haro, experienced the situation firsthand. “We got them to grant us a kind of accreditation to go to our houses that we had to teach every day every time we entered the Algameca, we passed and our cars were searched even when we were going with our families. It was a shame, very humiliating, as if we were going to organize an attack on the four cats from Cartagena who lived here. ” Finally, the neighbors got up, even breaking the chain of the Army with hammer blows during their protests, says Ibarra, and returned to their homes. “The Navy had to dismantle its operation and the town returned in 1994, after many months of resistance and struggle, to normality”, describes the historian. “There is a very great spirit of union and solidarity among the inhabitants of this place, that spirit of help and rapport that we are losing in the cities,” he concludes.