Helpx Number 8….. .

Our lazy days trundling through Brittany came to an end a couple of weeks ago as we were booked in for our 8th Helpx in the Poitou-Charente region of France.  This was a return visit to a Ralph and Sue who have 10-12 acres of land, a horse, two donkeys and two pigs to look after as well as running a small kennels and cattery.  We last visited over two years ago and we were looking forward to going back to a familiar area and getting stuck in to a bit of physical work after an idle couple of weeks.  The pounds had been piling on and we were in need of shifting them. Sue had also booked Tim in to play at two bars during our two week stay which he was also really looking forward to.

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A gig for Tim in a bar at Finioux with an equal mix of French and English customers.

After getting acquainted once again with our hosts and what was expected of us we set to work.  The main areas of work they needed help with were clearing some areas of two of the fields which have become overgrown with bramble and bracken, moving about a thousand roof tiles to another property a few miles away and general tidying up in the garden behind the house. They’d also had a number of trees felled a while ago which needed cutting up into smaller manageable chunks to be used for firewood.  The only problem was that they were all buried under overgrown bracken which needed to be cleared first before we could get to them.

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Clearing an area of one of the fields accompanied by the donkeys Cafe and Chocolat.

We worked our way through the roof tiles in the mornings and cleared a bit of land in the fields for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low twenties.

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Unfortunately the little tractor is not man enough for the bracken.

By the fourth day the tiles had all been moved so we made a start on the felled trees.  Things were going reasonably well with Tim and I using the petrol hedge trimmer to cut the bracken and raking it all out of the way of the trees whilst Ralph used the chainsaw to cut up the wood.   So far so good.  But then the pig’s got a bit too close for comfort.

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Nosey pigs.

We met the pigs on our last visit when they were but tiny wee things.  They were bought not to be eaten but to act as eco friendly lawnmowers for the bracken that was getting out of hand on the land.  Their job would be to trample the bracken, eat the young fronds and plough up the land making it difficult for the bracken to flourish.  Unfortunately it seems that the pigs have trampled, rotovated, ploughed and eaten everything else but the bracken so they haven’t really fulfilled their job.

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The pigs on our frst visit over two years ago.

Once they got bigger and outgrew their small enclosure they were given free access to two very large fields.  The two very large fields we happened to be working in.  Oh, they have had a whale of a time making it their own.  Numerous pig pits and dens have appeared where they like to sleep and the ground has been trampled and turned over by their two snouts   They are friendly beasts and being the nosey creatures that they are couldn’t help but stick their snouts into what was going on.

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They’re a bit bigger now.

By the fourth day of us clearing various areas they seemed a bit put out that: a) they’d been woken up early by the buzzing of a chainsaw and a hedge trimmer and b) that people were muscling in on their space.  I mean it’s not like they only have a small area to call their own as they are free to roam across ten acres of land and with all that space you’d think they’d be a bit more charitable with letting us work in a small area for couple of hours or so to cut down some bracken and chop up and clear a few logs but no they were having none of it.  The pig’s said ‘NON’ with a capital ‘N’ and believe me it’s a bit disconcerting when a 200kg mardy pig comes up behind you whilst you’re trying to work with power tools.  It was an accident waiting to happen so in the end the pigs stopped play.  That particular job will have to wait for another day when they are in a more cooperative mood.  Like when they are in the freezer.  Alas, after two and a half years of a charmed life they have now become a liability.  After a recent spate of escapes by them the necessary decision has been made that they have to go and it’s going to be a one way trip.  They are, in the next couple of weeks, destined for the freezer.

P1130659.JPGSo with the field work put on hold until after the pigs have departed we spent a few days instead tackling the overgrown bramble in two areas of the garden at the back of the house.

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Gig number two at a fish and chip night in another village.
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A little taste of home!

Working outside clearing land (hard work though it is) under sunny skies is one of the things we have most enjoyed about our new life but it does come with a caveat.  We wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of owning and caring for any land ourselves.  Looking after land takes a lot of work and it’s not for the faint hearted.  There is always something to do and it just keeps on growing (why not state the obvious Jane).  Returning here after more than a two year gap just reinforced that for us.  Like all these things we like the idea of living something like the ‘Good Life’ but the reality is a different story.

After a couple of weeks of clearing land we are more than happy to down tools and say ‘Au revoir’ to it all.

À tout à l’heure!

The Uists, Benbecular and Berneray…. .

Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast.  There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands.  Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip.  Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it.  Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?

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A beach all to myself:)

After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach.  As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning.  Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle.  Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen.  On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it.  I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place.  Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

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The temporary fix to the rattling roof vent.

Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now.  We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.

 

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Lochboisdale on not such a good day.

Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post.  As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal.  She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year.  Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.

 

A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before.  It was a work of art I tell you.

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The perfect peat pile.

We had to stop and take a photo of it.  The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it.  He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year.  After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used.  Marvellous.  The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.

 

P1120801.JPGHe also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round.  We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.

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Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again.  Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north.  Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it.  For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.

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Loch Druidibeag.
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Shetland ponies?  Not being a pony afficianado I wouldn’t know.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt.
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Shame about the car in front!
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A novel way to hold down the wire netting covering the thatch.

A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.

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Peat cutting.

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Striding out on the wrong path to reach the bothy…..or not reach the bothy.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt again.

 

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Ah well, back after retracing our steps to just relax and listen to the birds.  We saw two cuckoos here.  We’ve heard them often enough but it’s the first time we had actually seen a cuckoo in the flesh.

The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one.  Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days.  The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe.  It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.

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Another restored croft house.

Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist.  It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it.  We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.

North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.

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Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist.  They’ve thought of everything here.  Well kept grounds, spotless facilities, campers kitchen,  washing machine, tumble dryer, bunkhouse and three little hobbit houses to hire. 

You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling.  From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air.  I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over.   Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.

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If you see a sheep in this position it needs to be turned over.

The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner.  We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved.  I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them.  They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.

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Traigh Ear beach when the tide is out.

Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote.  Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand.  Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach.  She then just kept going.  And going .  And going.  She was on a mission.  She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay.  Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.

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Traigh Udal beach – that’s Tim in the middle above the seaweed line!

Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so.  They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together.  They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass.  Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?

 

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It was polystyrene but it was still quite heavy!

The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.

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Berneray.

It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140.  It is just delightful.  I think it could be my favourite island so far.  Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence .  I even had a burnt face by the end of the day.  Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides.  Who’d have thought?

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Restored Black houses.

P1120889.JPGThe little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse.  Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.

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Who couldn’t love a seal?

As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!

Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

 

       

 

 

 

Eriskay…. .

The forty minute boat ride to Eriskay with a tail wind and sunny skies, making it actually pleasantly warm out on deck, proved to be a very enjoyable one with seals spotted basking off the rocks.  Such is the fickle nature of the weather here that the ferries were cancelled the following morning due to inclement conditions (aka: it was blowing an absolute hooly).  If you get some bright weather here you have to make the most of it immediately as it’s sure to change in a matter of hours…….or minutes.  I’m not whinging, just making an observation.

 

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A dozen or so seals came into the beach for more sheltered waters.

In the week or so we have been on the islands we have had sunshine, wind, rain, wind, cloud, wind, mist, wind, drizzle, wind, sunshine, wind and wind.  As you can see the wind has been the only consistent element within the mix.  The windswept look is definitely ‘in’ up here.  Again, I’m not moaning I’m just letting you all know that even though it looks all sunny skies in the photos they don’t portray the full picture so to speak.  I’m not about to go out taking pictures of greyness just to show the other side of the weather and anyway even if I’d wanted to I can barely get the door of the van open at such times.  It’s too windy.

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I wonder how much washing is lost to the wind on the Islands?

On these occasions (about fifty fifty so far) you’ll find us hunkered down in the van, in our sleeping bags, reading our kindles whilst gently swaying in the gusts.  ‘3’ doesn’t seem to have reached the islands as our mifi hasn’t had a signal since we have been here.  It has actually been really good for me to have an enforced lay-off from the internet as I’ve enjoyed reading a whole lot more when I’m not constantly distracted by the thoughts of ‘oh, I just need to look up such and such’.  There’s too much else to look at anyway.  For example, last night I spent a good couple of hours just enjoying watching two Hebridean lambs frolicking around together on the grass outside the van.  They were having a whale of a time skipping around playing together it was just a joy to watch them.  It had me thinking out loud ‘do only lambs miss out if they don’t have a sibling or do they make friends with other lambs’………..’what, like on Fleecebook’………..très drole Tim, très drole.  The two were joined by another two later in the evening which, I guess, answered that question.

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The quartet of quadrupeds who kept me entertained for a couple of hours (photo take from inside the van on South Uist late into the evening).

Back to Eriskay.  Although only measuring just over two miles by one it does have some interesting stories to tell.  Probably the most famous was the sinking of the SS Politician in 1941 on her way from Liverpool to Jamaica which inspired Compton Mackenzie’s book Whisky Galore.  264 000 bottles of whiskey were on board at the time.  Great, finders keepers thought the islanders but Custom and Excise officers thought otherwise and nineteen islanders were found guilty of illegal possession and imprisoned in Inverness.

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View to South Uist from Eriskay.

The only pub on the island, the Am Politician, has one of the original bottles.  An Olde Worlde pub it is not but it is welcoming and has a conservatory that heats up nicely when the sun is out which it was when we were there.  Handily, it also has free wifi which was pretty fast so I could upload my photos and the last blog post.  If you have a dog though there is no room at the inn as they aren’t allowed in which is a shame as with all those deserted beaches to play on I can see why dogs would choose the islands as a holiday destination.  Equally the Polachar pub on South Uist (owned by the same people I think) doesn’t allow dogs in either which is a shame if you are either a dog, have a dog or are a dog lover.

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More fabulous beaches and coastline.

As an aside, we went to the only pub on Barra at Castlebay and hardly flinched when we were charged £9.80 for two pints as we thought it must be the going rate for the islands.  Later though, and after a change of barman, we were charged £7.20 for two pints of the same beer.  Mmm, odd.  After being charged £6.80 for two pints in the Am Politician the beer barometer says that £9.80 was extortionate and we will be more vigilant next time.

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The Post Office within the well stocked village shop which also has a tiny coffee shop.

Another of Eriskay’s claims to fame is that Prince Edward Charles Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie to his friends, landed on the islands main beach in July 1745 at the start of his campaign to regain the throne of Great Britain.  Following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 he fled into hiding on the Outer Hebrides with a price of £30 000 on his head.  After a couple of months keeping a low profile he escaped to the Isle of Skye helped at great personal risk by Flora MacDonald.  You can follow his story by visiting various places associated with him on the islands along the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail.

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Another lovely, simple Hebridean dwelling.

We walked up to the top of Ben Sciathan, the islands highest point, which gives views as far as the islands of Skye, Rhùm, Tiree and Coll.  We were lucky to have clear weather even if it was a tad blowy.   The semi wild Eriskay ponies that roam free on the island can, apparently, often be spotted grazing in the centre of the island around Loch Crakavaig which is the islands only source of fresh water.  Alas, we didn’t spot them.

 

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Views towards the causeway which has linked Eriskay to South Uist since 2001.

So that’s Eriskay.  Onwards now across the causeway to South Uist.

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Not a sign you see everyday 🙂 

Feasgar math!

Biking and hiking on the Peloponnese…. .

After enjoying an extended ten day stop at ancient Corinth where we spent the time chatting to neighbours, cleaning the van inside and out, chatting to neighbours, on line learning, chatting to neighbours, a few bike rides, chatting to neighbours and walking up to Acrocorinth and back several times we hit the road again heading back to Nafplio.

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Barbecue night at the Camperstop in ancient Corinth.
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British, Dutch, French, German, Austrian and Greek campers. 

The main reason we had decided to go back to the Camperstop, apart from a bit of a recharge, regroup and a relax, was that Tim was waiting for a parcel to be delivered to the Post Office in Nafplio.   Back in Nafplio, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We weren’t idle whilst waiting as we always find plenty to do.

 

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We weren’t idle whilst hanging about in Nafplio.
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Of course we found the time to go for an Ouzo tasting night with Sue and Mick  who were our neighbours for a couple of nights.
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Agios Nikolaos, a little church built into the cliffs and accessed via a coastal footpath from the carpark at the end of Karathona beach.

 

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The lovely young dog and numerous cats that lived near the church at the end of Karathona beach.  Various people come to feed them.

The tracking history for the parcel showed it was getting closer and closer but not close enough.  It spent three days in Argos which, on closer inspection of the map, we realised was only ten kilometres away.  Long story short, after several emails and phone calls we arranged to pick it up in Argos.  We arrived in Argos and parked up on a busy street outside the town.  Tim went off in search of the delivery depot whilst I stayed in the van in case I had to move it.  He relayed to me later that, unable to find the place, he asked at a local garage for some directions.  After the owners daughter had done her best to translate the directions Tim obviously must have still looked puzzled as the owner called over one of his young employees and said ‘he take you’.  Oh, how I wish I’d seen Tim’s face when the young lad nodded to him to clamber onto the back of his moped.  Now, for those of you who know Tim you will know that he is Mr Health and Safety personified.  He won’t even use an electric toothbrush without risk assessing it first.  He just does not do any kind of motorised two wheel transport.  I had a moped for over ten years to zip back and forth to work on and he never once got on it.  So there he was careening round the streets of Argos in a pair of shorts not wearing a crash helmet on a genetically modified moped driven by a multi tasking teenager who had one eye on the road and the other on his mobile phone.  All I can say is he badly wanted that parcel.  You never know, if you get to the end of this blog post I might even tell you what it was.

In all it took two weeks from order to delivery (or not quite delivery).  Curiously, the ACSI card my mum kindly sent to the Nafplio Post Office arrived in a few days.  Finally, then, we left Nafplio for good taking the coast road on the next ‘finger’ of the Peloponnese.  Under a cloudless sky we chugged up and down the coastal road giving us glimpses of little fishing coves all set against a back drop of the Parnon mountain range.

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A walk and a lunch stop at Astros.
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Views of the Parnon mountain range.
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One of several picnic laybys on the coastal road to Leonidio.

We arrived in Leonidio and immediately loved it.  The town nestles in the shadow of a huge red rock at the end of the Dafnon Gorge and the area is popular with sports climbers who have a choice of over a thousand different routes.  It truly is a very beautiful area and we have been waylaid here for the past five days.

 

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Leonidio – you can just see the van to the left of the picture.
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Tim had the choice to walk or cycle up the hill above Leonidio to the top of the rock.  He chose to walk – opting out was not an option!
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The views from the top. 
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The main road through Leonidio.

It has to be the cleanest town we have been to in Greece.  I haven’t mentioned it before on the blog but we’ve been really saddened to see a huge amount of rubbish, particularly plastic and building rubble, strewn all over Greece.  I’m not having a go at Greece as every country has its fair share of waste issues but we’ve found it particularly prevalent here. There are plenty of large industrial type bins around but many have no lids, are over flowing or just aren’t emptied or used.  Here in Leonidio, though, they seem to be taking a real interest in keeping their town and environment clean and recycling what they can.  I hope that this rolls out to the rest of Greece and sooner rather than later.

 

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Recycling in Leonidio.

We could spend a couple of weeks here just exploring by foot or by bike. We spent a couple of nights parked up on the edge of the town but on Monday morning we were woken up at 6.30am to find ourselves surrounded by the local fruit and veg market.  Ooops.  They were very kind and had left us a gap to get out so we decamped and drove down the valley to the harbour at Plaka four kilometres away to have some breakfast.   We found out that the campsite behind the beach is open so we’ve decided to base ourselves here and stay for a few days.

 

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The harbour at Plaka.
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Working out in Plaka!

I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.

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Out on the bike.  Views back down to the village of  Poulithra.
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A dusting of snow and ice on the road near the top of the climb.  
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Back down the mountain towards Plaka.

Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.

 

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Spectacular views and quiet roads make for a perfect afternoons cycle.

Sixteen kilometres north of Leonidio, the Monastery of Panagia Elona, built into a cleft in the rock six hundred and fifty metres above the river bed is quite a sight even after experiencing Metéora last year.

 

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You can just see the Panagia Elona monastery clinging to the hillside.
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Close up view.

It must be quite a popular pilgrimage site as stalls are set up outside the gate selling local produce like honey and olives. I was the only visitor and was greeted by a monk who showed me around the little chapel.

 

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Inside the monastery with the little chapel at the end.

Anyway, enough of that let’s get back to Tim’s new toy.   Since embarking on our trip around Europe Tim hasn’t had the opportunity to play his clarinet or saxophone as much as he would have liked and he has missed playing in a band.  In a bid to kill two birds with one stone he has decided that he is going to take up the life of a ‘street entertainer extraordinaire’ (aka ‘a busker’).  In order to do that he needed some amplification.  And that is what was in the parcel we were waiting for, a battery powered amp.  He had his inaugural gig yesterday on the harbour front and was invited over to the taverna to knock out a few tunes on their sun terrace.

 

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It beats the draughty streets of  Bath.

Today he whiled away another hour or so playing on the harbour and was thanked by the lady in the shop who said she enjoyed the music.  All in all, it’s a win-win then.  Tim gets to play and people enjoy it. You never know it could become a good side hustle to keep him in beer money.

 

Before I go I must tell you about the campsite cats.  When we arrived we were greeted by a few cats that were sniffing about.  Obviously being such a soft touch I brought out a bag of food I have (it’s actually dog food for the numerous needy stray dogs we see) but before the food hit the floor another ten cats appeared.  I fed them again this morning and we are now prisoners in our van.  We are completely surrounded.  Most of the cats in Greece are pretty aloof but these ones know how to manipulate.  They have taken to lounging on our chairs, table and bike rack and try to get in the van at every opportunity.  Cooking outside is a nightmare and you can’t go to the washing up area without at least two kittens hanging off your trouser legs.

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Oh yes, just sit where you like we’ll just stand!
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It’s just as well the barbecue has a lid.

I don’t think our neighbours are too happy with me encouraging them as they keep spraying them with water to keep them away from their van.  I thought I was going to have to go out tonight after dark to feed them but another van has just turned up and the first thing the lady did even before getting their van into position was feed the cats.  Phew, that’s good, the heats off me now.  Oh, how we’ll laugh as they become prisoners in their van tomorrow!

 

Αντίο!

 

 

Meanwhile back at Alpaca HQ…. .

So, it’s been alpaca mania for the last three weeks with all forty two of them keeping us busy and entertained.  Making sure the alpaca family has enough pasture to sustain them is always a constant headache for Georg and Silke our hosts.   With increasing numbers year on year they are always on the look out for new fields.  Five alpacas will generally need at least an acre between them depending on the quality of the pasture.

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One of the group of twelve boys.

The four Lindforst Alpaca groups are currently rotated round eleven different pastures of varying sizes I think but with the extra little ones born this year they are in need of more.

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Hippi and the girls.

Georg breathed a sigh of relief after he had managed to secure a huge area of land owned by the church, with the bonus of a barn, which could be split into two different areas.  The plan was to move Sancho and his girls to the new area.  Excellent.  Slight problem though, it all needed to be fenced.  Aaaargh.  It was a bit of a beast of a job.  Old fence needed to be taken out and areas cleared and strimmed and the barn needed a good clean.  It took Tim and Georg over a week of furious work to complete the first area.

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Tadah……..the new fence.

Then it was just a case of moving Sancho and his nineteen girls to their new home………………..in the car……………………four or five at a time…………………trying to match up the right cria with the right mother (not easy)…………..with a few escaping (just as well they have a strong herding instinct)…………..much alpaca humming…………..and spitting………..oh yes………green spitting.    To be fair there was just one culprit doing the spitting, Philly.  Apparently she’s always like it.  Aymeric (French helper) suffered the worst of it.  Just as well he wears glasses.  I’m sure that green spit must burn one’s eyeballs!  Fortunately, once she was in the car she was like a little lamb and more interested in what was outside the window than with us.  It took three of us three hours to get the whole family moved and I’m not sure who was more relieved when it was done, us or the alpacas.

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There we go, plenty of room.

Three days later they escaped!  An early morning phonecall from a local farmer notified Georg that seventeen alpacas were loose.  After safely rounding up the seventeen escapees we found three were still in the field.  One had her head and leg stuck in the fence.  She must have thrashed about a bit trying to free herself causing a big gap in the fence for the others to make their escape. Livestock, they do keep you on your toes.  Since starting this Helpx lark we have rounded up pigs in France, donkeys in Portugal and cows and alpacas in Germany.

With the fence repaired and Sancho and his girls safely back behind it the second area needed to be fenced.  Fortunately for Tim two new helpers, Geuwen and Elyes, who had arrived the day before, were earmarked for that job.  We now know why farmers end up with hands the size of shovels as after several days of banging in fence posts and the like Tim’s hands were twice their normal size.  He was glad to have a break from it and busied himself instead with fixing things.  He had quite the little outside workshop set up.

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Tims outdoor workshop.

Over the last few weeks he’s pottered about happy as larry tinkering with things.  Silke did comment that it was the first time they’d had a helper who was able to fix things.  She said they normally break everything!

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The sack trucks are now in working order.

It’s been a lot of work here though with a thousand and one things to do.  The animals alone (ducks, geese, chickens, alpacas and dogs) take two people four to five hours of work a day sorting out their food, clearing the pens and pastures, topping up their water, replenishing their hay and driving to where they are.  Our time here has been full on with other tasks thrown into the mix beyond animal care and fencing (painting, strimming, clearing, weeding, digging, fixing, watering, cleaning, tidying, pruning, harvesting). Then after lunch more of the same!!

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Akira, therapy dog and all round good egg!

We’ve enjoyed all the tasks we’ve done though and I have especially loved looking after the alpacas, spending time with them everyday observing how they behave and enjoying their antics.

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Eena devil dog therapy dog in training at thirteen weeks old 🙂

Their fleeces are used to make socks, hats and duvets (alpaca fleece is not greasy like down so they are suitable for people with allergies) which our hosts sell at events, shows and on the internet.

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The ‘shop’ set up at the local ‘Herbfest’ in the village nearby.

Our time here, though, has come to an end and we are looking forward to pastures and countries new.  Thank you to Georg and Silke for hosting us and to all the other helpers who have been here at various times throughout our stay.  Our plan now is to leave Germany via Passau and go on into the Czech Republic.  From there we’ll travel through Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia to reach Croatia but, once again, time is running away with us and we need to get a move on if we are to chase the sun.

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L-R…Pirin, Anna, Georg, Amyeric, Elyes, Geuwen, Silke, Me, Tim.  

Auf Wiedersehen auf Deutschland!

Alpaca HQ….

I can count on one finger the number of times that I have got out of bed on a Sunday morning to be greeted by a shiny new baby alpaca (cria) complete with the wrapping paper still attached.

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A shiny new cria…..

Meet the latest new addition to the Lindforst Alpaca Team.  Expected since April, this baby has been a long time coming.  The baby was to be called Mañana if it had been a girl but as it was a boy he has been named Mañano.

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…..still in it’s wrapping paper!
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Picking up the after birth………..that’ll be a job for Tim then!

So with Mañano now the last cria to be expected this year I think he takes the team up to a total of forty two Alpacas.

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And here is Manano all dried, fluffed up and lovely.

They are kept in four different groups.  We have Sancho and his seventeen girls.  Herbert and his five girls.  A group of six girls.  And my personal favourites ‘the boys’, eight young boys and four castrated boys.

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One of the young boys.

DSC03267.JPGIt’s a full time job looking after them all but a thoroughly enjoyable full time job.  We’ve learnt so much about them in the week we have been here observing how they interact with one another.

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An extra feed for the new Mum in Sancho’s group.

They are endearing, curious, gentle herding animals with a wonderful communication system and such a super soft fleece.  Being herding animals they are in constant communication with each other.  They really are very vocal in a quiet sort of way.  They hum, cluck, spit and snort at each other for varying different reasons.  It’s hard to explain what the hum sounds like so if you are interested you can hear it here on this YouTube clip.

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Alpacas are such gentle creatures – very safe for adults and children.  We took four of the boys to a local fete last Sunday.  Here is Georg introducing his ‘boys’ to the children.

For me, I find it very calming listening to the quiet background humming of the Alpacas.  The humming, though, is generally associated with the alpaca feeling curious, distressed, anxious, bored, too hot, too cold, nervous or stressed.  Whilst we are working amongst them feeding, watering and clearing their poop up they are constantly humming to each other.  I guess they are alert and wary to our presence.

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Such handsome boys:)

Herbert and Sancho need to be tethered as we go about our daily chores as they can become aggressive protecting their herd.  Even though I’ve been told that Alpacas are easy animals to care for they are a little bit needy and fragile.  For example, they don’t really show any signs of illness until they have all four legs in the air so owners need to be constantly vigilant about any subtle changes in behaviour of their animals.  And that poop picking.  Oh yes, it needs to be done.  Every. Single. Day.  Cleaning up after them helps control parasites and worm related health problems.

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Tim doing his alpaca impression whilst taking the boys out for a ride in the car!

The alpacas will generally  ‘go’ en masse in the same two or three areas of their pasture which does make it a little easier to pick up but you’ll always find several ‘rogue’ piles around and about too.  Not to go into too much detail here about the size and consistency of Alpaca poop but it’s a bit like rabbit droppings or chocolate coated raisins and it needs to be raked out of the grass.  Yup, every last drop.  Or as near to it as you can get.

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Moving Sancho’s girls to a new pasture.

But enough about the poop.  A question often asked is ‘do they spit?’  Well, yes they do spit.  And at point blank range.  But not often.  I wised up pretty quickly on their body language and why and when they are about to spit after being pebble dashed from a spitting Alpaca with a mouthful of food.

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Are we nearly there yet?

They have several different types of spitting technique too.  We have the ‘dry spit’ which is just fresh air.  As already mentioned, we have the ‘food spit’ and finally we have the ‘get away from me I am very angry spit’ or otherwise known as ‘the green spit’.  Now this one is really not one you want to be on the receiving end of.  This one is serious and contains regurgitated stomach contents.  And boy does it smell.  I’ve seen two alpacas having a spat, or should I say spit, and the smell is horrendous.  They’ll spit at each other as a warning to stay away or at displeasure to another’s behaviour.

It is lovely to just watch and observe them seing how they interact and care for each other.  When the new cria was born the whole herd gathered around the Mum and baby to have a good sniff and to help protect them.  So sweet 🙂

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Caring alpacas.

More from Alpaca HQ next week.

Auf Wiedersehen!

A deluge on the Danube…. .

All good things come to an end.  That includes the weather.  Our recent run of scorching weather came to an abrupt halt sometime last week.  Don’t ask me which day it was as I never know what day it is now.  Whatever, the rain came.  The tranquil scenes along the Danube went from this…….

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The Danube before the deluge.

to this……..

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The Danube after a few days of rain.

…..and we were van bound for a few days.  Did we get out on that nice easy scenic cycle? Nope.  Did we do any amazingly scenic walks?  Nope.  Did we see any interesting sights?  Nope.  Well, maybe a few.

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The historic town of Berching.

 

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The excellent stellplatz at Berching.

With plenty of time on our hands the wonders of the internet are always welcome to keep us busy with all our little projects that get our undivided attention when rain stops play.  Queue the Rewe supermarket chain.

 

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Google image of Rewe supermarket.

We’d discovered their supermarkets have free wifi.  And, joy of joys, it reaches the van in the carpark.  Excellent.  The excitement, chez Ollie, was palpable!  We wiled away a happy few hours a day at the Rewe supermarket carpark surfing and downloading to our hearts content.  Ah, but not just the same carpark everyday.  Oh no.  To keep it all fresh and exciting we went to a different Rewe supermarket in a different town each day.  Yep, we sure know how to live.  To pay Rewe back for their hospitality and lovely superfast free wifi we did do our daily shop there.  It’s a win-win.

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Regensburg cathedral.
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A lovely knitted bike in Regensburg.

But with the scorching hot weather now restored let’s cut to the chase on what we are up to now.  We arrived a few days ago at our latest Helpx assignment deep in eastern Bavaria.  Oh, this is a bucket list item this one.  Well, it is for me.  We’ve gone from Donkey HQ to Dairy HQ and we are now at Alpaca HQ!  When first discovering what Helpx , Workaway, and Wwoofing was all about a few years ago, Donkeys and Alpacas were right up there on my list of ‘fun’ animals to get up close and personal with so to speak.  They had to feature during our travels.  So here we are with the Lindforst Alpaca Team.  I think there are about thirty seven of them but over the coming weeks we’ll get to know them better and learn all about caring for them.

So, without further ado, I’ll introduce you to the ‘Lindforst Alpaca Team’.

Tada…….

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Sancho (left) and his girls.
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Rosanna, the latest addition to the team.  Here she is just one day old:)
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The young ones taking a nap.
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Ah, the joys of Alpaca Poo Picking!

In the coming weeks you’ll get to meet more of them.

Bis dann!