Penelope’s Story

I was about two months pregnant with my second child, my son Paris, when my Jamaican-Irish boyfriend, Desmond and I, left London in an old lefthand drive jeep to seek a different lifestyle and new life. My daughter Amber, was about seven months old at the time and I had decided I didn’t want to raise my children in the city, pushing her pram around the park in the rain with a plastic cover, or down the street with bus fumes chugging out into her face.

It all stemmed from an idealistic spirituality, wanting to live off grid, outside of society, in harmony with nature, an eco-lifestyle, free to express as artists, poets, hippies and fringe dwellers, no judgement. Somewhere utilising solar and wind power. Under the radar, a low-key lifestyle and most of all, in the sunshine.

We headed south, not sure where we would end up but eventually came to Spain where  we started by renting a house in the Alpujarras. I liked Spain as it was warmer than France and I preferred the food. On New Years Eve in 1999 we went to celebrate the new millennium in Mojacar and that is where we decided to stay. No big motorways close by and mountains meeting the blue mediterranean sea. It was a beautiful area, sandy beaches and lovely people.

It took nine months to find the retreat which was pretty much a ruin. The finca was there but I’ve since had to rebuild it as it had no proper foundations. It was completely off-grid, with no solar power or electricity and not even a generator. At first we’d just go up there and work on the land in the day and spend time there. Eventually we moved in but still only had candles and an open fire going in the small domed room in the evenings. In the winter I’d climb into the fireplace wearing two pairs of jeans, a poncho and woolly hat. We had a line of buckets catching water every time it rained, doors that didn’t close, a two-metre-long snake lived in the pipe outside the back door, and we later found out that the floors upstairs were barely attached to the walls. The grounds were a dust bowl in the hot dry sun and a muddy bog in the rain with a small swimming pool and a few olive trees which I eventually moved to the garden below and created the wishing stone garden.

Our first generator arrived just before our New Years Eve party on the 31st December 2000. We had about 200 people and there was a German man called Jochen fire-eating in the big sitting room and I watched in horror as flames licked across the ceiling whilst my friend Anna was busy in front of him mopping up the petrol with a bucket of water. We had a loud sound system, graffiti drawn by me and the children on the walls, live music, dogs, people dancing everywhere…

It was wild and romantic – and a hard place to live.

There are so many exciting and wonderful stories to tell of life at the finca. There was the birth of my third child, Izaak, my separation from their father and how I continued raising three children aged 2, 4 and 5 alone, over-seeing the building work, implementing my designs and learning from my plentiful mistakes. Different builders came and went, some cowboys, some skilled. I was the “jefe” which is the Spanish word for boss, however it sounded as if they were calling me a heifer! I was a lone woman in a world of men.

I was constantly planting and designing, making sure that the buildings followed the natural form of the land. I would go and sit on the opposite hill and do little drawings to work from. All of the buildings were built in the old style with extra-thick walls which works best in the heat of the desert, keeping the interiors cooler in the heat of the days and warmer in the winters. I think that the retreat feels ageless as it was built in that old way. I was inspired by the Alhambra of course and spent lots of time in Granada, strolling through the Albacin, admiring the Moorish architecture.

Foundations were drawn using yeso (plaster) on the earth and then dug out, initially by hand. One day a Spanish builder had dug out my yeso marked foundation over the afternoon and when I went back it was at the wrong angle so I had to ask him to re-dig it. He was furious and I realised I had to be sure of what I was doing.

I was no longer at art college, making mistakes and rubbing them out.

The architecture around the pool and the main finca is inspired by Islamic architecture as the domes were already in place thanks to the artist Manolo Coranado who had once owned and loved the finca. I love the symmetry of Islamic architecture and also wanted to acknowledge the history of the area as the Moors conquered that part of Spain from North Africa in 711.

The staff cottage I built first for us to live in whilst working on the rest of the buildings and rooms. I slept in the upstairs bedroom and Love Birds would tap on my window for food in the mornings. The staff cottage was my typical Spanish cortijo, and I used only Spanish building materials and tiles.

I had help from a Moroccan friend, with the Taj Mahita at the end of the pool and the main doors and tiles. We took a family trip to Morocco to source the materials. The TIkki bar is inspired by the Jamaican beach bars and there is a Flame Tree at the bottom of the garden too which is a national tree of Jamaica with its’ bright red flames for flowers. I fell in love with those trees in Jamaica and wanted a little of Jamaica at the finca as a part of my children’s heritage as well as somewhere I love.

The dojo is based on a Japanese design with a reclaimed sprung wooden floor and actually the only one for miles around, but the raised roof inside gives it a Spanish touch. The Cave Rooms underneath the dojo were literally dug into the hill which was an incredible feat of structural engineering but I love the way they worked out, warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

But it was all about the gardens and trees for me. Both jobs of designing the gardens and buildings ran side by side. I had to plant and bring in the bigger trees to the heart and then slowly keep planting and landscaping working outwards until no cars could get close to the house because of the trees, plants and hardscaping. This took time as we had to get building trucks and machinery onto the land but it was a big job and has taken over 19 years to date. I’m still planting and designing now. It’s always a work in progress But it was really all about the trees.

“Move to the desert and you plant trees,
move to the forest and you cut them down.”

Since living at La Finca Paradiso I’ve planted a few thousand trees over 19 years. We have 33 acres and (including staff) sleep  33 people. Everything was built according to my knowledge of numerology, sacred geometry and ways of the land and spirits. The water garden and other gardens were shown to me in visions and dreams and I’ve always worked closely with my gardener and dear friend Marco from Ecuador. I feel that I’ve been guided by an invisible hand in creating the finca from the very beginning.

I bought the tower and land around and behind us about five years ago in 2013. It was land I’d previously fought to protect from farmers and failed. Now I have a chance to re-wild it. I’ve planted the land below the finca and around the tower according to an article I read in Resurgence & Ecologist. Mixed planting in a certain layout so the different species of trees help each other. I changed it a little and have put the tall Eucalyptus at either end. They are amazing trees with incredible energetic properties. They protect and purify.

The trees are the guardians of the retreat. I have also planted almost a thousand mixed fruit trees since acquiring the extra land.  I didn’t realise I was planting such a huge fruit farm, and in the desert too. It was a huge worry at one point when I realised that I’d planted so many fruit trees and only had poor quality agricultural water to water them with. Then luckily my prayers were answered and some friends introduced me to a German man who came and installed a special water purification system using oxygen and different bacteria to clean the water, from black or grey to white water. Now all of our water is naturally cleansed to a very high level and our trees are thriving. We feed our guests and voluntary workers and staff and their families with the food we grow, as well as supply various restaurants and sell on markets.

As an eco retreat I have had to battle with people to keep us off grid and that has been another whole story in itself but we are finally getting there. We now have solar and wind power and occasionally use our back-up generator.

La Finca Paradiso was always a hub where people could meet, heal and create. There’s been a constant ebb and flow of international artists, musicians, poets, travellers and spiritual seekers over the years. Now it has evolved even more to a healing space where people can have a taste of and experience Heaven on Earth, a sanctuary. A temple for Gaia. A portal. An energy centre. A place of sound and vibration, art and healing. It is a healing and creative retreat. A place of love to send healing to the planet. I hope we can evolve more and support and link in with other like-minded communities worldwide as well as educate people about sustainable energy and the environment.

Sustainable energy is the key to an harmonious future.

If you want to live
With fish in the seas
A sustainable planet
With forests of trees
Take energy from the wind
The sun and the water
Look forward to a life
For your sons and your daughters

Everyone needs and should honour themselves with some time out from their routine and go on a retreat. The finca is genuine paradise. The architecture, colours, light, the best food in the world formulated by the loving, nurturing people who run it.  I loved it and hope to be back.

Lisa October 2018