Searching for Treasure in La Barceloneta

In Barcelona there are four or five people who spread along the beaches to sweep them with metal detectors. Alex is one of them and says that the best areas are Sant Sebastià beach and near the clubs in the Vila Olímpica, because at night the beach is full of couples making out and they lose literally everything
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a Barceloneta Beach, 8 pm. It’s summer, the sun just won’t set and the beach is still full of bathers, most of them Mediterranean tourists, the ones who dawdle most. The caravan of beach vendors offering fans, beer-water-coke-coke, mojitos and massages make the last passes, while in the water three brutes horse around on jet skis.

As on every day at this time, Andrés starts working: he takes out his metal detector and begins his sweeps to and fro over the sand, avoiding the groups of young people having the last one. He wears headphones connected to the device so we can’t hear the beep-beep-beep! alerting to a find. It has everything covered: with one hand he holds the metal detector, and with the other he holds a stick attached to a kind of drilled pot—an IKEA cutlery drainer—that lets him poke around in the sand without bending over, and sift it until the treasure appears. In the short while we chat finds one-euro coin, three pieces of useless metal—possibly bits of can—and a thick sharp nail, which he quickly puts in a bag to throw away when he finishes.

He tells me that he is actually a cook, and started sweeping the beach two years ago and is now hooked. It doesn’t yield much, but it’s a fun hobby in the open air. He says he has found a bit of everything, from those who have lost their keys—he has a pot-full at home—to coins from all sorts of countries: he gave the latest, from Japan, to his daughter who is fond of manga. He has also found needles, syringes and, among the curios, bullet casings and metal condom-boxes. And, from time to time, a gem. He says that each metal sounds different, and on May 1, when La Barceloneta was not yet teeming like now, he noticed a heavenly noise through the headphones. It turned out to be a gold double ring: first he thought it would be a trinket, but it turned out to be 7 grams of gold, a fabulous extra on the side. But well, he doesn’t usually take more than 4 or 5 euros an hour, and he could not make a living on that. Someone who does make a living, he tells me, is the Russian who is sweeping Sant Sebastià beach a few meters away.

I find him sweeping the beach amongst the small colony of stalwart nudists. He is well equipped, with a military-style vest full of pockets: one for coins, another for jewels, and so on. He tells me that he’s called Alex and that he was born in deepest Russia, and when I ask him where exactly, he goes “bah, you won’t remember anyway.” He says he makes a living off this, and comes from in from L’Hospitalet every day spending 12 hours seeping with his machine—snaking, he says—to make about 30-40 euros a day. He says there are four or five people doing this in the whole of Barcelona, and the beaches have already been apportioned. He assures that the best area is this one and that of the clubs near the clubs in the Olympic Village, because at night the beach is full of couples making out and they lose literally everything. I ask him about his detector, which looks better than the cook’s. He says it cost €1,500 and can find metals underwater and all. And then, when I ask him what the most valuable thing he has ever come across is, he goes mysteriously silent and ends the conversation.

Later, after some research, I find out why: the law is not entirely clear with what is found on the beach, and in some cases the police have prosecuted the detectors who have tried to sell their booty for “improper appropriation”.

Featured image:  Man searches for silver and gold objects with a metal detector on Barceloneta beach. Photo of fototext / Alamy Stock Photo