Hello 2022

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

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

All of the above, in fact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycling Loop

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

Olive Harvest 2021 – How much did we make?

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

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

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

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

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

Olive Yields:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Hand Furniture – Restore – Reuse

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

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

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

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

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

Madrid – Toledo

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

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

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

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

But at least we got to see beautiful Toledo.

AGRICULTURAL DISCOVERIES – Rice and Cotton Growing in Andalucia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trials & Tribulations

Jack taking a rest

Scams – the Second

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ley Lines in our Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Line where growth stops (due to ley lines?)

Gone Birdie

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

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

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

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

A Challenging August

 Life as a Guesthouse owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isla Cristina

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Guesthouse Stories:

When The Sun Gets Too Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn?

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

A Case of Mistaken Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

our entrance

Priests Having Lost Their Way

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

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

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

Rio Tinto

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

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

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

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

SUMMER – VERANO 2021

It’s only now that I have uploaded the photos onto the PC that I realise I haven’t been writing my blog for quite some time; since April in fact.

There are a few reasons for that.

Firstly, being a teenager-in-reverse means a lot of mood swings and a grumpy author is not the best starting point. With it come lack of sleep and therefore unfocused mind and a general feeling of malaise.

But never mind that, the sun shines brightly and it is a natural condition to be dealt with as best as one can, hand over the G&T…..

Then I have taken to updating my status on Whatsapp frequently with a nice photo, as a snapshot what happens here.

Not to forget the football season, as then my laptop is used to transmit the matches and therefore out of bounds for me in the evenings.

And since May we are blessed with a rotation of guests streaming in and out.

In fact, after the quiet 2020 we had thanks to the draconian Corona-restrictions, it is difficult for me to adjust to sharing our home again with people, be they strangers, friends or neighbours. But this is how we make money and there is a great deal of excitement and satisfaction in it.

Enough of the excuses; now it’s time for another episode of ‘Life at Finca Casa Halcon’.

Manfred and Angelina – Beware of the Scammers

Most guests are nice, respectful that this is our home and easy going. And then there is the other type. And this is the other reason I kept stumm, as I had to get over the shock of being conned out of €300.

In May I got simultaneously a last-minute booking literally, as the Spanish couple arrived half an hour later, hungry and needing to be fed, and a phone call from as it turned out a young German couple needing a bed for the night. They had no car so Nigel, ever eager to please, went to collect them in Almonte. Alas, he couldn’t find them and returned a bit put out. In the meantime I had several calls from them, Manfred and Angelina, quite agitated. In the end they took a taxi.

The minute they arrived, the drama began. They had been robbed on the train from Barcelona to Almeria, passport, credit card and mobile phone. Still, they pre-paid the night and their meal in cash. We got a barrage of stories about his wanderings around the world, apparently 47 countries and how this never happened before, blablabla. He told us about his job in tourism in Germany and we connected on Facebook, where I could see all his posted photos of his journey, videos with music etc.

They wanted to stay another night, but I just could not put up with more stories and this intensiveness. They wanted to travel on to Portugal as they had rented an apartment somewhere near Faro. So I put them on the bus the next day, being proud of me enforcing my boundaries.

On Saturday while I made lunch I received a phone call, again a Spanish number, from those two begging me to help them. They had no money left, nobody was helping them, not the police, the banks, the Money Union Transfer. They suggested their family could transfer money into my account and I give them the cash. Well, what was I to do? Leave them to their mercy? At any rate I was booked out and they had to sleep in their tent. I went to collect them, gave them €50 to buy food and a phone card. In the evening I received the email with a photo of the money transfer form with all details filled in.

Then I booked them a bus ticket to Sevilla, because from there they could go either way to Malaga or Madrid, where there actually is a German embassy to sort out the lost passports, but maybe that was a lie, well spun with all the details how Manfred went to the police to file a report of the theft.

I brought them to the bus station on Sunday afternoon. On Tuesday I received a messenger sms that they are on their way to Madrid and I also saw a video footage on facebook taken on a bus, over an hour long.

Since the Monday was a Pentecostal holiday in Germany I was not too concerned about the money transfer until the Friday. I tried to contact him via facebook messenger but – but I was blocked from his facebook account.

I went into his facebook through Nigel’s and there he still was, but all the previous posts since June 2020 were taken down. How very strange and discomfiting. There was obviously something wrong going on. The following Monday I made it my business to phone up the bank in question to ask about the transfer, but got nowhere. Only on the Friday I finally made contact with a nice person, who told me not to expect any money, as the emailed filled out form was no proof. I also tried to find out about the company he claimed to work for and they did not know a person by that name.

So it all turned out to be a very well executed scam. Or maybe I am just astonishingly gullible, naive and trusting. However, I will not just let it go and filed a report with the police in Germany and also added his and her name to a German facebook site (!Vorsicht Betrueger!) for scammers, just in case they continue to finance their tour of Europe through swindling money of others.

In the meantime the idiot has been posting again on his public facebook page and below it is a long rant from a fuming Portuguese lady, who apparently put them up for four days, she being out of money and sick, and they just run away. But one day they will get their comeuppance and karma is a wonderful thing.

New and shady Car Port

Since the lemon tree had to be chopped off to make space for the concrete lorry, we now had the space to erect a car port. Temperatures can go up to 40 degrees Celsius and are over 30 degrees for at least 5 months, so having a bit of shade is essential, if you want to be able to touch the steering wheel.

Nigel constructed the frame with nine uprights and cross beams and we covered it with a mat of cañas, reeds which we purchased at the local builders yard. It works a treat and hopefully the Passionflower plant will make its way up it.

Czech Invasion

Our international guests are back in full force. We had a French lady mad into horse riding, a Belgian documentary maker, an English couple looking for a patch of Andalusian soil and five Czechs, who are also all into horse breeding and love my food.

This last week we had seven people staying, lots of breakfasts, innumerable cups of coffee and some lunches to provide. We will be happy to see them again some time.

Peafowl Chicks

I am for the birds, but that’s not really news. I am now the proud owner of four cute pea chicks, pavo reales, but I have no idea whether they are male peacocks or female peahens, only time will tell. I adore their little heads with their black beady eyes, long elegant necks and the little crown of feathers that is just forming.

As small as they are, nearly from birth they can fly, and if they get a fright they will, which is astonishing.

It will take three months before I can let them out of the hen house, so the dogs won’t take them for dinner and two years before they become adults, four years before the long vibrant tail feathers will develop, in case I have a (male) peacock.

I have learned a lot about these wild birds with their haunting cries. For example, they only lay up to 20 eggs once a year.

Peafowl are not only beautiful, they are also useful. They will control vermin like rats and mice, snakes, reptiles, insects and bugs like ants, ticks, fleas and snails, etc.

They will also function as an alarm system in addition to our dogs.

As we can already hear peacocks not far away and there is a breeder down the road, our neighbours should be fine with the noise they will make in time.

I don’t mind the strange noises they make, the screams, honks, squawk and cries. To me it’s a sound of the wild, evocative of castles and the wonderful Peacock Island, with 67 ha, in Berlin, where my mum brought me often as a child. My brother even worked for a while on this small island as a gardener. It is a most romantic place with a mock castle, statues, peacocks strutting, an old dairy, and a rose garden.