Elderly couple symbolize Spain's depopulation

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Spain's depopulation
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, uses a LED hand lamp at night in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 25, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, sets up a fence around his field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, searches for a key in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 25, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
An abandoned house is seen in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, sit outside their house on a starry night in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
A single light is seen inside the house of Juan Martin Colomer, 84, and his wife Sinforosa Sancho, 84 on a starry night in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
A keyhole to an abandoned house is seen in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
A "For sale" sign is seen on an abandoned house in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, sets up a fence around his field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
The overgrown cemetery is seen in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, finish dinner at their home in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 23, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, light a fire to cook meat on the grill at their home in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 23, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, tries to pull a splinter from her husband's hand at their home in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 25, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, prepare to eat dinner leftovers for lunch at their home in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, feeds one of his dogs in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, goes for a walk with one of his dogs in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, sets up a fence around his field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Socks are left to dry in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Morning light bathes an old confessional inside the sanctuary in La Estrella, Spain, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Offerings are seen behind the altar at the sanctuary in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, checks a mop in the church days before a pilgrimage in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 23, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin Colomer have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Pollen flies in the wind in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, scares one of the more than twenty cats that live with her and her husband in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, chat surrounded by their cats in the only square in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 23, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The village of La Estrella is bathed in the morning light surrounded by mountains, Spain, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, prepares to open the door to the church in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin Colomer have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, and her husband Juan Martin Colomer, 84, walk along empty Calle Mayor (Main Street) in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, takes a walk in the empty village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin Colomer have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera  
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, dozes off on the ground in the only square in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, takes a break from helping her husband Juan Martin Colomer in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Juan Martin Colomer, 84, jokes with his wife Sinforosa Sancho, 84, as he sets up a fence around their field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin. "La Estrella will die out with us." REUTERS/Susana Vera 
Sinforosa Sancho, 84, throws cat poop through a hole in the village of La Estrella, Spain, June 26, 2018. For more than 30 years, Sinforosa and her husband Juan Martin have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants. "Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," said Sinforosa. REUTERS/Susana Vera 
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LA ESTRELLA, Spain, July 24 (Reuters) - For more than 30 years, Juan Martin Colomer and his wife Sinforosa Sancho have lived alone in a village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants.

"Everyone has gone, we are the fools who have stayed," laughed Sinforosa, who turned 85 this month, sitting on the steps of a pink-fronted building that was once the local boys' school.

"We have always lived like this. When it's cold, we make a fire. We sleep under blankets. You are here, you have chickens, rabbits, the land, and you manage," she said.

Nestled in a valley in the northeastern Aragon region, where pollen drifts over pine trees that have gradually spread across the formerly arable land, the village is at the center of a creeping population desert.

Residents began abandoning these rural towns and villages to seek work in cities when the civil war ended in 1939, leaving behind an area twice the size of Belgium that is set to become the least populated in the European Union.

There are fewer than eight inhabitants for every square kilometer, and those who remain are aging, a drastic sample of a society where across Spain deaths outpaced births last year at the fastest rate since records began in 1941.

Juan Martin and Sinforosa's son Vicente was the last child to live there, and he had to go to school in a nearby village after the local teacher left and his school closed.

"If there are no children, there is no life," said Juan Martin, 84.

The pair live on a pension of around 1,200 euros ($1,400) a month between them. They keep rabbits and hens for meat and eggs, and drive to a nearby town to buy other food which they cook on a butane stove or their open fire.

Until 10 years ago they relied on oil lamps for the rare occasions they needed artificial light, but now they have solar panels to provide electricity.

"We have never had a telephone line, and there is only a mobile signal in the cemetery," Sinforosa said.

Neither misses society, and despite owning a house in nearby Villafranca, they only go there to visit Vicente and his family.

"We have grown up in solitude and we like it," said Juan Martin, but he does not expect anyone will want to live as they do in the future. "La Estrella will die out with us."

For the Reuters Wider Image picture essay, click on: https://reut.rs/2LHNbqJ

($1 = 0.8523 euros)

(Writing by Isla Binnie Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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