Federico Motos Lajara was born October 3rd, 1930, six years before the Spanish Civil War, in a cave 140 kilometers east of Granada. He stands nearly 6 feet tall, with a wispy wheat stalk for a frame and smooth brown cheeks that belie a life spent under the Andalusian sun. He is a shepherd by trade, a bachelor by choice, and a cave dweller by both love and necessity. And in two months’ time, when I take Laura Pérez to be my lawful wedded wife, Chacho Federo will be my great uncle.
Laura is Catalan-Andaluz, born and raised near Barcelona, but with both sides of her family hailing from the south of Spain. Her father Angel was also born and raised in Fuente Nueva, a community that at its height in the 1950s and 60s had up to 500 people living as farmers, shepherds and craftsmen. Cave communities took root during Muslim rule in Andalusia, the northern Africans finding the Spanish terrain a perfect place to continue their long tradition of countryside cave dwelling. The habit stuck, and 500 years after the Moors were driven from Spain the caves remain, mainly because of a number of distinct physical advantages they provide: not only do they offer inexpensive, effective protection from the elements, they maintain an unexpectedly comfortable ambient temperature year round, taking the edge off the harsh winters and brutal summers that define this desert terrain.
My first trip to Fuente Nueva came in December of 2010, a far-reaching attempt to convince Laura and her family that I was serious about my commitment to this country. In three shorts days, I drank whisky with the local men, hung chorizo with the local women, and helped turn a pig into a year’s worth of charcuterie for strangers I wanted to desperately call my family. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a few weeks out of each year with Laura’s people in the south, and gradually over this time, they’ve become my people, too. None more so than Chacho Federo.