Learning Curve NO. 80


(I am not telling you about all our learning moments, as it would make us seem so stupid)

  1. Chickens can die of heat. At least that is what we suspect, because Grisella was only a young hen, but sadly passed away.   The others enjoy the shade of the house in the front with Sofie, our dog.

2. Tomatoes can get sunburn! Yes, in other countries you try to get as much sun on your tomatoes as possible to make them sweet and juicy, but here they need a bit of shade (just like the chicken). The yellow colour does not show unripeness, that should be green, but too much sun. Thanks to one of our more knowledgably guests we now know to cut that bit off and not wait forever for it to turn red.


3. There are male and female olive trees. And for every eight female trees you need one male tree for the pollination to take place. The male trees have slightly bigger but less fruit than the female trees.


What we haven’t figured out yet, is how the health system works. But our friendly Gestor Angel, our agent that registers our car, will make inquiries if we are eligible for the free health care, that everybody receives when they are resident here and pay taxes.

We are now very relieved to finally be again happily legally on the road with our temporary green registration plates. These show that our car is insured and on the way to be properly registered and taxed here in Spain.  Yes, our car is constantly dusty from the dust road that goes from Almonte to our finca. As soon as we wash it its dusted over again. We gave up and safe the water.

We have also opened our third bedroom, as we had to turn people away that wanted to stay here with us. It is not yet publicised, as we first want to see if the sofa cama, the sofa bed, is comfortable enough to charge good money. We acquired it right here in Almonte for a knock-down price of €525. Its original price was €720, but it had sat awhile in the shop. It is now occupied by our lodger Fernando, who is with the National Police and resides with us for five days per week. I am not allowed to show photos of him, as it could be dangerous for him due to the ongoing struggle with the Basque separatists.

The Spanish police system is interesting and you will feel really safe, as you see them everywhere. You could be forgiven to think you are in a police state, a relic from Franco times. But I rather feel protected, particular after the experience with our raided house here (that was before we bought it). There are three divisions: the National Police, the Local Police and the Guardia Civil. And ALL of them carry guns! But as far as our experiences go, most of them are courteous, professional and polite but take their job serious [ see http://www.spainmadesimple.com/moving-to-spain/police-spain/ ].

So far we have one parking offense (which we ignored) and one speeding offense which was dealt with by three officers on-the-spot and cost us €50. We were stopped twice for breathalysing and every time they get a bit confused about our steering wheel being on the wrong (right) side. Mostly they waved us through not bothering to check our Irish insurance and tax documents. But I guess this will change now as we are definitely under Spanish law now. We have been reprimanded once for parking on the side of a (deserted, long straight stretch) of a road because I wanted to pick cornflowers.

Fernando, our friendly police-lodger, often brings a colleague for his lunch break, so that we have two police officers sitting at our table and a police car parked outside. So we are under police protection! If that doesn’t scare off any unwanted guests and burglars I don’t know what would. One evening we had Shabi, a German (long-haired and Afghan-looking) Police Detective and Fernando sitting at our table playing cards with us. Yes, it can be very interesting and exciting having guests you have never met before in your house.


We also had guests that are vegetarian and vegan, so I have now decided that that is the way I want to go. I offer a cooked meal for €10 including a starter, a main dish and a glass of wine or beer. The Spanish eat an enormous amount of meat and pork and I don’t want to go down that road. I often cook without meat and so I will make that my speciality. I tried out my home-made pesto dish with wholemeal spaghetti on our German Vegan-guests and got thumbs up. This pesto has now already undergone varies changes and it depends on what is available out in the garden and the kind of guests I have.

The base is Olive oil and Garlic, of course. Then I add lots of freshly chopped parsley, some basil if available, a pinch of oregano and marjoram from the garden together with grated parmesan and black pepper. The interesting twist is the tin of Mejillones, mussels, in a spicy sauce that are added just before serving. For the vegan alternative I left out the parmesan and mussels and added grated courgettes and carrots, cooked them a bit in the garlic-olive oil mix and added roasted mixed seeds.

I have also dug out my vegetarian cook books, The Vegetarian Student Cook Book (Octopusbooks) a friend gave me, Linda McCartney-on-tour (written by Paul McCartney’s former wife) and The Happy Pear by Dublin twin brothers David and Stephen Flynn (Penguin books). These give me enough inspiration to device my own dishes.

Free-range Eggs in Mayonnaise Curry dressing:


Snakes and Ladders, ……… and a combination of both.

Ladders have been involved in the painting of the house and first floor terrace outside. Only the ‘tower’ is left to do. A different kind of ladder showed in the markings of this more than a meter long snake, which Sofie found in the grass at the side of the house. She was not amused, the snake. She hissed loudly and lifted her body to strike, an amazing and frightening site for people coming from the island of Ireland, where St. Patrick drove all snakes out (he should have brought the slugs along with him).


We weren’t sure what kind of snake this was, as there are 13 species of snakes resident in Spain, of which 5 are venomous. Ours apparently is the harmless Ladder snake, Culebra de escalera, Rhinechis scalaris or Elaphe scalaris. These are the poisonous snakes of Spain: Baskian viper, also Iberian cross adder or Portuguese viper (Vipera seoanei); Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus Culebra bastarda); Asp viper or European asp (Vipera aspis); Lataste’s viper or snub-nosed viper, snub-nosed adder (Vipera latastei); False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis).

Deaths from snake bite in the whole of Europe are estimated at about 50 persons per year and only 3 to 6 in Spain. Of these 1 to 3 occur in Catalonia, it being the highest risk area. These facts give the odds of being a victim of death by snake bite in any part of Spain at more than 13.3 million to 1 or put another way the same odds as winning the UK national lottery. Death by bee or wasp sting is more likely, although still very rare according to practicalspain.com. But just in case:

Medical treatment: If you are bitten by any venomous snake, remain calm and seek medical attention immediately. Make an emergency call on your mobile, phone 112 and try to keep the bite area well below the position of the heart (info from http://www.ruralspain.info/nonvensnakes.htm and http://www.practicalspain.com/spanish-reptiles.htm).

So she slithered away into a cavity in the base of the olive tree. We have since spotted a few more. Not to worry, these attractive looking harmless ladder snakes are not venomous and quite common. I think it’s the horses that have upset their territory. Because the six mares with their foals caper around and the snakes are in danger of being stepped on which they don’t like. So they go and find a refuge which happens to be the surrounds of the house, which are fenced off. Once the horses return to the other side of our finca or to their own finca, they can live in peace again. The Culebra de Escalera, Rhinechis scalaris is listed in the IUCN Red list of threatened species as of least concern and some country people apparently use its fat to apply in wounds of goats and sheep, but currently this utilization is quite marginal.

View from the top floor:

In the meantime painting is ongoing and the carpenters have finally fitted the upstairs doors which means we can soon ‘open the doors’ to welcome guests, open the door for business and share our country-living, home-grown potatoes, vegetables and hopefully soon complete with fresh eggs.


IMG_20180401_162644The cuckoo has been here in the area from early March till the end of May, being insistent and pretty loud in his callings. There is a vast amount of chirping going on near the arroyo, the stream nearby, where a lot of high trees grow.

Other birds that are around here and we are able to identify are the European Bee-Eater, like a flying jewel he sports yellow, maroon and turquoise blue. The Eurasian Hoopoe with his head crest and barred feathers is unmistakable. The Azure-winged Magpie is also striking. And of course there are any amount of singing birds, day and night.

In May our falcon pair laid 5 eggs. The nesting site is the round window sill, that the female also used last year. Falcons, or in this case, the common kestrels use no nesting material. Three kestrel chicks hatched. But only one will make it to a fledgling. Maybe the first two were so old and strong that they did some harm to their sibling, when it finally hatched. Unfortunately it never lived. And one of the older ones was dropped from the nest. I found it on the terrace, still alive, and without touching it, slipped it onto a copybook and lifted it up to put it back into the nest. But sadly it didn’t survive. So now there is only one which is getting stronger each day. It has a big head and big feet and fluff rather than feathers. Hopefully it will grow up big and strong.

I have now started feeding it some meat and hope it will become friendly and trusting. It would be nice to tame our own falcon, as this is Falcon House.

Our eight hens are now also slowly getting more comfortable in their new place, taking dust baths outside and generally eating lots. It will be some time before we will be able to collect eggs but till then we make friends with Ruby, Rita, Blanche, Bianca, Maggie, Mollie, Grisella and Greta.

We have other exciting news. Yesterday the boys from Azimut installed three water filter and a UV tube to purify our well water coming into the house. It is now purest drinking water and will also benefit all plumbing as all impurities are filtered out before it even comes into the house.


They also installed the alarm system. A necessity when we are away as Sofie can be a bit sleepy on the job. When Nigel was on his own here, before we moved in, three men cut through the fence to have a look at the property. Luckily Nigel was just emptying the washing up water onto the lawn and spotted them, while Sofie was snoozing nearby. They took to running and disappeared in their car.

While Nigel busied himself with fencing and landscaping, I painted the old, stained plastic chairs to give them a new lease of life.

The holes along the driveway for electricity and probably planned for lighting, have been covered over by Nigel to prevent injury to the horses.

And this is Nigel’s Sunday project; a flower patio to enhance the now tidied up area beside the shed.