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Olives, olives everywhere (Nov’17)

 

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We are now back to working six days a week pruning and harvesting olives. Olives are everywhere, on the trees, below the trees, hidden in already harvested trees, at every step of the way; in the house, waiting to be driven to the Co-op in Almonte, and in our dreams. Some trees are so big and overgrown it takes us up to three hours to get all the olives down and to cut back branches.

But we are now professionally equipped. We bought two nice big netting sheets to cover the ground around the olives when we rake them off the upper branches. We have two pickers buckets for around our necks and several black baskets and crates to bring the olives to the co-op in Almonte.

Co-op crate     –    olives into weighing chute  –  leaves been blown out

We have three ladders to get at the olives: a small rickety bamboo one, a long wooden heavy one and now also a steel-made locally hand-crafted typical olive-pickers ladder. This cannot be bought in the shops, it probably doesn’t comply with any European safety regulations as none of our ladders do. And the way Nigel clambers up the ladder, into the high trees and wields his chain saw is probably not safe either. But here we go and stoop and stretch and scrape and scoop the olives, or aceitunas as they are called here.

30 Nov. 17

Today is my day off after two months of daily work on the finca, even Sundays, as then we can bring our olives to the co-op. Any other day not spent with the olives was for attending birthday parties or a christening which makes for a nice break of course. Especially with all the good and plentiful food and drink that goes with celebrations like that.

But today I can just enjoy my own company, with Nigel and Sofie at the finca, as that is the place they like best. It’s gone a bit cooler finally after a night full of thunderclaps and lightning and lots of much needed rain. But the sun will be back by tomorrow and all will dry out again.

We finally have wifi now and I have to attend to emails, get back on track with the blog and research olive farming and organic pig rearing; book a trip to Berlin for my mum’s 94th birthday and other chores which are just too much at night when all we want is a nice hot meal, a long hot shower and a warm bed to fall into.

 

 

 

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A New Family Member and our first ‘Woofers’ (17.11.17)

 

This was a very eventful fortnight.

Not only did we welcome our new family member, Sofie into our house and hearts, but we also welcomed Nigel’s brother and son for a short visit.

We finally managed to open a bank account at Caja Rural. This opens new possibilities, and taxes….

We had been looking for a while for a dog to take over guard duties after being told this would be the unfailing way to deter any unwelcome visitors to the property – any property. We had several attempts made and came across a bunch of very sleepy pups, that wouldn’t even open their eyes or wag their tails at our appearing; a rather disappointing performance. These were three months old. Not something that would be the expected behaviour of a keen guard dog.

Finally we were brought to a sheep farmer outside of Almonte, who had five-day old pups. We could choose any one of them. It would be hard to judge the character of a dog at that age. All we could determine was their sex and the colour. But our attention was drawn to a friendly, nice pup with a heart on her side. Seriously, she does wear her heart for all to see. Nigel fell immediately in love and the farmer had to concede seeing Nigel with Sofie in his arms. She was initially not for sale, but you couldn’t separate the two. Even though Nigel wanted a male dog we are now proud owners of a beautiful two months old female Spanish Mastin. She is cute now but will, when grown out, reach ca. 70 kgs. This race is predestined to watch your property. Spanish Mastins are not herding dogs, but vigilant animals that will defend farm and home and their owner to the death. Just what we need!

We brought her home with us then and there and the next day we went to Faro to collect Nigels family. We had a few lovely days together, Ivor and Daniel helping with the harvesting of the olives, thankful for the warm sunshine on their backs and Sofie’s antics.

They came all the way from Canada, with a stop-over in Ireland to visit other family members. Canada and Ireland now being in deepest winter, the short swim in the Mediterranean on Sunday was a real treat for Daniel. The other treat was for Ivor, as he is a geologist we visited the Rio Tinto Mine.

The river Rio Tinto is naturally coloured red through the high content of iron and other minerals in it. Of course the mining activities have their impact on the surrounding area, which is mountainous and afforested.

 

[see http://www.andalucia.com/province/huelva/riotinto/home.htm}

This is a giant open cast mine, its origins going back to 3000 BC and the Romans mined silver there to mint their coins [see http://www.bestandalucia.com/tag/rio-tinto/%5D. We took the train ride through the old closed parts of the mine, which was very quaint and interesting.

(photos taken through the train window)

 

 

 

First Olives (27.09.17)

 

Today and yesterday we spent our first day working on ‘our’ finca. We had another look with Chris to see the destruction of the thieves who took up until then not just all electrical cables out of the walls and light fittings but now came back to take a lovely carved dresser and nearly all windows and doors! That was such a blow to the owners that they ask the auctioneer to sell the property quickly before more damage was done. This simply was the case because nobody has lived there for the past 5 years.

So the time has come for us to agree on a price, but only after getting quotations on what it would cost to install water, electricity and replace all doors and windows. We won’t buy it at any price, but nevertheless started to fix all the holes in the boundary fence and added a lock to the side gate. And today we started the olive harvest. Since the trees have not been looked after, watered and pruned, there are not so many olives. So far we finished one row of trees and managed to fill two containers.

On a good olive farm, you should get about 3-5 containers of olives per tree. We reckon this year’s yield is only about 15-20% of what could be achieved with careful management.

It was lovely as the day was perfect, warm, overcast and humid. I nearly walked on a snake and Nigel spotted a rabbit. Apart from that the birds are chirping, the two resident horses are curiously watching us and we hear the hens and cockerel making their noises in the distance. A typical country-side setting under the Andalusian sun.

 

OCTOBER 2017

We have now worked hard harvesting olives, first by hand picking from branches that are easy to reach , then raking them down and then by Nigel climbing up the ladder and me picking fallen olives from the ground. But there are still branches that we cannot reach so they get the chop. To that purpose Nigel has invested in a hand saw and a small chain saw. Our progress is painfully slow. A good picker can fill 8 baskets per day from well managed trees. We manage only one and a bit between the two of us because we need to prune and find the olives in the overgrown trees. And it is still incredibly hot here in October, up to 34 degrees during the day.

Our neighbours are other olive farmers and many horses, as the Spanish love their horses, hunting, riding and dogs.

 

I managed to get away for a 5-day break to see my mum in Berlin and to cool down. And make my friends jealous by describing our new life amidst the ancient olives and blue skies. What a change from the rain-sodden shores of Ireland. Of course the colours here are now sandy, golden and dusty, whereas the Emerald Isle is always green and juicy.

But we enjoy the challenge to restore the trees to full production and hopefully make the house ready for the winter if everything works out regarding the electricity and water installation.

Part of our settling here involves of course paper work and proper registration with the authorities. Apparently we need a document called NIE, which I have heard of before. With that we can open an account with the local bank and get a much needed cheque book for all our future expenses.

We had further instruction from Chris father regarding the care of olive trees and a demonstration on our finca. It was a boiling hot day and we had to cut the demonstration short to seek shade and shelter inside.

 

We also visited the Co-op in Almonte, where farmers bring their grapes and olives. So far our olives are mixed with Chris’s fathers as we are not yet members of the co-op. But because ours are of very varying quality, small and big, green and black, and anything in between, it brings the price down he can achieve with his absolute perfect crop of eating olives. So we are told to stop harvesting and to concentrate on pruning the trees instead until the harvest for the oil olives begins. Olives for eating need to be big as the stones will be removed and of a good quality whereas the olives used for oil can be like ours; nobody is going to see them as they all go together to the oil mill.

Olives at the Co-Op in Almonte and our mixed quality olives.

A New Home – Orange Grove (23.09.17)

 

On Tuesday we moved into the third accommodation in Matalascanas. When we came here first we started at the east end of the town and moved further west every time. The last place was a bit grotty, but had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a dried up garden with a view of the defunct golf course and its driving range. But it was only 7 minutes walk to the beach and we had a quiet last week as all other guests in the vicinity had moved out.

 

We have now rented a smaller but much cosier house in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by leafy green villas and their ever gurgling swimming pools. We are calling it Orange Grove as we have two orange trees and a lemon tree in the front patio and hoping this will be our last destination before acquiring the much desired finca.

We are now proud owners of a brand new chic Russell Hobbs toaster and a kettle, vital for a nice buttered toast in the morning and a cup of tea. As there is no heating whatsoever in Spanish houses here we also bought a radiator for the chilly nights to come and some patio plants to make it even more our place.

 

This cat found her way through the fence where she was nursing her kittens. Of course we welcomed her and shared our food.

One evening we went with our friends to El Rocio at night. It’s sandy roads looked magical, with the lights of restaurants, the church and men and boys on horseback strolling through town. It is no wonder, that every weekend at least three wedding take place each day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Hunting, the III. (07.09.2017)

Lonely Toilet

We met our friendly auctioneer in Almonte and he brought us out to a place just outside of the town. He did prepare us by saying that this is a cheap 1 ha finca and the house is not completed so we can put our own stamp on it and there was also a big barn which could be converted into a bigger house. I was not convinced by that sales pitch and reality was even less attractive. The photos speak for itself, but again I thought it was rather funny to be offered such a place. The blue toilet sat forlornly in a recently added room with a view of the sky. There were three bedrooms but again no electricity or water connected, but a well with a functioning bucket was indeed there. The plastic tunnels hang in tatters. Altogether a sad view and not what we expect about selling a property and trying to make it look presentable. This is part of the job of our auctioneer as he has to be seen to show us also properties from his friends even if they don’t suit us.

Beach Cabin

However, we went walking along the beach with Julio and Rocio this morning and visited an old man in his beach-side property. It is a fine casita, built by his parents in 1992. The roof and sides are covered with beach-grass, a well with sweet tasting water is installed outside and inside carpets, television and cupboards, table and chairs, a settee and a canary bird in its cage. This is a real cosy cabin that is powered by three solar panels on top of the roof. Antonio has been living here on his own permanently for the past 25 years, enjoying the solitude and peace. His brother takes him shopping regularly and he has a little dog for company and a vegetable patch at the back, altogether much nicer prospect then the desert-like finca that was offered to us the previous day.

German Embassy in Malaga

I now have to praise the German embassy in Malaga. It was with trepidation that we went to get my passport renewed yesterday. That is because I just about made it into Spain before it was out of date. I only realised in July that it was only valid until the 22nd of August this year and blightly went ahead to book our flights to Canada, which were such a good price that it would have been dumb to let that opportunity pass by. But because I was out of the country I could not get an appointment with the embassy in Dublin before September. Chris got me registered to his address in Matalascanas, which was more complicated for him then for me; I grabbed all my documents, printed the application form and Nigel drove the three and half hours to Malaga. Even though I did not have originals and only the application for residency they were able to give me a temporary passport there and then. I had to promise to hand over originals when I would collect the 10-year valid proper passport eventually in Jerez de la Frontera. But it means I can now visit my mother in Berlin or go back to Ireland if the need arises. What a relief.

(guilty fry-up Irish style)

guilty fry-up

New Friends

One of these days I heard a voice that sounded a lot like German that came from the apartment above ours. I listened closer and indeed there were Germans here in Matalascanas. This was a surprise as we had not heard any other language then Spanish here. I introduced myself to Martin and Necha the next day and invited them to our little tapas & wine because they are also looking for a place in the sun around here and our friendly auctioneer and his wife were going to be here with us. We had a lovely evening, with German, English and Spanish all thrown into the mix and some guitar playing and singing at the end. The ants had a feast under the table later.

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House Hunting, the II. (29.08.2017)

Wildlife bridge over the road through the Donana National Park

Today we actually started at 9 am, met Chris and went off to look at several properties in the area around Almonte (and I am sorry but in my haste to tidy up files on the laptop I mistakenly deleted these photos).

The first one is a definite runner so we might start negotiations. It’s perfectly situated and has olive and fruit trees which would provide us with some work and income.

The second was a complete joke. It was part of a big Finca, that was to be divided into 4 parts. The part that we could ‘afford’ as put by the other auctioneer, was off the main entrance. It was not actively farmed, it boasted a mini-Bull ring, an old watering well supplied with a bucket and a casita, a small house. No electricity, no bathroom, not even a bedroom. It consisted of just a big room and an outside barbeque. Rather rustic. The sales pitch was that we would divide the cost of installing a transformer to the farm with the owner. We could also double the size of the casita to 80 square meters. The well would need a generator to get water pumped up. I thought it was funny when the owner asked for €90,000 for THAT! Needless to say we walked away from it at a quick pace.

The next place had a nice house and a piece of long, narrow land with olive trees that literally bordered the main Huelva-Sevilla railway line, with no fence in place. A public road runs also along the railway tracks. It has a nice long entrance bordered by rosemary bushes. There is a certain charm to this property and more land can be bought along it. But it would not provide enough income for us.

This was followed up by a horsey finca. It looked as if the dogs and horses owned the place as they had free run of it and had grazed everything to the butt. Even the lemon trees were nibbled on. There was actually a small swimming pool but that didn’t really take much off the depressing look. It was as bare as the moon landscape, even though a few olive trees were scattered about and it had a dried up river running along the narrow bit. Altogether not what we had in mind.

We also went back to a property that we had already looked at and put in an offer, as its house is perfectly built and cosy, with 1 ha of gardens and 3 German neighbours, so that must mean something!

IMG_20170828_205244                                                sunset in the Donana Nature Reserve

Back in Spain – August 2017 UPDATE

Bye bye my lovely cottage and cats…….

After returning from lovely Vancouver Island, Canada, we spend a short week in Ireland in July, as both our houses are now rented and we had to squat with our friends.

This meant moving around again; from Newtownforbes to Muff in Donegal and back to Manorhamilton and finally Edgeworthstown. This included checking post (from 3 months back for Nigel), tying up loose ends and even paying the Department of Agriculture a visit in their lair in Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. They dragged their feet over payments due to ex-farmer Nigel and turning up in person makes quite an impression as numerous phone calls yielded no result.

Finally the car was packed full to capacity, Nigel’s bike fastened onto the roof and off we went again to catch the ferry in Roslare. This time it brought us to Roscoff. Because we only booked a week in advance we did not get a cabin, as all were booked out. A seat would have to do us for the 16 hour journey.

I just could not face this particularly as Nigel proposed not to stop in France at all but to drive all the way to Spain in one go. As soon as we boarded ship I went to the service desk and ask if a cabin was free. And Bingo – for €36 we got a two-berth cabin with shower/toilet. We had already paid €18 for pre-booked seats. So we had a good night’s sleep as the sea voyage again was calm and pleasant.

We drove what turned out to be 1,354 kms to impressive Salamanca. This took us over 13 hours with short stops to stretch, and to have toilet breaks and food and a snooze in the cramped car. France has great motorway service stations and rest places, so it was no hardship.

In Salamanca our booked hotel was closed – so was the other one whose address was given on a note at the door. So we quickly had to rebook a hotel which was simple but suitable. We walked over the ancient bridge into old Salamanca and admired the oldest university of Spain, founded in 1218, the third oldest in Europe.

Salamanca is considered one of the most beautiful Spanish cities. Again it has amazing architectural gems, as the old university buildings are vast and built in Renaissance style with golden sandstone and Latin inscriptions. These are particular pretty in the setting sun. [see https://www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/castilla-y-leon/salamanca]

From Salamanca we traversed central Spain to visit the caves of Aracena, which were another 433 kms and 4 ½ hours driving in boiling heat of 39 degrees. And our Toyota Auris does not do air conditioning well.

Aracena is a pretty village amidst the National Park of the Sierra de Aracena mountains and Picos de Aroche. Aracena is famous for its spectacular limestone caves, the Gruta de las Maravillas (the Cave of Marvels), one of the best caves in Spain. And they are stunning and well worth getting up for early, as only groups of up to 40 persons are permitted in at any one time. So be in time to book a guided tour!

From Aracena we drove back to our beloved Matalascanas, and without pre-booking we were welcomed by Julio, who had indeed a vacant holiday apartment at Apartamentos Rodriguez. So here we are until we find a house to rent in the hinterland of Matalascanas. Our agent Chris is hard at work and we already spent time in his pool discussing our strategy. He just doesn’t get excited but knows what happens in the property market in this area.

Visit to Neil’s Cranberry Farm 05.08.2017

Cranberry Farm (12)

On Friday we went on a fact finding visit to Neil’s Cranberry farm. I knew nothing about cranberries except drinking Oceanspray Cranberry juice or eating Cranberry sauce with turkey. Cranberries grow on a vine close to the ground. Before the harvest in November the fields are flooded and the berries beaten off the vines and collected on the surface of the water, all mechanised of course. This operation is family run and has a lot of expertise in growing these tart little fruits. It was nice to see the berries taking on the first blush of red and a field that was still producing good berries even after 30 years, being planted in 1983.

Neil’s berries go to Oceanspray, where they are graded and frozen, to end up either as juice or as dried cranberries.

Neil needs bees or bumblebees so that his 65 acres of cranberries get pollinated. Because there aren’t enough bees about anymore he hires bees to do this essential work. A beekeeper supplies him with 180 hives at the cost of $20,000 a year! That is how much the bees work is worth and without them there would be very few berries (and any other fruits). Other growers are prepared to get even more hives per acre to make sure all flowers are pollinated and there will be a plentiful harvest.

Bee HivesCranberry Farm (4)

Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. In Britain, cranberry may refer to the native species Vaccinium oxycoccos,[1] while in North America, cranberry may refer to Vaccinium macrocarpon.[2] Vaccinium oxycoccos is cultivated in central and northern Europe, while Vaccinium macrocarpon is cultivated throughout the northern United States, Canada. Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 metres (7 ft) long and 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) in height;[5] they have slender, wiry stems that are not thickly woody and have small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink.

insect monitoring station

And because I do not reinvent the wheel I just let Wikipedia speak about the lovely fruits:

Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Today’s cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dykes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in and spread to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser leveled flat to provide even drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dykes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for spring and autumn frost protection.

A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the autumn to facilitate harvest and again during the winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin, New England, and eastern Canada, the winter flood typically freezes into ice, while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds, trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and rejuvenate the vines. Sanding is done every three to five years.

Cranberry vines are propagated by moving vines from an established bed. The vines are spread on the surface of the sand of the new bed and pushed into the sand with a blunt disk. The vines are watered frequently during the first few weeks until roots form and new shoots grow. Beds are given frequent light application of nitrogen fertilizer during the first year. The cost of establishment for new cranberry beds is estimated to be about US$70,000 per hectare (approx. $28,300 per acre).

Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. Berries that receive sun turn a deep red when fully ripe, while those that do not fully mature are a pale pink or white color. This is usually in September through the first part of November. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded with six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of water above the vines. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranberry]

The Myra Falls Mine Expedition 28.07.17

On this day Ivor took as to his former place of work, the underground mine, a polymetalic ore mine from which zinc, copper and iron are extracted. This mine is situated at Myra Falls in the Strathcona Provincial Park. This meant a 1 ½ hour journey north-west into the mountains.

On the way we had picnic at yet another lake, the Buttle Lake and went as far as Gold River. This used to be another town with a vibrant logging industry and paper mill that has shut down and the population has shrunk. Logs are still being sorted there for transport to major ports.

The Myra Falls mine operations are temporarily suspended and is now in maintenance-only stage as it is to be sold on. The maintenance alone costs 1 million dollars per month!

The amazing thing about the mine is that it is in the middle of the Provincial Park and the main road runs right through the operation and one of the entrances to the Provincial Park is also nearby together with parking and trails.

The photos show the extensive heaps of the spoil, that is dug out during drilling and there integration into the landscape. Trees and natural vegetation take hold after a while. The used water is filtered and directed into an open stream, that will eventually attract fish.

Canada geese on the road               archive of drill cores

Myra Mine Trip (7)

 

21.05. – 31.05 Monte Gordo , Portugal

Monte Gordos beach is an extension of the lovely soft sandy beaches of the Costa de la Luz. It goes on for miles. And even now at the beginning of June it is relatively empty, but filling up slowly as the hotel attendants bring out loungers, wind breakers and a little table to collect fees. Time to go!

One evening on the way to the bar we met a little Dutch great-grandmother who was rather drunk and unsteady. Nigel chatted her up as we were a bit concerned whether she would make it safely home. She told us her life story and we said good-bye near her hotel. When you have lost your husband and your kids are grown and you want a bit of sunshine you have to travel solo. But in a place like Monte Gordo that is quite safe. Lots of Dutch come here and bring their bicycles. So now there is bike hire everywhere and you feel as if you are in Amsterdam.

Again we were very lucky with our Airbnb choice, as we had a whole apartment with large terrace for a knock-down price of €30/night. This was in walking distance to the beach.

One day we took a drive into the hinterlands and the fishing village of Fuseta with its archipelago of sandy beaches.

In Vila Real de Santo Antonio you can get free books to read on the beach and advice in the tourist office and there is a gorgeous fish restaurant at the end of the harbour where the campers park, called Tasquinha da Muralha. It looks like a shack and has wobbly benches outside. But inside you can choose your fresh fish caught the same morning from the chilled display, it is weight and then baked in loads of olive oil and garlic and served with fresh bread and salad. We had green wine with it, which the owner had on hand from Northern Spain. Absolutely Delicious! And the price of €22.50 for two was also very easy to digest.

One day was spent driving around looking at more real estate with our agent. Most of these split up farms have relatively new farm houses with up to 5 bedrooms and around 5 ha of olive, fruit or almond trees. Some we liked, but not the price. So now it is a waiting game to let the prices cool. In the meantime we will try to learn about how to look after almonds and olives to be prepared shall we become care-takers of a small holding.

Pictures prove oranges are all-year round growing on trees (see mature and small green fruits middle right). The tree on top is a carob tree with the carob pods.

8.05 – 14.05.17 It’s all bull – Algar – Cadiz province

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unusual tapas (sweets)  and a basketful of olives at a roundabout:

Moving further west, we found a lovely small town in Cadiz province, near Arcos, which is not far from Ronda. But we like it peaceful and calm, so Algar was just right. Algar is a sleepy town, which you could comfortably walk all the way around in 30 minutes. Or cross, up and down small streets, in 10 minutes. But the views are again breath-taking. Really, Spain is spoiled with scenery, this area has a large ‘embalse’, Embalse de Gualalcacin, a man-made reservoir nearby which adds to it attraction; the waters being turquoise, even on a rainy day. It has also green hills and valleys, which makes it look like Ireland in sunshine.

 

Cadiz province is blessed with fertile, undulating land which is used for all types of agriculture:

From tillage, potatoes, tomatoes, sunflowers, pasture, goats, sheep to bull breeding. Yes, we came across a ranch that has 400 cows to breed the TORO BRAVOS, the bulls used in bull fights. Nigel of course had to get up close and a security guy drove out in his jeep to see who we were nosing about. But he was a very nice man that explained everything to us and drove us into the place. We even met the owner and his assistant on their very beautiful horses. Passing earlier we saw them rounding up the 3-year old bulls on their horses. These bulls are exercised daily and fed grain to make them strong and muscular. One bull can sell for up to €18,000 in Madrid’s bull ring!

(photos: bull breading ranch)

Ronda – Bull ring

In beautiful Ronda I wanted to see finally a bull ring from the inside. There is something fascinating about the bull fighting thing. It’s probably because it is dangerous, bloody and gruesome, even violent and brutal. It is an intrinsic Spanish phenomenon, a part of Spain just like Paella and Flamenco, so I wanted to see about the why and how.

Being bitterly disappointed in Pamplona (well, it is famous for the running of the bulls in July) and in every other town on our way (nearly every town has its own bull ring, but nearly all of them are closed and not in use anymore), we could finally indulge our curiosity.

Ronda’s bull ring is one of the oldest and unique in that it features covered seating. It is impressive in its architecture and facilities, as it also incorporates a riding school and stables. So it is not all blood and gore, but always ends that way….

There is a museum housed also that shows some artefacts of the life of a torero and other country sports and the military.

 

But this is all I want to know and see about the demise of a beautiful animal like a bull, bred and reared in the countryside pastures, to end as a piece of bloody meat at the admittedly old age of 3 or 4 years (as beef usually ends up being killed at 18-36 months of age).

The Story of the boom and bust in Spain 01.05. – 08.05.17 (Zagrilla)

 

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After a stint in a town apartment we spoiled ourselves with a Spanish villa in the countryside.

It was advertised on booking.com and airbnb as room with mountain views (yet again, I know), pool and breakfast and kitchen use. However, the pool was not yet awoken from winter hibernation and the kitchen had not seen a decent cook in ages, i.e. most essential items were missing. It also behaved like a haunted house – creaking doors everywhere that refused to be opened and closed.

But it is a charming villa with sumptuous decor, Arabic style tiling and open fire place. The view over the valley is lovely, the view at the back however reveals the true story of this property.

There you can see a redundant crane, a big circular hole in the ground and a building site containing the hastily built shell of a conference centre. There are steps down to a farm style building with bar, several bedrooms and showers. This obviously used to be a holiday apartment and party pad.

Arriving at the entrance to the Cortijo Mirador you can see 12 nearly completed detached 2-storey houses, but no plumbing, landscaping or electricity connected. This is the sad picture of a dream turned into a nightmare; the bubble that burst in so many countries when the property boom and financial speculation finally came to a shuddering standstill and reality hit very hard. It hit so hard that many families in Ireland had to emigrate to find a new life and jobs elsewhere. It bankrupted many a man and woman and left people frustrated, helpless and suicidal.

So the owners of Cortijo Mirador and the planned holiday camp of Oriel Village had to find jobs elsewhere, mostly in Malaga. This family can count themselves lucky to still have some control over their property and now try and get some money in by renting it out.

During our 6-day stay we only had people in the house on the first night and the weekend, the rest of the week we had the whole grand villa and garden to ourselves. It was a very relaxing, tranquil week, with only the cockerels and dogs bothering us in the early mornings. We made do with an improvised washing line (thanks to Nigels ingenuity) and I managed to cook with one gas ring working and a lethal toaster.

From our sanctuary we took trips to nearby Antequera, a pretty medieval town with pre-historic dolmens. In Ireland we can be pretty proud about the ancestors that left behind monuments like Newgrange and other dolmens, passage graves, souterrains and crannogs and so on. But this dolmen blew them out of the water with the sheer massive size of the stones standing upright and laid on top.

We also went to see Torcal de Antequera, an amazing karst-landscape, shaped by 200 million years of being under the sea, and of wind and rain.

At the salt-lake of La Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra there are flamingos to see. Unfortunately only very few were present and instead we got to see some small turtles. They looked like rocks lying along the shore, being very shy creatures, that would quickly disappear into the pond from the slightest noise or vibration. [http://www.andalucia.org/en/natural-spaces/nature-reserve/laguna-de-fuente-de-piedra/]

28.04. – 1.05.17 From the mines to the Olive Groves of Jaen

We now wanted to leave the mountains and move further inland towards Jaen and Cordoba.

What a sight – millions of olive trees, all over the valleys and hills of Jaen province. Oceans of the small green olive tree, in rows upon rows…

We settled with Lee in Martos for a few days to admire this truly Spanish landscape, the production of 28% of the world’s olive oil. More than 60 million olive trees grow here, producing 43% of Spain’s olive oil.   [https://worldstrides.com/2013/12/jaen-spain-land-olive-tree/]

To get up and close we went on the Via Verde de Aceite, a green way on the old railway track from Martos to Jaen.

We also visited the old Arab Baths and Museum in Jaen, which is for free.

Another day brought us to the very beautiful city of Cordoba, which is comparable to Granada or Seville in its amazing architectural witnesses of an era now gone. It is impressive to see how once Islam, Judaism and Christianity existed side by side. In the long run, Christianity won out and has altered and added onto the ancient sites.

We visited the Mezquita, which is a Mosque-Cathedral. Its oldest part dates from 786-788, when it was started as a mosque by Abd al-Rahman. The latest addition was added in 1748, so many different architectural styles, like Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, have shaped this huge structure. And it is awe-inspiring and at the same time beautiful.

It is true, both religions have their artwork and prayer sites in this one building but respect each other’s spaces. This building-complex is big enough to give both world religions a home and allow for peaceful contemplation within its lofty airy space.

22. – 28. April ALQUIFE – GOAT SHED AND MINING TOWN

 

This was another Airbnb find on the cheap, the whole apartment for under €30. In fact we nearly had the whole place for ourselves, as apart from the owner, very few people turned up during our 1-week stay. The dwelling was a converted goat shed, now housing instead of goats a small cinema, 3 ground floor apartments and 5 bedrooms on the first floor amidst almond trees. And with view of the Sierra Nevada’s snow-topped peaks from the northern side this time.

As usual, dogs and cats were about. And three hens that were quickly despatched by the fox, that strikes when the dogs are away from the place. Marion our host takes this philosophical. Even the fox has to live, so let him have them. There’s always more.

Alquife is a former mining town. Mining has been carried out here since roman times. This mine, Spain’s biggest iron mine, produced up to 40% of Spain’s iron, closed in 1996. But the spoil from the underground and then open mining operation were visible as huge man-made mountains. Research on the internet reveals that it is hoped to restart mining, with access to 1000 ha of land for possible exploitation. In the meantime a solar business put up ca. 10 ha of solar-panels to generate electricity [https://www.exclusivegranada.com/menu-english/the-old-mines-of-granada/the-iron-mines-of-alquife-guadix/].

In Alquife the old town that hugged the rock has been deserted. A landslide destroyed several houses which are now kept pretty by lime-wash. We clambered around this part and imagined the life of the miners back then. Now the two bars in the town barely scratch a living and are glad when pilgrims take this route on their way to the Camino Mozarabe de Santiago. They can stay at La Balsa for €5/night. This is supporting tourism in this area.

As quaint and away-from-it-all La Balsa is situated, I didn’t get much peace to write my blog. The day I was sitting in the hammock phoning my mum a car arrived. The two Spaniards wanted to sell some wine to Marion, who was not at home. Then two pilgrims arrived and we tried to figure out what to do until Marion would return. But all was well as she did know about their arrival. These are situations where my bit of Spanish does help, but it does nothing for a prolonged conversation. But we always experience the Spanish to be helpful, polite, patient and friendly and not one bit put out by our feeble efforts at their language.

We took to cycling up the road towards the mountains and also visited Granada twice during our week in Alquife.

Our first evening visit to Granada was a bit prosaic – Nigel wanted to see the FA cup semi-final game between Manchester City and Arsenal in an Irish Pub, Hanigans & Sons to be precise. For any football fanatic this would be a valid reason but for me this is a sacrilege. I mean this is Granada – one of the most beautiful towns in Spain or the world, you don’t spend your time in front of a tv screen. So I disappeared into the small streets of the Albaycin, the Arab quarter to suss out a place for dinner and acquire a lovely light Pakistani style loose pair of trousers.

Our chosen Moroccan restaurant, El Divan, can be forgotten about. I have never had such tasteless and flavourless food in my life. Where were the famous Moroccan spices? We had the cous-cous, the humus, and chicken with vegetables, but no taste. Even the milk shake was watered down. A typical tourist-trap menu.

But on our next visit we did go and visit the Alhambra, one of the world’s most visited and cherished buildings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This amazing palace and fortress complex with lovely gardens, enclosures, fountains and water features was built in the middle ages by the Moorish rulers of Al-Andalus, as it was then known. The Islamic colours, patterns and craftsmanship is unforgettable and cannot be taken in on one visit.

We only walked the inner free areas because even a week in advance all tickets for the palaces were sold out for the next 4 weeks! So be warned, a visit to this treasure requires at least 4 weeks forward planning. This applies also for the gardens, the Generalife and the fortress complex. [https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/]

But we had a place booked in the Arab baths, the hammam, which included for me a 15 min massage. A Hammam is a most wondrous place, a place to let your senses drift away and relax. The Hammam in Granada is lit by candles placed in niches, there is sweetened peppermint tea available and four pools and a steam room await your weary bones. The atmosphere is calm, nobody is allowed to talk loud and soft Arabic music plays in the background.

The pools have water trickling into them in different temperatures and are surrounded by beautiful detailed Arabic tiles and ornaments and intrinsic carvings. One of the pools is ice-cold to finish the cleansing process by closing your heated pores from the steam room. We braved this one twice as the reward was the hot marble stone!

You can choose your massage oil from Pomegranate, Rose, Lavender and Red Amber oils. A massage in such surroundings will enhance your experience of total bliss. Before and after you can lie on the hot marble stone. [http://granada.hammamalandalus.com/en/]

It doesn’t get any better. This is pampering in a sublime fashion. It is difficult to describe the whole experience in words, maybe poetry would do it justice. You just have to go and see for yourself. I surely will return to Granada, the Alhambra and the Hammam many more times.

On our last day, Peter from Holland arrived to take care of La Balsa until Marion’s return from Italy. We invited him for dinner and had a very good night. Full of introspection, psychology, philosophy and got to see his invention: reading glasses as fashion items. He wanted to design reading glasses that can be worn unobtrusively, as a piece of jewellery or fashion item. They needed to be small and easy to wear. His design is patented and hopefully will make him a rich man some day.

 

16.04 – 21.04.2017 Woofing in Cortijo Tesoro, Buquistar, Alpujarras

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It was time to embark on our second woofing job with Jose in the Alpujarras. His Cortijo Tesoro lies not far from the highest (claimed by the inhabitants) village in Spain, Travelez. In fact, the Camino de Trevelez runs practically past his holding.

Jose and his partner Andrea have spent the past 15 years doing up the various original stone buildings on the farm with the help of woofers. By the time we arrived most of the work was done. We had to drench the new natural tile floor with a linseed oil concoction and then paint the ceiling with lime whitewash. Under no circumstances were we to touch the oiled chestnut beams. In fact, we had to clean up some of the paint that went astray before we got there. This vexed Nigel. So he was taken away to help fix the water supply.

The cortijo is typical for the traditional Islamic architecture the Moors brought to the country of Spain from the Atlas Mountains in Algier, Morocco and Tunisia. It was the Berbers who brought their knowledge and traditions to Andalucia. This intrinsic knowledge to work with the natural materials that surrounded them in the mountains was very useful in the region of the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarras. The cortijos are made of stone, oak or chestnut beams, launa (water-impermeable breathing clay-layer), pebbles and lots of lime wash.

Typical ceiling made from chestnut beams, stones, launa and gravel:

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Jose’s cooking was absolutely delicious, vegetarian meals cooked in a jiffy and tasty. He would put many a restaurant to shame with his culinary virtuosity.

He is also a very accomplished guitar player and singer. We witnessed this on our third night there when we had bought a bottle of vino tinto, a bottle of lambrusco, a lump of cheese and a big bag of crisps. Jose was delighted about the naughty supplementation of his larder. The next day he accused us of having given him a sore head. I beg you – only after 2 glasses of vino! The man needs to get out more. But we had a lovely evening under the stars of the Alpujarra.

The Berbers or Moors as they were called then also brought with them the science of preserving and making use of water, which is scarce and a luxury in those regions. So every drop needs preserving and put to its full use. To that purpose they have constructed Acequias = irrigation canals, channels, that runs alongside the mountains and to anywhere where water is needed, for example the agricultural used areas with orange, olive and almond trees, gardens and dwellings.

These acequias are now looked after by the population and maintained, because life depends on it. Sometimes you can see the original dug out channels, sometimes they are strengthened with concrete along motorways or bounded by stones. Sometimes they look like natural streams, distributing and sharing out their life-maintaining moisture along the way, so that trees, scrub and wildlife can live.

On our last night we went to Atalbeitar with Jose and his guitar and Jim, the new woofer kid on the farm. Well, ok, he is 34, and is travelling the world for the past 3 and a half years.

This night turned out to be a jam session with the resident Hungarian jazz artist, Jose with his guitar and a local on percussion. You wouldn’t really expect that kind of music in a little mountain village high in the Alpujarras in Spain, but music is a universal art and can be transposed anywhere in any form or style. And so we listened to a Spanish jazz session in a typical cortijo. This is run as an unofficial restaurant run by the Hungarian piano player and his Canadian wife.

 

Going for sugar along the Camino de Trevelez

 

During our 6-day day with Jose I was assailed with homesickness!

Well, it is not so easy to mould yourself to another person’s life-style and be confined and defined by their times of eating (too late!), habits and living arrangements (creaky single beds and door to his bedroom). So there comes a time when you want to just do as you please, flop back into your own way of life and spread yourself out again.

Unfortunately the weather had become cold and as we departed it deteriorated further. So just as well we left the high southern mountains and drove instead to the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, to Alquife.

On the Road Again 12.-16. April

 

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Pension La Ola, Grao de Castellon

After all this work we thought we deserved at least 2 days at the beach, which we had in Grao de Castellon. Our room had a view of the white sandy beach and the palm-tree lined promenade. Pension La Ola also boasts a grand restaurant with sea view. What’s not to like?

Torrevieja with Helena, car got impounded

On Good Friday we stopped over with a friend in Torrevieja. The town was congested with locals for the Easter festivities. So it was near impossible to find parking near Helena’s apartment bloc. But we did. And regretted it the next morning. Because the car was gone…. Gone with the bikes, hopefully.

The only evidence of my car was a yellow sticker on the pavement, for it had been dragged away and impounded. Now we had been a bit dubious about the whole area, it looked a bit shabby and dark, so we did wonder if our bikes were safe and checked on them on the way to the restaurant, where we were to have the ‘best paella in town’. Half an hour later the car was towed away. Tough luck.

After the Paella we had to visit the local Irish Pub. As you do. And listen to the Dubliners and Christie Moore. Well, the Irish stick together. But I can tell you once we had retrieved the car the next morning and paid the fine plus the towing (it cost us more than a room in a hotel would have) we left that town never to return.

Hotel Mi Casa, Antas

So we needed another escape and found it in Antas, at Hotel Mi Casa, which is a very cute little hotel with marble entrance and stairs, situated at a round-about. But since it was Easter weekend, there was little or no traffic. Nearby is the beach of Vera, Playas de Vera. We really wanted some normal, touristy sun-bathing after all our adventures. It so happened to be a whole Naturist area, Natsun Naturist Resort.

Natsun, located on the naturist beach of Vera Playa, with two km. sandy beach in a pinturesque bay is an excellent holiday resort in a quiet and natural scenery. Those who wish to enjoy their holiday on the Andalousian Mediterranean Coast, provided with all conveniences and many possibilities for sport and leisure, will feel at home at Natsun.

Vera Playa, well known for it’s long summers and very mild winters, is situated on one of the last streches of unspoilt Spanish Coast, and as such very appropiate for naturism in natural surroundings.

The Natsun complex, in Vera Playa, is easy to be reached by car, coach or by airplane, and is opened all year to all friends of naturism. (http://veraplaya.es/en/)

Not a problem for me, as I was well used to this form of holidaying from my childhood in Germany and Denmark. But this was the very first time for Nigel to go free of clothing in public. Seamless tanning, bliss!

1304-30degrees

 After the short beach episode we left on our way south-west, off to new adventures, that took us right into the desert of Tabernas. There we had a stop-over at the Wild West town of Fort Bravo, Texas-Hollywood.

Apparently in the 1960s and 1970s more than 100 films were partially shot at the two film sets in the bleak Almeria desert landscape of Tabernas, Oasys (formerly known as Mini Hollywood) and Fort Bravo including Westerns such as A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; also Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. More recently, an episode of Dr Who (A Town Called Mercy starring Matt Green; Series 7, episode 3) was shot here. (http://www.andalucia.com/entertainment/themeparks/minihollywood.htm).

Adra

After our drive through the deserts around Tabernas and Almeria we turned towards the sea and stopped in a lovely fishing village called ‘Adra’ for lunch. We went to the local fishermen’s restaurant right at the harbour. Only old men were left at the bar, because as usual we were getting the lunch time wrong, trying to lunch at 3 pm. But they had a selection of tapas that we hungrily devoured. We stared with 4. And had another four after that!!! With the three drinks the bill came to €12. And what a feast we had for that, delicious. (8 Tapas, 3 drinks =12€)

It just shows, go where the locals go and you won’t be disappointed.

Woofing in Beguda 06 – 12.04.17

This was to be our first woofing experience ever!

We were excited, the farm sounded lovely:  nestled in a valley in the volcanic landscape of the Catalan region around Olot, known as La Garrotxa. The online description spoke of the traditional restored farm house from the 15th century, inhabited by a Scottish-Catalan couple and their two cats and golden retriever Brigid (sometimes aka Brigitte Bardot or Brigid Jones).

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Our room was absolutely grandiose, huge. It took up the whole upstairs side of the rather big structure and had a big carved Catalan king sized bed. Oak beams and white wash completed the picture. The ancient church was just opposite and we had the view of the snow-topped peaks of the Pyrenees to admire (and the grave yard).

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The market garden was well organised, with neat rows of 55.70 m length and irrigation pipes laid out. We arrived at a perfect time to rescue the onions and garlic from being smothered with weeds. Well, this is what you have in an organic system, it takes a lot of basic hand-weeding to keep the herbage under control, if you don’t mulch or employ plastic as ground cover.

So for the next 5 days I was basically on my knees getting to grips with the chickweed, fat hen, grass and other common garden weeds – five hours at a stretch.

Thankfully the sun was warming up the air and at eleven o’clock I took off my jacket and put on my straw hat. There is something meditative about being close to Mother Nature and hear bird song (and unfortunately the ever-present sound of the rendering factory nearby). The cuckoo also gave a guest appearance and Nigel was drafted into setting up a badger fence. Apparently, this ubiquitous animal has a habit of pulling the squash out of the garden and mauling them. Of course there are also the wild black pigs, plentiful in the oak forests of Catalonia and the Pyrenees.

We came across a herd of brown porkers, albeit fenced in as part of a business, ham factory on our walks in the immediate area. They were a lively bunch and a bit easily scared, but full of fun & games.

On the Sunday I needed to get the urge out of my system to cycle to Olot onto the Greenway, the old railway track from Olot to Girona, the ‘Via Verde del Carrilet           Olot-Girona’ while Nigel put in some overtime to finish the rustic timber fence with Joan.

Unfortunately Nigel spread the McWilliams ‘flu and our host Joan succumbed first and then me. So exploring was hampered somewhat, but one day we went to have a look at the local villages of Castellfollit de la Roca, a village hanging from a rock, Argelaguer , Besalu, and Banyoles, famous for the huge reservoir lake bordering the town.

Argelaguer (with cat-feeding station)

Castellfollit de la Roca

Castellfollit de la Roca (1)

Besalu

Banyoles

On the last day Nigel was put to the task of first rotavating an area of overgrown vegetable plots and then collecting the bits of grass sods to use as transplants for the driveway. It ended up looking like a hair transplant ….. .

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After 6 days tending to their garden, Judith and Joan took us out for dinner as a thank you.

dead snake
shrivelled up adder on road