Heading East to Meknès…. .

It’s hard to believe we have been in Morocco for just over a week now.  It’s been a week filled with many different emotions.  Our travel experiences throughout our lives have mainly been within Europe…………and most of that within the last three years.  Other than the odd city break in a hotel we’ve pretty much always DIY’d it with a tent, caravan or campervan and, for the most part, our holidays involved touring different parts of the UK.  No jet setting holidays for us to far flung destinations such as South East Asia, India, Latin America and the like.  No siree we were far too tight to splash out more than a few hundred pounds at a time for a holiday.  What I’m trying to say is that our experience of other cultures outside Europe is limited.  In fact it is limited outside Western and Northern Europe as we have still to visit Eastern Europe.  That’s on the agenda for season four.  Brexit dependant of course.  We may be forced to visit New Zealand for example if we are restricted on how long we can stay in the EU.  A hardship we’re prepared to look into!

As I mentioned in the last blog post we are in no rush whilst we are here.  We have an open return ticket and we are allowed up to ninety days here.  We have deliberately kept our mileage low between our stops so far really just to be able to find our feet and adapt to whatever situations arise in a more relaxed way.  If you look at our google map on the sidebar of the blog you can see where we have stayed to give you a visual idea of our route thus far.

After leaving Larrache we did a short drive down the coast to Moulay Bousellham renowned for its lagoon, Merdja Zerga (the blue lagoon), covering thirty square kilometres and an important site for migratory birds.

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The harbour at Moulay Bousellham with the campsite behind.

After politely declining several offers to take boat trips on the lagoon we walked along the vast sandy beach before returning through the town back to the campsite.

P1150077.JPGI had a chat with a French chap on the campsite to try to gleen what is the going fair rate for a boat trip as it’s difficult to know.  I’m not used to haggling.  It’s an alien concept to me.  I’m on a steep learning curve.  Talking to others is maybe one way to find out I guess.  One hundred dirham (about €10) was the answer.

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Campsite at Mouray Bousellham.

Kenitra, our next stop, was really just to stop somewhere before heading east towards Meknès.  We made a slight detour to a Decathlon shop on the outskirts of the town not far from the motorway before getting to the campsite. We stopped more out of curiosity than wanting to buy anything.  We were curious to compare the prices to those in Spain or Portugal.  Prices are about on par with Europe and the only difference in what they were selling really was a more conservative range in the ladies swimwear section.

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The ladies swimwear section at a Decathlon.

When I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post that it’s been a week of mixed emotions this was just one example.  On our way there we had passed acres and acres of arable land being ploughed by horses, people working in fields either picking vegetables or spreading manure by hand, swathes of very poor unfinished shanty type housing, cattle and sheep grazing on rubbish strewn wasteland, people just sitting with seemingly no purpose, a small boy of about ten years old darting in and out of the traffic streaming up the slip lane off the motorway selling small bags of peanuts.  Then we arrived at Decathlon which formed part of an out of town retail outlet with a Marjane supermarket, various clothing stores and an electronics shop much like PC world selling the usual football pitch sized TV’s, electronics, computers, coffee machines, phones and such at prices on the same level as Europe.  The difference between those that have and those that have not is staggering.  Seen in real time it’s difficult to get your head around.

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Campsite entrance at Kenitra.

The following morning making our way towards Meknès we approached Sidi Yahya du Gharb, a small town on the RN4, to see that the weekly market was in full swing.  We were able to pull in to a piece of wasteground to park up and have a gander.

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Approach to the town on market day.

We were beckoned over by what we presume was the guardian of the parking and he directed us where to go.  Anywhere you park in Morocco there will always be someone in a high vis vest to direct you where to go and charge you accordingly.  We paid him five dirham (about 40p).

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Milk for sale in recycled bottles.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking (some of the pictures are a bit skewed as Tim was trying to be discreet and took them all from waist height) but what they don’t convey is the noise.  Loudspeakers were blasting everywhere presumably enticing people to their wares.  It sounded more like we were at a horse racing event rather than a market.

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DSC06688The area the market covered was vast and tightly packed in.  Every scrap of space was utilised.

DSC06691.JPGThere must be a strict system for where each seller sets up otherwise it would be complete chaos.

DSC06697.JPGEvery seller is grouped according to what they have to sell.

DSC06698.JPGFruits, vegetables, clothing, tools, household goods, meats etc.

DSC06707.JPGThe fruit and vegetables are just sold by the kilo unless it’s something like avocadoes which are more expensive.

DSC06725.JPGFill up a bowl with whatever you want, give it to the seller for weighing, if it doesn’t come to a round kilo then put some more into the bowl until it does.

DSC06728.JPGI had a kilo mix of carrots, courgettes and cabbage which cost five dirham (about 40p).

DSC06732.JPGLeaving the market through the busy town we passed a lot of new development in various stages of completion again in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the market.

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Leaving the town.
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Some sort of military establishment on the outskirts of the town.

Once away from the next couple of towns the landscape opened up into rolling green hills not unlike you would see in some parts of the UK.

We wanted to stop at Volubilis, the most important archaeological site in Morocco.

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The vast site of Volubilis.

It dates back to the 3rd century BC and the site covers 400 000 square metres.  We could have been back in Greece.

P1150103.JPGWe spent a couple of peaceful hours strolling round the site and enjoyed hearing all the birdsong after the noise at the market.

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DSC06757.JPGWe then based ourselves for three nights at Camping Zerhoun Belleview in between Moulay Idriss and Meknès so we could visit both towns on separate days.

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Mint tea served in the morning at Camping Zerhoun Belleview.

The campsites so far have been, in our opinion, absolutely fine.  They’re not to European standards and the facilities blocks are dated but all but one site has had hot water for a shower so we’re not complaining.  We are thankful that we can come here at this time of year and find open campsites as a base to explore from and retreat to after a day out.

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It’s the most attractive site we’ve stayed on so far.

We took the bus into Meknès (5 dirhams each way) for our first exploration to a larger city.  Half an hour on the bus and we were right where we needed to be in the centre of the town.

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Bab Mansour gate built at the beginning of the 18th century, and completed in 1732 by Moulay Abdallah, son of Sultan Moulay Ismail to be the grand entrance to the city.

During the reign of Moulay Ismaϊl, which began in 1672, Meknès first rose to the rank of Imperial City.  The sultan built gates, mosques, ramparts and palaces.

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Bab Berdaine gate built in the 17th Century.

Throughout his reign he robbed from the ruins of Volubilis and the Palais el-Badi in Marrakech.  It is now one of the largest cities in Morocco with over one million inhabitants.

P1150163.JPGAgain, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. We explored the medina and souks, the Dae el-Kebira quarter and then had a walk around the ramparts surrounding the royal complex.

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DSC06818.JPGSince this was our first outing to a large city in Morocco we didn’t know what to expect in terms of being approached by touts, faux guides, sellers and so on but in contrast to what we had been expecting we had a completely hassle free and enjoyable wander.

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Making charcoal………I think.

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Time for refreshment as it was probably in the mid twenties.

For the past week we have had nothing but kindness shown to us by the Moroccan people.  There were three examples in Meknès.  Tim needed to print off a letter to sign and post back to the UK.  On first arriving we stumbled across numerous little booths with photocopying machines and printers serving the people who needed to get papers organised for the nearby court house.  We asked a lady if she would print a few pages off for us from a memory stick, which she did and when asked how much we owed her she just smiled and said there was no charge.

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Mattress making.

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DSC06867.JPGThen in the post office the guard took the letter, stuck it down more securely with glue and unlocked the door for us when we tried to exit from the wrong end of the post office.  All with a big smile.

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Pick a key……any key.

DSC06881.JPGThirdly whilst haphazardly strolling around the medina we came across the tannery when a chap beckoned us in.  We thought he was going to just let us take a picture of the tanks and maybe ask for a payment for doing so but he took us on a tour of the whole site and explained, in French, the entire process of how the hide ends up on the soles of shoes in Italy.

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Our tour round the tannery.
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Our very kind and informative guide.

Having been warned about being lured into such situations as these and then a payment demanded at the end we were a little wary but our gut instincts told us that this chap was genuine.  And so it proved to be.

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Coo hides!
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I was glad I had shoes on…………Tim had sandles on!

DSC06906.JPGHe did take us into one area and showed us some sheep skins but didn’t ask if we wanted to buy anything.

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The square tanks are for cow hides and the round ones for sheep and goats hides.

After spending half an hour with us he took us back to the entrance and explained how to get back to Place El-Hedime, the main square.

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The site itself is like a building site.

He would have let us go without asking for anything.  I offered him fifty dirhams which he gratefully accepted, we all shook hands with smiles all round and we went on our way.  All in all a fantastic experience.

The following day we took the bus in the opposite direction to Moulay Idriss, a hill top town not far from the ruins of Volubilis.  From afar it looks like any hillside town in Spain.

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Moulay Idriss from below.

Up close it doesn’t.

DSC06951.JPGIt’s a pilgrimage centre as the tomb of Idriss Ben Abdullah Ben Hassan Ben Ali, the great-great grandson of the prophet Mohammed is entombed here.  The town is apparently an alternative to Mecca in Morocco for those unable to make the ultimate pilgrimage. For that reason various souvenir items associated with pilgrimage are on sale.

DSC06940.JPGAfter a quick lap of the central square area we headed up the hill to climb the rocky ground for a view of the town from above.

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Tim spotted this guy and his friend making their way up the hill to find some shade.

We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly as the call to prayer rang out just as we found a suitable rock to have a sit down on.  Everything fell quiet and we sat and observed the scene below us.  Not everyone stops what they are doing or whips out a travel prayer mat and points it in the direction of Mecca but it does go quiet.  Not absolutely silent but almost.

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View from the road at the other side of the town.

We consulted our trusty Maps.Me app and decided we’d prefer to take a walk down around the bottom of the town as the countryside is superb and reminiscent of the Alpujarras in Spain.  Some of the pictures show the contrast with a typical Spanish hill top town.  Most notably the rubbish.  I’m not criticising it’s just an observation.  I suspect far more gets recycled here than in the UK as, from what we’ve seen at the markets, almost anything is for sale.

P1150191.JPGThe road at the bottom of the hill ran out and became a mule track through housing and a few olive processing plants finally bringing us back into the town at the other end of the main square.  We stood for half an hour waiting for the bus and just watched the scene around us before retreating to the campsite for a much needed cup of tea.

Haggling is a way of life in Morocco and even at the campsites sellers come offering their wares.  From what we’ve read we were led to believe that certain items such as branded clothing, old electronic items and phones are in demand and can be exchanged for goods.  We had gathered together lots of items ready should such a situation arise. We put it to the test yesterday morning when a chap we’d seen the day before came with his knitware to show us.  We really liked the hats he was selling so I explained to him that as we live in the van full time we can only buy something if we get rid of something and would he be interested in an exchange.  We laid out our wares for him to peruse at his leisure.

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Let the haggling commence!

We wanted the two hats and he was very happy to do a deal.  He definitely wanted an old Samsung phone and a rechargeable razor so we agreed on those for the two hats.  But he was also really taken with the Sony MP3 player and so we exchanged that for another hat.  And then he quite liked the Berghaus fleece……….and then my old walking shoes…………and then Tim’s old Rab jacket with the broken zip……..and of course he’d need some headphones for the MP3 player!  I gave him the fleece, the shoes and a pair of headphones as a gift but Tim drew the line at the jacket.  Tim would have been a bit more ruthless than me but these were all items we would have donated to a charity in the UK or would have ended up in landfill and we were both more than happy. He was a lovely chap and went away very happy indeed.

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Two happy bunnies.

Today we’ve moved on to Camping Diamant Vert to see what Fès brings.

الله يمسك علي خير !

Morocco bound…. .

So, after my quick flit back to the UK for a few days two weeks ago our plan had always been to crack on and get over to Morocco.  After nearly three years on the road in Europe we are keen to experience a new continent and a different culture.  Our departure was a bit later than planned as I felt a bit rough with a cold I’d picked up and wanted to get over that before we travelled down to the port at Algiceras to buy our tickets.  After a few days of recuperation for me we were more than ready to leave Mikki’s place and start the next chapter in our adventures.

Thanks largely to Julie and Jason at Ourtour.co.uk who have travelled Morocco twice in their motorhome, have oodles of information on their blog and have also written a couple of books about their travels we felt forewarned and forearmed for the off.  I’ve also perused theworldisourlobstereuropebycampervandogtraveller and other blogs as well.

We stayed overnight on the unofficial motorhome aire at in Algeciras surrounded by French Camping Caristes, purchased our tickets and stocked up on last minute essentials at the Mercadona and Lidl before taking the early eight o’clock ferry to Tanger Med.

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The recommended agency by motorhomers to buy your ferry tickets from.  It’s around the corner from Carrefour in Algeciras.
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Woop!  Ready to go!

Apart from having to drive up a ramp and then reverse into position on the deck all went very smoothly and efficiently getting on to the ferry.  Far more efficiently than the experience we had last year getting the ferry from Dubrovnic to Bari.  I was expecting a bit of a scrum at the other end but Tanger Med is a modern port and it helped that we were the only ferry in at the time.  We had about fifteen minutes to wait whilst our passports and V5 documents were taken from us, checked and returned and then we were almost good to go.  After a quick sniff around the rear lockers of the van by one of the dog team who was more interested in having a chew on a pair of dumbbells in there we were heading off out of the port.   We stopped at the line of ATM’s and money exchanges before leaving the port though to pick up some cash to add to the six hundred dirham’s we’d bought from our friends Di and Chris who had travelled to Morocco last year.

As this is our first time in Morocco we thought we’d break ourselves in gently to the Moroccan experience and so we hopped onto the motorway bypassing Tangiers and headed for the little seaside town of Assilah about eighty or so kilometres from the port.

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Assilah’s ramparts built by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

It’s a popular spot for a first stopover with a couple of campsites and a guarded parking area.  We’re using Campercontact, searchforsites, park4night apps and the Camping Du Maroc guide loaned to us by our friends to find suitable places to stay.

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Camping As Saada, Assilah.

After settling in at As Saada campsite in Assilah we ventured out to the nearby Telcom Maroc shop to buy a sim card for our Huawei Mifi device.  We had to wait for an hour and ten minutes before getting served which gave me some time to work out what I was going to say in French when we finally got to the head of the queue.  Fortunately it’s a take a ticket with a number on system like you do at the deli section at Tesco’s so you can at least sit down whilst you wait and then ponder on the reason why someone with a higher number than you got served before you.  Still, we had the time to wait.  Of course when we finally did get served I blurted out my much rehearsed first line in French and the salesperson immediately switched to English.  Is it that obvious?  Yes.  Obviously.  Anyway we came out with a sim with 10gb of data valid for a month for 100 dirham (£8.15).

A ten minute walk from the campsite and we were into the old town of Assilah.

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Bab Ihoumer gate to the medina.

Surrounded by ramparts built by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century which drop down to a sandy beach it’s a warren of white and blue houses reflecting the former Portuguese influence. It was all very clean and more surprisingly very quiet.

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Inside the medina.

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Lots of the little workshops were closed.

We had expected hordes of people within the medina walls but other than a few tourists all was calm.

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Carpets…………obvs!

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This could be Portugal.

The town hosts an international summer arts festival and it’s certainly a colourful place with many of the murals on the walls painted during the festival.

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Colourful murals adorn the walls inside the medina.

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Tim finds some music on the first day!

Outside the medina walls it’s all a bit more earthy with small shops lining the streets and fruit sellers spreading out their wares across the pavements, roads and alleyways.  Piles of clothing, shoes, electrical items, phone chargers, tools and things we would consider in Europe to be worthless are all there to buy. It was all fascinating and an assault on the senses but not overwhelming. A good first introduction I think.

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Outside the walls of the medina.  

We knew we were somewhere different the following morning when we were woken up in the early morning by the call to prayer.  We weren’t sure what time it was as we were having a dispute as to whether Morocco is in line with Greenwich Mean Time and therefore the same time as the UK or whether it’s GMT+1 as in the same time as Spain.  You’d think we would have known really but as we don’t have any pressing engagements at the moment it’s not really necessary to know the time.  I’d been confused by the internet as when I looked it up it said Morocco is GMT+1 but our guide book said it was GMT.  Tim had also consulted Google and got conflicting information.  I was adamant it was GMT+1.  He was adamant it was GMT.  I’m ashamed to say it took us a couple of days to figure it out.  I mean we could have just asked someone but that would make us look a bit dim.  Anyway, in the end the mystery was solved by Mr Google who reliably informed us that Morocco had scrapped GMT in favour of GMT+1 last October.  Tim had already messed up the times of when the England v France match of the Six Nations was on so he wasn’t too happy anyway and then the wifi was too weak to get a consistent picture so that was the end of that.

 

Next up on our ‘ease us in gently to Morocco’ was the port town of Larache further down the coast.

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Larache camping.  We recived a very warm and enthusiastic welcome from the guardian!

Safely installed at the campsite six kilometres outside the town we walked the kilometre down to the Marjane supermarket to have a peruse before flagging down a ‘petit taxi’ to get us into the old town.

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The only thing different about the Marjane supermarket really was the spice and pasta/couscous/ selections.

P1150034.JPGThat was an interesting journey.  The driver spoke a little bit of French and he pointed out some of the landmarks as we sped into town at breakneck speed.

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Fixing a price before getting in!

I was glad I had a seatbelt as I was in the front but what Tim thought was his seatbelt in the back was in fact just a piece of trim hanging from the door.  It was quite amusing to hear our driver cursing and shouting expletives at other drivers poor driving skills when he was making exactly the same manoeuvres himself.  At 7 dirham (0.57p) for the six kilometre trip it was both entertaining and dirt cheap though so worth it.

Larache it turned out was more fascinating than Assilah.  Far less touristy.

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Below the medina at Larache.

The fishermen had not long landed their catch and the quay was alive with activity.

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The fish market.

The steep and narrow alleys of the medina were quiet and great to stroll around taking it all in.

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Inside the walls of the Medina at Larache.

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Again very quiet.

Little tiny workshops lined the alleyways with men working in almost darkness on whatever trade they plied be it shoe repair, clothing alterations, sewing, tool repairs etc etc.

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Lots of the little workshops were closed.
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I would have loved to take some pictures of the workshops but felt it would be too rude.

Everything is such a vibrant colour and everywhere you look there is something new to take in.

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More colourful murals.

So that’s it for our first few days in Morocco.

It’s early days but we’re enjoying the experience so far.

نتلقاو !

 

We’ve said our goodbyes to Donkey HQ…. .

Ok, so the last time I updated the blog Christmas was upon us.

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Watching ‘White Christmas’ on Christmas Eve.  What can I say?  It’s a tradition for Tim!

I seem to have lost six weeks somewhere.

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Christmas Day picnic on Amoreira beach.

Where it went I couldn’t say.

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A trip to the circus at Monchique with our friends Di and Chris.

But there is no denying that it has gone.

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A very low key New Years Eve in Portimao.

Christmas and New Year are but a distant memory and we are now firmly into February.

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I’m going to do a short post today.

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One of many swims in December and January.

It has to be short.

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Tim found some new musical friends in Aljezur.

If I don’t get a post out today and breathe some life back into this blog it may well expire before my eyes.

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There’s nothing like a good roll to start the day off right.

It’s difficult to write a blog post after a gap of being incommunicado.

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Okami, Mel, Falco, Emil, Luna and Flor swapping news after a coupe of weeks apart.

My memory and attention span are limited.

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Flor and Luna returning to donkey HQ after a little holiday with a Dutch family who live in the hills nearby.

The previous weeks at Donkey HQ passed by so quickly it is hard to believe we spent eight weeks there.

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Xiquito ready to carry the packed lunches for a two hour trek.

We said a sad goodbye to our host and our charges over a week ago after experiencing many great days with them under warm sunny skies.

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Time for some relaxation on a two hour trek.

And some not so warm sunny mornings.

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It went down to below zero overnight for most of January but the days were into the twenties.

We’ve taken treks and trips.

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Kali loaded up with the recycling.

Some have worked out…………………..some haven’t!

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Tim loaded up with the recycling after Kali refused to go further than the Donkey HQ perimeter!  I think the writing was on the wall in the previous picture.

Jojo and Filipa, two young inexperienced donkeys, made a successful day trip to the beach under the guiding hooves of Xiquito.

 

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A days trek to the beach with Xiquito, Filipa and Jojo. (A training day for Filipa and Jojo who are young and have much to learn).

There really is never a dull moment when looking after them.

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Trekking through Rogil village on the way to the sea.  It took Jojo (middle one) a while to pluck up the courage to go over the pedestrian crossing – the stripes fazed him for a bit!

They all have their own personalities, friendships and foibles and it does take time to get the measure of their individual ways.

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It was a sixteen kilometre round trip.  The young ones had to cope with marauding cows, barking dogs, cars, lorries, traffic lights, bridges, a busy road and a river crossing.

It’s been a great learning experience though and I hope to be able to spend more time with donkeys in the future.

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Taking a well earned break on our days trek.

Of all the animals we have looked after on our travels (cats, dogs, sheep, alpacas, pigs, cows) donkeys are definitely my firm favourite.

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The donkeys relaxed whilst we went down onto the beach.

It’s not all been donkeys though.

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Vale dos Homens beach.

We hired a car for three weeks and made the most of the beaches on the wild Atlantic coast.

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The coast at Carrepeteira.

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We captured the lunar eclipse at the beach at four o’clock in the morning.

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The total lunar eclipse seen from the Atlantic coast of Portugal on 21st January 2019.

And then it was time to get back on the road.

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Praia da Marinha beach.

Tim spent the last week or so back at Mikki’s campsite on the Algarve whilst I made a fleeting visit back to the UK to see my parents.

But tomorrow it’s time for pastures new.

We will miss Portugal.

But Spain awaits.

Até qualquer dia!

 

Week three with the donkeeees…. .

Time is running away with us here at Donkey HQ.  I can’t quite believe it’s been three weeks since we arrived.  It feels like only yesterday. And Christmas is now upon us.

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This way to the donkeys……..

We’ve had another action packed week.  Well, as action packed as it gets for us!

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Mel and Mina…….I think!

Music has featured again with a trip last weekend to see a saxophone player at Moagems, a funky café in Aljezur.

P1140795 (1).JPGWe were left home alone with Kerstin, our roomie and fellow volunteer, to look after the donkeys whilst Sophia took a road trip with a friend for a week accompanied by two of her long eared companions, Kiko and Xico.

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Xico gets loaded up for his roadtrip.

We waved them off but met them the following day to hand over Florin, Sofia’s dog.

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Sofia,Carla, Xixo and Kiko ready for the off.

Florin loves to trek with the donkeys but he couldn’t stay at their planned overnight accommodation for the first night.  He really wasn’t impressed he’d been left behind and had to be put inside for the afternoon lest he followed in the donkey’s hoof steps.

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Florin not impessed he can’t go too.

We took a quick side trip to Odeceixe beach for a spot of yoga and a swim before meeting up with the donkeys.

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Odeceixe beach.
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Beach yoga.

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Florin joins day 2 of the trek.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I tried my hand at some clay modelling on Mimi’s legs.  Mimi is a natural victim.  The other donkeys don’t like her and can be mean to her, the dog sometimes snaps at her legs and even the wasps and flies have a good old go at her legs causing open sores.  To combat this she has clay slathered over her lower legs to try to stop the flies getting at them.

P1140842.JPGIt seems to do the trick.

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Tada……….the latest in donkey fashion.

Even though Mimi seems to be a natural victim in the animal world she most certainly isn’t when it comes to people.  You have to watch her.  Give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.  And she can move when she wants to.  Despite the ungainly look of her she’s quick and you do have to keep one step ahead of her.  She’s so friendly and cheeky that you can’t help but love her though.  We’ve taken her for a walk a few times and once she’s stopped looking for Romano and gets into her stride she’s a pleasure to take out.

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Jeko and Mimi……….don’t be fooled they’re not friends.  

Meanwhile away from donkey care we’ve discovered the woodburner has space in the top to cook a few baked potatoes.

P1140850.JPGIt’s a real treat having a woodburner here and we love our evenings by the fire.  All the other rooms are freezing mind!

Kerstin flew back to Germany to spend Christmas with her family so we couldn’t let her go without cooking a traditional English meal for her.  Toad in the hole, mash and onion gravy washed down with a bottle of Prosecco. Pastel de natas followed accompanied by homemade Medronho schnapps.  Perfecto!

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Kerstin’s last evening before flying back to zero degrees in Berlin!

Christmas is much more low key here than in the UK but there are signs around the town that it is alive and well.

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All made out of recycled materials.
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More music at Moagems.  It was billed as Fado with a difference.  Absolutely brilliant it was too.

It must be Christmas.  We had a surprise present tied to our front door earlier by our friends who are staying at the campsite outside Aljezur.  Thanks Di and Chris 🙂 Proper job!

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Ingenious wrapping paper.

Tim is playing some Christmas music on his clarinet in the room next door whilst I write this.  So, I guess it’s time then for a bit of mulled wine and to say thank you to all of you who read this blog.  We wish you all a very Happy Festive Season wherever you are.

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More news from Donkey HQ next week.

Saùde!

Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo!

Week two at Donkey HQ…. .

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Watch out………watch out………donkey’s about!

So, it’s now two weeks into our little sojourn at Donkey HQ and we have well and truly settled into the rhythm of life here.  Aside from the morning and evening feeding, grooming and mucking out of the donkeys we’ve had an interesting and varied week.

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Eight donkeys waiting for their breakfast!

We celebrated Kerstin’s birthday last Sunday with a cycle into town for some lunch followed in the evening by some ouzo we’d brought back from Greece last year and Kerstin’s homemade quince crumble with a carton of Ambrosia custard we’d had kicking about in the van for several months.

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Kerstin’s birthday lunch.
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Ouzo O’clock!  Egészségére! (Hungarian for cheers – Kerstin has been teaching me a bit of Hungarian as well as her native German).

The following day we took a walk up to see how the vacation donkeys were getting on with their temporary families.  Flor and Luna were saddled up to take the young children for a spin around the outside of the enclosure.

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Flor and Luna saddled up ready for a walk.

Not wanting to be left out the other donkeys followed us along the inside of the fence.  All was going well until Olivia decided to vault the fence to join us.  If there is going to be any trouble you could put money on Olivia being in the centre of it.  She’s a bit flighty and none too bright.  She’s intellectually challenged shall we say and always acts before putting her very modest little brain into gear.  After untangling her from the fence she joined our little party looking very pleased with herself indeed.  She raced up and down, backwards and forwards like a dog.

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A few seconds later Olivia jumped the fence (she is the dark brown one).

If donkey show jumping was ‘a thing’ in Portugal then Sofia should sign Olivia up.

P1140735.JPGAll of Sofia’s donkeys are a range of ages but she has four (Romano, Jeko, Mokka and Margarida) who are known collectively as ‘the oldies’.  From time to time as a change of scene for them we can take two or three of them down to a large area of grazing in the valley a twenty minute walk away.  I call it Donkey Day Care.

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Romano ad Mokka going to ‘Donkey Day Care’.

It also gives Romano a break from Mimi.  Mimi is like an annoying younger sister to Romano.  She follows him everywhere and she hee-haws if she is separated from him.

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As the song goes………Me and my shaaaaadow.  Or it should it be Mimi and my shaaaaadow?!

She has been here for over a year but the other donkeys can be mean to her so she sticks like glue to Romano as he is the only one who seems to have any time for her.  Mimi is rapidly becoming one of my favourites.  She’s super friendly but with a really cheeky naughty streak.  I’m pretty sure it was Mimi who dragged my jacket off the side and trailed it around the floor of the stable last week.

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Mugshot of Mimi.

It’s also been a musical week this week.  Tim was invited to play with a friend of Sofia’s who has a small group and who had been booked to play at the Christmas Market in Aljezur at the end of the week.

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Romano and Mokka come back from Donkey Day care whilst Tim waits for a lift to his music practice.

And we were invited to a choir practice.  Now I’m no singer but thought I’d give it a go.  Tim came along as well.  It was all very civilised with wine and nibbles on arrival.  On hindsight we could see why the wine was a necessary part of the evening.  Making numerous bizarre animal noises all featured as part of the warm up exercises.  Had it been a team building event in a work situation Tim and I would have been heading straight for the door whilst muttering several expletives.  The wine did the trick though and we barked, mooed, meowed and oinked along with everybody else as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do.  We were even disappointed that the next practice won’t be until the New Year.

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Nice Hat!

Since meeting the inspiring Colfer family a few weeks ago and reacquainting myself with wild swimming I’m going for a dip whenever I can.  There’s a small lake a five minute walk away in the valley where I have braved the cold water most days. It’s cold enough to give me ‘ice-cream neck’ (the same as ice-cream head but there’s no way I’m going to put my head under as well).

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Breathtakingly cold!
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Tim checks the back of his eyes whilst I go for a swim.

On our day off we took a trip on the bikes to Amoreira beach.

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Amoreira beach.

We had the whole beach to ourselves so I didn’t feel too stupid trying out some yoga before a swim in the estuary.

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Yogi in training.
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Much warmer in the estuary than the lake.

The yoga and the swim was followed by guilt free toasted sandwiches and chips at a cafe in Aljezur.

P1140764.JPGMore music ensued on Thursday with a lunch for all the people who live locally and have helped with the donkeys this year.  It was like a garden party in the sunshine but without the dressing up bit.

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Lunch for all the donkey helpers.

Then the finale of the week was the Christmas Market in Aljezur.  Our friends Di and Chris who are doing a multiple month trip of France, Spain and Portugal arrived this week and we met them at the market for a catch up over a mug of Gluhwein.

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Christina and her band at Aljezur market.

Perfecto!

More next week.

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Tenha um bom dia!

We’re back at Donkey HQ…. .

Well, our first week back here at Donkey HQ (aka burros & artes) has flown by.  We were last here two years ago and coming back we wondered if we would feel the same about the place as we had back in 2016.  We had intended then to stay for about three weeks but ended up staying eight as we enjoyed the whole experience so much.  When we arrived we left the van at the bottom of the hill and walked up to the top of the drive in the sunshine smelling that fragrant Portugal smell.  And there they all were.  The long eared ones.  How happy was I to see them all?!

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Meeting some of the donkeys again after two years away.

I’m in donkey heaven.  I can’t really explain what it is that I find so appealing about donkeys.  I love that they’re not too big.  The hang-dog expression that they so often put on.  The hee-hawing.  Those silky long ears.  That they can be stubborn.  That they are definitely cheeky.

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Mimi thought she’d join us for morning coffee.  She was later in the day caught red hoofed in Sofia’s fathers polytunnel.  He was not amused.  But you’ve gotta love her!

I’m a fan of terriers even though they can be difficult sometimes and donkeys seem to share some of the same traits.

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Note to self: Don’t leave your jacket lying where a donkey can reach it.
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Donkey HQ.

It’s great to be back here and we (I say we but it’s more me really) have been spending time reacquainting ourselves with the eleven that we already know and getting to know some new ones.

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Yay, we were soooo happy to see Romano is still here.  He’s well into his thirties and the oldest donkey here.
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And look at Kali now………..he should be renamed Kurli!
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Here he was two years ago a few weeks after he’d arrived.  He’d had a good home and was very affectionate but his owner was ill and could no longer keep him.

Seven of the nine new ones are brown and to my untrained eye look like identical septuplets.  After spending the last week with them though I am beginning to be able to tell them apart but I’m not quite there yet.

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Romano and Jeko.  Jeko now has arthritis in his hip so he needs extra care.

Anyway, the long suffering readers of this blog will know all about where we are but for any of you new readers who are wondering what all this donkey thing is about I’ll just get you up to speed with a quick recap.  Sofia, our host, who owns the donkeys runs different donkey trekking tours mainly throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn.  Anything from a two hour gentle walk along the beautiful tracks surrounding donkey HQ to multi day treks along the Rota Vicentina on the Atlantic Algarve coast.

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A neighbour moving some of the manure.

This is no cash cow business though.  Sofia is passionate about and cares deeply for her donkeys.  Many are elderly.  Others have come from poor beginnings with ‘issues’ that only time, care, love and patience will improve.

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Kali’s previous owner taught him to do this.  He’s just lovely and one of my favourites.

So we’re here to help in the day to day care of the donkeys, do a bit of maintenance and generally help out wherever help is needed.

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Mucking out.

This week has been a busy one.

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Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho…………….

Sofia was offered the loan of a large piece of land three kilometres away big enough for half a dozen donkeys to enjoy a vacation.  It was mostly fenced but Tim and I spent a couple of days repairing some areas, clipping back vegetation which interferes with the electric fencing, creating an entrance and generally making sure the whole area is donkey proof.

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The morning commute to work.
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Cutting down the vegetation and repairing the original fence.

The two families who will be looking after the vacation donkeys came down to Donkey HQ yesterday and we all walked them up to their new holiday home.

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There was much excitement when the families came down armed with carrots.

Flor, Luna, Kiko, Olivia, Xiquito and Emil will stay in their new home for a few weeks at least.

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How can you not love them?
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The vacation donkeys going to their holiday home a few kilometres away.

One of the amazing things about the area around Aljezur is the sharing of skills, the helping of neighbours and the exchange of goods.  For example, the French neighbours came to collect a trailer load of donkey manure in exchange for three big bags of carrots.  It’s only fair.  The donkeys produced it so they get paid for it in carrots.

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Tim fixed up the donkey HQ bike for Kerstin (another helper) and in exchange Kerstin cooked dinner!

Whilst we were fixing up the fence for the holiday donkeys we met Dan, a yoga instructor who has been living on a friend’s piece of land in his camper van for several months.  He invites people to join his free yoga classes to share his love and knowledge of yoga.  It’s a kind of gift economy whereby no money changes hands.

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He invited me to join their morning yoga class.  How could I refuse an opportunity like that?  I left Tim to the rest of the fence and spent an hour throwing out some shapes on a yoga mat with two other would be yogis.  And hallelujah, I managed to touch my toes for the first time in probably thirty years.  Later on in the week I’ll gift them something in return.  I haven’t thought of what yet!

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Kerstin and I doing a spot of yoga in the garden.

It’s certainly an eclectic mix of people living in the area with many cultural, music, art, dance and theatre events to get involved with.

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A cool vegetarian restaurant in Aljezur called Moagem.

We are loving being back.

 

 

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It’s not all work!

More news as it breaks from Donkey HQ next week 🙂

Ate  mais tarde!

 

Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it…. .

Well what a week.

What. A. Week.

We are currently at Mikki’s Place.

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Mikki’s Place.

We came for two nights.

Then three.

Then four.

Then six.

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Communal spaces.

If we didn’t have our next Helpx starting tomorrow I think we may well have just stopped another week.  And maybe another.  And then another.  We’ll never know.

P1140615.JPGWe knew about the place.  Had heard good things about it.  Read some really positive reviews about it.  Seen some cool photos of it.  But.  Would it be for us?

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Ceramics and art to peruse or buy.

People stay here for months at a time.  Some never leave.  Images of a cliquey commune came to mind.  A kind of retirement village.  And I suppose it is.  Kind of.  But not quite.

P1140617.JPGLocation was a factor too.  We like to walk and sometimes cycle without having to drive the van anywhere.  Situation wise it didn’t look too promising on either front.

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Bar/dining/socialising space.

However.  You can surprise yourself sometimes.

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Dining space.

A day goes by.  You talk to a few people.  You get a good vibe about the place.

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Chill out space.

Another day goes by.  More chatting.  Interesting stories.  Different lives.

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Nice touches.

Another day goes by.  More stories.  Music shared.

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Liam from Livin off the hook.  An inspirational family from Ireland.  Check their blog out.

Inspiring people.

P1140658.JPGIt seeps in.

P1140633.JPGA few more days go by.

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Dogs most welcome too.

Ok.  Whoa.  Stop right there Jane.  I don’t do woo woo and I’m getting just a little bit too woo woo for my liking!

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Nice T-Shirt tan Jane.

Tim has been saying for the last few days that I’ve gone a bit Bodmin (if you watch the Doc Martin series then you’ll know what I mean).  This place has had a bit of an effect on me though.

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Yoga with Niamh – another member of team Livin off the hook.

We came just under a week ago believing it wouldn’t really be our scene and we’ve completely changed our opinion.

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Niamh trying to teach an ironing board some yoga moves.

It’s not a campsite exactly.  It’s not an aire either.  It’s not even a combination of the two.

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The backside of the pizza oven.

It’s unique is what it is.

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More music……
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……..an artists interpretation of the picture above by Ella, aged 6.

But anyway enough of the love in with Mikki’s.  How did our internet date go?  As I wrote in the last blog, we were here to meet up with Tim and Jan who follow the blog and who are on a similar trip to us with their lovely dog Jade.

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This is not Jan!

I have to say I was a tad apprehensive.  We had a tenuous link via our friends Sam and Chris who had met them on a campsite on the Isle of Arran in Scotland.  We seemed to have an awful lot in common though.  And not just the similar names.

Well all I can say is we have had a cracking time with them.  We’ve had a day out walking the coast.

Amazing weather.

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We were watching a pod of dolphins.

Shared a couple of meals.  Chatted about our different life stories.  Chatted some more.  Boy can I talk the hind legs off a donkey.  In my defence I’ve been socially starved for over two months apart from talking to Tim (my Tim!).  Tim is not generally a big talker so I make up for the two of us.  It’s fair to say I haven’t shut up!

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Our new besties!

It all had to come to an end sooner or later though and our new best friends (sorry Di and Chris) hit the road heading east this morning.  If we never hear from them again I’ll know they were just being polite!  If we do I’ll try not to chew their ears off so much next time we meet.

And talking of ears we are ready and raring to go to start our next Helpx.  We were there two years ago.

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Happy days at Donkey HQ December 2016.

We’re going back.

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Thankfully donkeys don’t drool.

I’ll have twenty new pairs of ears to chew off now.

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Kali, my favourite.

We’re going to Donkey HQ again.  Yay!

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First trek to the beach for Kali, Dec 2016.

Oh, and before I go.  After my yoga session with Niamh a few days ago I’ve been doing a little session in the mornings by myself.  The results have been nothing short of astounding.

Just look at me now!

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See, I’ve come over all artistic myself now!

Até breve!