Water is Life

After four years living in the deep south of Spain and trying to grow things, I can now dwell on my experiences.

Firstly, for me it turns out to be rather frustrating, battling the extremely high temperatures in summer and then the few nights where we actually have a few hours of frost, which will kill the tender plants. It killed our potato stalks once.

Then there is the sandy soil, where any moisture is sapped away immediately. Added to which our back garden has 15 cm sandy soil underlain with building rubble, you could not pick a worse place for a garden.

Despite that, I am growing more or less successful courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss chard and onions, garlic and herbs. In fact, the rosemary and lavender bushes love it here so much that I have to cut them back twice a year or they would develop into a forest.

These are Mediterranean plants, so this is their home and they thrive; which cannot be said for things like chives, French beans or any other cool-loving plants.

Rucola or rocket, roquette grows in the winter months nicely. Even beetroot, leeks, kohlrabi and other cabbage do well. The main growing season is between October and May, after that comes the time of the tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, melons etc.

As it only rains here twice, usually in November and March or thereabouts, watering the plants most of the year is a necessity.

Nigel did even install a roll-out lawn twice in the front of the house and kept it going over the summer, but it takes a lot of water and time to keep it alive. There is a native type of grass, grama, which can withstand the heat but dies back in winter, and he does not like the look of it. It originates from North and South America, genus Bouteloua oligostachya, is much coarser and spreads in stolons on the surface.

Roll-out lawn when it was put down in March

After one summer.

After two years of struggling along with stunted plants in our back garden we started the out garden or container garden. Any type of big containers, like a square 1000 liter cube or second hand palm tree pots are ideal to grow plants in, as they can be filled with good, humus-rich soil and will keep moisture available for the plants and are easier to tend too, being high off the ground.

We now have 9 big containers, where I grew this year potatoes, tomatoes, fennel, aubergines, sweet corn, leeks and carrots.

This is one solution to the bad soil and lack of rain. I have also tried out a few different forms of irrigation systems on my garden:

  1. water hose, surface irrigation,

2. ‘Ollas’

3. ‘Cuban Method’

4. trench planting,

5. piped, drip irrigation,  

and  most essential: mulching.

  1. Water Hose

The traditional way of using a water hose has the advantage of flooding a plot and can be done willy-nilly, any time of day. The disadvantage of course is it takes a lot of water, splashes from the soil can infect plants with diseases and evaporation is high, if the ground is not mulched.

2. Ollas

A pottery friend in Germany mentioned ‘ollas’ to me, which is the Spanish word for pots, in this case terracotta pots which are buried in the soil beside the plant. Ollas can be very fancy, come in different shapes and sizes. I however just stuck two cheap clay pots from the Chinese shop with silicone together, plugged one hole and dug these in. They work. They act as a reservoir for water, which seeps out really slowly over time. Here however, thanks to the very thirsty sandy soil, it is gone within a few hours, unless the soil around it is also kept damp.

The combination of ollas and water hose works well, but a lot of ollas are needed.

  1. 3. ‘Cuban Method’

On YouTube I found this old Cuban fellow extolling the virtue of watering only once a week thanks to his plastic bottle system. Instead of clay ollas he reuses plastic bottles, makes a small hole in the side and digs them in beside the plant to be watered.

I like the idea of reusing plastic bottles, everybody has them available anyway. So all new bushes and trees now get a two or 5 liter bottle beside them. I have placed a bamboo stick with a cork at the end into the bottle and so I can see how far the water level has gone down.

It works very well. Since my cucumbers have now a bottle beside them, they thrive as well as the cucumbers in the paint container.

  1. 4. trench planting

Another method is to dig a biggish hole, fill the bottom with gravel, and stick a pipe beside the plant root that will be receiving the water. Thus the water goes straight to the roots, where it is needed.

This is a good idea in soils that go rock hard and will not take surface water, again a problem we have.

  1. 5. piped, drip irrigation

I watched YouTube videos, I saw the neighbours doing it, I heard it from others too and it is done on a huge scale in the tunnels and green houses, drip irrigation. Over thousands of hectares of strawberries are grown this way here in Huelva province.

Advantages of drip irrigation

[see https://www.farmpractices.com/types-of-irrigation ]

  • It saves around 30-70 % of water.
  • There is a reduction in the cost of labor.
  • Suitable to use in hilly terrains.
  • It also decreases the weed problem.
  • There will be an increase in plant growth, vigour, and yield.
  • Facilitates easy intercultural operations.
  • Ease the fertilizer application
  • Fewer incidences of various diseases spreading through the soil are minimized.
  • It is most suitable for light soils.
  • Utilization of low-quality water like hard water or salt water without contamination of the whole farm.

It is a bit complicated to get all the bits and pieces together, that’s why I shied away from it for a long time until all this daily watering and getting entangled in hose pipes got to me.

So I made a plan, got the various items in the local supplier, including a programmable watering clock.

Unfortunately the connection coming from the wall tap just is not right and water already gets out from there before going down the various pipes, which we luckily had available here on the finca anyway.

So I am lacking the pressure to have a circular system to drip irrigate all the beds.

It’s not a big area, but I wanted all beds to receive a lot of piping which is just not feasible, so back to the drawing board.

I know others also have their problems with blocked pipes or holes and some areas not receiving enough water. So the jury is out on that one.

But what I urge everybody to do, who lives anywhere at all, is mulching. Deep straw mulch is best. Here we have a ready supply from the goat sheds down the road, so my mulch comes with added nutrients.

Mulching is the very best method to:

  • prevent evaporation
  • prevent weeds from coming up
  • preventing soil erosion
  • keep the soil surface cool
  • adding to humus content and organic matter
  • help water absorption
  • reduces the intensity of rain/irrigation water
  • helps prevent soil borne diseases
  • establish beneficial fungi, bacteria and worms to break down the organic matter
  • protecting tender plants
  • adding nutrients.

You could also use wood chips, bark mulch or dead weed matter, just try not to introduce weed seeds or roots or disease. I have my doubts about paper, because of the ink and very high carbon content.

Currently I use a combination of all the methods listed above. The drip irrigation is stalled at the moment. So watering still takes me an hour, half an hour in the back garden, which is under shading and another half an hour in the container garden and various plants all around the house.

We were lucky enough during our three week holiday to have a conscientious friend looking after our house, plants and creatures, feeding and watering daily.

And yet, still plants wither and die from the sheer intensity of the heat and are under heat stress, they cannot suck up water as quickly as it is lost.

The highest and lowest soil temperatures occur at the soil surface, and become more stable the deeper you go. What I thought is interesting is that in order to properly earth an electric installation you have to go as deep as 1.5 m with your earthing rod according to our electrician. It is at this depth the soil becomes damp, even though on the surface you think it is completely dried out and dead, devoid of all soil life, but deeper down it is teaming with soil life.

When the air temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius, the soil temperature can go even higher than that if you have a sandy type soil. Our soils here are sand and loam and behave like concrete, making it difficult for roots of newly planted plants to penetrate and search for moisture.

Therefore any new planting is done in the autumn, when there is less heat and the hope of some rain. The vulnerable plants can take their time to drill down roots and get settled before the blazing heat of the summer.

Into The West

The month of June was a very exciting and busy one for us, apart from the Romería in El Rocio taking place after a two year break; we set off to visit Ireland and our families.

We worked hard to deserve a nice break.  

recent Booking.com reviews

Romeria El Rocio 2022

The very famous pilgrimage, the Romería , is about the veneration of the Virgin of El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca, and was as colourful as always. The flamboyant Flamenca dresses come in all sorts of colour combinations and sizes, everything goes here; it is an exuberant expression of life.

I am in awe of the solemn manifestation of religious fervour, be it genuine or not. From an early age the children are encouraged to be a part of this celebration and soak the atmosphere up into their very being, to then perform their essential part in the religious pageant.

While the Virgin was on her last day in Almonte and on the brink of being carried on manly shoulders through the town twice, we witnessed a group of adolescents carrying their miniature virgin, mimicking their fathers and uncles or older cousins.

We had over twelve bookings for the weekend of the Translado, the moving of the Virgin from Almonte to her home town of El Rocio and the following weekend of the Romeria.

The Spanish like to book spontaneously, sometimes in the middle of the night and a few hours later think better of it and cancel again. So in the end we realised only six overnight stays and had a room free, meaning a third was not booked.

I looked up the competition in El Rocio and surrounding areas and saw that they also were not fully booked.

So money is not freely available anymore, with prices for food and transport well up.

Back to the Emerald Isle

Lough Key, County Leitrim

After our hard work on the farm/finca, with guests, garden and goats we took off on a three week holiday to cherished Ireland.

We had Lada, our Czech regular guest, and a friend minding our house and creatures and gardens, while we took our time visiting good green Eire. There was a very important reason for that; my daughter got her Doctor title conferred and her Mummy was definitely not going to miss that.

Our car was already waiting for us in Knock Airport, north-west Ireland, as Nigel’s daughter Lydia had brought her dog in our car over to Ireland from Spain. As car hire prices have broken the stratosphere it meant only paying the diesel for our transport. We managed to cover nearly all of Ireland on this trip, from the very South to the very North coast and lots of counties in between.

From Knock we went to Kilkenny, where my daughter Elaine now lives. Nigel and I made the most of it and visited Kilkenny Castle and park and took the tourist train and Nigel sampled a few Guinness’s in various pubs, as suggested by the ‘Guinness Guru’ as seen on Youtube. This young guy travels around Ireland and other countries rated the standard of Guiness in a very Irish and charming way.

I then spent my first weekend with Elaine and Frank and Holly, his girlfriend, between Clonakilty and Kinsale, in Cork, the very South of the Republic of Ireland.

We had a lovely spacious Airbnb, right at the water and owned by a dairy farmer. Our weekend was short and action packed: Saturday morning surfing at Inchydoney Strand and in the afternoon a high-ropes parcours, then witnessed the cows being milked on Sunday morning at 8 am by our host Maurice.

In the meantime Nigel was helping his best friends Joan and Paddy in Clonmel moving out of their beautiful residence beside the Marlfield lake into town.

From Cork we drove to Portrush, Northern Ireland, the Antrim coast and still part of Britain but strangely not part of Brexit. I stayed with Nigel’s sister (also called) Elaine and was pampered and had a really lovely, relaxing time nursing my weary bones from the hard weekend before, whereas Nigel went off to his hometown of Ballymena to visit old friends.

Between looping back to Donegal and the Republic and visiting Nigels brother in Buncrana, we crossed the border many times unhindered.

Then it was time to go to the Midlands for me to stay with my friend Fiona in Longford and Nigel to do some business in Manorhamilton. Fiona is a fashionista and helped me get ready for my daughter’s big day.

It was her conferral ceremony to receive her doctor degree in Dairy Cow Nutrition at University College Dublin, UCD. Curiously she graduated with the Veterinarians instead of the Agricultural PhDs due to her supervisor being a veterinarian.

The title of her research is: “The Influence of nutritional management and genotype on milk production, metabolic status, energy balance and nitrogen excretion of high-yielding pasture-based cows.”

And yes, the research itself was as cumbersome, intense, and multi-faceted as the title suggests. It involved a herd of cows that were split into two groups under two different feeding regimes involving daily sample taking, so no weekends off for Elaine.

She was up against the weather, sabotage of her project, heart-break and exhaustion. I really feared for her mental well-being in those four years and tried to cheer her on from afar.

What kept her sane was that her best friend Sofie, a German girl she shared a room with while studying at UCD, also did her PhD, but at a different location in Ireland. The two of them graduated together, they are like sisters.

Naturally it was a very emotional day, us four together again as a family and bursting with pride over what our children had achieved. Both are now installed in their chosen career, Frank as a dairy herd manager, currently on a farm in Waterford with six hundred milking cows and Elaine in Glanbia as Ruminant Nutritionist and Gain Technical Advisor, frequently being seen on YouTube educational videos under the Glanbia Connect series.

A few days of our time were taken up with looking at our rented properties; mine a small cottage near Longford town and Nigel’s farmhouse in Leitrim. A few bad surprises awaited but overall they still stand, although nobody will take care of your house and garden as yourself.

Then on the way to the South and the ferry in Ringaskiddy we did the touristy thing and visited The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.  We passed it by so many times before, so finally we wandered around this fantastic medieval complex, which was built between the 11th and 16th century and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside as it sits on top of a rock 110 metres above sea level. The very well preserved round tower stands another 28 metres high above that and had six floors inside.

The other remarkable feature that is still partly visible is the Archbishop’s secret passageway. Here is an amusing account of the life on the ‘Rock’ in medieval times:

https://www.enjoy-irish-culture.com/rock-of-cashel-medieval.htm

By the way, part of the movie Excalibur (1981) was filmed in this location.

What did I enjoy most being back in Ireland?

Lough Melvin, County Leitrim

Well, apart from seeing friends and family eye-to-eye, the fresh greenness, the hiddenness of the countryside features as during the summer months the hedgerows, trees and rushes take over the roads and bye-ways. The misty rain, so gentle and cooling, if only we could have a bit of that in the blistering heat of summer in Andalucia.

I also miss the food, would you believe it. Since I arrived first in 1991 in Ireland, the country has changed its food culture radically. From meaty salads drowned in mayonnaise and ‘Hangsandwiches’ (Ham that is) now you can get all the dressings, vegetables and vegetarian options in the supermarkets and restaurants from all over the world. Our last meal was a traditional Christmas dinner (ham, turkey, stuffing and gravy) for Nigel and I had a selection of salads.

Our boat, the Armorique, took us over to Roscoff in France in a calm16 hours voyage.

Hello 2022

We now enter the third month of 2022 and this is my first blog this year.

What does that mean? Am I too lazy or tired or simply too busy?

All of the above, in fact.

If I don’t do my writing in the morning I am either too tired at night or the laptop is used for watching sports on TV, or indeed I watch my favourite soaps, Heartbeat, Doc Martin and Vera, all English. This happens only in the winter and if we have no guests.

And we do indeed have a lot of guests, so much so, that I have to block days just to keep up with the washing.

Only last week we had continuously guests from Thursday to Monday, which included breakfasts and dinners and the usual housekeeping and corresponding before with the arrivals. And sometimes Nigel even takes the guitar out and sings a few old Irish ditties.

Last night then, the gate was locked and we were looking forward to a quiet night, as my mobile rang and two French motor bikers informed me they just booked and were in front of the gate.

My biggest challenge this year was the group of five Belgians, all bird watchers and nature lovers, who stayed with us for four nights. Daily breakfast at 7.00 am, packed lunch and dinner was provided with the additional requirement of one vegetarian and one Keto-diet, i.e. No-Carb-diet. So I devised meals to please them all, which is what I like doing, creating a meal to suit my clients palate and dietary preferences.

We received another well deserved Booking.com award, which is nice to know our efforts to give people a warm welcome are recognised.

In between keeping guests happy we try to find new places to go, several of which are nearby and important to know as local information for guests.

La Rocina y El Acebrón is one such board walk and just after crossing the bridge at El Rocio on the A-483.

It’s a really lovely walk through umbrella pine woods, leafy forest, dotted with observation hides and gives you lovely views across the lagoon and river La Rocina with its many birds like the Purple Gallinule, herons, ducks, Spoonbills, rails and flamingos. The landscape changes into dry scrubland with herbs like rosemary, thyme, lavender and cistus shrubs. And this time of year the dreaded Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea Pityocampa) are hatching and climbing down the trunks to pupate. The hairs and bristles are poisonous and can lead to allergic reactions like a rash on the skin, dogs and cats may even die after contact.

We did not follow the 7 kms road towards El Palacio del Acebrón this time.

Much nearer to us are pine woods where we can take a ramble in the shade or follow the path along the Eucalyptus plantation and heath.

Cycling Loop

My last foray on the bicycle lasted ca. 3 hours and had 33.5 kms. The first part runs along the back road through pine forests, which is tarmac but a bit rough, towards Hinojos, passing by the Camping Doñarrayan Park. From there a nice concrete cycling path winds its way towards Hinijos/A-474. Unfortunately, the way back is along the A-474 towards Almonte with all the traffic whizzing past. And then it’s 3 kms on our dusty camino.

Olive Harvest 2021 – How much did we make?

This was our 4th season at Finca Casa Halcón and sadly it was not the best. This was due to the bad weather and the wind beating the blossoms off the trees in April and the whole harvest of the Verdial olives was condemned as a new type of fly got into them, so they went as oil olives, which is a very small payment of €40 cents per kilo as opposed to €85 cent/kilo, which we should have had.

This year, as last year, we brought in Moroccan workers to help with the harvest, as it needs to happen quickly to prevent the olives from turning black.

We received two top-ups after the main payment, as our agents sell the produce and then hand on the increase in price, when the market price is good. We are happy about this system. All in all, our olives received a premium for being clean (no leaves), disease-free  (due to the spraying against the olive fruit fly and the olive leaf spot disease which is caused by fungus Spilocea oleaginea) and size. Because we have a relatively small amount of fruit on the trees our fruit tends to be bigger, even without watering. We were paid 85 cents per kilo for the Manzanillas and €1.10 euro for the Gordal and 40 cents/kg for the molinos, the black olives.

Looking at our figures, it means we made no profit last year if we take the cost of spraying and labour off, in fact we lost money.

Our overall yield increases slightly each year, due to the constant pruning and cutting back and it will be another few years to really be optimal, as we had to cut a lot of diseased wood out and therefore our trees are carrying less leaf mass.

Olive Yields:

2017 – 2188 kgs, 2018 – 4611 kgs, 2019 – 2270 kgs, 2020 – 8761 kgs, 2021 – 4046 kgs.

Our first year, 2017, we just arrived on this unkempt, overgrown finca and proceeded to take the olives down without having a clue. The amount was not so bad, as no pruning had taken place and it was a good year. In 2018 we started pruning, but we harvested ourselves and took forever to take all olives down, three months in fact, and they turned black, so we didn’t get paid a lot.

In 2019 the guy with the sprayer let us down and the trees got diseased. It was absolutely horrendous to see the leaves dropping off and the fruit turn into squelchy brown blobs. Now, that did teach us that our location is a rather humid place with a lot of morning dew, that can bring on the fungal disease, if not preventative treated with a copper fungicide. The spraying with a copper sulphate or copper hydroxide is even allowed under organic standards and needs to be carried out here at least four times a year. Fortunately, the application of the insecticide against the fruit fly only happens once in the year. Although, now that a new variety of fruit fly later in the season has attacked the Verdial, there might be another treatment due.

So although the olive is a rather easy crop, as it does not carry thorns, does not need irrigation (although some farmers do), regrowth is vigorous, is self-pollinating and native to here, it has its problems and like all agricultural crops, the money is not hectic. The yield changes from year to year and there is a lot of annual manual pruning required.

Best of all then, because the black olives only get a payment of 30-40 cents a kilo, as opposed to 80-100 cents a kilo for the green olives, Nigel now uses some of the black olives to make olive oil, which attracts a premium price of €30 a liter!

He does this what I call the stone-age way. In a 25-liter tub he simply stamps on the olives and let the mash sit until the oil comes to the top and drains it off. Then the oil is let to settle and he drains it off several times to get rid off the organic bits that collect in the bottom of the bottle. The simplest method instead of filtration. No machines involved, just honest-to-goodness manual, or in this case, pedipus work.

Well, at least that was what he has been offered by an ex- Almonteña, who now is a chef in a restaurant in France. He now sells the liter of home-made olive oil for €20.There is only 8 liters of the stuff, so it’s a rarity.

And of course we have the lovely olive wood keeping us warm in the winter and a delightful fire on in the chimney at night in the winter months.

Second Hand Furniture – Restore – Reuse

Our local scrap merchant, MetAlmonte is a treasure trove for used anything and everything, big or small, from forks, plates, garden gates, cement mixers, wash machines, mattresses, bicycles, garden ornaments, tables, chairs, chains, curbstones, you name it , he has it at some point.

This is our first port of call, and if he does not have it, well, then there are other alternatives or buy it new.

When we moved in, we had an assembly of old tables, but not a single chair, so we sat on the stairs or an upturned bucket while we were working to rejuvenate the olive trees, setting up the gardens or renovating the house. Then we were given used garden plastic chairs, which I painted in primary colours and we still have them.

We bought a lot of our (new) furniture locally in Almonte, helping the economy and transport is easy. Some electrical items are cheaper in Carrefour, but their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

For our outside terraces we by second hand sturdy stuff, as I ordered once a seating arrangement online and it turned out to be a disaster, disintegrating after only 6 months!

Madrid – Toledo

In February we got away for two nights to research the possibility of buying either a caravan or a camper to drive to Ireland and other places in another few years. The internet told me there were major businesses around Madrid, Malaga and Barcelona. So we went north to explore.

What we learned was that due to the Corona restrictions imposed during the last two years, people preferred to travel independent of hotels and airports and also to keep their distance to other travellers and so the market for campers and caravans of all sizes is booming.

So much so, that the Germans come to Spain to buy a camper and manufacturers can’t keep up with the production. To order a bespoke camper you need to wait at least two years and any second hand caravans or campers are immediately snapped up.

With the price of new and even second hand campers we were quoted, that idea is a non-runner.

But at least we got to see beautiful Toledo.

AGRICULTURAL DISCOVERIES – Rice and Cotton Growing in Andalucia

On one of our discovery trips we went towards Sevilla through the countryside which brings you to the wetlands and river delta of the Rio Guadalquivir and the Brazo de la Torre. There we found to our delight and amazement, considering the drought conditions around our area, extensive cotton and rice fields. And also a lot of the bird life, that we normally find in the Doñana National Park, when the water table rises again in the winter. In the paddy fields were any amount of storks and ibises looking for juicy snails and frogs. Also crabs are plentiful as the netting traps show that are submerged in the drains of the rice paddies.

We headed from Almonte to Villamanrique, then towards Isla Mayor. Just outside Villamanrique we came across this white stuff along the side of the road and soon found the reason; a cotton factory. Huge bales of white fluff were stored there and more lorries came to unload.

Earlier in the year we saw the still young cotton plants and had to guess what they were. They belong to the Malvaceae (mallow family) family and I had never seen them before.

A little further on the rice fields started and we could observe the system of dams and canals to flood the fields when planting was done. This time the harvest was in full swing with big harvesting machines on tracks, so they don’t sink in the wet muddy soil. As you can observe from the photos some farmers burn the stubble and others may plough it in.

According to https://www.culinarycollective.com/the-world-of-paella-rice/ it were the moors, the Arab invaders, that brought rice, Oryza sativa, to Europe and the Spanish word ‘arroz’ originates from the Arabic word arruzz.

Any article I read says that the rice is sown and then flooded and after growing the bushels of rice plants are pulled out and planted by hand in rows. We would like to see that happening, it seems an extraordinary amount of labour. But then here in Spain are still a lot of traditional methods being kept alive and labour is imported from Northern Africa and Romania.

I bought some guide books for our bird loving guests and the ‘Birdwatching Guide to Doñana’written by John Butler has a chapter on ‘Rice Production In The Doñana Region’.

It tells us that when rice was introduced to the Doñana Region environmentalists and conservationists were concerned about the negative impact on the wildlife and bird population. The opposite occurred, as the rice fields are submerged in shallow water and create more habitats for molluscs, amphibians, worms and insects. In turn, this increased the population of birds. Even when the waters in the Doñana National Park have receded and dried up the extensive rice growing fields of Isla Mayor, which extent to over 55,000 ha retain a water level to feed many hundred thousands of Storks, Ibises, Egrets, Herons, Gulls, Terns and even Marsh Harriers and in turn raptors.

Another import is the Red Swamp Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) from America, which competes with the native crayfish species and is used as ingredient for the famous Paella.

The Cotton plant has a totally different growing habit than the rice, which is a grain, whereas the cotton plant is related to the hibiscus family, Malvaceae and will need some irrigation as well.

The plant itself is a bushy green shrub and grows to about 1.2 m in height with a tap root of 1.5 m deep. The flowers are a pretty yellow-cream to pink colour and develop into seed pods called cotton bolls after pollination occurs. When these bolls spring open, the fluffy, soft, white fibres appear. Within these rest up to 45 seeds, which are pressed for oil and the seed cake is used as animal feed. Nearly all parts of the cotton plant are used, even the stalks as mulch and organic matter for soil improvement.

The European Union’s 2020 information leaflet on cotton production lists Greece as the main cotton grower, with 80% of European cotton area, followed by Spain (mainly the region of Andalucía) with a share of 20%. Bulgaria produces cotton on less than 1,000 ha [https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/plants-and-plant-products/plant-products/cotton_en].

Other countries with cotton production are the USA, China, Paraguay, Mexico, Pakistan, Australia, former Russian States (now C.I.S), Turkey, Sudan and Egypt.

Most of the cotton produced here in Spain is exported to Morocco and other European countries, with Spain being a net exporter of cotton lint.

We witnessed the harvesting with big combines, which cut the upper parts of the plant, leaving stalks behind, which are ploughed into the soil later. The fluffy cotton is then transported for ginning to the factory, where the fibre is separated from the seeds.

Cotton lint makes up about 42% of the picked cotton by weight, and contributes about 85% of the total income from a cotton crop. The other 15% of income comes from cotton seed [source: https://cottonaustralia.com.au/the-cotton-plant ].

Trials & Tribulations

Jack taking a rest

Scams – the Second

In my previous bog (Summer – Verano 2021) I wrote about the German couple that scammed me out of €300. Of course it is my fault for being so trusting, helpful and not listening to my gut feeling.

This scam involves a sob story of how all your valuables including passport, mobile phone, credit cards etc. were stolen, preferably on the train.

Now in August we came across this for a third time. At 22.30 in the evening I got a phone call, one person asking for a room for the night. I do make exceptions sometimes; this was one of the times as she said she was in El Rocio and would come immediately.

A car arrived with a guy and the girl. He paid cash for the room and when I asked her for ID, she showed me the ‘denuncia’, a report form from the police, which they fill out in case of a lost passport etc. I waved this away as it would be useless for the data I need to fill in the online police register. So the Romanian guy gave me his passport instead, fair enough. She had nothing much, only a plastic bag with a bottle of Coca-Cola and some bits of food and sweets. Nigel asked when she would be collected the next day and she said 12.00, which is our check-out time. All ok so far.

The next morning she comes down for a smoke and says she likes it here so much she wants to stay another night and I would get paid at 15.00. I started to talk a bit with her and she told me she is half Italian, half Romanian but over thirty years in Spain and her stuff was stolen on the train. She has a job lined up in Matalascanas in a few days. She has a house on Tenerife. I looked at her skeptically and she assured me she wasn’t really a waitress but an administrator at the justice system, but since a year and a half laid off due to the Corona virus crisis.

Now who would believe such a cobbled together story? We were highly suspicious, added to which she apparently had smoked in the room and was stoned for much of the time, so she had enough money for hash and tobacco.

We had to meet our new solicitor in Almonte but didn’t trust her, so she had to stay outside as we locked the house and the gate, effectively holding her captive.

 When we returned Nigel spotted the tracks of a car that turned at our gate, maybe imagination? She went back upstairs, to curl up in bed. Naturally at 15.00 nobody came, not at 17.00 as she had changed her story (how would she know, without a mobile phone?). She had asked for my mobile to contact the guy, without success. He himself called finally at 19.30 and appeared shortly after 20.00, without the money. She asked if we had a credit card machine.

By then I had enough of her. I had given her toast and salami to eat, she never tidied up her things outside and now she was starting to argue. So I threw her out.

We believe that this guy was also taken in by her and didn’t even know he had to shell out another €30 for another night here. But we would not have slept a minute.

I researched scams in Spain and the first was the ‘poor me, all was stolen’ story. Sure, you dump your belongings with a friend, then go to the police and they write down what you tell them. Could be fake names, address, anything at all. They are not obliged to check it out, the embassy or authorities responsible for issuing a new passport have to do that.

And then you try to find a gullible person which will pay for you. In the course of that you can maybe find a nice place with things you can steal or just give information about it to your mates-in-crime.

Another lesson learned. In future I will not take persons without proper ID, sad as it is.

This time we got away, but others have not been so lucky and I have already lost €300 to learn that we cannot always trust people.

What she had in common with the others is the incessant talk, stories to convince us and to tell us how nice we are, how lovely the place is. A bit plump really, but people can get really good at it, as this Manfred Kwiaton was with his made up place of work on his Facebook profile. Part of his story was reflected there, but the other part was obviously concocted.

Photos below: it’s not all work, we get away sometimes to enjoy places nearby:

Matalasacanas, Cuesta Maneli, El Rocio, and Restaurente El Pocito in Almonte.

Ley Lines in our Garden

We have a problem growing anything in the front of our house. There is the bit of Irish lawn alright that Nigel needs and is proud of, but behind it nothing really thrives. We twice planted orange trees there and they died. Then we planted a good sized fig tree, these grow here everywhere, but it too died. I planted some pomegranate saplings I grew from seed. And these grow like weed here. Guess what? Yes, shrivelled up and dead. It was not for the lack of water, because of course we made a point of watering the plants.

We had radically cut down three olive trees to rejuvenate them and their regrowth looks fresh and bushy. We also have wild flowers everywhere, so it is not impossible for plants to grow there.

As I mentioned before, every summer, in July or August, when the temperatures hit the low forties, lots of plants suffer and die. My kiwi and bougainvillea on the upper terrace have not really grown. Up there is an intense heat during the whole afternoon and evening and no shade.

We were just going for another attempt when a German couple stayed with us who live in Marbella and he is a landscape gardener. He asked us for two metal rods, bent them and turned them thus into divining or dowsing rods and proceeded to walk slowly around the area in front of the house.

Lo and behold, they started to cross over in front of the lawn. In other locations they drifted wide apart. The reason for this behaviour apparently is that there are ley lines or electromagnetic underground energy flows.

I have heard of them before and used or seen used divining rods for finding underground water sources. I have also read about the immense energy knots that are supposed to be running through Great Britain, especially Stonehenge, Glastonbury and even in London.

https://sacredmysticaljourneys.com/spirituality/the-magic-of-ley-lines-vortexes-and-chakras-of-the-earth/

Of course we tried it too. It works better with Nigel than me, not sure why. You are holding the rods so lose, that it is easy to unconsciously tilt them one way or another. Unfortunately, the site of our (already concreted swimming pool) would be perfect for growing an orchard.

As our bamboo started to wilt and go yellow we moved it, and the remaining struggling orange tree, just in case. Maybe we should find a new spot for the nectarine too, it’s not looking too good either.

Line where growth stops (due to ley lines?)

Gone Birdie

Our very productive hens have gone on a break, laying faithfully all year. We added four more hens to our production team and one Araucana hen was gifted to me for my birthday who I call Greta Green as her eggs have a slight green colour. She lacks tail feathers and is rather wild. Hopefully when her laying time comes, she will join the flock. Our Greta is a speckled brown hen and will only lay three eggs per week, so they will be really special when we will find them!

My three young peacocks turned out to be all females, pea hens. Naturally that means more peafowl and so I have three more young peafowl which will hopefully turn into peacocks, some day. If not, the deal it that I will get the males for free, as it is hard to tell when they are young.

That still not being enough feathered friends we also purchased three ducks from the market, which I named Daisy, Dolly and Donna. They are between 5 and 6 months old and occupy the space in front of the house, where we unsuccessfully tried to grow our citrus orchard. They have a nice run with an olive tree for shelter and a raised pool to keep the water clean.

Nigel loves duck eggs and hopefully soon he, and our guests, can indulge in daily duck eggs again.

A Challenging August

 Life as a Guesthouse owner

After three years of opening our home to complete strangers, we have many tales to tell.

What seems to be on repeat is that some guests stop in from of our neighbours gate, just after passing ours, with the name Casa Halcón written in big letter. This gateway is also as the main photo on booking.com, where the majority of our guests book. And yet, they phone me up and ask to be let in and that there are some big dogs.

It is true; our neighbours have four humoungus mastins and a sign that says ‘Finca La Tremosilla’.

I can only guess that just because they do not see a house through our gate, they keep going to the next one with a house.

We also have the occasional worker staying here in the single beds room for a single-person rate. The last one also called for help, and then at 22.00 he asked for food. So I made him two toasted sandwiches and a salad.

I was up the next morning shortly after six to prepare breakfast for our guests that booked a tour through the Doñana National Park. These buses leave at 8.00, so breakfast needs to be ready at 7.00.

In between I receive bookings, make contact on Whatsapp to give directions, receive phone calls, make beds, clean rooms and go shopping, cook lunch and sometimes dinner for guests and tend to the garden.

Nigel’s part is to make the guests relaxed, make sure the lights are on outside at night, the gate is unlocked in the morning and sometimes he cooks an Irish breakfast and plays the guitar and sings. He also lovingly keeps the lawn watered and luscious green, a nod to the green fields in Ireland.

So here guests get individual attention and even entertainment. We only have the three bedrooms for rent, but six strangers coming and going every day can be quite exhausting and it is basically a 14-hour job for me and Nigel clocks in more time as the night porter, waiting up until all guests are in their beds.

More excitement is provided every year by the forest fires, this was only 800m down the road from us. Thanks to Steffi, our neighbour calling the fire brigade immediately it was brought under control quickly.

The road to Mazagon ,  The further you go, the farther you are away….

The kilometer signs from Almonte to Mazagon on the Camino de los Cabezudos are a bit confused. They tell you it us 32 kms to Mazagon, the next signs says 35 kms, then we are down to 28 kms only to go up to 30 kms again.

This road goes through the national park area and sports 53 speed bumps. Otherwise it would be a quick drive to Mazagon, the seaside town with a yacht harbour.

We went there on a Monday after the guests left to have some tapas and a drink in the small bar, but it was closed. So we just watched the small boats and some fishing vessels coming in and going out. It was the most relaxing time, as they glided slowly on the water, it was mesmerizing. Even the unloading of the incoming fishing boat had to happen slowly as the bins were heavy and full of fish and ice water.

Now is high season for the tourists, but there in the harbour was nobody, so I really got to chill.

Later we went for a meal and spent an hour on the beach to round off the day. From the beach in Mazagon you can see the tankers of oil waiting to come in. Every day several are lined up on the horizon to supply Spain with oil and gas.

Isla Cristina

This island is connected via bridges to the mainland, seven kilometres from the Portuguese border and has, according to Huelva turismo, eleven beaches, the marshes, marismas, protected nature reserves and salt flats, and more important one of Spain’s most important fishing harbours.

https://www.huelvainformacion.es/destino-huelva/playas-huelva/playas-Isla-Cristina-robaran-corazon_0_1583543647.html

We like the contrast to our olive groves and agricultural land uses. It is interesting to see the rather small fishing boats getting ready to go out to sea. It will take them over an hour to go along the channel to reach the Atlantic sea.

There are numerous restaurants that serve the daily landed fish; it is hard to make a choice. We selected a smaller place away from the crowds in the centre not far from the actual fish market.

Beware of the whole fish, the price is per kg and you do not know the price before the fish is on the plate! We had fried anchovies as a starter, tuna in tomato sauce, some sea food croquettes and a sole, a flat fish with a very delicate flavour, which costs itself the princely sum of €25. Altogether we spent €53, which we might do twice a year to treat ourselves.

Here is a little story in photos of fishermen boarding to go to sea. It is amazing how many people it takes to bring in the fish from the sea. At the end there were twelve men on board.

More Guesthouse Stories:

When The Sun Gets Too Much

We had just had our first serious heat wave of this year with temperatures of over 45 degrees, in the shade.

And yes, of course the Sahara is not far, about 850 kms and we are in the South of Andalucia. It just depends how you deal with those sorts of temperatures that feel as if the hot breath of a dragon breathes upon you. That is the reason why we have siesta and everything shuts down from 14.00-18.00.

Even our solar system that depends on the sunlight to generate our electricity had enough and shut down. The fault message was 2: overheating, even though it sits in a shed with door and window open. There was a slight panic as we had four guests in the house that did not wanted to leave the premises and preferred to rest. And we could provide no water as the pump (for toilets and taps) did not run, no fans worked and the fridge and freezer were also off.

In the case of bad weather, no sun or if the need for electric heaters arises we have a generator. Unfortunately this is directly connected to the solar inverter so it starts automatically when the battery bank is low on wattage.

In our case we had more than enough power generated but it was not delivering into the house or anywhere as the inverter took a well needed break. This prevents the system from overheating even further.

We tried cleaning the fan of the inverter box, switching off the whole system, fanning the control unit and praying to the Holy Virgin of El Rocio. After about four hours she heard us and all suddenly sprang to life again.

To keep me from panicking I started preparing the dinner for six. Cooking does relax me, it takes concentration and if the end result is pleasing for all concerned then this is time well spent.

And after all that we got a very glowing review in booking.com, so our efforts paid off.

What did we learn?

There is a reason why a solar powered system needs a back up, just in case. In most places it is the connection to the grid, in our case it is the generator. We will now add a direct line from the generator to the house, circumventing the solar control unit. So in future we have total control when we want the generator to take over; which is probably a smart move for when we need to carry out work on the system like replacing the batteries, the control unit or for repair.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

This August we hardly have a day without guests coming or going or staying. It is not always possible for the two of us to go away, unless the guests have a key, which we only give out to guests that stay longer than one night.

For Sunday we were invited to a ‘pool party’ at Tina’s to give a farewell to our German friend’s son and girl friend. As Nigel did not want to miss his favourite football team’s match, we decided to split our attendance. I would go earlier and then return when his game was over, so he could go, so then there would always be one of us at home.

I gave him instructions about the two couples that would arrive that afternoon and where to put them, the Italians upstairs and the Madame, Spanish, downstairs in the room with private bathroom. I went happily on my way, promptly taking the wrong exit for Tina’s house and taking another twirl down the motorway when my mobile rang. The first guests had arrived and where sitting in front of the closed gate. I instructed them to open it by hand and called Nigel, three times. Another call from the guests, they could not get in. I told them Nigel was coming to open, but I still had not reached him. More heat then was already in the car crept up my body.

Where was he? Fallen asleep in front of the TV? This would not be surprising as he puts himself on night porter duty every night, staying up until all guests have returned to lock the gate and switch off lights.

I tried again, no answer. Then I ask our guests where exactly they were? They sent a photo of the entrance on Whatsapp. It was our neighbour’s gate, again.

What is it about people? Our gate has the name ‘Casa Halcón’ in big letters on it. A photo of it is on Booking.com’s website. What else can we do?

By the time they had reversed I had finally spoken with Nigel; he had been out given water to the horses and naturally did not see a car.

Anyway, all was now sorted, or so I thought. Shortly after I arrived at Tina’s and after a cool drink of cucumber soup I checked in with Nigel to see if all went well. Yes, he showed them the room upstairs and they were happy.

And then the Italians arrived on a motorbike. Well, he is Italian, she from Paraguay. It turned out Giuseppe had lived and worked in Ireland for 20 years and he and Nigel hit it off at once.

So they took the bottom bedroom with private bathroom. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately for them, this was not what they had booked. Nigel had switched them around because he maintained the first fellow definitely looked Italian, but was Spanish.

When I came home later that night they were all happily sitting outside, chatting. Which is all very well, but when you pay twenty Euros extra to ensure you have a private bathroom and discover somebody else had been given this room, you want an explanation.

In fairness, they were very nice about it. They asked if it was a fault with booking.com. No, I replied, it’s a fault with Nigel assuming things and not asking. So I let them have drinks and breakfast gratis and in the end they left us a really good review. They even said they would return. He acts as a bodyguard to politicians and even showed us his badge and gun. He was used to bringing it around with him, a habit that he cultivated due to the ETA threats from years back.

our entrance

Priests Having Lost Their Way

We have all kinds of people and couples here, in all sorts of combinations, from all sorts of countries. And then there were the two priests in the big double bed….

They could have booked the single beds, but the Spanish do seem to see all things catholic a bit different. I prefer this to the cleric putting their hands on children any day, but we should not jump to conclusions either. They were to go praying to Almonte in the evening, where the Paloma Blanca, the venerated Virgin of El Rocio still resides, according to Nigel because she has not been given the jab, the Covid vaccine.

On the way back they must have decided to take the scenic route and then relied on Google maps for a shortcut home. They must have been back at around 2.30 in the morning. Nigel met them at 8.00 on the stairs and they asked for his help to tow their car out of an olive grove, where it was safely sitting in sand. With the help of the jeep he got them out, but how and where they got into this place was a mystery as it was fully fenced and Nigel had to find a place to open the thorny wire fence.

Rio Tinto

Sometimes we get away on a Sunday or Monday evening, when no more guests are expected and explore more wonderful places around here.

The last outing was to the Rio Tinto, which is a red river that ends in Huelva port. Nigel brought me to the Embalse de Corumbel Bajo, a reservoir forty minutes from us. It is quite pretty and this is where the mountains start. From there he went off-road on a track that goes up and down and around and ends along the railway line, which transported minerals and metals from the mines to the harbour in Huelva. Part of the line is dismantled, parts have been turned into a Via Verde, a cycling path, and some parts are still intact.

It is a fascinating place with its many colours of reds, rusts, browns and yellows. Mineral deposits can be seen where the water recedes and old workings, going back to Roman times, are also still in place. There is so much more to discover along the Rio Tinto and we will have many more explorations. In fact, in the spring Nigel cycled with Robert on their mountain bikes from Bollullos up to the mountains and along the Rio Tinto over some of the old railway bridges and it was none so pleasant I am told.

And then we went for some delicious tapas in La Palma De Condado, a small bar that was a meeting place for the pensioners, but they still served us ;0). As usual we were way too early , but after an hour the place was full.

The Reverse Teenager Syndrome

About fifty percent of the population, any population, has to put up with ‘the change’, menopause or rather peri-menopause.

I am now about five years experiencing the hot flushes, the broken, sleepless broken nights and the irritability.

Just now, I can add befuddlement, forgetfulness and sheer stroppiness to the list.

It’s like being a teenager again, on the threshold to the fertile phase in a woman’s life, but just reversed, now on the verge of becoming the wise crone.

It certainly has its advantages when the monthly bleeding ceases, and with it the PMS and bloated feeling, although there still is some of that lingering in the background.

Right now is not a good time to feel like this. But when is ever a good time to feel this seemingly un-reason-able anger, bursting forth at any moment, for simple reasons or none. Most women at this stage have a career and have to put up with a boss or colleagues, or a less than happy marriage, maybe still some children at home or other stress factors, like sick and elderly parents, that need their care and attention.

Added to that we are now in a time where apparently the sun is having a moment herself with an increase of solar activity, resulting in geo-magnetic storms, which also have an effect on the human psyche, see for example this study:

Geomagnetic Activity and Violent Behaviour

[ https://journals.sfu.ca/seemj/index.php/seemj/article/viewFile/102/84]

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/-next-solar-cycle-may-be-stronger-than-previous-one–62421

And not to forget the Corona pandemic, that has, thanks to the very many restrictions imposed on us, another negative effect on our well-being.

I am in the lucky position to live outside of town in the countryside with plenty of space and privacy, have no boss or work colleagues, my children have built their own lives and my parents are already dead and everything else is going well. So I have absolutely no reason to be this angry.

I just can’t help the hormones, which have a merry dance and throwing everything out of kilter, Nigel my poor significant other taking the brunt of it.

It’s no wonder this puts a strain on any marriage and he runs for the hills into the arms of a younger, juicier model, which will inevitable also turn into a banshee when her times comes.

I have another theory why at this stage in a woman’s life everything goes down and out. If we don’t adjust our food intake and exercise regime we start to look a little pregnant. Which is what nature wants: for us, now not taking part in the procreation of the human species, to look like we already ‘have a bun in the oven’ and to turn the male’s attention firmly towards the younger women to spread their seed.

Nature is cruel in so many ways, but our society is caught in a ‘youth cult’ so that we do everything to stall this change into croneness, to become the old wise, grey-haired hag.

Just as well that with the aging process we also get to care less about what others think of us, which softens the blow somewhat.

I for one have decided to ditch the hair colouring merry-go-round and embrace the mottled look of a calico cat with the grey-white-dark coming into the previous black-brown hair, with a streak of blond added.

Also since my guts have signaled they won’t put up with lactose and gluten no more, my diet is even healthier than before, no more cream cheese, cream cakes and ice cream or any other milk-based desserts. This does not create a big gap in my diet, but I also now bake my own bread and the occasional cake, as the commercial stuff is both forbiddingly expensive or pure starch and sugar, no thanks.

So this phase of hormonal readjustment has to go hand in hand with a re-focussing on ourselves as women, who mostly put others first, and a reassessment of our lifestyle, if we want to maintain health and vibrancy.

If you want more information about women’s health go to Aviva Romm’s website ‘Empowered Natural Medicine for Women’  https://avivaromm.com/  .  Aviva is a midwife and herbalist and medical doctor who takes a holistic approach to ailments and believes in supporting the self-healing ability of the body instead of just treating the symptoms.

If you like to read more about the changes in our bodies and psyche, there is a blog that explores this: Winter’s Graces: The Surprising Gifts of Later Life [ https://wintersgraces.com/ ].

:

March 2021 – Anniversary of our Journey to Spain 4 years ago

Beginning and end of the months. It started with floods and ended with a feeling of summer:

And as almost every months, March brought a lot of surprises, some good and some not so good.

Below are what are called ‘ollas’. Yes, I know they are terracotta pots.

A German friend of mine who is into pottery sent me a Whatsapp message about ‘Ollas’ (pronounced OY-yah).

These are ancient vessels of clay that are porous and used as a watering system for thousands of years. They are like vases and are buried in the ground between plants and filled with water.

See https://wateruseitwisely.com/olla-irrigation/

I have since read up on them and like this low-tech version of a watering system and have installed a home-made version in my vegetable garden.

Purpose made ollas are beautiful but quite expensive, so I have bought cheap terracotta pots in the Bazaar Chino, two sizes that just about fit snug into another and have sealed the edge with silicone, and also plugged the drain hole that goes into the ground.

The advantage over over-ground irrigation systems is there is no evaporation occurring, as the moisture seeps into the surrounding soil, right there where it is needed and only when it is needed, so it is extremely efficient. This will depend on a lot of things: the saturation of the soil, the soil type, the plant needs, the plant size and how far away it is. So in fact the plants needs dictate how much water is used. Overwatering is not possible, as the olla is full if no water is needed and empty when all is used up.

The other advantage is that because there is no overground moisture, no weeds will thrive. The top soil looks dry, but beneath and surrounding the olla the soil is damp.

How often it needs refilling depends on all these variables and also how often you water the garden. I look upon this system as a back up to my manual ‘flood irrigation’, which I do every two days at least in the heat of the summer. And in between the ollas will supply a steady bit of moisture.

The disadvantage, as far as I can see at this early stage is, that you need a lot of ollas, either one for every two or four plants and they take space away in small plots. Also our soil is nearly pure sand and does not retain any water due to its lack of humus, so any moisture gets sucked away immediately.

I also suspect that the plants will send out their roots towards the source of water and the olla will eventually be totally covered with hair roots. And then what? Will it clog up? Will I need to dig them up, dry them out and clean them?

Will faster and stronger growing plants take all the moisture for themselves? We will see. It is still an experiment for me and evolving as I put down more ollas and plants.

This system can be improved by connecting several ollas with pipes and having a line coming from a water butt for automatic refill if you are so inclined.

I however like to spend time in the garden with my plant children, so it is no chore to look after them or at them while giving them water. They will repay my diligence with beautiful, tasty, fresh and healthy vegetables and leaves.

Property Surprises

We had a surprise while trying to register the finca for the goat project. We did not realise that our abogado/notary did not register the property with the land registry at the time of purchase. Well, at the time we were just happy to close the deal and move on. That’s not so tragic in itself, but it turns out that a several thousand euro embargo is attached to our finca and we did not know about it.

So off we went to La Palma de Condado to check out, if there were any taxes unpaid, just to be on the safe side.

This embargo must be an issue with the previous owner and we immediately engaged a lawyer to shift this embargo off the property while at the same time starting the process of properly registering it into our name, which costs us a further €3,500, apart from the lawyers fee.

Apparently it is quite common that the local authorities will put an embargo on either your bank account or, if you do not have any funds, on your property for unpaid taxes or any incurred fines. They will either take their unpaid dues out over time from your account or prevent a sale of the property from happening. Sometimes the next owner will have to pay those fines, if they have to do with the property, for example not having obtained the required licences or having built too large or for a different purpose.

In our case at the time of sale, this embargo had not yet been put upon the finca, so we will not have to pay any of it. It just takes time and money to shift it.

This is beautiful La Palma de Condado, Iglesia San Juan Bautista, Plaza de Espana:

Garden Art

Thanks to our new neighbour we are now proud owners of not one, but three unique statues. I always coveted some art in my gardens, just not quite the type we now own. But never mind, they are quite fetching and different from the gargoyle that inhabits the vegetable garden.

These three are nymphs come from a nearby finca, whose owners were Dutch and the new owner just does not feel comfortable with them.

The biggest is a real beauty and the two smaller ones are of the same model, but all are unashamed depictions of the feminine form.

It’s really a deal – art for eggs. Astrid, our new neighbour, loves our farm fresh eggs and we really love her oranges and so we swap. I include in the deal surplus from the garden and so we are all happy.

Our terrace is the hottest place in the summer and really only good for an early morning yoga session or a late night wine chill-out. We erected a pergola and the first year I had a synthetic matting up to provide shade. Between the wind and rusty wire it went to bits. The ultimate idea is to have the wine, Kiwi and Bougainvillea climbing up and over it, but this will take years.

For now, we need an alternative type of awning.

So this year I cut the cañas, the reeds growing along the road, and proceeded to slip them into the wire grid. Fingers crossed, it will provide some kind of shade. It’s organic, free and I can always add some more.

Random photo gallery:

Between the times…

Garden produce….

The Nicest Time of Year

In this blog I will only talk of positive things, promise.

For example I am really pleased about my winter garden. It has brought us an endless supply of rocket, lettuce, Swiss chard, leek, herbs like parsley, mint, dill, coriander, marjoram, oregano, rosemary & thyme.

Now at the end of February even the nettles are coming to an end as they are starting to flower. I have been making good use of them in my nettle soup, which everybody loves, and have dried enough to keep me supplied for the year in my green tea with nettle and mint morning cuppa. The rest will be used as liquid fertiliser.

I am now also harvesting the biggest carrots I ever grew. Apart from that soon we can eat fresh peas, beetroot and later on leeks, onions and garlic. Courgettes and peppers are coming up, so are Calendula from my own seeds and poppies from last year.

My newest experiment is to dig a hole to dump the kitchen scraps into and let them decompose in-situ, right there where the nutrients are needed when I plant the next crop. It works a treat, as my rocket salad gave us huge amounts of delicious peppery leaves, enough to supply the neighbours.

Four Ladies and Nigel

At the moment we are full, meaning two rooms are taken. Downstairs is Maria from Malaga, a substitute teacher for a primary school in Almonte and here for 3 weeks. In our red bedroom with the single beds we have two ladies from the Czech Republic. One, Martina, is a professional photographer of horses and Lada, who has been here before. She owns a stud farm back home and buys her horses here, in Andalucia. This time she is here for 10 days to train a young horse. She intends to split her time between the Czech Republic and El Rocio.

You can look at Martina’s gallery here: https://projekt-atelierpropsy.webnode.cz/galerie/ for dogs or here for horses: https://projekt-martinaburianova.webnode.cz/galerie/

Cycling Joys

One fine Sunday I went on a cycle tour which brought me all the way to Hinojos on the nice calm road through the National Park. Usually I go as far as the Camping Village Doñarrayan Park or the Restaurante Almoradux but this time I followed the small cycle path and continued until I saw the first houses of Hinojos.

This concrete path is called the Carril de Cicloturismo El Arrayán and is 5.77 kms long and just gorgeous at this time of year. Everything is lush and green, it’s like cycling through a jungle.

All included I did 40 kms in three hours, including small breaks to sip water and take pictures and felt it the next day, but it was worth it.

Not for this Year….

We are now into March and finally construction on the swimming pool has started. The hole in the ground has been here since last May and with the help of Robert’s expertise in steelwork and building, it will progress.

They started with laying down a layer of insulation on the ground and around the sides. On top of the insulation three layers of steel frame has been put and rubble used as spacers to keep them slightly apart, so the concrete seeps between. Rods along the sides will reinforce the three rows of blocks.

Yesterday the concrete was poured and unfortunately the lemon tree was in the way of the concrete lorry and had to go. I am heart-broken.

Get THE TEST – and f*** the REST

                                                                        (*** forget)

Do you feel this is no time to travel?    Too many restrictions?

Well, let me tell you, what has been going on in this part of Spain.

As you know, we run a little guest house, just three rooms on booking.com.

Booking send me an invoice for January 2021 and to my utter surprise, we managed to pull in €200, not to mention the few guests under-the-radar, the phone bookings.

We had three cyclists staying with us, two from Poland and one French guy, who has been cycling since October 2020 and will keep going around southern Europe until July, mostly camping.

We also had a guy visiting his girlfriend in Almonte and our ex-guests-now-friends from Sweden made their way back to Spain by ferry and car.

Their journey was only disrupted by a road block in France, where they were asked for their Covid pcr-tests. They didn’t have any and are due a fine, although the fine would be a lot cheaper than the actual test back in Sweden. It would have been nearly impossible to be still in-test throughout the journey anyway.

Test costs seem to range from €30 to €60, or more in Sweden and France, where the test costs 135 Euro. 

A German lady and her friend also got on the road with two jeeps and pony trailers totally unencumbered, although they stuck to the night-driving ban.

And now we had a full house, or rather three occupied rooms with one substitute teacher and two lads working on wind turbines.

In the last week in January we went to Matalascanas, the beach and visited the car park at the end of the promenade, where in the winter campers usually stop by. This time there was only two, one German and one Dutch camper. We chatted to the young Dutch couple, which had two little pre-school children with them and had just come from Portugal. They took this last opportunity for an extended family adventure and would be on the road until the summer.

We hear also from football teams, golfers, sun-seekers and Spanish students taking to the air to achieve some sporty goal, get some badly needed sunshine or refresh their language skills.

A friend of a friend returned from five glorious weeks on Tenerife (she has her own hairdressing salon and had to close anyway) to Frankfurt at the Beginning of February. Nobody wanted to see any documentation. Only two days later the local health board phoned her and said: “We are aware that you were out of the country and have not registered with us. You need to take a test immediately.” She already had booked a test from the Canary Islands for the very next day after her arrival and was negative. So she had visited her recently renovated shop. But the reply was “Until we send you an official letter that you can go outside, you have to quarantine.”  Certainly the German bureaucracy is still working.

My mother always said no dish is eaten as hot as it is cooked (translated from German). Things seem or are made to seem far worse than they are in reality.

I certainly will visit who wants me within a reasonable range and have prepared accordingly. The condition in Spanish jails seems quite ok, because I will refuse to pay a fine  ….  (famous last words).

Collection of photos: a spider found on an olive tree trunk, possibly Eusparassus dufourii.

Three of our four cats in a tree; our lamb Laurie and our new gifted statue, what a Beauty!

The CORONA – Tragedy

To clear the head I’ve started to paint, thanks to YouTube tutorials

I would like to explain my position, even in the danger of losing some of my followers.

Let me explain, how I come to have my view, that we are being misled in a way not experienced and seen before, as this is global and personal.

As a child of the post World War II generation, I have been reared and encouraged at school to think critically, to ask questions and to draw my own conclusions, to read between the lines, to mistrust statistics and governments and always inform myself, to look for facts and a second opinion.

I have been brain-washed at school with the most horrific images, which no child should be confronted with, and they left their mark on my psychic. My parents knew however, not to share their war time experiences with a young, impressionable mind. Although one homework assignment was to interrogate my mother (my father had died when I was nine years of age) what they knew of the extermination of the Jews. Were they not aware of what went on, did they not see the stream of people with the yellow David star on their sleeves being herded away. Did they not hear rumours of the concentration camps?

So I have carefully been primed to be suspicious of people in power, of politics and the ideologies of powerful groups, be it the church hierarchy or some men’s clubs like the freemasons. I know that power corrupts, that money corrupts and wealth is the means to influence decision-making in the upper echelons. I am also aware that keeping certain information secret is a means for manipulation.

In 2019 we experienced for the first time a global common enemy we could all fight against together, the Corona virus, Covid-19. What is so very strange is that to this day, over a year later, nobody has isolated and proven its existence.

Never before has been the daily mortality rate been counted worldwide, with all media singing from the same hymn sheet and no discourse, no discussions is allowed, with all critical voices being shunted away, censured and simply disregarded and discredited.

To this day, the rate of the official Covid mortality is below 1% in all populations. A simple percentage per population calculation will show this, but this figure is never shown.

Never before has been daily reporting on deaths been done, never before were we confronted with stories from hospitals, that work to save lives. It is scary, shocking and frightening to witness our vulnerability and mortality.

This goes on every day, but normally, before Covid, every minute people were also dying or being born without us being made aware of it.

I won’t even go into the so-called Conspiracy Theories, because I do not have to even do this, as common sense is enough to see through this effort of control being taken increasingly of peoples personal life’s through tracking and tracing apps, through police controlled road blocks and fear, until it becomes normal, the new normal. And yet the restrictions and opening and closing of shops, schools, restaurants, gyms and public places seem erratic and non-coordinated, based on where you live, as if nobody travels to work, mixes in those environments, where air travel is ongoing and trains, buses and cars still cross community and country borders. If there would be a serious threat to human life, like the pest, this would not be happening. 

Here we have found a common enemy, which luckily is available in all countries worldwide and so necessitates the same measures in all countries. Historically our enemy were outsiders like other nations, the Jews, the gypsies, immigrants, black slaves, communists, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the list is endless.

And here we are in a situation, where we are being told ‘We are in this together’ while being kept apart; while we are being told where to go, how long to stay, who to meet, what to buy, sections of supermarkets being out of reach. We are not allowed to express our most human feelings, to hug, kiss and enjoy one another’s company. We are being deprived of coming together to support each other, as it was possible in war times, where we rallied and gave each other hope.

Our hope now comes from a syringe. An injection, which has not been sufficiently researched and trailed on humans, no long term effects are known and, which plays into the hands of the population control idea of the Bill Gates Foundation, there could possibly be the effect of infertility. But whether you pin your hopes on this being the golden bullet or not is not so important, it is what comes with it. An increased surveillance system; as to be effective, most of the world population will need to have proven immunity. No matter that our immune system already fights the corona virus group to which the common flu belongs, to 98 % and more.

At present, immune compromised people, persons with pre-conditions and the elderly are at risk, many with life-style diseases, which are preventable and curable. Statistics tell us, most victims of Covid-19 are over the age of 85 years, well over the life expectancy. Basically, we are not allowed to die.

Mortality rate of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Spain as of November 24, 2020, by age group

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105596/covid-19-mortality-rate-by-age-group-in-spain-march/

And here it comes, the dreaded theory. In the background, I believe, the response to the pandemic is orchestrated by the WEF, Bill Gates and his foundation and the interests of multi-million dollar corporations, the pharma industry and governments.

Who are they?

The World Economic Forum is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

The Forum Members community represents outstanding firms from around the globe that are among the world’s top innovators, market shapers, disruptors, including niche market leaders and regional champions.

They are businesses of established influence that continue to help growing economies thrive, contribute to societal prosperity and are transforming into global leaders in their industries and regions. Together, they form one of the Forum’s key pillars of global business and address urgent issues, explore emerging trends and help facilitate the Forum’s mission of improving the state of the world.

‘As of January 2016, the community of Forum Members comprises more than 390 firms from over 60 countries. Membership is by invitation only and a result of a diligent review of selection criteria. Typical Forum Members exceed their industry standards in a variety of metrics,…’

https://www.weforum.org/communities/forum-members

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, argues that the long term economic consequences of the pandemic will exacerbate the climate and social crises that were already underway and this will make more urgent the “great reset” of our economic and social systems.

He states, that ‘“changes we have already seen in response to COVID-19”, which have forced us to quickly and radically abandon some habits in our lifestyles that were considered essentials prior to the pandemic. This “great reset” would be based on three pillars:

  • Steering the market towards fairer outcomes, bearing in mind environmental and social risks and opportunities and not just focusing on short term financial profits. 
  • Ensuring that investments pursue shared goals, such as equality and sustainability. In this regard, the author mentions the European Commission €750 billion recovery fund which represents a major opportunity for progress.
  • To harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good, especially by addressing current health and social challenges.’
  • “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world” – Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.

https://www.santander.com/en/press-room/insights/capitalism-reset-and-new-social-contract-post-covid-19-crisis

‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming the consumption landscape by creating opportunities for value through game-changing technologies. With consumer spending driving approximately 60% of global GDP, embracing the power of technology to create value is paramount to ensuring progress throughout developed and emerging economies.’

Managing Epidemics with Consumer Wearables aims to establish an ethical, accountable and practical governance system that provides authorities and public health officials with useful information for epidemic response using derived insights from information collected on consumer wearable IoT devices.’

IoT stands for ‘Internet of Things’, examples are Smart Mobiles, smart refrigerators, smart watches, smart fire alarm, smart door lock, smart bicycle, medical sensors, fitness trackers, smart security system etc.

Nice words for some, the Techies and Silicon Valley types. It is just too convenient that this ‘pandemic’ is giving world leaders, be they politicians, global businesses, pharmaceutical industry, experts in one thing or another, a reason to confine us all and feed us identical information on all channels, with no discussion or alternative opinion or expertise allowed.

Basically, it is all about money, control and power. And everything is happening right in front of our own eyes, in plain sight. I certainly did not sign up for this and do not like this intrusion into my life. Time to ditch the smart phone perhaps?

Back to Covid-19. What is it?

What kind of virus is the one that induces COVID-19?

SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the broad family of viruses known as coronaviruses. It is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA (+ssRNA) virus, with a single linear RNA segment.

Other coronaviruses are capable of causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, fatality rate ~34%, and
SARS-CoV, a beta virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Coronaviruses didn’t just pop up recently. They’re a large family of viruses that have been around for a long time. Many of them can cause a variety of illnesses, from a mild cough to severe respiratory illnesses.

The new (or “novel”) coronavirus is one of several known to infect humans. It’s probably been around for some time in animals. Sometimes, a virus in animals crosses over into people. That’s what scientists think happened here. So this virus isn’t new to the world, but it is new to humans. When scientists found out that it was making people sick in 2019, they named it as a novel coronavirus.

Coronaviruses have all their genetic material in something called RNA (ribonucleic acid). RNA has some similarities to DNA, but they aren’t the same.

When viruses infect you, they attach to your cells, get inside them, and make copies of their RNA, which helps them spread. If there’s a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed. Scientists call those changes mutations.

These changes happen randomly and by accident. It’s a normal part of what happens to viruses as they multiply and spread.

Because the changes are random, they may make little to no difference in a person’s health. Other times, they may cause disease. For example, one reason you need a flu shot every year is because influenza viruses change from year to year. https://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus-strains#1

Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre- existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable. WHO, Feb 25, 2020

Latest statistic, as of 11.02.2021:

As I write this, 2,361,485 people have died around the world from or with Covid-19.

World population: 7.7 billion people,   2,36 million of 7.7 billion is: 0.31%.

To date, only 0.31% of the world population have died from, with or of Covid-19.

In comparison 56 million people died in 2017:  For example 1.18 million died of tuberculosis, 2.38 million died of digestive diseases, 2.56 million of lower respiratory diseases, 3.91 million of respiratory diseases. We never heard about them.

https://ourworldindata.org/causes-of-death

The average age of those who have died from coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic is 82.4 years old. About six in every 1,000 infections now result in death, down from about 30 in every 1,000 in June. (that is a 0.6% fatality rate)

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/average-age-of-coronavirus-fatalities-is-82-pcwqrzdzz

I still believe the response and restrictions imposed on the population are unjustified and will have long-lasting consequences; businesses going bankrupt, more people on the dole, increased depression, anxiety and suicides, children already being referred to psychological services with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mask wearing and distance keeping are most probably going to be the norm for some time to come. And forget about traveling the world, which we once saw as a right, even a right of passage for young people.

This so-called vaccination will not stop the stringent restrictions as nobody knows if it is effective, for how long, if people are still infectious because it has not been researched enough before being administered.

Autumn in Andalucia

sandy path

Acantilado del Asperillo

      We are trying to discover all places of interest to tourists visiting the area. So one Sunday we set off to discover if there are any further points to access the beach.  We stopped at a place called Acantilado del Asperillo, meaning ‘bitter cliff’. I am not sure this is the actual translation as often words and expressions here are very much local and no translation can be found in dictionaries.  The area has a car park and is accessed through a gate. And then you can walk up and down on sandy paths through pines, scrubland (maquis) until you get to see the dunes and the coast. It is not an easy walk and some people come to mountain bike there as we could see by the tracks. There is no access to the beach, but a grand view over the coast when you scale the dunes.

Culinary Delights

We had a lovely young couple staying for two nights here. She was from India, he was from London but has Indian parents. He was engaged in the Brexit negotiations regarding agriculture as an assistant negotiator and she was starting a PhD in business. We had very interesting conversations at the dinner table. One evening Sughanda made us a nice authentic Indian dinner and the following night I cooked us a vegetarian three-course meal. It is nice to have strangers become friends and we learn so much about what goes on in the world without it being filtered through a news medium.

Almond-Pumpkin Cake

This is one of the loveliest cakes I have ever tasted, not because I baked it, but because I can actually enjoy it, as it is gluten free, lactose free and even fat free. Additionally it has my favourite cinnamon and spice flavour, is moist and easy to make. This is an adapted recipe, because what I found on the internet was either too complicated or had lard as an ingredient or no actual pumpkin. Ok, yes, you do have to make the pumpkin jam first. But I am working on a version where you could also use peach puree or other fruity ingredients.

Pumpkin Jam

 from :    https://www.bakedbyanintrovert.com/pumpkin-jam/

Prep Time 10 minutes     Cook Time 10 minutes    Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients  for 2 cups

  • 15-ounce can (425 g) pumpkin puree or 3 pound pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or fresh root
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (425 g) granulated sugar

(I also  like to add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.)

Instructions

  1. Combine pumpkin puree, orange juices, spices, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Continue to cook while stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to sterile glass jars, seal and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

The jam will keep for up to 3 months stored in the refrigerator.

If you don’t have canned pumpkin, you’ll need to cook and puree the fresh pumpkin first. Then measure out 15-ounces to be used in the jam. A 3-pound pumpkin should yield enough puree for the recipe.

Almond Pumpkin Cake

Ingredients (for 8 portions)

  • 150 grams brown sugar (or light brown)
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 200 grams ground almonds
  • 1/3 cup (4 tbsp.) pumpkin jam.
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Almond flakes to sprinkle on top.

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Beat eggs and sugar together until frothy.
  3. Add everything else and mix until creamy.
  4. Transfer to cake form (I love my silicon forms as nothing ever sticks to them),

Sprinkle almond flakes on top.

  • Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes.

Now that all, and this time I mean all, olives are finally taken down, we have time for other things; although Nigel of course is always busy pruning the trees and cut fire wood from that. In our climate zone this is now gardening season for leafy greens and root vegetables. So I am out to tend to the now exploding encroachment of weeds, which are lovely wild flowers when they are in the right place.

I even managed to sow courgettes, of which two are producing fruit! The peppers are also still continuing and I have peas, french beans and a huge amount of rocket, from my own seed, growing. There is also lettuce, onions, garlic and beetroot, kohlrabi, sweet potato, carrots and leeks coming on.

This year my olive pickling has gone upmarket a notch with a gadget that scores the olives so that the soaking period is greatly reduced, the bitterness also and the finished result should be a lot milder than last years product.

Criminal Activity

I won’t go into the (other)  C-Word, suffice to say that we are all confined to our communities, not allowed to travel without a good reason, like work or medical appointments, to other towns or provinces. We are however privileged in so far, as our community encompasses not only Almonte, but also El Rocio and Matalascañas. So we are allowed to walk the beach.

Out of reach is Lidl, which is in Bollullos, but I needed to stock up on our magnesium supplements and wanted to say goodbye to our Schwedish-German friends. Since Robert cycled over to return Nigel’s bike and I dropped him off half way I figured I might as well go the whole way and sneak into Bollullos the back way, using the agricultural caminos. All worked well, I had a coffee with Karin, his wife, and nearly got stuck in a huge puddle on the way back.

Out of reach of course is Sevilla and Huelva. Luckily I had my main clothes shopping done before the lock-down. But I had tickets purchased online way back in October for a nice intimate Candlelight concert ‘Bandas Sonoras’ at the Fundación Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo and after hearing our Italian guests and our neighbour travelling the country with no problems, no check-points, I was determined to see that concert. Yes, I am a non-believer or Querdenker, as they call people in Germany that do not believe this virus justifies such stringent restrictions of people’s life to the detriment of the economy, or more important, their livelihoods and generally being human to each other.

The other reason is that the concert operators were instructed by the government not to scrap the performance but merely change the time to afternoon rather than evening, all safety measures of course in place like mask wearing, 2 meter distance and temperature check.

Anyhow, Steffi and I set off on a Sunday and the roads were deserted. It was like after an apocalypse had taken place. The venue was at the outskirts our side, so we did not have to traverse the whole city. Opposite the lovely Arabian-style hall was a cafe, full of families enjoying a nice, sunny autumn afternoon, common sense was prevailing. As you can see from the photos it was a really nice, safe and wonderful experience, four musicians playing tunes from famous films transporting us away from the madness for a little while, soothing the soul. Condemn me if you will, but I have no regrets, (which would probably be different if we would have been stopped and fined), but I am happy to have been able to support those artists and they were delighted of the crowd of about fifty people to have turned up.

In December it is time here to pay the taxes for our vehicles and house and the land. For that we had to make an appointment in the local tax office and receive the dockets, this year to be paid in the bank. The banks seem to have a lot of extra responsibility other than taking your money, loaning you more and selling insurance. They are also involved in taking your tax payments. In our bank this is only possible up to 10.30 am. And at that time the queue is usually so long that it would take over two hours. I tried their banking machine outside, without success.  While walking up to the post office I spotted another banks laser light bar code reader (ours didn’t have that) and proceeded to get the business done.

Then we heard it – English spoken, with a Northern Irish accent, here in Almonte! You never hear much English here, the place is shared between the local Spanish, Romanians, Moroccans and Germans, never English.

We hung around until the lady had finished her mobile phone call and Nigel walked up to her, saying “What a nice Irish accent you have.”  “Yes, straight from Ballymena, County Antrim.”  What a surprise, the same town Nigel hails from. Well, he wasn’t going to let her get away and invited her for a chat and some tapas, which we had planned on having anyway.

Nigel even got to chat to her father on the phone then, running through names of the Ballymena football teams from over forty years ago. And since Roisin herself was happy to have found someone to talk to in her language amidst the Arabic, Spanish and Romanian we brought her to our finca for a nice cup of tea I was going to say, but in fact it was a Gin & Tonic on the terrace. She was delighted to have found someone to share her story and background with, and so is Nigel as she can reconnect him to the place he has left at nineteen years of age, over forty years ago.