LOVE & HATE August 2020

6 Nations in one House

The world we live in is divided, and always will be, by nature.

Between the hunters and the hunted, the perpetrators and the victims, people that love Brussels sprouts (I do) and ones that hate them. Some people prefer dogs over cats, or vise versa.

The divisions exist mostly in our brains, through judgments.

We are at present divided by fear and confusion. Fear against a virus, that is part of the ‘flu and cold viruses, but behaves differently, seemingly unpredictable, because we haven’t had time and experience to suss it out yet.

We are unsure whether mask wearing is life saving or nonsense, at least I am, because different so-called experts give diametrically opposed answers.

Our collective governments chose to restrict the most basic of human needs, to socialise, meet our families, carry out our hobbies (singing, playing wind instruments, mens’sheds, dancing) that help our mental well-being, all in the name of trying to save us from a virus, that to date has officially killed just about 0.026 per cent of the world population.

Conspiracy theories don’t help with feeling calm, all of it adds up to feeling completely controlled, by the virus and the governmental restrictions, and at the same time not feeling in control of our life at all.

However, here we are receiving guests.

August has been a very busy months, thankfully, making up for the 4 months of solitude. We had even non-Spanish visitors, from France, Brasil, Holland, Ireland (although living in La Linea) and Portugal. One day we were six nations assembled: 

Irish, German, Colombian, Moroccan, Bulgarian, Spanish.

Of course, we both are already two and then four guests make up six.

Guests either love it here, and 90% do, or they hate it.

There is a kind of person that should not be here, should not book here; mainly city-dwellers that need to be right there where the action is and other people; where everything is in walking distance, bars, cafes, restaurants, parks, entertainment. Some people hate to drive over the dusty, bumpy road with their beloved car and yes, the Spanish like to keep their cars shiny and clean.

Most people like a bargain; I do, but read no further than the price and end up here, en el campo.

We had a run of the friendliest people that gave us 10 point reviews on Booking.com but also a few flops, people that were unhappy and gave us bad reviews.

One couple arrived in the afternoon, their faces already not as bright as could be, saw the room and ask if there is a terrace, which I showed them and also the other bedroom upstairs. They favoured it as opposed to the high-quality sofa bed downstairs. Unfortunately it was only available for two nights, not the three nights they had booked. They proceeded to lie down for a rest and after an hour went out, never to be seen again.

An hour later I received the cancellation on my handy. Right, well, I feel it was a bit childish to walk away like that instead of trying to sort something out. I could have given the other room for two nights and then returned the money for the third night. I now get to keep the payment for three days, but they gave us a bad review. It seems to be a recurring theme that the Spanish are too proud to admit they made a mistake and have to find reasons why our place is unacceptable to them.

Another time the guests arrived also in the afternoon, he got out of the car, was shown the room, changed his clothes and drove away. He returned some time later, had a shower and left, again, never to be seen again. His girlfriend didn’t even get out of the car. He also left a bad review, he didn’t even stay overnight. He was not treated any different and everything was the same as for any other guest.

You can’t please everyone, certainly not when the expectations are different from reality.

We go out of our way to please our guests, make up dinners or lunches at the drop of a hat, breakfasts at 7.00am, will accommodate early or late arrivals and Nigel provides most of the entertainment, coaxing Spanish to speak English and most oblige and even get to enjoy practising a long forgotten foreign language.

And then…. there came a knock on our front door on Sunday noon. We did not expect anybody; our last guests were just ready to leave. Upon opening the door I saw two casually dressed men, shorts, sunglasses, t-shirts and a Toyota car. And then they identified themselves as the local police and told me there was a ‘denuncia’, we have been reported. I think our guests were more in shock than we were, because I am duly licenced and have an accountant to show i am willing to pay tax, if I had enough income. So I proceeded to copy the requested documentation and they informed me I had to take details of every guests ID, passport or similar. I was actually waiting for somebody official to tell me what I needed to do. Obviously it is up to the entrepreneur to obtain this information for themselves.  That is what I fell down on and my excuse was that Booking.com keeps all that info. Anyway, they said they would email me a program, so I can easily input all the required information, and so I wait…  In the meantime I am of course complying, so they won’t pull me up a second time, as they promised to be back.

I first suspected a couple of guests that booked for three days, but disappeared after an hour’s rest without a word and subsequently cancelled the booking.  I got in touch with them and they swore it wasn’t them. So who objects to our little business we will probably never know.

Emil

And then there was Emil (not his real name) from Holland, that arrived here with his tent and not much more than stories to his name. With thirty-five years of age, his mother pulled the purse strings because he had lost his passport so many times, that the police thought he sold it off. There is a reason of course for his misfortunes. At fifteen he had a bad car accident which left him in a coma for a week and since then he has trouble focusing, remembering and concentrating. Anytime he needs some funds, he calls his mum to explain how much, what for and she would transfer some to his account.

He, or rather his mother, booked for one night and he stayed six.

We felt sorry for him and brought him along to the beach and to a night out in El Rocio, together with another guest. On her last night, we had a little sun-downer on the upper terrace, Gin&Tonics, music and some Aniseed liquor, Emil’s favourite. He fell for her hook, line and sinker, but she had to return to her friends and job in Malaga.

Guapa & Ingles

We have added to our menagerie of hens, cats and dogs and now have permanently also two horses on loan from Sandrine, the owner of Doñana Horse Adventure. Ingles came first, he is 24 years old and retired. When our neighbours horses were still around, he was happy having the odd chat with them. But they went home, having eaten everything available, and so he went in search of company, jumping the fence and breaking a few posts in the process. To alleviate his loneliness Sandrine brought along Guapo, a white temperamental seven-year old. Now they are happy together, although Guapo is a little bully, trying to get his fair share of oats and more.

Isla Cristina, Huelva FISHING PORT

The harbour on Isla Cristina, just after Huelva town, is one of the most important fishing ports in Spain, so a guest told us. So we went to visit some Saturday evening. It took us one hour to get there. Isla Cristina is also one of the summer hotspots for life on the beach with numerous holiday apartments, hotels and holiday homes.

Here we see the gritty, dirty side of the sea, although in the evening all is quiet, the fishermen still resting from the early morning return with their big catches, which are being sold in the market hall and now in the many restaurants scattered throughout the town.

We select a quiet restaurant, Bar Escobalin (you can download their menu) directly at the harbour which sits relatively forlorn on Calle Muelle Marina, where the working boats are anchored. At half past eight we are, as usual, too early and have to go for another little stroll to watch the crabs slowly walking sideways away from the incoming tide.

At nine o’clock the owner proceeds to take out more tables and chairs and the small restaurant grows into a rather large affair, it seems it is a well-known place to eat away from the restaurants opposite the Lonja de Isla Cristina, the seafood market, where you find later on the crowds eating the fish and seafood caught in the night.

In fact, this seafood market functions like an auction house, where all the fish is coming along a conveyor belt and is being sold off to the traders and restaurants. It opens at 3.30am and sells its wares until 8pm.

Here is a video clip from facebook, which makes dead fish seem sexy https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=925781284180693

Of course the Gamba Blanca de Huelva are famous all over Spain and command a price, depending on their size, from €25/kilo to up 125€/kg.

And ordering a small dish of Huelva gambas in garlic and olive oil in a restaurant will set you back around €14.00.

We ate well for €32.00 with two tapas as starters and two racíon medio and one plato, a good slice of pez espada, swordfish. Yes, we were hungry and enjoyed our night out, because with so many guests we seldom have time to go out in the evenings.

My First Bull Fight

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Corrida in Almonte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then helpers rake the arena, covering over the blood.

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the dead bull outside of the arena

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

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

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

 

 

Romeria and Puppy Love

Puppy Love

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

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

Jack

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

Romeria 2019

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

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

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

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

April brings April showers, puppies and a riot of colour

 

 

 

Demise of a pool – Creation of a new pool

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

 

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

‘Wonky Paws’

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

A Whale of a Time

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

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

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

Pergola Project

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