Walking with donkeys…. .

So today was my last day of helping out at Donkey HQ.

Donkeys relaxing 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.

A cold early morning breakfastfor Xichito, Isabella, Falco, Emil and Filipa.

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.

On holiday in the Isles of Scilly cerca 1984!

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.

Olivia quite regularly does this curious thig with her tongue!

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.

An afternoon trek taking eight donkeys to a new pasture 7 kms away.

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.

There are always going to be challenging obstacles for the donkeys to deal with. 

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.

Preparing the saddlebags for our trek – they are weighed to keep the load balanced and to not overload the donkey. 
Xichito, our experienced guide, all ready for the saddlebags.

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.

On the road…. .

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.

Time for a break and a coffee.

As does convincing them it’s a good idea to cross a river or walk through a narrow gap.

Going up through the old town in Aljezur – a new experience for Jojo and Filipa.


Filipa is not sure and needed to be given time to overcome her fears.

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.

on on up…..

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.

img_20200210_130648824_hdrThe 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.

A long stretch on the road towards Carrapateira.

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.

Break time……….

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.

Time to relax and roll…..
Time to cool off feet and a welcome break for coffee at a newly opened cafe come guesthouse.

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.

Pensão das Dunas in Carrapateira where we stayed on our second night.            
A fabulous breakfast and fire to set us up for the return journey.

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.

Jojo enjoying his Carob at the end of the day.

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.

The view towards the beach from Carrapateira old town.

I took my kindle with me and read instead.

The donkeys spent their time happily eating the grass in the garden of a friend of Sofia’s on the first and third nights.

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.

The views from the trail.

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.

Lookng back towards Carrapateira.

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.

The donkeys relaxed whilst we went to a cafe for some lunch.

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!

Até logo!


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We are Jane and Tim and we recently gave up our jobs and rented out our house to persue a life of travel across Europe in our motorhome called Ollie.

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