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A Manchego Story : The Chozo

It never ceases to amaze me whenever I visit Consu’s hometown of Valdepeñas. There is so much to see, feel, learn, and experience in the authentic Spanish farm-town heritage that permeates every corner.

To be honest, I never imagined that I would end up marrying someone from this part of the world. It seems like I manifested an endlessly interesting life filled with adventures.

Speaking of adventures, Valdepeñas is the epicenter of exploration when it comes to experiencing traditional Spanish living. As someone who was born and raised in Asia, I must admit that the level of excitement this brings me is indescribable.

How do say the word …Valdepeñas?

The word “Valdepeñas” is pronounced as “Val-de-pe-nyas.” The squiggly thing on the ‘n’ is called a tilde, and it changes the pronunciation of the ‘n’ to “nye” or “en-ye” sound. So, when you encounter a word with the letter ‘n’ followed by a tilde in Spanish, it is pronounced as “nye.”

Now, armed with this knowledge, you can confidently pronounce “Valdepeñas” and impress native Spanish speakers with your understanding of the en-ye pronunciation. Well done!

The Valdepeñas Sign

If you’re as captivated by signage as much as the iconic ‘I Amsterdam‘ before its removal, then I have a location for you that offers the perfect opportunity for free and unlimited “we-fies” (we-selfies). Simply head to the designated spot just after sunset when the natural light is dimming, allowing the lights of the signage to illuminate. This creates a magical backdrop while ensuring your face remains visible in the atmospheric low-light. You’re welcome!

What is Manchego? Like the cheese?

You’re correct! Manchego is indeed a type of cheese. It is a traditional Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk, specifically from the Manchega sheep breed. Authentic Manchego cheese is produced in the Castilla-la-Mancha region of Spain, which includes Valdepeñas. The people from this region are often referred to as Manchegos (masculine) or Manchegas (feminine). So, in Valdepeñas, you are in the heartland of Manchego cheese production and surrounded by the proud Manchego culture.

Manchego Cheese (Queso Manchego) – Sheep’s Cheese

The region of Valdepeñas has a strong agricultural focus, particularly in the cultivation of grapes for wine and vermouth production. The fertile lands support the growth of various crops, including wheat, olives, pistachios, and almonds. Throughout the area, you will find farms scattered across the landscape, contributing to the region’s abundant agricultural output.

One of the notable highlights of Valdepeñas is its excellent wine production. The region is known for producing high-quality wines, and due to the local abundance, these wines are often available at affordable prices. This makes Valdepeñas a haven for wine enthusiasts, offering the opportunity to indulge in great wines without breaking the bank.

During my first visit to Valdepeñas, I noticed a similarity in the air and atmosphere to that of California. If you are familiar with California, you may sense a resemblance. However, what sets Valdepeñas apart is the distinctive Manchego accent, which becomes noticeable when you have spent enough time in Spain.

Occasionally, you may encounter words or expressions that are unique to the Manchego dialect and differ from standard Castellano Spanish. It’s wonderful that you have an interest in learning the dialect and becoming a part of the Manchego culture. Embracing the local dialect can deepen your connection to the region and its people. I love to learn the dialect so I can be part Manchego! Why not?!

El Molino (the windmill of La Mancha)

Ever since I began immersing myself in Manchego and Spanish culture, I have continuously come across new traditions and aspects of the culture that I have never encountered elsewhere. The more time I spend with Consu’s family and her extended family, the more I gain a profound understanding of the Spanish lifestyle.

It’s a truly enriching experience to be embraced by the warmth of Consu’s family and to witness firsthand the customs and values that are deeply ingrained in Spanish society. Whether it’s the lively celebrations during festivals, the heartfelt gatherings around delicious meals, or the strong sense of community, each encounter opens my eyes to the richness and diversity of the Spanish way of life.

Through these connections and experiences, I have developed a deep appreciation for the Spanish culture, which continually unveils new layers for me to explore. It’s a journey of discovery that has broadened my horizons and given me a whole new perspective on life.

Spanish vs Mexicans

Before we go any further, to those who doesn’t know the difference of Spanish & Mexicans, I feel like that it’s my duty to explain and clear the confusion.

Spanish, is both the people living in Spain on the European continent, which was connected to France, Germany, Portugal and also separated by sea to the United Kingdom (Great Britain) where Queen Elizabeth II once lived. And, yes you’re right, Spanish was also a language.

Mama Maria’s Paella (Consu’s Mom)

Spanish people are more related to the Paella, a rice based dish cooked in a flat pan, which usually includes seafood and vegetables.

Mexicans, are the people from or living in Mexico (country) which was located South to the United States of America (USA). Mexican is also a language or a dialect which rooted from Spanish (Spain) with their own ‘twang’. I won’t dare attempt to explain the dialect, but if you watch Breaking Bad, they mostly speak Mexican Spanish.

Mexicans are more related to the Tacos, Burritos, Mariachi singers, Corona Beer …and the list goes on.

Mexican Tacos & Mariachi Singers

Now that you know the difference, don’t go around saying the Spanish & Mexicans are the same, it’s like saying the English (GB) & the Americans (USA) are the same. That’ll definitely trigger the patriotic citizens!

The Chozo

In late summer 2022, we returned to Spain for Consu’s sister Ana’s wedding. As part of the bride’s team, we were responsible for preparing the flower girls’ baskets. Instead of using flower petals, we opted for olive tree leaves, symbolizing the region’s heritage and connection to the land. It was a special touch that added to the memorable atmosphere of the wedding.

Consu’s Father driving us to the farm

Consu’s father told us that he knew the perfect place to obtain the olive leaves – Consu’s late grandfather’s olive plantation. Excited for another adventure, we embarked on a journey to the farm located in San Carlos del Valle, a small town about 30 minutes away from Valdepeñas in the heart of Castilla-la-Mancha. This was deep Manchego territory, where foreign visitors like myself stood out noticeably among the locals, like a sore-thumb.

Consu’s late Grandfather’s farm

When we got there, it was at least 36-38 degrees Centigrade and super sunny. Consu’s father drove onto the dirt road and there it was, the olive trees and the grape vines. Wait, there was something else, what’s that pile of rocks?

At the farm, we discovered a large pile of rocks that caught our attention. Consu’s father explained that it was a stone hut called a Chozo, built by Consu’s grandfather around 100 years ago. The Chozo served as a storage space for farming produce and a place to cook meals while working on the land. It was a testament to the resourcefulness of Consu’s grandfather and the farming traditions of the region. Standing there, we felt a strong connection to the past and the history of Consu’s family.

As we delved deeper into the story, Consu’s father shared an intriguing detail about her grandfather, Jesus. He used to rely on mules or donkeys, along with a cart, for transportation on the farm. It was a practical choice considering that owning a lorry, a 4×4, or even a car was considered a luxury in those times. Farmers like Jesus often depended on these dependable animals to carry out their tasks and navigate the rural landscape. It was a fascinating glimpse into the resourcefulness and simplicity of life in the past.

The Build

As an engineer, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the construction of the Chozo. It was remarkable to see how the entire building was assembled using rocks found on the land, without the use of any cement. The rocks used were flat and wide, ranging in weight from 1 kg to 10 kgs, with some even weighing 20-30 kgs to form the sturdy base of the Chozo.

One of the most impressive features of the Chozo was its ability to remain completely waterproof during rain. Not a single drop of water would seep inside, ensuring that anything stored within would stay dry and protected. It was a testament to the ingenuity of its construction, showcasing how traditional building techniques could effectively address practical needs in the farming context.

Inside the chozo, looking up! Light shines through the gaps and it allows good airflow to cool the air inside

Inside the Chozo, there was a noticeable temperature difference, always remaining cool compared to the outside. It was approximately 10-15 degrees cooler, thanks to the natural insulation provided by the rock walls. While the rocks effectively shielded the interior from rain, they also allowed for excellent airflow through the gaps, as they were not cemented or plastered together.

As for the flooring, it consisted of compacted dirt without the use of cement or rocks. However, due to the Chozo being unused since Consu’s grandfather stopped farming, rabbits had taken up residence inside. They had dug holes in the ground, posing a threat to the structural integrity of the building.

Looks like I’ll be starting a bunny hunting season soon, haha! Don’t worry, I won’t do that, we live cruelty free because we love the wildlife and animals.

Watch this video to view inside the chozo

Climate Change Hits …Hard

The impacts of climate change have been particularly severe in this region, which was already known for its dry climate. With the recent erratic weather patterns worldwide, Castilla-la-Mancha has experienced even drier conditions and record-low rainfall.

As we walked around the farm, we couldn’t help but notice the sorry state of the olives, which had shriveled up like prunes. It’s truly disheartening to witness the effects of these changing climate conditions.

The farmers have been facing a chain reaction resulting from the insufficient rainfall, leading to a scarcity of grass and wild plants. This, in turn, creates a shortage of food for wild animals, such as rabbits, who resort to feasting on the farmer’s grapes and seedlings. Unfortunately, as a consequence, some farmers feel compelled to take extreme measures, resorting to shooting these animals in an attempt to mitigate the problem. It is sad.

Who was Grandpa Jesus?

It was an honour getting to know Grandpa Jesus (hey-sus) because of so many reasons. One of them was, he lived to over 102 years old before passing away peacefully, thankfully not to COVID19. If I could live up to 90 in my lifetime, I’ll be thrilled!

Picture taken in San Carlos del Valle in 2018

He had also lived through 2 wars in his lifetime, which one of them was the Spanish civil war when General Franco was in power. Turns out that General Franco was something like Hitler in a Spanish version, you get the idea.

Picture taken in 2018. Left to right : Consu’s Sister Ana, Grandpa Jesus & Consu

Grandpa Jesus actually built the chozo, all by hand, stone-by-stone back in the 1930s (probably) as there wasn’t cameras, camera phones, Facebook or Instagram to record the exact dates. There were no machinery involved, probably a hammer and shovels. The building has stood the test of time for over 100 years now, I hope it’ll stand another 100 years as a family’s heritage!