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.

The Nicest Time of Year

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

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

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

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

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

Four Ladies and Nigel

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

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

Cycling Joys

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

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

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

Not for this Year….

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

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

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

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

 

Saca de las Yeguas 2019

sdr

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.

HAPPINESS IS ……

dav
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.

sdr
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.