I'm stood at the top of a wooded hill on the outskirts of Argelaguer in northern Catalunya. More precisely, I'm on the 70th step of a 35-metre high tower built out of fallen branches and chicken wire. I'm up to my thighs in mud. At least 10 feet above me, 74-year-old Josep Pujiula skips ahead. Josep is the architect and builder of a psychedelic labyrinth in the Catalan countryside. Over the last four decades he's singlehandedly built, torn down and rebuilt the whole thing at least three times. When we met he looked me in the eye and grinned: "I bet you don't have the balls to finish the whole thing."
After eight years of work, Josep is drawing close to completing the construction of the site's sixth tower. It's the final touch to this sprawling complex of shacks, caves, tunnels and walkways that the locals know as "Castle Argelaguer", "Josep's Labyrinth", "Can Sis Rals Park" or possibly, "that weird-ass place by the motorway".
Josep invites me to climb to the top of the tower to take in the view and – he tells me halfway up – to see if it holds. Fucking hilarious, except that all the other towers are shaking manically in the slight breeze.
From the tower I can see the miles worth of intestinal passageways I spent the last two hours negotiating. Only about one in ten visitors have the patience to complete the entire course, Josep tells me, they normally just try and retrace their steps, shout for help or try to break their way out. And if you're overweight you're fucked. There are fat-proof sections of Josep's labyrinth.
The maze itself is dotted with esoteric installations: Deerskin clad E.T.s surrounded by wooden crucifixes and old shotguns and ostrich skulls with buttons jammed in their eyes.
It's all about Takashi Hobayashi does Thunderdome, I tell Josep. "I don't know who you're talking about, but I used to play Tarzan in these home movies I made here. I'd dress in a badger skin, go to the river, catch a carp and eat it on a tree-top raw. We also convinced a kid from the neighbourhood to play Tarzan's son. I remember in one, he jumped off a 30-meter-high bridge into a river."
In another home movie Josep runs onto a football field where people are holding a rally of some sort and screams: "Goddamn human civilization! They're destroying the forest!" Josep hasn't shown me this, though I wish he would. "Once I tamed a ram," he continues. "I grabbed him by the balls, threw him to the ground and shouted 'I'm the boss here'. I think he enjoyed it actually, because after that he followed me around wagging his tail. Unfortunately he got violent. One day he attacked a lady who was stealing our eggs. She ended up in hospital and I had to sacrifice the goat."
I heard about this place from some punks who came here on holiday, did LSD and had panic attacks. "I got fed up to the back teeth of pillheads and gang members like that," Josep says. "Loads of weirdos. They'd steal anything that looked old, release the animals… They even stole a donkey I had; we found it a few kilometres up the road tied to a lamppost. "The last straw was when I found six guys around a bonfire they'd started from a bench and parts of one of the cabins. I went running up to see if I could save anything and one of them punched me. That's when I decided enough was enough. I tore the whole place down and burnt it over three months."
That was decades ago. But the most recent redesign was nine years ago when the local council notified him that a motorway was due to be built across his stately pleasure dome. Josep, a retired mechanic, took it down branch by branch, and rebuilt it a few metres away.
"Not even I know why I do what I do. The earth is in charge, it decides. Sometimes people think that I'm some kind of shaman, or that I'm on some kind of divine mission, but I just believe in nature. It just happens this way: I'll build a little house, I want to do a bit more, and then I can't stop. I never draw up plans, either. I used to come here when I was little to play, fish and collect wood. Over time I built a motocross circuit, I'd ride horses, I built an amphibious Vespa, then a pond, got some goats, ducks and horses, made houses for them to live in and then all of a sudden I had a village. For the last eight years I've been building this maze to make it more fun and much, much more difficult to get to the cabins. "I see this place as a thermometer of society", he tells me, while showing me around the museum cave hidden underneath the maze. "If people can't look after this place – which belongs to everyone – then we're fucked. I can understand why the indignados or anti-capitalists want to demonstrate against the government and the banks – they've got reasons to break stuff. But if someone comes here and destroys it just because… what are they angry about?"
In front of the crypt that he's prepared for himself once he dies, I say goodbye to Josep, the architect of psychedelic castles. I see a handwritten sign on my way out: "Here lie buried my fantasies and my dreams. But not my balls, as only death can claim them."
TEXT BY TONI L. QUEROL
PHOTOS BY RAFA CASTELLS