A Challenging August

 Life as a Guesthouse owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isla Cristina

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Guesthouse Stories:

When The Sun Gets Too Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn?

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

A Case of Mistaken Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

our entrance

Priests Having Lost Their Way

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

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

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

Rio Tinto

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

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

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

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

The Reverse Teenager Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geomagnetic Activity and Violent Behaviour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Property Surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden Art

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

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

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

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

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

For now, we need an alternative type of awning.

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

Random photo gallery:

Between the times…

Garden produce….

The Nicest Time of Year

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

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

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

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

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

Four Ladies and Nigel

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

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

Cycling Joys

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

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

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

Not for this Year….

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

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

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

Get THE TEST – and f*** the REST

                                                                        (*** forget)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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