This blogpost is entirely about rewilding in my beloved Madrid, a city that has seen me grow up.
The distance between us, created by moving over to Belgium many years ago, allows me to observe it with different eyes, from another perspective every time I return.
Now, I see things I did not see before; I feel things I did not feel and appreciate before, because everything seemed so ordinary to me.
Last week, I spent a couple of days in Madrid, and immediately, I started to explore while constantly asking this question:
Can you actually rewild in a city of this calibre? And if so, how?
I certainly think you can, as long as we agree on the meaning we give to the word “rewilding.” I insist:
rewilding is not about returning to the prehistoric cave, wearing animal hides, or walking naked through the Gran Vía. (I admit, when walking this Avenue in the sometimes gruellingly hot summer sun, I was tempted to do so).
Rewilding is simply about returning to the source and retrieving a more human lifestyle, and keeping what is good from the present moment without despising or suppressing what is inherent to our own human nature.
So what is inherent to our human nature? Many things, for instance:
- Eating the right way
- Moving as much as possible
- Enjoying the outdoors
- Sleeping well
- Socializing and enjoying life
It is also about doing what you can with what you have and I am convinced the possibilities are not as limited as one might think.
For me, eating is the easiest way to begin to reconnect with our nature. Stop eating over-packaged and over-processed foods and go back to eating what nourish us.
In a big city, supermarkets dominate the landscape, and impossible job schedules make it very hard to go and shop somewhere else. But there are good quality markets in Madrid. I was surprised by the proliferation of organic products shops at every corner.
It is true that in these stores, fresh products are quite expensive and that supermarkets are increasingly offering organic products. But do not be fooled. Although it is a considerable improvement, many of these products are still not fit for humans (pasta, biscuits, various cereals, etc.). You will not be dying from eating them, but neither will you nourish your body like it deserves and get the needed energy to achieve optimal health.
What we need are fresh foods of the highest quality, rich in sunlight, as explained in this article.
Another increasingly widespread option is buy your organic food online and let them deliver it to you from field to table (www.cestaverde.com or www.ecocampo.com).
Madrid has, in itself, a great advantage: its climate. Sunny days with clear skies are frequent, and are an obvious invitation to spending time outdoors.
You might not immediately expect it, but Madrid has lots of green areas to facilitate your much needed outdoor time. I was struck by the number of people working out in places like the Parque del Retiro.
Of course there is a big pollution problem in the streets, but there is at least as much contamination in houses, offices, shops, and gyms – places where the artificial air conditioning or heating is concentrated in very little space and every surface is drenched in toxic cleaning products. Not to mention the increasing electromagnetic pollution in enclosed spaces of the Western World.
I recommend outdoor sports or simply brisk walking instead of taking the car or subway. It’s easy, cheap and good for your state of mind, too.
Observing is important, because it takes you to the present moment and allows you to discover things that you would otherwise miss.
Apart from window-shopping and inexhaustible distractions everywhere, there is much to see in a big city. For example, do you have any idea what kind of trees oxygenate your city?
Now that I have more knowledge of botany, I love discovering the huge variety of trees that can be found in squares, parks, and streets: beech, oak, chestnut, gingko, willows, birches, oaks, elms, mulberries, quince trees, olive trees, acacias, maples, linden, ash, pine, fir larch, etc. Simply stunning!
You can also observe various small animals. The region of Madrid is rich in wildlife, but in the city centre, apart from the omnipresent pigeons, you can see magpies, sparrows, robins, chickadees, blackbirds, bats, and even squirrels.
Observing fauna and flora is a perfect activity to do with children.
My nephews wanted me to take them to the playing ground in the nearby park. In the park it struck me watching all these children in that tiny concentrated and fenced space called a playgroung. None of them ventured onto the grass or climbed the various trees that populated the area.
So I decided to take my nephews on an “adventure” and show them the other side of the park. We took off our shoes and climbed trees. They were in disbelief. Can we really do this?
We had fun and genuine engagement for several hours. We listened to the magpies. The next day, they were able to recognize their squawk perfectly without even seeing them. We walked on all fours, we laid on the grass while bats flew over our heads. We sang a song to the moon and tried to detect the presence of the first stars.
The children could not believe their eyes and happiness on their faces was unmistakable, they had had the time of their life.
Adequate sleep is of absolute importance for the amount of vital processes that take place overnight in your body.
Quality sleep in a city is, for many, one of the biggest challenges. The noise never seems to fade. People think they get used to it, but they don’t. It messes up their biorhythm.
If you have the chance to get up to the mountains and bivouac (spend a night outdoors), I highly recommend it. It is an unforgettable experience!
Without going to extremes, you can incorporate habits that help you sleep better:
- Shut down or decrease the intense lights as evening falls.
- Turn off and unplug all electronic devices, especially the WIFI, before going to bed.
- Aromatize your rooms with relaxing essential oils of plants that help to provoke sleep (lavender, petit grain, roman chamomile, ylang ylang or bergamot).
- Read a book instead of watching TV or the computer before going to sleep.
Socialize and Enjoy Life
This is quite possible in a city so full of life and options to enjoy with friends and family.
The only enemy here is time. Or rather, the lack of time. It is inconceivable that, certainly in Spain, these insane working hours do still exist in many companies. In Sweden for example they learned their lesson. Check it out.
We should have plenty of time to enjoy being with friends and relatives and life in general. Therefore, we need to make very smart choices when it comes to spending our time.
Keep Consumerism at Bay
There’s one important requirement for living a more human life in a big city: keeping consumerism at bay.This is, one of the greatest dangers in the urban environment. In Madrid, as well as in many other big cities, it is considered normal to devote leisure time to shopping, eating, or some other type of consuming.
Instead of spending your day in a shopping centre or at “Globalization Street,” I invite you to discover natural spaces that are surprisingly found in a big city. In Madrid, for example, after a ride of just 50 km from the city centre, you are submerged in the beautiful mountains of Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, one of my favourite places to reconnect with nature.
Whenever consuming, do it responsibly. Buy little, but buy beautiful and get excited about it. Be willing to pay more for sustainable products with craftsmanship and good quality. You are entitled to surround yourself with the best and not with cheap unnecessary trash that will sooner or later join the other“incredible offers” in the waste bin. More on this here.
We are fortunate to live in a place in the world where choices are greater than ever. So the choice is yours!
Do you dare to live a wilder life, even in the middle of a big city like Madrid?
Ready to give it a go? I’d love to hear your experience, especially if you live in a big city. Where are your favourite places to rewild?