So today was my last day of helping out at Donkey HQ.
Three mornings a week for the last four months I’ve been super lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time mucking out, feeding, grooming, walking and observing the donkeys.
I think it’s fair to say that I have developed quite a passion for donkeys over the last three years since we first helped out at Donkey HQ for a couple of months in the winter of 2016. I’d always had a soft spot for them for no apparent reason as, up until then, I’d never had any direct experience with donkeys other than the odd beach ride or ‘donkey derby’ whilst on holiday in the 1970’s.
I do, however, find them endearing, intriguing, fun, exasperating, entertaining……the list goes on. Nothing has changed in that respect but I am interested in learning more about how donkeys ‘think’ and learning more about being ‘in tune’ with them. The more time I spend with them the more intrigued I am about them.
Up until this year I hadn’t had an opportunity to do a multi day trek with them. However, my chance came a few weeks ago when Sofia suggested a trek from Donkey HQ to Carrapateira and back over four days.
She needed to transport one donkey to Carrapateira for a lady who was going to do a trek for a week so instead of arranging transport for the donkey she thought it would be a good opportunity to walk there and take two more of her younger donkeys to give them some experience.
Some of her donkeys haven’t yet learnt the trekking ropes and need time out on the road so to speak to learn about what it is all about. And so it was that we loaded up our three donkeys, Xichito, Jojo and Filipa with all we needed and set off.
One thing is for sure that when you do anything with a donkey you need to take your time. You gain very little ground trying to rush the donkey. They set the pace and even though you can’t let them have everything their own way (otherwise they’d spend the whole day eating) you do need to go at the rhythm of the donkey. And that’s the point really. The reason why people are drawn to trekking with a donkey is, I think, the slow pace out in the countryside with a long eared companion.
Three kilometres an hour is the time you need to allow when trekking with a donkey. And that doesn’t include breaks. A donkey needs to eat at least every two hours so grazing time needs to be factored in when deciding on how far you think you can go in a day.
As does convincing them it’s a good idea to cross a river or walk through a narrow gap.
With an inexperienced donkey the pace can be slower still. Nothing is straightforward. The donkey doesn’t meekly follow you wherever it is led. Compromises have to be made by both parties.
For me it was both a lesson and a test. 3km an hour is oh so slow for me. I’m used to walking at, at least, a 5km an hour pace. The round trip to Carrapateira and back over four days was about fifty kilometres.
The first day took us seven and a half hours. An average speed of just over 1.5 kilometres an hour. The donkeys weren’t being difficult. Xichito is an experienced trekking donkey who’s seen and done it all before and nothing much fazes him but for Jojo and Filipa there were many challenges.
Water crossings, roads, traffic, people, lamp posts, zebra crossings, beeping horns, narrow spaces, slippery surfaces, barking dogs………….so many barking dogs. They needed time get over fears of some things that they’d rarely or never experienced before. It all took time but was very rewarding. Every hurdle crossed was a little milestone for them which became easier for them to overcome the next time it was encountered.
We were in no rush and could spend time over lunch or a coffee whilst the donkeys had a bit of grazing time. The weather was kind and even though it was mid February we had glorious sunshine for most of the time so frequent stops were really enjoyable.
I took the opportunity over the four days to disconnect myself from the internet. Four days without the internet. Imagine! I had my phone with me but as Giffgaff cut me off a long time ago and we’ve had internet at the house I haven’t felt the need to buy a Portuguese sim. I confess I didn’t quite manage four days as I was able to use the wifi of the guesthouse we stayed at on the second night but I only checked my emails.
I don’t think I’ve been switched off from the internet for longer than a day for years. I’m not a social media user but I do use the internet a lot. I’ve learnt so much from it and the life we have now is a direct result of all that knowledge gained from the internet. I wouldn’t be without it but it’s always there and always a distraction.
Like most people I guess my usage of the internet has increased year on year so, as ridiculous as it may sound, it was a bit of a test for me to switch myself off. I came to the Smartphone party late having only owned one for the past year but in that year my Smartphone has practically never left my side.
I took my kindle with me and read instead.
I was tired after a full day trekking even though we hadn’t really walked far. It’s tiring negotiating with a donkey all day convincing them that it’s not time to eat yet or those barking dogs aren’t a threat or the water in the river is only four inches deep.
When we got back after the four days I felt a bit drained but I was already feeling the benefits of having switched off from technology for a while.
In the week after the trek I noticed I had more energy and just felt a bit more content and I can only put that down to giving my brain a break from the constant bombardment of information it’s always getting from the internet. So I have the donkeys to thank for that.
Since getting back I’ve cut my usage of the internet by more than half. It’s given me time to read more books. Reading is far and above my most favourite thing to do. I would guess I read for several hours every day but mostly shorter articles via the internet.
In recent years my consumption of whole books has diminished considerably.
And that’s what I want to get back to.
Taking the time to read books.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an abundance of time.
I’ll see how it goes!