Mmm, where to start? We’ve had a whirlwind of a week which has, once again, shot past. For the past eight days we have, along with Madan, our fellow Helpxer, been holding the fort here at Donkey HQ, up a lane, near Aljezur, Portugal.
When we originally talked about housesitting being a part of our travels I never expected our charges to be thirteen donkeys. Dogs, cats, maybe a few chickens or the odd rabbit yes, but donkeys, well, no. But that is what we have been doing for the last eight days as Sofia, Raban and Nelly flew off to sunny Paris last Thursday to spend Christmas with other members of their family.
We were a little bit daunted when the idea was mooted, a couple of weeks ago, that we could look after the house, donkeys, dog and cats whilst the family were away with lots of questions going through our minds. What if they get out? What if one has an accident? What if we get the feeding wrong? What if they throw an all night party? Or invite friends over through Facebook and everything is trashed? What if, what if, what if……?!
It has, however, been almost completely stress free and a pleasure to look after them all. We’ve only had a couple of incidents. Olivia was missing in action on Tuesday at the morning roll call. Tim and I split up to go and look for her and I heard her before I saw her as she was calling to the others. She’d managed to get her leg caught between the barbed wire on the fence in the bottom field. I don’t think she can have been trapped for too long as there wasn’t a mark on her. She just let me lift her leg up and out onto the right side of the fence and then went skipping off to regroup with the others.
Then yesterday morning we had an escapee. Well, it wasn’t exactly the great escape as she’d only gone a few steps from the field to the big pile of straw in the barn and was busy gorging herself! She was, nonetheless, free range and could have gone on a joyride in the car should she have so desired! It was one of the new ones, either Martha or Elfrieda, I still don’t know which is which. We’re still not sure how she got out but think she got through the bungey fence by the barn which is electrified. We’ve already had to put another bungey up at the far end of the field as she managed to limbo under the higher one! I think the three new donkeys are working as a team and plotting something. Them donkeys is organised! They seem to be one step ahead of us (not difficult).
So, all in all, the donkey care has gone extremely well and they all seem to be content. They’ve all been groomed up and look lovely until they then go and have a roll in the sandpit! Only Chico, or I should spell it Xico (he put me right on the spelling!), hasn’t been groomed as he has a mouth full of big teeth and he’s not afraid to use them! He caught me the other day on my thigh (through the trousers) leaving a cut and big bruise so we are a bit wary of him. Tim always keeps the wheel barrow between Xico and himself as a mode of self defence!
It’s like living on a safari park with all their chat though. Tim managed to record some of their conversations which will hopefully upload here.
Aside from the donkeys, Madan has been the dog and cat daddy for the week and sorted them out with feeding and the like whilst Tim and I have enjoyed having them as company in the evenings.
Christmas has obviously come and gone but we did make an effort on Christmas day to create as near to a traditional christmas lunch as we could for Madan, but sans the sprouts, as we couldn’t get any, and a chicken instead of turkey. I was pretty chuffed with my giant Yorkshire Pudding which came out a treat.
The gas oven here is a bit temperamental so it was touch and go on the YP front!
We’ve had time to cycle to the nearest beach which is about eight kilometres away and nearly all downhill on the way back.
Madan has cooked some epic food which I’m trying, and failing, to emulate. He manages to create such intense flavours from just a few ingredients.
I’m picking up quite a few tips from him and will be joining him for a ‘Madan Masterclass’ sometime soon to learn the secret of how he does it.
We are now looking forward this next week to a few days off to explore the area a bit more once Sofia returns.
So our donkey extravaganza continues 🙂 We have been at Burros and Artes for two weeks now and the time has just whizzed by.
The weather has been warm and sunny every day which makes the work a pleasure and never a chore. Tim and I have been doing various jobs alongside the donkey care. We needed to prepare a small area for three new donkeys which were arriving so that they could be separated from the main pack for a few days before gradually integrating them.
The electric fence needed to be repaired and the ground strimmed free of vegetation before their arrival.
They are on a two month trial here to see if the land here suits their feet/hooves better. There was much excitement when they arrived last week.
It was the first time they had been transported so they were a bit stressed when they arrived but soon settled down.
They are oh so pretty but a bit shy. They are beginning to get a bit bolder now though.
We had quite a noisy two days after they arrived with much donkey braying and general boisterous behaviour from them all. The original plan was to keep the three new arrivals separated from the resident pack for a few days but Falco managed to get through the electric fence to say hello and took quite a shine to the two new ladies! Best laid plans and all that! They are all in together now and seem to be getting on.
Sophia’s plan for the donkeys is to split them up into two groups during the day in different pasture areas. The large field behind the house is to be one area but we needed to repair the electric fence and strim the vegetation around it.
It was quite a big job but we made good progress over a few days and the field is now ready.
Sophia showed us how to tether three donkeys together to walk them up to the field which was easier said than done! As long as they keep moving it’s fine but if one decides to stop for a snack on the way then everything disintegrates into chaos!
Sophia, with her mother, has managed to walk eleven donkeys at the same time in this way but I think three were enough for us especially if Margarida is lead donkey as she does like her food!
Romano is the eldest donkey at around thirty years old. Up until a couple of days ago he was allowed special privileges and roamed free range around the garden.
Unfortunately, he has been eating the roses and damaging some trees so he is now back in with the other ones and he’s none too happy about it! He tries to escape back into the garden at every opportunity! He’s a wise old boy!
We’ve also been doing some grooming which goes down well with most of the donkeys. It’s a bit of a treat for them as they do enjoy it.
Aside from the donkeys we have been to the local Christmas market in Aljezur. It was mainly frequented by Dutch, German, French and English families who live in this area making and selling their own crafts and produce.
Music was laid on too.
We’ve also been learning about Nepalese cuisine and culture from Maden, our fellow Helpxer who is from Nepal. He showed us how to make Momo, a type of South Asian dumpling.
I think it’s fairly obvious which one I made without Tim pointing his sticky mitt at it!
So, all in all we’ve had a busy two weeks and we love it here. The countryside is beautiful and we are planning on doing some hiking on our days off over the next few weeks as I think we’d like to stay here at least six weeks.
Finally, we have at last had the boiler repaired. Yay! We drove back to Camperserv at the end of last week so we now have heat and hot water again. Not that we need it at the moment as our Helpx accommodation is great with the added bonus of a wood burner which we are making full use of!
Having spent just over a week in Lagos it was finally time to move on.
The weather improved on Monday 5th December 2016 so we moved 30km up the south west coast to stop in Aljezur for a couple of nights before starting our fifth Helpx assignment. More on our current Helpx later on in this post.
We were first introduced to Aljezur by our friends Chris and Di who have come here over the Christmas period on several occasions in their van. In 2013 we gate crashed their holiday by flying out to Portugal to meet them and we were really looking forward to coming back here in the van this time. It has been a really refreshing change leaving the hustle and bustle of the Algarve as this area is less touristy and much quieter. The area around Aljezur is mainly cork oak, eucalyptus and pine. There are also plenty of orange and lemon groves.
The weather since being here has been fabulous with warm sunny days so we took the opportunity to break out the bikes for a cycle up to the small town of Monchique. The market town sits below the mountain peak of Foia which is the highest peak in the Algarve at 902 metres above sea level.
We knew it was going to be mostly uphill all the way but I had miscalculated how far it was going to be. I thought it was about 20 kilometres but it is actually 20 miles to Monchique from Aljezur.
It took us over two hours but the views of the surrounding countryside were worth it!
By the time we got there we only really had enough time for a coffee and a quick sandwich before heading back down again.
So after a couple of nights in Aljezur we were welcomed at our current Helpx assignment. This one is turning out to be our dream Helpx! We are staying with a German family – Raban and Nelly (both 81!) and their daughter, Sophia. They have just over 50 hectares of land and Sophia runs a donkey trekking business 🙂 We are in donkey heaven here!
Sophia currently has thirteen donkeys, ten of which are here and three that are on their holidays with another farm. She also has another three arriving tomorrow.
They are sooo well looked after and we’ve spent the last five days, amongst other things, learning all aspects of donkey care! It’s just lush!
So another week has drifted by since I last updated the blog. We have been soaking up the rhythm of life in the tiny village of Cahuzac which is about 25km south of Bergerac in the Lot-et-Garonne region of Aquitaine. We are on another Helpx assignment with Marian who lives in the ‘petite maison de bois’ which she has had built on a piece of land overlooking the village square. Marian lives with her three dogs (Johnny, Finette and Spot), five cats, several chickens and some Indian Runner ducks.
We have parked up the van on the village square next to the house.
Marian has created a beautiful flower garden and a productive vegetable plot which she needs help with maintaining. We were attracted to coming here as Marian is very active within the village on helping to improve the facilities and the environment. She had a few projects which we thought we could be useful with helping to achieve in the time that we were to spend with her.
We had to be upfront about our zero gardening knowledge as we felt we would do more damage than good if left to our own devices on any green fingered project. I think she got the picture when I asked, whilst looking at the tree in front of me, if she made jams out of the plums from the tree. She looked a bit puzzled before replying that I was, in fact, looking at a walnut tree! Mmm, oh well, they looked like unripe plums to me! From that point on Marian was probably glad we offered to do some of the community projects which would keep us safely occupied away from her garden!
So what have we been up to?
Our first task was to varnish the front of Marian’s wooden house as it bears the brunt of the weather.
It’s the first time I’ve used a paint brush taped to the end of a stick but it worked very well and got the job done. Tim painted the shutters and doors and it all came up a treat.
We were on a roll with the varnishing so also painted two sides of the cabin behind the house as well. Next up were three benches in the village that needed to be repainted.
I went off to do that whilst Tim wire brushed all the railings around the war memorial ready for painting.
Marian, and her friend Nicole had, after presenting a case to the Commune, received approval from the Marie (mayor of the village) to buy the paint needed to repaint the railings.
The painting of the railings was quite a big job and took a few days with some extra help from Nicole, Sonia and a couple of enfants!
There were to be more ‘enfants’ helping with the task but they all mysteriously disappeared once Nicole had gathered together some paintbrushes for them!
With the railings looking fresh the monuments themselves needed a makeover too. We took a wire brush to the moss and, violà, two rejuvenated monuments appeared.
We have also wire brushed and painted the iron doors to the entrance to the cemetery and Tim fixed one of the damaged doors.
The cross on the other monument adjacent to the church has also been painted. Tim feels he’s earned his place in heaven now I think! Basically if anything moves in this village it’s going to get painted whilst we are here!
In between our ‘work’ we have had plenty of time to do other things. We took a bike ride to the medieval village of Issegeac. You’ll have to make do with images stolen from Google as the battery in the camera was flat! I’m not doing too well with the camera at the moment it seems.
We’ve done some cooking on the Cobb.
Tim has strolled along to the church every afternoon to play his saxophone and clarinet (the acoustics in there are superb).
He did think he might be annoying the builder who has been working on renovating the building opposite the church but on the third day the builder approached Tim to let him know he was enjoying the music. It turns out the builder is learning to play the saxophone!
We’ve been to an art exhibition held in a very pretty church surrounded by fields of sunflowers.
I’ve done some French learning and have finally got through the Michel Thomas CD’s – although it would appear that I’ve gone backwards with it after having overloaded myself with information. Every time I open my mouth now either nothing much comes out or it all comes out wrong. Hey ho, I just have to keep going and hope it will one day all fall into place. Maybe another ten years or so!
We’ve been to the AGM of the ‘society for the preservation of the church’ (our presence brought the numbers up into double figures!) where we were able to practice our limited French and meet some of the villagers.
All in all it’s been a very rewarding experience being here and Marian and all the villagers we have met have been so welcoming. We’ve learnt some more about life in France and enjoyed our chats with Marian and being surrounded by her pets.
This coming week we are going to tackle the leylandii hedge on one side of Marian’s garden.
The temperatures have been in the low to mid thirties these last few days which has meant it been too hot really to work in the afternoon unless in the shade. Therefore, updating the blog in the shade seemed the best option.
Well, I think it about time to meet some of the animals at Sue and Ralph’s. First up we have the two Tamworth pigs.
They are about five months old and don’t have names as yet. I’ve taken to calling them Bert and Ernie as they remind me of the two characters on Sesame Street.
They are brothers and Sue is keeping them as pets. Très lucky pigs these two are! They are like puppies and will come racing across the field whenever we go out to see them. They love a belly rub and will lie down on the grass for some attention. They are supposed to earn their keep by eating the bracken in their field but so far they don’t seem to be that interested in it and would rather have a baked potato! Last week Bert, or was it Ernie, escaped from the field and had a little soirée up and down the road outside the house. We were alerted, whilst having dinner, by the dogs that something was amiss and sure enough a pig was on the loose! Apparently it was Ralphs pig – when any incident happens it is always Ralphs pig in the thick of it! Said porker had got out under the fence. Three sides of the field have an electric wire around but one side if just wire fencing.
After much tooing and froing we enticed Bert (or was it Ernie) back into the field with some food and secured them in with another line of electric fencing.
That’s another job in the pipeline for us to help out with – pig proof fencing.
Then we have the three donkeys. Chocolat and Café are sisters.
I felt sorry for them at first as their necks looked a bit odd and, having an over active imagination, I assumed Sue had rescued them from an awful situation. It turns out, and I didn’t know this, that donkeys store fat in their necks so instead of being poor mistreated animals they are just fat! Sue has had them from foals! They are now only allowed out for a limited time in one of the fields to try to stop them eating so much and slim them down a bit. Kind of like Weight Watchers for donkeys.
Then we have Wonkey Donkey.
So named because she trips over her own hooves when she walks and is a bit, well, wonkey. She is like the Ile de Ré donkeys with a thick shaggy coat. She is just adorable!
I fulfilled one of my bucket list items on Tuesday with Chocolat and Café. Tim and I took them out for a 5km walk around the lanes and through the forest.
I’m not sure what motorists think when confronted with two donkeys on a lead on the road ahead but I’m sure they’re used to it in these ‘ere parts. They were both incognito anyway with their fly masks on hoping not to be recognised!
We were armed with a carrot each and we weren’t afraid to use them.
Needless to say we did have to entice both of them with the carrots as once they decide they’re not going anywhere they mean it even if a car is coming.
It’s not easy trying to shove a donkey over to the side of the road to let a car pass when they are adamant they want to have a rest and a ‘chat’ with the cows in the adjacent field.
Suffice to say, with much cajoling, we got them round the 5km circuit in one piece and then let them go free range in the top field for an evening snack to replace all those calories lost on the walk.
They need to keep up their fighting weight! People would pay good money to do this sort of stuff you know!