Salt Pirates & Ancient Olive Trees - Traveling The History Of Ancient Spain

Of salt pans and olive groves of southern Spain!

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Full Show Script

  • [Die in the desert]

  • EVO: The Mediterranean sea is pretty salty, about 15% higher in salinity than the Atlantic. That's mostly due to evaporation -- the Mediterranean is very shallow and is connected to the Atlantic by only a tiny, 13 km wide channel between Spain and Africa.

  • SHE: On the Spanish coast midway between Barcelona and Valencia, the Ebro river has been depositing silt and sand for countless years, creating a huge delta jutting out into the Mediterranean. Not unlike the Mississippi delta in Louisiana.

  • 3 EVO: This area is called Terres de l'Ebre, literally the land created by the Rio Ebro. On the coast, it's mostly a collection of farms all dedicated to rice production, consisting of 35 square kilometers of perfectly flat -- and kinda boring -- rice patties. But centuries before, the big cash crop was salt.

  • SHE: Tucked between rice fields with little in the way of signage is the old Tancada saltworks. An interpretive center was built to preserve and educate visitors about the history of the site. Here's our guide explaining what we're seeing and how these salt pans were used in the middle ages:

  • [Salt pans]

  •  EVO: But the coolest part of the story isn't about historic salt cultivation. It's about historic salt protection.

  • [Pirates]

  • EVO: Did you hear that? Pirates! But not just any pirates. Salt stealing pirates! Salt stealing pirates from Africa! Oh, I'm totally binge-watching that series as soon as the first season drops on Netflix.

  • SHE: Just a few kilometers upstream, the rice fields give way to rows and rows of olive trees, an icon of Mediterranean commerce and culture. In Arión, one particular stand of trees -- called a finca -- has been tended to for a very long time.

  • EVO: This particular finca is setup as a sort of natural museum and also isn't terribly easy to find. Our Spanish-speaking guide -- he was a huge fan of my Forbidden Planet t-shirt -- walked us through the Millennial olive grove. Or was that millennium? 

  • [Millennial millennium]

  • EVO: You say tomato, I say tomato.

  • SHE: The male voice you heard translating was David from the Terres de l'Ebre tourism board. He had the un-enviable job of wrangling a dozen info-hungry travel bloggers, but he did an admirable job.

  • EVO: Let's not bury the lede here. Millennial, or millennium, whichever... It means a thousand. As in, years. In this next clip, Bret Love from Green Global Travel expressed the shock of realization I'm sure most of us felt.

  • [How old is old?]

  • EVO: Since you probably don't carry a three point five meter tape in your backpack, you can perform this simple test. Stand up and try to wrap your arms around an olive tree. If you can't, and need at least two other average sized friends to complete the chain AND all of your chests touching the trunk, you're probably holding hands around a Millennial olive tree. Or a Millennium olive tree. Whatever. It's still a living thing over one thousand years old. Wow.

  • SHE: It's important to know the age of the tree for reasons other than wining a trivia competition in a bar. The older the tree, the more valuable its oil. Our guide explains the challenges of identifying and certifying this fact, with travel writer Gabi Logan jumping in to translate: 

  • [Self certified]

  •  EVO: Yeah, because that's not the fox guarding the hen house.

  • 15 SHE: Now hold on a minute, Mr. Cynic. There are plenty of organizations that self-regulate themselves that you get behind. The Cicerone program for beer experts? Podcasting?

  • 6 EVO: Alright, alright... Sheesh. Trying to bring a little levity to this serious show. Get my head bit off.

  • 17 SHE: Whatever.

  • EVO: Déu y hasa luego from Terres de l'Ebre!

  • SHE: We travel the world as The Opportunistic Travelers largely because of our generous listeners.

  • EVO: People all over the world pledge as little as five bucks a month, and in return, they get a hand-written postcard from us sent from wherever opportunity has taken us, every single month. Sign up today at

  • SHE: We also stay for free most of our journey. No, we’re not super-stars or anything. We eliminate hotel costs and stay in some great cities by housesitting all over the world. Get our complete list of the actual housesitting sites we use every day at, and stop spending money on hotels when you travel, too. Thanks for listening to this episode. I’m Sheila Dee.

  • EVO: And I am Evo Terra. Our theme music is "On the Ground" by Kevin MacLeod at All other sounds, voices, and odd bits you hear were created by us. And this podcast is just the start of the audio, video, images, and written content we’re producing as we travel the world. Got an idea on how we could work together or a place you like for us to visit? Visit to get in touch. Now would be good

New episodes of the The Opportunistic Travelers Podcast are available every Tuesday. Of course, Tuesday can be a very different thing depending on where we are in the world. Cheers!