Early summer in February

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Fresh grass in Vila Nova

We had some time on our hands, a few days with no guests booked and decided to go on our second trip to Vila Nova de Milfontes on the Portuguese West coast to collect our new lawn. This time it was gorgeously sunny and warm. The hotel HS Milfontes Beach, Duna Parque hotel Group, sits right at the beach with a breathtaking view from the restaurant. In the winter it hosts Olympic rowing athletes from Russia, Poland, France, Germany and other countries training for the next competitions.

We booked the ‘Romantic Break’ just after Valentine’s day and so were greeted by a chilled bottle of bubbly and towels shaped into swans with lots of red hearts dotted everywhere. The price was a steal for €82 for one night including dinner buffet and breakfast buffet.

Because we had traveled with jeep and trailer and not stopped on the way we were hungry and made the most of the buffet, so much so that bed was the only option after eating our way through all that was on offer and since they were used to hungry young sportsmen and ~women there was plenty of good food: freshly baked pizzas, sushi made on-site, salads, fish and meats cooked to your liking and anything else.

The breakfast buffet was good and I had per-ordered gluten-free bread which came with two gluten-free muffins.

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We had a stroll through the charming cobble-paved streets and drove up to the other side of the river Rio Mira before collecting our tonne of freshly cut and rolled up lawn. Camposol does not only grow grass/turf for football pitches, golf courses and amenity sites, it also grows root vegetables for the Spanish and French market.

On our way home we were stopped to let about a thousand racing cyclists pass, also from all over Europe.

News from the Garden

We have a few newbies, apart from another fountain at the front we purchased a set of garden furniture on-line through Mano-Mano. The set includes 6 pieces and came in boxes. Unlabelled. The instructions author should take a leaf from the Ikea book, but  I put them together eventually.

Nigel has fulfilled his dream to do away with the plain brown tiles around the base of the house and replaced them with decorative tiles.

Our garden, which has lovely fresh peas, leeks and cabbage available at the moment (in February!) is being extended into the old potato plot. We installed a fiberglass container as a Hochbeet (high plot), filled it with layers of twigs, home-made compost and soil and it has now chamomile, carrots, beans and maize coming on. The carrots and chamomile were direct sown and covered with fleece, which speeded up germination and the maize and beans were raised in my little hotframe.

This must have been the hottest February on record. We had 24 degrees on at least 3 days and the beach and restaurants in Matalascañas were packed on the Sunday.

Out the Window…..

On the second last day of February we had our brush with a suspected case of corona virus.

A mother and daughter had booked to stay for 3 nights and on arrival the mother felt really ill and went to the local health center. She received antibiotics and was told it was just an infection. In reality there are no testing kits for the Covid-19 virus available, so nobody knows what she had. Her symptoms were headaches, fever, lethargy, no appetite while her daughter was coughing across the table. We took it upon ourselves to entertain her 8-year old daughter, who was full of energy, loved our cat Jack, enjoyed the hammock, and played cards with us and with the soap bubbles for a while.

Unfortunately we had a full house and the guests downstairs overheard the conversation and slipped out the back window in the morning to avoid contact with the sick lady.

They did however explain themselves to Nigel, when he was out feeding the hens. This lady had asthma and so was alarmed and afraid to contract the virus. They still loved it here and promised to be back.

In the meantime I proceeded to contact the as-yet-to-arrive guests, what I thought was my duty under the circumstances, as the sick guest worked at the Madrid Airport and we received one cancellation. At this stage we weren’t feeling too well ourselves with a tension headache. I proceeded to close all our rooms for three days, just in case.

In the end the sick lady decided it was best to return home, even though it meant to drive to Sevilla, return the hired car and take the train to Madrid, meanwhile spreading whatever made her sick.

Today we feel better and are much relieved to have a full house of healthy guests…

 Out the window, the second

As you are not allowed to smoke in the rooms, the guests in our downstairs bedroom seem to make a habit out of opening the tall window and stepping outside to smoke, leaving their stubs behind.

As for the other st of guests, which also smoked and booked for two, arrived with three (bringing the teenage daughter also), and then complained the bed wasn’t comfortable enough and stating that there were clearly three windows and no bars, they gave us a 6.3 score.

I feel like commenting in my reply to their review, if you want bars go to prison…

 

A lot can happen in a small space of time……

Gibraltar

 

As a treat for the New Year, seeing that it is the big 2020, we wanted to celebrate in style the incoming new decade, or at least that was my wish.

After considering Seville, Huelva or even Almonte, we agreed to check out Gibraltar, as we had omitted this English enclave on our Grand Tour in 2017. We booked the very nice four-star Rock Hotel for two nights, which would bring us nicely into the new year maybe with a bit of a party. The line up on the Casemates Square wasn’t exciting but at least some fireworks were promised, which turned out to be lovely. It’s been a long time since I, a Berliner, have seen fireworks. And we Berliners always put on a stunning amount of exploding stars, sparks in all colours and fire showers and going on for an hour all over the city, with thousands of parties and live music events. I miss that, being out in the sticks on a farm in the middle of Ireland for 25 years and now living in the Pampa near the National Park. My wish was fulfilled in Gibraltar, we had fireworks, music and I did a bit of dancing, too, just me. Gibraltarians don’t seem very enthusiastic when it comes to abandonment, must be the stiff upper lip syndrome.

 

I can recommend ‘The Rock Hotel’, the lounge and food are really enjoyable, but don’t expect too much of the bar. There was only one draught beer. They also could not mix me an Aperol Spritz, which is Aperol, Prosecco and orange (they did not have Aperol), I took a Martini instead of the Aperol, which also worked well; but their Gin selection is very good! The service was rather slow and reminded us a bit of ‘Faulty Towers’, the bar man equally as enjoyable as Manuel. The staff is mainly Moroccan, but very friendly and obliging. Breakfast is a steep £17.95 per person, of course it is good quality and they even cater for gluten-intolerant guests, which is a bonus. One excellent breakfast at that price was enough for us, so after check-out the next morning we wandered into town for a pub breakfast in ‘The Horseshoe’, which was a third of the price and also good and quick.

 

So what is Gibraltar like? It’s basically just a rock with a skirt of land, where all the houses sit and then further up is the Gibraltar Nature Reserve with a lot of historical military batteries and the monkeys of course! In fact they belong to the species of apes, which means they do not have tails and a bigger brain. On Gibraltar live the Barbary Macaques, which were introduced to the area of Gibraltar by the Moors from the Atlas Mountains who lived there between 700 and 1492, Wikipedia tells us. There are about 300 of them in groups and you can watch their antics, especially lousing each other. They ignore people, as you are not allowed to feed them. They are fed peanuts from what we could see.

 

The views from up the rock are stunning, the mainland of Spain, the strait of Gibraltar and of course Morocco, especially Ceuta, which is a Spanish enclave and ferry go there daily, and another trip to make on our list.

Apart from that it hasn’t got a lot going for it, we think. It is, no surprise, very British, all the shops are your usual stores you find in England. Unfortunately the architecture is not very appealing, a mix of Spanish, military and utilitarian. It misses the cute English cottage style. Even though there is no tax, we don’t think it makes that much difference, as prices are steep lending to its place as tourist destination. Of course cigarettes and booze, alcohol, are really cheaper. So we got cigarettes for friends and I stocked up on Gin, it is still even cheaper than in Spain.

On the way to Gibraltar we dropped off a guest with his bicycle at he bike shop in Cadiz, our last good deed in 2019. On the way home we looked at the surfing capitol Tavira.

CADIZ IMPRESSIONS

TAVIRA

 

Getting Your Car through the NCT Spanish Style

Our little Toyota Auris has done a good many journeys to and from Ireland and brought us around Spain, reliable and economic, packed to the hilt and bicycles on top. So we cherish her. That’s why we went through the procedure to import her to Spain. We engaged a ‘gestor’, an agent that knew about the complicated way to do that and all went well, eventually. Two years on the Spanish NCT, the ITV (Inspección Técnica de Vehículos), now tells us on the retest date, that we need to replace the entire back lights as the fog light and pilot light are on the wrong side. Why only now? More expenses we grumbled and hoped through our good mechanic to maybe get second-hand lights. But alas, no, they had to be purchased new. So it was done and we went back. Only to be told now we also had to do the entire set of front lights.

This whole episode reminded us of the first private doctor we visited for the annual check-up. It took three visits to finally get a referral for the blood test to be done by a specialised laboratory. Anywhere a professional is involved means several repeat visits so they can get the most out of it.

Glass window for stove

Our cast-iron chimney insert has done us one year of good service. The guests love to come home at night to a blazing fire and a nice warm house. Unfortunately one of the windows cracked when Nigel tightened the screw and we needed a replacement quickly. So I thought the correct way to achieve full satisfaction would be to order one from the very company that manufactures them and we bought it off, Bronpi. So I sent an email with our customer details and photo of both the stove and the catalogue picture, to make sure it would be an exact match. No reply. A week later I phoned them and ordered one window, giving them our customer number, so they had our previous purchase details on file. We actually went the 2 ½ hours drive to their shop in Lucena to collect the pane of glass, only to realise on our return – it didn’t fit, it is too small. This was a week before Christmas, no way would there be one available before the new year. In the end I went to a specialist glass shop 5 minutes from us in the industrial estate, it took 5 minutes to cut the right size. Now, why didn’t we do that before?

My friend Teresa then helped me, in fact she wrote it, to fire off a sharp email to Bronpi complaining about the wrong glass. And lo and behold, the next day I got a phone call from them apologising and asking what I wanted, my money back, of course. Their solution is to send a courier to collect the wrong glass and refund us the money. Right that seems complicated as in fact there is a hardware store in Almonte that sells Bronpi products. That was two weeks ago and I have not heard from them since.

But this is Spain where things seem to take a few turns before coming to an end, satisfactorily or otherwise.

Neighbour Trouble

So you would think, that moving to Spain to the countryside, to a spot that nobody has heard of back home, including ourselves, would make life simpler and less eventful because we have only one direct neighbour, who is Spanish, and further up the road another couple, happen to be German and English.

Apart from the trials and tribulations to set up home, renovate and grow roots, of course a constant stream of strangers, that give us money to stay in our house, gives us enough entertainment and reasons to throw our arms to heaven.

Last week however the drama really came to our doorstep. On the way to the NCT (ITV) our Spanish neighbour called us into his house to view his security camera footage. It showed a guy seemingly dancing, shouting, and taking his shirt off, knocking at the door and acting otherwise quite strange. He wasn’t supposed to be there, the property is fenced, the gate locked and has a bundle of big dogs apart from the cameras, and nobody was at home.

It turned out to be the English guy, in a state of mental confusion. He run away from home, believing his wife wants to kill him. We met her later on and she told us that indeed he has a psychosis brought on by years of drug use and now being on withdrawal, and she was trying to find him. He appeared again in the afternoon on the camino, shouting and calling for Nigel. He briefly came inside the gate, Nigel trying to calm him down. A short while later the police arrived being called by our neighbour, and all went very still. In their presence he took his prescribed medication and everybody went home eventually. We helped out over the next couple of days by letting the wife have our jeep, as theirs was gone and they have no transport other than a bicycle, to be able to attend the clinic, the police station and the court; a long story, a sad story, a common story. He is now in a mental intuition after spending two nights on the streets and she wants to get a divorce, as after 15 years she has enough of trying to keep him out of trouble, always looking after him and realising that it has sapped all her strength and energy.

THE STORKS ARE BACK

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For the past two weeks already the storks are making themselves at home and comfortable in their nests around here. In La Palma de Condado the pair on top of the church were busy repairing the storm damage by adjusting and adding twigs to their nest.

 

Any days we have no guests we use to explore our area. We still know very little about the town of Huelva and its beaches. So one Sunday we drove to Punta Umbria, which is another summer escape for town people with hotels, villas, apartments and restaurants. It also has a sports boat harbour. In the winter of course it’s quiet and not many places are open but there will always be people at the weekends and fiesta days to enjoy the sand, sea and stunning views.

 

The other good news is that WE NOW HAVE A GENERATOR IN PLACE. There is no solar system in place, as far as i know and have researched, that has not got a back-up system in place. Most dwellings are connected to the net, if they are not, they have a generator. Ours took a while to arrive because it will run automatically once the solar battery bank reaches a low level. It is such a relief and it got us already over one week of rain and the period of shortest day length. For the past three weeks we have spent about €30 on diesel to recharge our batteries. Which is essential for pumping water for showers and toilets, wash machine and generally all appliances and lights.

 

 

The Private Health Saga

There are two health systems in Spain; the public one, where 95% of the population are looked after, everybody that is employed here, and the private system, where you voluntarily pay a health insurer, that’s us. We are unfortunately not eligible for the public system because we arrived here after 2012, when eligibility changed and excludes immigrants, which are not employed. Even though we work, we are self-employed and pay taxes, which do not entitle us for free health care. It’s complicated. In order to qualify we would need to pay monthly contribution of at least €280 per person, rising with age. The public system is good, one of the best in Europe, but there are also waiting times for surgery etc. Anyway, so we pay a little less than €200 for two per month, which pays for a range of essential health care, i.e. consultations, x-ray, biopsy, annual check up plus blood test and others we haven’t yet needed. It does not pay for medication or dentistry, although a yearly check-up and cleaning is included.

This is a rural area, Huelva with ca. 100,000 inhabitants being the next biggest town. So there is not much choice in private clinics or doctors. We are currently on No. 2, which is a lady doctor in La Palma de Condado, hence the photos. We needed to change as the previous doctor, a heavily overweight guy who practices only on Wednesday afternoons in Almonte and sits otherwise in Pilas, was very inefficient. It took three visits until he finally gave us a referral for blood tests and his prescription for Nigel turned out to give him increasingly painful muscle cramps. Every time we go, he swipes the insurance card and cashes in.

For my annual check-up I have teamed up with Teresa and we go to the private hospital ‘Costa de la Luz’ in Huelva together. It has all the specialists and equipment to do all sorts of investigations and surgery. I am only exploring at this stage and am very lucky to have Teresa to explain the ins and outs to me and even make the appointments. This is actually quite normal here in Spain, usually all the family goes together to any doctor and gathers daily around the hospital bed.

In the public system all is happening streamlined as you would expect it from Germany, Ireland or England. In the private system here however it seems you are punished for your choice and money. Everything has to be done by the patient, the doctor basically only writes referrals and prescriptions. So for the blood test we have to go to another location, a laboratory that specialises just in taken and analysing bloods. For x-ray it’s another special unit, or the hospital. For any tests you have to get them done, collect the results in person another day and bring them to your GP who will interpret them and write a prescription. Luckily in the Costa De La Luz Hospital all specialists are in the same location. But that doesn’t mean you get all the investigations done in one day, or the results. That’s as far as we have figured it out.

Christmas – Navidad at Casa Halcon

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We had pre-Christmas visitors, Dylan, Nigel’s son and his girlfriend Kaycee from Hongkong.

It was nice to have youngsters around and I really enjoyed this bit of family-time. Of course we showed them the usual places, El Rocio, the beach in Matalascanas, Mazagon and Christopher Columbus’s ships by Huelva. One day they took the bus to Sevilla.

 

We included a trip to the western side of Portugal, to Vila Nova de Milfontes, because there is a company, Camposol, that grows roll-out grass, which Nigel wants to use for our front lawn. This place has a lovely beach, with a river outlet and even though it was rainy, windy and dull it looked stunning. I am already looking forward staying there again, this time without the rain, when we go back in March to collect our piece of ready-made lawn.

Kaycee gave an impromptu concert on the piano in the restaurant where we had a few drinks. She is a gifted musician and it was a really uplifting, wonderful experience listening to her. Unfortunately it rained all the time during their few days with us, so not many photos were taken. These photos below are taken from the web to show the location.

But honestly, this cute town should be kept as a secret, because it kept its charme  by not being build-up with hotels and is mainly enjoyed by locals and Portugese, see https://algarve-south-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-milfontes-portugal.html for more information.

Vila-Novade-Milfontes.8

 

 

Manzanillas, Gordals, Verdials, Picuals and Cornicabras

Church in Almonte

I have broadcasted it probably already 4 times: we are now finished our olive harvest. But this time for real, the last load amounted to only 19 kgs, which are about six euros. We are really harvesting three times: first the green olives for eating, Manzanillas, Gordals and Verdials, but only if they are deemed big enough. Small ones stay on the trees. Then we collect the left over olives that have turned deep red and black or are blemished, have fallen to the ground, are small or have evidence of insect attack. So one olive tree can be visited 3-4 times, as some have a split personality, they can be half Manzanilla and Verdial or part Gordal, small and big olives.

Sometimes I feel like a truffle pig, crawling beneath the trees, picking up fallen olives, because to us, everyone is precious, as they are so few. We still have to do heavy pruning, correcting years of neglect.

After writing this paragraph in Mid November we still had another two days of olive harvesting going on in the first week of December, this time at our friend’s finca near Bollullos. They have four hectares of oil olives, mainly Picual and Cornicabra and one hectare of wine, the Zalema variety. A few trees were left after their son and Nigel did the main harvest and they offered us the remaining olives to make olive oil for our own consumption as payment in kind. So we went and worked another two half days and brought the olives to the Olionuba factory in Bollullos. This olive oil will be enough for us for year and would cost us about €300 to buy.

 

FOOD:  AGONIES & JOYS

So at this stage I have figured out, that I cannot eat animal fats, including butter and cream. Also I am lactose intolerant, which is not so bad, considering all the lactose-free products on the supermarket shelves. Additionally I now have to exclude all wheat, barley, rye and mostly oat products thanks to the gluten in those cereals, which means ordinary cakes, biscuits, pizzas, pastas, crackers, bread, bread rolls are also off the menu. I am not moaning here, just being astonished about my body changing and reacting so badly to food, which I used to take for granted and loved. I can live without ice-cream and biscuits and cake, no problem, as I prefer the savoury taste anyway. Switching from butter to olive oil is quite acceptable in a country that produces the majority of the world’s olive oil. The lactose-intolerance happened suddenly about four years ago. The gluten thing has been brewing in the background as I always found too much bread would make me feel bloated and sluggish. This culminated finally in a lot of stomach cramps and rushed trips to the toilet.

Now that I have reached peri-menopause a lot of the symptoms that most women grapple with have to do with changing hormone levels and the body’s adjusting to that, so why should the digestive tract and the diet stay the same? Also being over fifty means the body starts showing that it has had enough of one or the other food or abuse and lets us know it needs a change or a break to stay vibrant and healthy.

Luckily I always like experimenting with food and rise to a challenge. Any guests with vegan, vegetarian or other food requests will receive a custom-made meal, no problem. Therefore on the menu are now gluten-free bread, wheat flour is replaced by rice and chickpea flour which in turn leads to new recipes. I now bake my own bread with a special no-gluten mix and add seeds to make it real yummy.

As long as I can eat potatoes in all its delicious reincarnations like chips, crisps, mash, baked and boiled, I am alright. Vegetables and salads are my other mainstay. And not to forget eggs, particular our own from our free-ranging happy hens. There is so much you can do with eggs; you’ll never run out of a good meal.

SPRINGTIME IN OCTOBER

'Shadow'

The rain has finally arrived and given the trees and the car a welcome wash-down, and refreshed everything. The starlings are noisy in the trees and the buzzards and falcons are circling above.

The temperature has briefly dipped to below ten degrees at night but is up again to a balmy fifteen. We had a fire in our stove lit to keep the cold at bay, but now it is not necessary.

I have planted five types of spring bulbs today: Daffodils, Tulips, Iris, Fresias and Anemones.

Because of the severe lack of water, farmers have to feed their livestock mainly bought-in straw. Joaquin, a farmer not far from us, feeds his sheep and cows all sorts of fruit that are otherwise dumped. Lately, we saw his cattle tucking into a heap of limes. Yes, the small citrus fruit.

I know, there is citrus pulp included in cattle feed, but these were real, juicy fruit. Now, I am not sure about that. Last year he fed a load of sweet potatoes to his sheep and some died of bloating. Hopefully more rain will mean some fresh growth soon.

Gardening Olives

What we are doing at the moment I call gardening rather than olive harvesting.

Let me explain.

When people are gardening, they are doing it usually for pleasure and no monetary return is involved. It is an activity born purely out of the enjoyment to be outdoors, listening to the birds, the hens scratching, bees buzzing and feeling and smelling the earth, the end result being a lovely flower display or vegetables and fruits for the table. Nobody would ask you what you earn from this labour of love.

At this point in our olive harvest we are gathering left-over olives, which have turned black. These were deemed to small to be picked green, as the bigger the size, the higher the price. So now they are only few of these on the trees or up high and for 30 cents a kilo nobody would bother to take them down. We are however, and it is also like housekeeping, cleaning up. So the return is minuscule and we are laughed at. But I can think of a lot worse things to be doing then cherry-picking olives under the blue sky and getting a good work out at the same time. Believe me, dear reader, it is strenuous exercise. You stretch up high with or without a long-handled plastic fork, pulling the last olives down and then bend down to collect them from the ground. It does come for free, so no need to enroll in a yoga class or pay a monthly fee for the gym.

When we have done the black olives that are used for making olive oil, we will start the next round of green eating olives at a minimum of 60 cents a kilo, these are the Verdial. They are slightly longish, bumpy and spotted, rather than the plump, round Manzanilla.

Minus One

We started out originally with eight hens, which got decimated for different reasons to four. We then bought three more but are again down to five.

From our four dogs for keeps, little cutie Bonny vanished. So Clyde has lost her sibling. Apparently a number of dogs have disappeared in the neighbourhood and a white van has been seen driving about. We can only assume she has been kidnapped, so we are left with three dogs: our giant Mastin Sofie, Drops our stray and her daughter Clyde.

We also had three cats. Sadly we found Sam, our red one, dead on the road the other day and are left with Jack and Shadow.

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Traslado del Virgen continued – The Outfall

On one of our exploration evening drives we took the route that the pilgrims take from El Rocio to Almonte out of pure curiosity. It is hard to believe that a throng of people marched this camino in the middle of the night, with no lighting and through pine woods and pure sand, carrying a statue as if that wasn’t hard enough. There are Stations of the Cross, decorated arches along the whole way but also an enormous amount of litter. It is an utter shame to see plastic bottles strewn all over the camino and blown into the forest even after a week passed. Obviously religious fervour does not include taking responsibility for the environment. A wooden statue is celebrated like the famous golden calf, venerated and huge amount of tax payers money is spent on organising this event, for security, catering, decorations and what not. According to the online edition of Sevilla ABC news stated 1,4 million people took part, calculated by the amount of cars parked in the specially opened spaces, the amount of water bottles sold, buses used and toilets flushed. And again, Mother Earth has to suffer even as a Virgin is carried on hands…

Eclectic mix of guests

Most weekends we are completely booked out. We had a booking for the downstairs bedroom with private bathroom which turned out to be a gay couple when they finally came in the door. An hour previously they had phoned as they were lost, even though I always sent the location and a description how to get to us via Whatsapp to every guest. After trying to guide them here I finally handed the phone over to another guest, thinking that my bad Spanish might be the reason of their lostness. These boys needed devine guidance to get them to our place; they were near, yet so far and I handed the phone to the priest, who also stayed the night in our casa and luckily had returned just in time to save the lost sheep. These gentlemen came with a sports Audi coupe and gave us one of the worst reviews, a   3.5 out of 10. All was wrong, obviously they would have been better off with a five-star hotel in the middle of town.

Other guesting gripes are phone bookings with the result that the people don’t turn up. I take phone bookings midweek to fill rooms but not at the weekends. This Saturday I had three bookings for one room, with one immediate cancellation and one no reply, which is rather rude, but eventually a booking came through via booking.com and we had all rooms full. It is a bit exasperating because each time I send a personalised whatsapp message with directions after saving the number into the mobile phone.

It is true, I do get blue, and sometimes I think of the green, lush fields of Ireland. The familiarity that 25 years of living on a relatively small island instills, the ease of conversing in a language which I picked up from primary school but only mastered after a few years of practical application in County Westmeath.

I thought a warm climate supports the growing of plants. Alas, the heat is just as bad as frost, both burns the leaves and shrivels up the poor things. Granted, it’s too hot for slugs but instead we have burrowing furry things attacking plants from underneath. They felled most of the aubergine plants. On the upside I am proud of the lovely kohlrabi and beetroot, these are yummy.

Now in the first week of September, it is time for autumn sowing, and more kohlrabi and beetroot, fennel, beans, peas, herbs, brussel sprouts and later salad are on the way. The hot soil temperature has seeds germinating within 2-4 days, but it is important to keep them shaded and moist or they’ll get burned.

Which they did. Now we are already well into October and temperatures reached above thirty degrees and killed off my lovely pea seedlings. Fennel, Brussel sprouts and Kohlrabi did not germinate at all but the beans are fairly happy, as long as they can enjoy some shade. So for next year the garden will definitely need to get proper shading   installed over all parts.

BERLIN

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We spent three nights in Berlin to visit my mum, who is now 95 years old. This time it was on my birthday so she got a lovely bunch of roses. Unfortunately and understandably she has slowed down a lot and a two hour visit is all she can take.

 

As a treat we watched the VIVID show in the Friedrich-Stadt-Palast. I always wanted to see this iconic building from the inside. I studied not far from there Agriculture Sciences at the Humboldt University. The Palace has kept his old style feel and art deco interior. It is supposed to be Europe’s biggest stage, in depth. The orchestra sits right at the back of the stage and we could glimpse it between the actors and dancers. It was a spectacular show with headgear designed by Philip Treacy, the Irish hat designer and custom-made music, dance and decorations for this place.

We also watched the winning runners of the Berlin Marathon pass us at the Fehrbelliner Platz, just around the corner, where my mother lives. The drizzly rain felt refreshing to us since we had no rain here in Almonte since April.

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Berlin Marathon

In the meantime we had our house angel Sara and her mother and sister mind our finca and look after our furry and feathery friends. They had a lovely weekend at the beach and we were all happy.

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Olive Season 2019

This year the olive harvest started already in the first week of September. This coincided with the wine harvest, so the area was a flurry of activity. The reason of the early date is the lack of water. The olives are starting to turn black and so need to be taken down as the green ones are used for eating at the table, not for oil. This year the yield is down by 50-60% so we don’t need help this year. We have finished the Manzanilla variety and are close to 2 t and Nigel has started on the pruning until we harvest the Verdial olives.

The Virgen Comes to Almonte

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La Paloma Blanca

Our town Almonte has worked itself into a fever pitch preparing for the arrival of the Virgen of El Rocio,  La Paloma Blanca, the White Dove how she is called among many other names. And so the decorations include millions of white paper flowers strung over the streets and around poles, at windows and archways. The Virgin herself is a small, 12th century statue of Mary and the baby Jesus, but here in El Rocio she is the Virgin of the Dew (= Rocio), or the Mother of the Marshes (of the Doñana National Park). A small nugget of useless information: her statuary vestment was designed by no other than Yves Saint Laurent in 1985.

This is a very important occasion which only occurs every seven years and of which the Almonteñas are very proud of.  For nine months the much loved statue will reside in the church in Almonte until she is returned to her home in El Rocio.

As with all religious or historical festivities the Spanish put in an enormous amount of work and effort to make this a fiesta to remember.

The whole way along which the Virgen is carried is sumptuously festooned, archways and domes are constructed and decorated by hand with rosemary sprigs and palm fronds, white crepe paper and gold lamé.

But the hardest part is the midnight pilgrimage from the shrine in El Rocio to the church in Almonte.  The Virgin is carried in her sedan on the shoulders of the parishioners on a 15 km long fairly rough camino, with no lighting and any amount of dust.

The plan was apparently to leave El Rocio at 20.00 in the evening on the 19th of August, but excitement and sheer exuberance eroded the patience of the participants and so they started moving at half past four in the afternoon.  That meant the main road between Matalascanas and Almonte and further to Sevilla was closed;  which meant a detour of two hours for us, as I saw fit to spend a few hours at the beach on that very day, knowing full well that the next day that this road would be a no-go because of the returning traffic from El Rocio and Almonte. So we had to divert along a camino that cuts across the National Park from Mazagon to Almonte. A scenic but rather rough drive with about a hundred speed bumps scattered along the way.

To us this fanatical veneration of a statue seems strange, particular when most people we ask answer that they are not really religious. The Spanish just like a reason to arrange a fiesta and then be in the midst of it, seen and be seen, they love being part of a crowd.  This of course is another reason why Spain is the party destination per se.

Of course having a holy statue also helps to generate income from visitors and a lot of new shops have sprung up selling everything from holy pictures, to plates, t-shirts, bags, medals and other religious paraphernalia. A few new bars and restaurants have opened and every building got a makeover.

For some reason, the virgin seems to be particular poplar with the gay community. We frequently have gay couples staying that plan to go to the shrine in El Rocio. Mind you, there is also a fiesta with food, drink and marihuana to be had in El Rocio. So one goes with the other I presume.

[see also the blog describing the Pentecost pilgrimage:   http://christophotto.com/andalucia-the-miracles-of-el-rocio  and more  http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

We were told that up to a million visitors were expected, so we thought we could make a killing. Initially I had my rooms booked out for those three days, only to have all of the reservations cancelled in advance. So I raised the price for the last-minute bookers, only to end up with a nearly empty house. I can only assume that people decided to save the money as they would not have needed a bed being on the camino all night and then afterwards, tanked up on coffee, headed home or to a nearby couch in a friends house. Our experience with renting our rooms now is that up to a certain price people are willing to pay, beyond that they will just find other accommodation, even though we are on the lower price bracket. Of course other providers in El Rocio or Matalascañas are flexible and adjust their prices downwards to attract guests, and if I am not on the ball, I miss out.

Saying that, having the house a few days to ourselves is a welcome break and gives my head peace. It’s not easy for a rather introvert person like myself to continuously welcome strangers into our home, worse when they also want to use my very own sacrosanct kitchen, even if it is only to make coffee, constantly. After all, I want to supplement our income by providing home-cooked meals and hearty breakfasts to our guests.

BEACH BEACH, BABY

 

When the temperature hits 33 degrees plus, it’s time to head to the beach, where it is mostly six degrees less hot and a nice breeze caresses your body as you judiciously space out the time between swims with lounging around, reading and people watching. We go to a place that is near the chiringuito ‘Heidi Bananas’, a gay haunt and a left-over from the heydays from thirty years ago, when Matalascanas was ‘hip’ and visited by the Germans and English, before they discovered the Costa Blanca, Ibiza and Mallorca. Then the huge camping place with all mod-cons was also in use, but is now completely deserted.

This beach lays to the right of the town, at the end of a winding sand camino, which ends close to the light house. There the beach is fringed with cliffs and stretches endless. It is never full, as there is so much space. There is also a tractor to watch that pulls boats from the water or leaves them down to the surf. The next restaurant is about a km further on and this whole side of beach until the yacht harbour in Mazagon stretches over 25 kms. The other side, in the direction of Matalascanas to the Gualdalquivir river stretches over 30 kms, with a dune landscape. So the total length of the beach here is over 55 kms! On both sides of Matalascanas is the Donana National park, which means no buildings are allowed and there a very few places, where you can actually access the beach. All this area belongs to the Golf of Cadiz and the Costa de la Luz.

But not only can you use the beach to relax, no, Nigel uses it to whip himself into shape with varies circuit exercises while running up and down the beach. Recently two fifteen-year old boys stopped to ask him how many press ups he could do. So they joined him in crunches, planks and press-ups; and that after he had already done his set of 100. There really is no glory to challenge an over 60-year old when you are fifteen and can’t keep up…

Tomato Chutney

A good use for ugly, discoloured or green tomatoes is to make some chutney. The green tomatoes were harvested accidentally; the others just didn’t look nice on a plate so in they went together with two onions, one tired apple and a handful of raisins. Chutney also needs brown sugar, vinegar and some spices, here I used ground ginger and three small dried chillies and a pinch of salt. I have made chutney before so I am not too concerned about quantities, as long as the flavour is good. I had about a pound of tomatoes and half a cup of brown sugar left and added vinegar by taste. Don’t be tempted to add water, the apple, onions and tomatoes have enough juice themselves.

An hour later all was nicely soft and golden brown and ready to put into jars, hey presto.

 

Blessed Are Thou Amongst Women

It just so happens that we now have an (nearly) all female house, with 5 female guests and I Nigel is vastly outnumbered. Not that he minds…..

We have two mothers and daughters, Italian and Peruvian, and a lady from San Sebastian, all holidaying here for more than a few days.

We do have one of the best beaches, have I mentioned this before? And lots of horse riding opportunities as well as cultural attractions like three of Cristoph Columbuses carabelas, a huge ancient and still working open-cast mine, a venerated Virgin, a vast National Park and in the not so far mountainous region of the Sierra Morena also caves.

Our other star attraction is Jack, the cat, loved by all.

The best guests…

… love animals

…. enjoy the food, the time to read or even swap breakfast for a haircut

 

My First Bull Fight

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Corrida in Almonte

So I went to a bullfight, corrida de toros. Does that make me a bad person?

I was full of trepidation but also excited. I expected to be repulsed and to leave early, maybe after the first bull was killed. But I didn’t, I stayed till the end.

Every year, at the end of the Feria de San Pedro in Almonte the bull ring is erected in the Recinto Ganadero, just out of town, this is the place where a week before the horses from the Doñana National Park have been corralled. So the bull fight is the finale of the very important tradition starting with the ‘Saca de las Yeguas’, followed by the fiesta in the chaparral and culminating with the annual bull fight and the last day of the festivities. We could hear the noise from the feria and its many attractions and rides still at 4am.

I make it my business to explore the country I live in and try to understand how the people tick. What has shaped them, what circumstances have brought them to this point in time? This includes the history of the country, which is very colourful and rich in Spain, religion, but also the climate, the influence of neighbouring cultures and how everything weaves together to generate the people and their specific culture and traditions.

So I gain an understanding and a love for these people that I have chosen to live with. That includes learning and experiencing customs, which may seem alien and illogical and are completely new to me.

The Spaniards are known worldwide for their joy in celebrating fiestas for any reason. Whole families or villages will group together to enjoy food, drink, song and customary dressing up. Every village has their own patron saint and their very own date to celebrate him or her, so if you want, you can attend a fiesta every day of the year. A lot of them are based on the catholic holy days, and if there are not enough, a few other ones are added. Even though few people attend church, veneration of saints is still a big thing and we have one of the major ones beside us in El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca. So we kind of are getting used to the hype around the statue and her importance in the yearly calendar and profit from it, as a lot of Spaniards will stay at Casa Halcon for the night to attend a meeting or celebration in El Rocio, which happens nearly every month.

Every town in Andalucia also has or had a bull ring. And if this edifice is not suitable anymore, then a temporary structure will be installed for the day as it is in Almonte. This seems to be the only fiesta where children are, fortunately, not brought along, it is an adults only event. Nevertheless is it a family day out, with big cooler boxes, picnic baskets, drinks and cushions brought along. I can only speak for Almonte, which is a small agricultural town, so these corridas in Sevilla or Madrid are probably a different affair. I was worried about the dress code, but here is was more relaxed, people not so much dressed up. We brought along our Spanish friend Teresa, but since her last corrida was ten years ago, she didn’t really know what to expect either.

I was just looking up the calendar of toro (=bull) events, corridas, and there are two bull fights on every day in Pamplona! So the tradition of bull fights is well and truly alive in most of Spain. However, in Catalonia bull fighting is banned since 2011, but the Spanish court overruled this decision, deeming it to be more anti-spanish than pro-animal rights [see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/20/spanish-court-overturns-catalonia-bullfighting-ban ].

In fact, bull fighting has already been practiced in pre-historic times, then the Greeks and Romans were at it and so it is still ongoing, also in Portugal, France and parts of South America.

We went an hour early to get good seats as the seats are not numbered, but still ended up, inexperienced as we are, with the sun shining fully at us, which made photo-taking a bit difficult. We should have known, as the rungs opposite us were already quite full, and they had the sun in their backs. Outside the ring the participating horses were warmed up and exercised. Beverages and snack and seat cushions were sold; it was a rather calm atmosphere.

On the programme it stated six bulls and six bull fighters were involved. All participants in the ring are toreros, but only the matador will kill the bull, or that is the hope. It does seem a bit unfair, as there are at least five toreros involved, including the banderilleros, which assist the matador in the ring. They have pink capes, with which they attract the attention of the bull. The matador has two capes, both in red, one smaller than the other. The banderilleros start the performance, getting the bulls attention, then a picador arrived on horseback, the horse heavily cushioned against injury from the bulls horns, to apply a lance into the bull, but not piercing him too deep.  Then the banderillero will stick six banderillas, barbed darts, into the bulls back. I have not made myself knowledgeable about all aspects of the bull fight, but I suspect it has to do with bloodletting and aggravating the bull. So he is already weakened and mad. Then the ‘dance of death’ begins, with the banderilleros stepping in when the matador needs a break to change the cape or the sword. The bull just seems to concentrate on attacking the biggest target, the cape. But the matador or banderillero needs to read the bull, assess his strength, his next move because they are only inches away from his horns and hooves. So it is a skilled dance for life or death, only the bull having the disadvantage of being on his own with his instincts and the ever increasing blood loss. At some stage the matador will move to kill him with sword between his shoulders, puncturing the heart, as clean and swift as possible. To do that he needs to confront the animal, which is as dangerous and he needs to be able to assess if the toro is in an enough exhausted stage to not suddenly attack him. Sometimes this does not happen quite as it should, and the banderillero will deliver a coup de grâce, cutting the spinal cord of the bull with a broad bladed dagger, once the bull has gone to its knees.

http://www.aficionados-international.com/general-information/the-bullfighter

We also got to see the spectacular performance of a picador, a matador on horseback. The awe-inspiring skill of the rider to keep the horse just an inch away from the bulls’ horns was unbelievable. The horse was unprotected, and if it goes down, the rider will go with it. The horse was agile and stepped backwards, sideways, danced his way around the bull. It is such an intense performance, that the horse was changed every ten minutes.

The matador will be rewarded for his skill and performance with one or two of the bull’s ears, which are cut off in the ring when he is dead. The picador, being such a skilled horse man, also received the tail of the bull. It is the spectators that decide by waving white kerchiefs what the matador will receive or if the bull is given pardon and can live.

The dead bull is removed by the ‘death squad’, a team of mules that drag the dead bull out of the ring. The bull is slaughtered in a mobile slaughterhouse on-site, and the meat sold to restaurants and butcher shops.

Then helpers rake the arena, covering over the blood.

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the dead bull outside of the arena

Despite being born and reared in Berlin (West), the now capitol of Germany, I have worked and lived on a dairy farm for 13 years, I also lived and worked with sheep, I have been to slaughter factories (only once or maybe twice) and I eat meat. And I think anybody that eats meat should not be ignorant of the final journey an animal makes to become the meat on the plate. Death is part of life, but what I do not condone is ongoing suffering, the needless suffering of animals kept in conditions that are far removed from their natural habitat or confined to an extent that they cannot carry out their natural behaviours. And this is factory farming, where pigs and chickens are kept in cages all their lives indoors, pumped full of antibiotics to control disease, which will spread rapidly if living conditions are crowded and prevent the animal’s natural movements.

In a bull fight the animal, beast against man, is respected. And it had a very good life up to that point, pampered and pastured, fed with the best of grain, exercised and trained to become the star of a seemingly barbaric custom.

I have now experienced all of the fiestas that the Doñana area has to offer, and this was the final baptism, in blood. I won’t go again, but I will not judge or condemn the people that enjoy this spectacle, it is their tradition and culture, and as a blow-in I have to respect that.

 

 

Saca de las Yeguas 2019

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Almonte has not just the Romeria and the Virgin of El Rocio, it also has one of Andalucia’s most important horse events, the Saca de Las Yeguas, the Running of the Mares. There is a unique race of horses here in the Doñana National Park, the Marismeña race. These horses are the original American mustangs. They were imported to America on ships from Huelva, starting with Christoph Columbus in the 16th century.

For the past 500 years on the 26th of June, the mares and their foals, born in the marismas of the Doñana National Park, are brought by the Yegüerizos, the local horse men and women, first to the church in El Rocio to be blessed. Then they proceed through the streets of Almonte to the Recinto Ganadero, the livestock corral, where they are cleaned, vaccinated, reshod, their manes are cut, the foals are branded and some horses sold. After three days they return to their grazing grounds in the Doñana, passing by our gate. This year there were 1,500 horses being herded to and from their grazing areas.

The horse men and women have had a few very tough days finding and gathering up the semi-wild horses in the over 150,000 ha large National park. They arrive there 3-4 days in advance of the drive to camp out and follow a tradition that has no rules or standards, only instinct and the deep understanding and love of the mind of the horse.

It is breath-taking to see groups of riders bringing groups of 300-400 horses, that have not seen a human being for much of the year, into the towns of El Rocio and Almonte. The horse dominates the life for a lot of people here: from the townhouses in El Rocio, that have poles in front of every house to tie the horses and at the back the stables, to the carriage manufacturers, saddle and reins makers and the gorgeous riding boots, hand-made with traditional decor. Alone on our camino are two riding schools and further the other direction is ‘Doñana Horse Adventure’, owned by a french girl, Sandrine, you can book an adventure on horseback through the national Park or the dunes along the beach. [ see https://www.inspirock.com/spain/el-rocio/donana-horse-adventure-a1399490733 ].

There is a monument to the Yegüerizos in Almonte which says: “For he who has never won a horse in the swamp, does not know what it means to ride.”

[ see more at https://www.spain-holiday.com/Almonte/articles/the-saca-de-las-yeguas-almonte-huelva]

The Saca de las Yeguas is followed by the Feria de San Pedro, the patron saint of Almonte, which seamlessly continues the fiesta-athmosphere and celebrations, of which the Spanish are famous.

Romeria and Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Drops, our little terrier-mix, thanked us for taking care of her with a clutch of puppies. We kept two of them, Bonnie and Clyde. So we now have four dogs in total and that is enough.

As cute as their antics are, the animal instinct drives the mother to give them lessons in survival hunting and they turned suddenly on our two white hens. Ordinarily the hens forage around the dogs, happily clucking away and even eating out of the same bowls. One hen did not survive the attack, the other is rather ruffled looking, missing all feathers on her back, but is feeding away. So we are down to three eggs a day. With guests enjoying the odd fry-up, we need a bigger supply of fresh farm eggs and so are buying three more hens. The red breed seems to be more resilient as we still have the two original hens, Ruby and Rita.

Jack

Another addition to the family is Jack, our tiny kitten. He is only four weeks old and is the sole surviver of a batch. The others apparently got under the hooves of horses or were molested by dogs, so it was decided to farm him out. He now lives on the upper terrace until he is a bit bigger and able to stand his ground. I am however keen to give him some playmates….

Romeria 2019

As every year, The Romeria, the biggest religious pilgrimage in Andalucia, has taken place in El Rocio, only 15 kms from us [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/pilgrimages.htm ]. The town itself is solely built on the sandy soils, with no paved roads, which is just as well as there are as many horses as people in this cowboy-feel like town, and every house has rails to tie your horse up at the front door and stables at the back. You can even drink your beer or eat on horseback with extra high planks to put your glass or plate down. [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

The Romeria is a colourful spectacle, with up to one million (1,000 000) poeple taking place and decending upon this small dusty town. The devotion to the ‘Virgin de El Rocio’ is amazing, but real religious fervour is rare and it#s all about the to-be-seen. Around nine months later apparently a lot of babies are born, not always conceived by husband and wife. The Spanish just like to celebrate and socialise, any reason is good enough. For us it means that Almonte closes down for nearly two weeks around pentecost, with no work or orders being taken three weeks in advance of the big festival. We just have to get used to that.

We originally thought to rent out the whole finca, but we have been adviced against it, as damage might occur and countless number of people would invade the house in an inebriated state. So we rented our rooms as usual, upping the price and …. ended up with only one full day booked and one room free. Who would have thought? Well, anybody that really has some business or involvement in the Romeria is of course in El Rocio, be it in one of the houses the various ‘Hermandades’ own, or other houses for rent, pensions, hotels, camping place or part of the gipsy bowtop caravans. Because from all towns of Andalucia families and groups diverge in several daylong pilgrimages towards El Rocio, on foot, on horse back, in carriages, carts or wagons, trailers and tractors. And all are decked out with flowers, pretty curtains, the ladies in flamenco dresses, flowers in hair or on top of their heads. The caballeros look very fetching in tight riding outfits, smart straw hats and bolero jackets.

We usually keep away from crowds and religious events, but this year I went with our German friends Claudia and Gerd to have a look on the Saturday evening. There was a lull in the celebrations and only when we left at nine in the evening, the streets started to fill up again. The real event, the blessing of the ox drawn carts with a flower-bedecked image of the Virgin in the main square, takes place around midday and is televised. So we watch from the cool of our sitting room on Canal Sur, the Andalucian regional TV station, how this religious cult unfolds.

Friendship, Fun and Festivals

At Casa Halcon in May

The month is already over – it went so fast, so much has happened. Apart from guests coming and going and our little dog family growing, we also had friends staying here and I went to Madrid and Segovia for four days, to meet my friend Fiona there.

The weather has brought us already temperatures over 30 degrees with night time temperatures also above 23 degrees, too much for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The strawberry tunnels in the area have been mostly taken down and the land is ready for ploughing. We have seen buses lining up to take the Romanian and Moroccan workers back home. This is a month earlier than last year. The strawberry originated in shady woodland of the northern hemisphere and so do not tolerate the intense heat that has descended upon us. My four plants have stopped producing and are shriveling up. I am not sure the plants will survive the heat of the summer like they would do in the winter, hibernating. I fear, I will have to replant as they have not produced runners and then also keep them under cover, against frost in the winter and the sun in the summer.

Our potatoes have produced a good enough crop, but again also have not flowered before the stalks died off. Obviously plants do behave differently when subjected to heat. My sunflowers and sweetcorn are growing and forming flowers but are stunted in growth. Again, it is the heat doing that. With courgettes I had absolutely no luck this year, even though In Ireland they never gave me trouble. You live and learn. I try to use mulch, died pulled weeds, to cover tender young plants to give them some ‘sunscreen’.

To my surprise the home-sown leeks and kohlrabi do not seem mind the heat.

Segovia & Madrid

Spain has much to offer and we have not seen the half of it yet. So I arranged to meet my friend Fiona in Segovia. I am proud to say this trip was solely conducted with public transport, which is really well organised and not pricey. The trip enfolded thus:

Car to bus terminal in Almonte – Bus to Sevilla Plaza de Armas Bus terminal (1.15 hr, €5.05) – Bus to Sevilla train station Santa Justa (€1.75) – high-speed Train to Madrid-Atocha (2.30 hr) – Metro to Madrid-Charlemartin Station – Train to Segovia (27 min., whole train journey (€55.65). Finally Bus into Segovia centre (30 min., €2.00).

Security on the high-speed train is tighter than when crossing the borders between France and Spain, or Spain and Portugal, which is nil, nada, zilch. My ticket was checked three times and all bags had to go through a scanner.

By car this would have taken 5.30-6.00 hours and up to 600 kms, depending on the route. But why bother, if trains and buses get you there in time, with great connections and air conditioning?

SEGOVIA…

…IS BEAUTIFUL AND COLD and lies in city in the autonomous region of Castile and León. Well, to me it was cold anyway. I left Almonte in 26 degrees and sunshine and arrived in Segovia with 18 degrees, going down to six degrees at night, additionally it was overcast and grey. It is a lot farther north and is at 1,000m altitude, it is also close to several sky resorts, which explains a lot.

We had two nights booked and intended to do the full circle walking around the town to pick up on all the monuments. We did visit the castle and many many boutiques….

Between the first and second century A.D. the Romans built an impressive aqueduct (http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/segovia/index.html) which can be admired in the old town, which is also full of ornate churches, pretty medieval townhouses and at the other end of town the castle, or Alcazar, is situated that apparently inspired the Disney logo castle.

The castle is a gothic style jewel from the 12th century [see https://www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/arte/monumentos/segovia/alcazar_de_segovia.html] and sumptuously decorated. We’d walked around with craned necks to admire the ornately carved ceilings. The architecture that has been handed down from the Moorish occupiers concerns itself a lot with ceilings. Also walls are top to bottom decorated with stucco and tiles, often incorporating Islamic script, praising Allah. This style is, in my eyes, so much more uplifting and celebrating the gifts and talents that god-allah bestows on humans than the Christian churches could ever come near.

some of the gorgeous ceilings of the castle:

The castle, or fortress, was also a military school, which explains the tiny knight’s amours and different sized weaponry:

There is so much to feast the eyes on, that one castle a day is quite enough.

It was rather cool and shopping makes you warm, all this trying on of lovely frocks. It’s a nice town for that, as not overrun with people and we had peace and quiet selecting our rich rags.  We employed restraint and came away with a nice long black lacy dress for Fiona and I obtained white jeans adorned at the bottom, a colourful silky skirt, a t-shirt and some much needed undergarments.

The other cultural thing we did was visit an exhibition in the Torreón de Lozoya, at the Plaza de San Martín. Simply because we had time and everything else was closed. The tower itself was unfortunately closed. One exhibition was about the Orden Espanola de Carlos III, with the portraits of members of the Orden and their costumes, the other was below and a modern photographic exhibition with black and white portraits and a video show of men’s faces, just coming from a shift from the mines. No words, no subtitles, no names, just dirty, dusty, tired honest faces. It was amazing what deep impression they made on us, how we were moved by the humanity shown. It was nearly voyeuristic just looking at their faces looking at us. The attending nice young man at the table upstairs filled us in on the background afterwards.

That night we had a horrible dinner consisting of deep-fat fried chopped up suckling pigs trotters….

I would be ashamed of serving such cremated bits of bone, grizzle and microscopic amounts of meat. But apparently this is a delicacy in this region, and warrants the €22 euro. I hoovered up the over-priced patatas bravas instead. To aid Fiona’s digestion we went in search of a decent glass of brandy, which she got. Port they didn’t know, so I had a sherry instead.

After breakfast the next day we took the bus back to the train station to go to Madrid; a much warmer place indeed, and a great city, if you happen to like city life. Fiona had already spent a night there and had a handle on where to go. We had booked an arty Airbnb apartment at the back of the artist’s exhibition and working space, an interesting set-up. I had booked us a session at the Hammam, the Arabic baths, which we were in need of after exploring the area. I hadn’t walked so much in a long time.

We visited the grand Prado museum [https://www.museodelprado.es/en/visit-the-museum ], where we came eye to eye with Mona Lisa’s twin, painted simultaneously with the other original one, by a pupil of Da Vinci. And of course Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical works and other old masters, too many to take in on one afternoon.

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Mona Lisa II

El Retiro is a big lush park, complete with man-made lake and boats. So we hired a boat and took to rowing a while.

Somehow I didn’t get to see the Palace, even though we were as far as Plaza Mayor, next time. Instead we went to a street full of tapas bars and finally found a place with a really good selection of reasonably priced titbits. Every single bar was full of people and more waiting to come in. The metro system brings you anywhere in Madrid at any time of day or night, as is to be expected of the capitol of a major country. For me, being from Berlin, it is another city, full of people, traffic and noise and I yearned to go back to our quiet finca after these four days.

We then did the touristy thing for Barney, Nigel’s friend who came to stay with us for 5 days which includes our usual tour: El Rocio, Matalascanas and the beach, Mazagon and the yacht harbour with the little bar, the Donana National Park and Cristopher Columbuses ships. The same we did with Cordula, who came by bicycle from Malaga and went on to Sevilla.

IMG_20190602_084508_resized_20190605_110841536

In between we had some revellers from the ‘Transition’ festival, a week-long psychedelic and trance music festival [https://www.festicket.com/festivals/transition-festival/2019/] near Almonte. This has been going on for the past ten years already and young, and not-so-young descend on Almonte and disappear into the woods. From there they emerged in search of a good nights, or days, sleep away from the constant music. We hosted two DJ’s and other participants. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAYPMyb7Zpk].

 

April brings April showers, puppies and a riot of colour

 

 

 

Demise of a pool – Creation of a new pool

We bought the round, overground pool relatively cheaply last summer in Carrefour, complete with ladder, pump and cover. It lasted one season. The wind blew it over twice when it was empty and bent the frame frightfully. Also the bottom was leaky in many places, bad quality and wrong use of chemicals being the reasons for that. At least a few guests and my friend’s kids got daily pleasure from it while they were here and I learned how to monitor and measure pH and apply chemicals.

 

It was always to be a transitory solution, until we could effort a decent underground pool. So now we have no choice but to start the new ‘pool’ project, to that end Nigel has started digging. Yes, by hand, shovel and pick. We envision a 6m long x 3m wide x 2m deep. This will take some time, but we will use it in between, we hope. Hole in the ground, liner and hey presto, we have a pool….

‘Wonky Paws’

‘Drops’ came to us last autumn, a stray terrier mix, in need of food and love. We thought she was only a puppy because she looked so skinny and small, but she was only starved. In reality she is probably 3-4 years old. I cooked pasta and rice with sardines and egg additionally to ad-lib dog food. She soon looked more perky, started running and jumping and took up night shift duties with Sofie. She even developed dark spots on her back that were not there before. She now adores me, the head feeder. As a thank you she gave us a clutch of puppies. Well, it was really the neighbour’s dog that came visiting and romancing her. We are now left with three puppies of which we will keep one. After a month they are now starting to explore cautiously, still sleeping lots and keeping to their barrel home and surrounding bushes. One was born with a deformity, his left paw was crippled and very small and the right one was not quite right either, so I called him ‘wonky paws’. I brought him to the vet and came home with a bag full of supplements to help his development. But sadly, something happened and he died. Drops is now a working mother, doing her job as mice catcher and security guard.

A Whale of a Time

Summer has arrived with the last day of April and we took off to the beach. So wonderful to see the glistening ocean again, the endless blue sky and lovely long, golden sandy beach. It could tempt you to immerse yourself in the cool water, but just not yet. Instead we took a walk along the beach to view the stranded whale.

About two weeks ago a huge whale got stranded along the beach, a sperm whale I think, because another one got dragged in front of a ferry from the Canary islands to the port in Valencia, nobody any the wiser for this stowaway passenger.  This one is well on its way to decomposition, some bones are already loose and the skin is off, you can see the blubber layer. It is 12 m long and was probably longer when intact and alive. Thankfully it is about 2 kms from our preferred beach spot, so when it starts to stink offensively it will only assault us when the wind blows east. We wondered why it hadn’t been disposed off, but how do you deal with a monumental corpse like that? Nigel googled and the options are: stuff it full of explosives and blast it, with bits and pieces flying all over the place. If you move it at this stage, it will probably explode anyway due to the gasses inside, not an appetising vision. Dragging it back out to sea is probably too late as well, it will just disintegrate. The only option left is to bury it. As it seems it is left there to its own devices, a ready banquet for birds of prey, seagulls and other scavengers.

(We went to the beach again a week later, and the whale was gone, buried apparently, as at the site was evidence of movement of sand and machinery tracks. It’s stinking though.)

Pergola Project

To ease the summer heat on the upper terrace and in our bedroom I came up with the idea of a pergola and Nigel (of course) put it up with scrap iron and timber from our friendly scrap merchant. In time it will hopefully be overgrown with vine, jasmine and other creepers.

 

The Prince

At the entrance to Mercadona stands a man on one leg. He begs. In fact, there are two such one-legged men, maybe taking turns. Both are very unobtrusive, not in-your-face. Just the fact that they are balancing on one leg and one crutch is enough to take notice.

They are different to the loud, whining, coming-at-you Romanian women, some with a baby at their breast, begging. There is a cunning one at Lidl in Bollullos. She will get you when you come out with your trolley full of goods and walk up right to your car. She wants to take the trolley back, hoping to get the euro or fifty cent out of it. Tough luck when it is a token. Once she accosted me when I entered the supermarket, asking for food. I of course pretended not to understand, but she is cleverer than that. She somehow knew I am a softy. So she followed me in and again asked for some piece of food, explaining bread would do and somebody else might get her something else. So I relented and told her to get one item. She went off and got a packet of sliced pork to the value of two euro, fair enough.

Other Gypsy-women at the Alhambra in Granada will stop you in your tracks with a bunch of Rosmary in their hand and tell you the future, it’s near impossible to stop them. But you must walk on or else there’ll be a price to pay at the end of their wonderful story of your future life, complete with ‘a stranger will call you’,  ‘a new love will enter your life’, ‘you will meet a man…blablabla.’

Near the Mezquita in Cordoba a woman nursed a baby at her breast and whined on  in Romanian to get our attention.

Back to Almonte. So these two men are obviously unable to get work with their disability. And I don’t mind giving them a coin when I happen to pass by, which happens very seldom, as I usually take the car to the car park at the back. One day I parked nearby, because I only needed a few items and took the front entrance. The younger of the two was there and held out a very, very small bowl, more like an egg cup. I walked on but then stopped, put down my heavy bag and rummaged around to get a coin out, went back and gave it to him. He is very handsome, with dark, liquid soulful eyes and the loveliest smile. He thanked me profusely in what I think is Moroccan. The gentleness of his voice and his cared-for appearance would have me rather think of a prince. A prince without wants and hardship, so is his smile.

He is not always there, but today I drove past the entrance and our eyes met in my rear-view mirror. I am not sure if he recognised me, since I wore glasses and was in the car. But there is something very compelling about this human being. Surely there must be great hardship behind the fact that he lost one of his legs, and yet he smiles.

Maybe at was a land-mine, maybe a work accident, maybe a motorcycle crash, that took the power of his leg and his bright future away, who knows. Maybe there never was a bright future to begin with.

I would love to invite him for a cup of coffee and let him tell me his story.

I don’t know if I ever will. I am not usually in the habit of talking to strangers.

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HAPPINESS IS ……

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peas from the garden

… Shelling peas you have grown and harvested in your own garden, under the shade of the olive tree, listening to the small fountain splashing and the birds singing. And knowing your man is yet again slaving away trying to put another of my ideas into existence. This time it is a pergola on the upper terrace, so that wine and bougainvillea and jasmine can wind their ways up on top and give us much sought after shade during the blazing hot summer days.

Our bedroom, which we like to use for the siestas, becomes really hot in the summer, so we need added shading. And our back garden received a small solar fountain:

 

 

The weather is like anywhere, capricious and changing. We had really lovely summer days, with people already sun-bathing and swimming on the beach and yet the wind can be quiet chilling. Now temperatures are dropping to under twenty degrees again and we are hoping for more rain.

 

I had a friend over from Ireland for a few days, which gave me the excuse to show her around and drive to El Rocio, Matalascañas beach and we even took the Doñana tour bus early in the morning to learn about the national park and its inhabitants. It was a jaunty drive along the vast beach, we saw not only sadly dead turtles but a whole range of seabirds, from the ubiquitous seagull, here the Mediterranean Gull and Common Gull to the Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Terns, Black Winged and Red Kite and , in the distance, also the Spanish Imperial Eagle. A small herd of wild pigs with mammy, daddy and piglets crossed the road in front of us and deer, mammy and fawn, did the same. These are quite used to the green buses driving slowly by. There is a sanctuary for rabbits within the national park, where rabbits can breed undisturbed. Their numbers have been reduced through the myxomatosis virus and have to be protected to increase, because they are the prey for the Iberian Lynx and the many birds of prey in the park.

 

In the vast sand dune landscape many footprints are evidence of a lot of different creatures, which make their home there: snakes, beetles, toads, frogs, goats, deer, desert mice, rabbits or hare. Further on the marshes were unfortunately totally dried out. Luckily we saw lots of beautiful storks, spoonbills, flamingos, ibises and cranes and herons on the lake, Charco de la Boca, at El Rocio the day before. The whole expedition takes 4 hours and is quite enjoyable; the driver even had very good English as we weren’t able to follow the Spanish explanations. I will definitely also try the other tour, which will bring us to the northern part.

Springtime display:

After that it was time to see my mum in Berlin, as I haven’t been over since January the previous year. She is now in her 95th year and hasn’t really changed that much. Carers now come three times a day to make sure she gets up, eats and drinks and takes her tablets. Other than that she is on her own, which she used to like, until her forgetfulness got in the way of many ordinary tasks. She was delighted to see Nigel and me; it has been a long while. She ate with appetite the roast chicken and white asparagus that we so love. It was too short, two days only, so we will return in September.

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spring-display in Berlin

The rain has come, and gone. As promised, April is the rainy season here, but we could do with a bit more, if it is to last till November or whenever the next rain is due.

 

In March we got additional family members thanks to Drops; she gave birth to six puppies, four of them survived. The daddy is our neighbour’s terrier-type dog; he had been visiting quite a lot before we were able to put a stop to it. The pups look a lot like him. They were born under the Oleander bush in the front of the house. Nigel brought down a blue barrel to provide a cosy home and shelter from the rain. They are now 3 weeks old, still huddled together with closed eyes. One has ventured out and I can see that Drops is getting sore, she has a few red marks on her tummy, so the puppies are getting their teeth and weaning won’t be long.

We got Sofie in time to the vet, which cost us an arm and a leg, €500 as she is an enormous dog and alone the anesthetic cost a lot for a 70 kg animal. She is over it now and back to roaming the boundary fence.

 

We had a huge number of guests over the Easter days, so much so that we had to decamp into the caravan, that Germans with a finca in Bollullos left with us for safekeeping. Even our own bedroom was rented out. This was my first foray into caravan life and it was good. That night we had a party of six bikers staying here , or as they call themselves, ‘Circo Mediterraneo’ . I was at first a bit intimidated, not expecting six men to share double beds, but they were very nice lads and up to a bit of fun with their 50cc bikes (they do have grown-up motorbikes at home). They tucked into our breakfast and then went on their merry way to Parque National Sierra de Hornachuelos, north of Sevilla, ca. 6-7 hours on the little bike.

 

Spring mornings, Summer days and the darker side of Sunny Southern Spain

Spring has arrived and merges into summer as tulips and daffodils are up and the geckos have come out of hibernation. The cuckoo has been here a while but can now be heard more strongly calling for a mate.

We can also see lots of tiny flowers on our olive trees, despite the leaves falling like it is autumn. We are not sure if this is normal or induced through the fungal disease, that has been spreading due to the very heavy dew most mornings. Diego informed us that this is a bad location for going organic, as the moisture, because of the closeness of the wetlands and sea, makes it a good place for fungal diseases to spread rapidly. That is why our neighbours spray Bordeaux mix, a copper sulfate treatment every 4-6 weeks, which is more than what would be allowed under organic guidelines. So we will just have to see what will happen and judiciously apply our allowable amount of 5 kgs of copper per hectare.

In the garden the garlic and tomatoes are having a good time, leeks will be transplanted next week, but I have no luck with the green beans. Four came up and three died. I am not sure, if it was the transplanting, lack of or too much water or frost or heat that got them; so many possibilities. Broad beans are way easier to grow, but I don’t like them much. We still have some frosty mornings, so that might have something to do with it. The lack of rain makes watering a real must and the well is also pretty low.

Our neighbour Lauren has put four of his horses here to eat the herbage. They contribute their dung as fertiliser and also act as fire-control by keeping the vegetation low.

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our neighbours horses

Free Chimney Cleaners

Some birds try to build a nest on top of the chimney but end up sliding down the new steel pipe inside the chimney and are not being able to get back up. They try and in the process dislodge the soot, which falls onto the fire-grid. Eventually they end up in the fireplace which is closed. So we have to free them, after making sure doors and windows are open for a swift escape to freedom.

Bitter Fruits

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We have a steady trickle of guests and recently hosted two sets of French journalists. Both groups (two and three persons) were interested in environmental matters. The first group wanted to know about the hidden, illegal wells that apparently are used for watering crops. The two lady journalists came here for several reasons; to see some local markets and to investigate the labour conditions and environmental impact of the fruit growing industry. Both are well documented and paint a sad picture.

In fact, if consumers knew or rather wanted to know how these fruits are grown, then they might not be so keen to have soft fruit from Spain on their tables. Here are links to some articles:

https://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2019/02/24/too-posh-to-pick-work-shy-spaniards-leave-andalucia-fruit-farmers-berry-concerned/

https://www.thelocal.es/20180628/moroccan-fruit-pickers-complain-of-exploitation-and-harassment-in-spain

https://www.thelocal.es/20180605/metoo-moroccan-fruit-pickers-file-sexual-harassment-complaints-in-spain .

https://www.france24.com/en/20180719-focus-spain-fruit-farms-hell-strawberry-picking-moroccan-women-victims-sexual-assault.

This seems to be a well-known situation and health and social workers and unions are aware of the conditions on some farms, but nobody seems to be doing anything. The rate of abortion goes up each season, when the mostly Moroccan women arrive, as one article stated. So all is not sunshine here and vegetable and fruit growing all over Europe has some very dark sides. The consumer wants cheap food and all sorts of varieties all year round. As long as somebody buys it, it will be grown as long as there are workers available that put up with these conditions because at home there is no work. It is mostly women that suffer the consequences through becoming pregnant having to seek abortion which is subsidised here. But even if they are not pregnant the shame of having been touched by a stranger will be reason enough in their home country to be ostracised, some husbands abandoning their wives and divorcing them.

https://www.france24.com/en/20170616-video-reporters-modern-day-slaves-migrants-workers-exploited-fruit-pickers-spain-italy .

Most workers are too afraid of losing their job if they report unfair, unhealthy or downright slavery conditions.

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Little Owls in Olive Trees

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After only being on booking.com for seven months, we already received their award for having achieved 9.2 out of 10 points on their review scale, which is nice. Nicer still is when our guests tell us ‘don’t change anything, you are doing everything right’.

The most elaborate and lovely review was posted by our Canadian ‘birders’ Janice and Art on google maps: “A stay at Casa Halcon is worth going out of your way. If you happen to be interested in nature, this is a great place to start your tour of Donana National Park. El Rocio is a mere 23 minute car trip. Casa Halcon is worth a stay even if the local history and nature aren’t your main interest. The owners of this Inn are dynamic, talented and experienced hosts. They run the Casa and the surrounding olive farm. If you are fortunate, you may be able to ask Angelika for a super delicious homemade dinner for a modest fee. The breakfast is unbeatable. The accommodation is both attractive and comfortable, which is a major achievement as Angelika and Nigel are “off the grid”, an ecological bonus. The dogs stay outside. If you are dog people, though, be sure to ask for an outdoor visit with Sophie and Drops. Both are adorable. Take an evening stroll down the road and say hi to the horses. As darkness falls listen to the calls of the Little Owls from amongst the Olive trees-magical!”

Said Owls are active night and day, and their call is like a bunch of kittens, but none of us has ever spotted them, as they are very small and secretive.

Our guest book is also full of praise and maybe we have now come to expect that everybody should love it here, which is not the case. Occasionally we do get people that book, but do not stay. This leaves us a bit floundered, because they do not say what made them cancel. Our location shows now up correctly as being in the countryside, 4 kms outside of Almonte. It shows you can’t please everyone and it serves to keep our feet on the floor and our heads a reasonable size.

Our Canadians hired a guide from Ronda, who spent two days with them, showing them the local wildlife around here. See http://www.wildandalucia.com/trip-reports/    http://www.wildandalucia.com/ :

Latest birding trip reports to southern Spain  11, 12-2-2019. Best of Doñana
Our classical 2-day best of Doñana Tour with Art and Janice, Canada. Seen remarkable sights such as Greater Spotted Cuckoo, Black-winged Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Squacco Heron. Our first day was a magnificent introduction to Doñana along the whole north side of the park, i.e., José Antonio Valverde visitor centre, Dehesa de Abajo, etc. On our second day we visited El Rocío area and the Odiel’s marshes at low tide, giving us a nice bunch of waders. Great days in good company, enjoying great local fish and challenging bird sights .  9 raptor species among a rough 90 species. The season’s officially started!

 

We have now also extended the back garden, this will be its final design. It is lovely to see the first seedlings coming up to herald spring: spinach, garlic, tomatoes, leeks and the potatoes that Nigel planted the 20th of January. The peas are also doing very well. I also tried my hand on decorating a few flowerpots, cheering them up a bit.

We had so many lemons, that I decided to make some lemon jelly and lemon chutney, which turned out nicely. The rest will go for lemonade – when I get around to it.

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shop in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath

We had to make a quick Ireland visit end of February. This time Nigel’s sister Elaine and her husband Ian kindly agreed to mind our finca, house and animals. It makes for a nice warm break from frigid Ireland, where we arrived to sparkling sunshine and blue sky. We started out in Tipperary, spending a night at one of Nigel’s best friends Paddy and Joan outside of Clonmel. I also got to see my son Frank, who is working on a dairy farm nearby. Further north though, in Leitrim, the sky turned the usual colour grey and I never took off my winter coat while helping Nigel to spruce up his farm, which is being rented out.

We stayed with his neighbour Mick and Valinda and their kids in the very nice house beside the lake. On the first morning we ‘walked the dogs’ which involved kayaking on the lake while the dogs run along the lakeshore. It was bliss slowly gliding along the serene, calm and silent lake. The next day, after a day toiling away pulling weeds and cleaning drains, I immersed myself in their sumptuous outside Jacuzzi with a view over the said lake and surrounding mountains. Not a bad way to enjoy the Irish countryside! We were also kindly invited by friends of Nigel to dinner on both nights, so we had a nice time socialising.

What was this machine used for not so long ago?

It sits in the Donana National Park, the El Acebuche Visitor Centre site [see http://www.juntadeandalucia.es%5D, where we went one Sunday for a long walk. This side of the National park is open to visitors at no cost. They have extensive board-walks and bird-watching huts scattered about and a wetland,  that greeted us with a frog- or toad-concert.

Answer; it is a pine-crusher, to expel the pine kernels from the cones. To this day you will see folks beating and climbing the pines to collect the pine cones to extract and sell the kernels.

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spring flowerSilene ssp.

Ongoing fiestas in El Rocio bring many more guests and friends-to-be

The year in Andalucia starts off with a never-ending calendar of fiestas, at least in El Rocio.

No sooner is Los Tres Reyes over, it’s the fiesta of the Hermandado Triana, followed by the Candelaria. Even though we don’t attend these religious based fiestas, we know they take place because our rooms are booked out well in advance. So I need to be smarter and raise the prices, as people have remarked how cheap we are. And strangely, the cheaper you are the less people appreciate your efforts. If you don’t value yourself, nobody will.

In the past three weeks, we only had three days without a guest in the house. From wildlife experts to religious revellers this location seems to be ideal to catch the traveller en-route.

Some of our new-found friends have been guests that stayed with us while searching for a new home around here. dav

And because they are going home again we have been given lovely oranges and lemons from their holdings. Blessed be the fruit of friendship!

 

 

 

We have now also made good friends with our neighbours Steffi and Terry. A mixed-nation couple as well and they have olives, which they care for organically. So we have lots to talk about apart from embarking on darts competitions and playing cards together.

In The Garden – Organic Endeavours

So the weeds are back that I treated with the home-made vinegar-salt-washing up liquid concoction. No surprise here. So off we go again with another application. This time I devised a wipe-on applicator with an old dish-brush and sponge as an alternative to the spray bottle. They tend to stop working with me after a while.

For or rather against the dreaded olive fruit fly, Dacus oleae, we now use a mixture made from red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar and water. This is filled into plastic drinks bottles with holes in the top part and functions as a trap. The scent attracts flies, these crawl through the holes and fall into the liquid and drown. I have hung up our first 16 bottles and already Nigel found ca. 40 flies the next morning in the bottles. Success! It is a cheap alternative to other expensive commercial products.

Nigel added to our landscape a nice bench and a rondel for flowers. Bit by bit we will add colour and prettiness to our countryside residence as well as some exotic touch with some palms and a few fruit trees.

A few peas have self-seeded themselves at the hen house. The seeds must originate from the feed mix. Nigel couldn’t stop himself and already planted three rows of potatoes. We expect to eat the first of them in May. I planted out my pea seedlings and hope no frost will kill them.

Happy Pigs in Bollullos

On one of our mystery tours in the area we have finally met the happy Iberian black pig. These are kept outside all year round and feed mainly on acorns and whatever they find rummaging in the ground. This herd of pigs counts 131 and lives near the Parque Natural San Sebastian.  We had a chat with the herdsman who has to mind the pigs in case somebody saw fit to use a shotgun to turn them into pricey ham. A whole leg of ca. 8 kgs of pure ham Jamon Iberico will set you back over from €1,200- €4100! [see https://elpais.com/economia/2016/03/04/actualidad/1457115720_533201.htmland http://www.dopjabugo.es/es/ ].This is the most expensive ham in the world and comes from the Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. Only in winter these pigs will eat organic grains, almonds and olives; the rest of the year they spend outside in ancient oak forests. At 36 months, with 170 kilos, they are being killed early in the morning to avoid mixing with other pigs. The ham then gets cured in salt for up to two years until it is ready to be consumed. I have been to a family-run ham factory in the Sierra Nevada and seen thousands of hams hang from the ceiling or laid in pure salt.

End of 2018 – Beginning of 2019

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The Garden in Winter

I have been gearing up to get an early start on growing veg and bought seed packets. These indicate sowing times, but for what region in Spain? The climate varies widely so I also ask the shopkeeper and watched the plants on sale for a clue. We bought some strawberry plants that are doing really well, the first strawberries are already blushing in the warm midday sun. However, I sowed tomatoes and put them under the cold-frame until they were big enough for planting out. Everything went ok until the frost eventually killed them. And honestly, they were struggling through the cold nights. The spinach is doing well and even the pepper plants are still alive and producing. The cauliflower and broccoli are growing well and last year’s broccoli is also still producing. Last year’s fennel has come back and looks pretty even if it doesn’t have big bulbs, the leaves are tasty.

 

January and February are the main winter months, even as day light and sunshine hours are increasing. The frosty nights hamper real growth. I tried to buy a fleece to cover tender plants but all they have here is protection against the sun, heavy shading fabric. So I will need to look online.

My other experiment is a home-made weed-killer from strong vinegar (Mercadona has an 8% cleaning vinegar), salt and washing up liquid. I sprayed that onto the ‘non-welcome’ plants in the stone circle and within 2 hours the leaves were dead! Success! I am not sure how long this will last as I doubt it kills the roots, but even though, it still helps.

The garden is now also fenced against scratching hens and digging dogs. We are now proud owners of a giant Mastin, Sofie, and a tiny terrier stray, Drops. She dropped by one day, all skin and bones and wary but devoured all food that we gave her and disappeared again. About a week later she was back, doing the same and stayed for the day, to Sofie’s delight. Sofie, being only a little over a year old, wants to play and run around, but Drops did not have the energy. She was gone again but eventually came back to our delight. She has got stronger, more confident in herself, found her bark and now plays with Sofie. I never was a dog person but she stole my heart and is very happy to see me. She seems also more obedient than Sofie, who still has the habit of trying to get out the gate and disappear for a few hours at a time. It is impossible to catch her as she knows full well she will be tied up, at least for a day.

We still have plenty of guests, from Germany to Sweden to Switzerland and Canada. Some bring motorbikes, some bikes, some dogs and some both.

The night before my children arrived we celebrated New Years Eve with a bunch of really nice Spanish, that came all the way from Jaen-Ubeda direction. This was the family of our house angel Sara. The tradition is to eat 12 grapes when the clock chimes 12 times; one grape for each month of the New Year. I tried but couldn’t get them all down so quickly, so I must practice for the next time.

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January 2019

 

2019 started wonderful. My two children, Elaine and Frank, were here for the first time and needed some TLC, because they brought with them colds and sniffles. And the sunshine did them the world good.

We only had two full days together, but better than no time.

Forget Christmas –

It’s the Three Kings where it’s at. This turns out to be a bigger deal then Santa because there are three of them bringing presents and literally tonnes of sweets.

Epiphany is the coming of the three wise kings, mages or whatever they were to welcome Jesus and bring him presents of myrrh, gold and incense.  Nappies and a hot soup for Mary would have been more useful. But for the children in Spain this is when they receive their presents at home and on the streets. We were invited to come along to our neighbour farmer’s family and witness the carnival-like atmosphere in our small town of Almonte. The streets were full of people, old and young, lining up to watch the procession of tractor-drawn floats of colourful dressed-up people, throwing sweets and toys. So that’s why some came equipped with plastic bags to bring home their stash of sweets.

 

IRELAND, RAIN and GARDENING PAIN

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We went for a flying visit (literally) to Ireland to conduct some urgent business. And to collect post which has been sitting there for months. It was no surprise that it was raining for the whole duration, which was 5 days, including the travel days. So we ended up with a miserable cold to bring back to Spain.


DOLLY AND BABY GIRL

 

 

 

 

 

Snail Solutions

It also rains in Spain. Lots. Since October we had more than our share as TV and newspaper reports attested, for example according to ‘The Watchers’ https://watchers.news/2018/10/18/extreme-rainfall-deadly-flood-potential-spain-october-2018/ :
“Extreme weather conditions are expected across the IberianPeninsula and the Balearic Islands from October 18 – 21, 2018. The event follows devastating floods that claimed 13 lives in Mallorca and another 13 in neighboring France over the past couple of days. There is a potential for similar rainfall totals and extremely dangerous weather situation.

Spain’s national weather agency (AEMET) issued Red rain alerts for Castellón and Terruel, Orange for the Balearic Islands, Alicante, Valencia, and Tarragona, and Yellow for 11 other neighboring provinces. The weather front is expected to arrive on October 18 and continue affecting the region through Sunday, October 21 plunging Spain into the worst ‘gota fria,’ a Spanish term meaning ‘cold drop’ that explains a sudden drop in temperature, in a decade.”

 

rainy days

Average monthly precipitation in October from AEMET (Agencia Estatal DeMeteorologia, Gobierno de España) state for Huelva 5 days of rain with an average of 56 mm. When I looked at the actually rainy days in October to December this year for Sevilla, I saw that we had no rain the first week in October and then daily heavy downpours, with 27.5 mm in one day alone and 230 mm in total for October! Of course we are not the only ones that suffered unprecedented amounts of rainfall.

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The result of all the rain is that I swapped slugs for snails here in Spain and there are just the same pain!

So I declared war because my gardening here is still trial and error as I get used to the new soil, climate and site specific conditions. Tomatoes with sunburn, shrivelled peppers and rock-hard aubergines being some results.

I have tried the beer trap, but it would take a whole beer barrel to keep the snails away from all plots. My cold frame has a beer trap in it and so far no snails have come near my little ones.

I have cut up plastic drink bottles to act as cloches, but they just climb in, the slimy pests! Online I got my best weapon yet, a roll of copper band that sticks onto surfaces, so all pots and cloches are prepared with the metal barrier. When they crawl over it they receive an uncomfortable electrical charge, so they stay well away from it.

I prefer barrier methods to poison, which always will have some impact on either the soil or some innocent organisms.

Therefore I also use fly food covers as barrier and safe nursery for my baby spinach plants.