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!
We’ve spent another week with Marian at ‘la petite maison de bois’ in Cahuzac. We’ve done various tasks this last week including tackling the leylandii hedge between Marian and her neighbour’s garden, painting another village bench, varnishing another side of the cabin, wood shredding, weeding, walking the dogs etc.
Marian has had a house full with various family and friends staying.
We had a very pleasant afternoon and evening at the lake at Lougratte a few miles away which has a small campsite attached to it.
I brushed up on my basketball skills with Marylou but alas I’m not as fast, or fit, as I once was!
We also spent last weekend at the campsite by the lake at Lougratte which was great as the temperatures have been in the thirties and too hot to do much other than swim, read and play petanque.
We have come to the end of our three weeks here at Cahuzac with Marian and her fur-kids and it’s time now to take the van in for the repair to the wing tomorrow.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here and it has given us a glimpse into village life in France.
We’ve also met some lovely people and felt part of the community here, even if for a short while. Last night Marian’s neighbour, Frank, invited us all out for a meal with him, his brother, daughter and son in law to say thank you to us for tidying the hedge up which was very kind and we had a lovely evening in Villereal. Alas I forgot to take the camera though!
Whilst ‘Ollie’ is in for the repair, which will take 3-4 days, we are doing a bike tour around the area. The forecast is for the temperatures to be in the mid thirties so I’m not sure how far we’ll get but I think we need to make the effort!
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.
So, after our three day mini-break in Coulon we headed back to Ralph and Sue’s near Secondigny for another week to help with a few other jobs that needed doing. Monday and Tuesday saw Tim and Ralph making a start on the fencing in the top field where the horses will eventually go.
I did a bit of raking out and clearing of all the vegetation ready for the posts to go in.
Tim and Ralph did all the hard graft! The farmer next door came and cut both fields this week and twirled the grass ready for baling later in the week.
I had a lovely couple of days on Tuesday and Wednesday being principal tour guide to Ralph’s sister Pat, and brother in law Alan, who were staying for a week or so. As Ralph and Sue were busy with the animals and various different jobs Pat, Alan and I went out for a couple of days to tour the area. It coincided with an improvement in the weather which made for a pleasant couple of days perfect for strolling and quaffing coffee at cafes! I can add Tour Guide to my CV now which has always looked pretty sparse!
I also enjoyed taking some of the doggy residents out for their daily walks. A little apricot poodle, which reminded me of Fluffles, the poodle on the Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, was my favourite!
Finally on Wednesday and Thursday Tim helped Ralph create a second dog run in the garden for the unsociable canine residents that can’t be trusted to mix with the gang on the other side of the fence!
Sue and I cut the grass in the polytunnel with push along lawn mowers. I haven’t used one of those since about 1979! That was hard work and gave me blisters but is a better work out than paying to go to a gym! The petrol lawn mower flings out too much shrapnel which would have potentially shredded the walls of the polytunnel though.
We rounded our stay off with a trip to a local bar to watch France hammer Germany 2-0 in the semi final of Euro 2016.
Parfait! Allez les bleus!
So, with France safely in the final, our Sunday nights entertainment is now sorted out!
We said au revoir to our hosts and their guest’s yesterday morning with our heads filled with plans of moving into the Dordogne area. We are in no particular rush as we haven’t, at the moment, got any more Helpxing or Housesitting gigs lined up. (Tim could do with a rest after all the real man’s work he’s been doing in the last three months. He is looking more like a racing snake with each passing day!)
We drove 100km to stop at Cognac which is famous for, umm, Cognac. Our visit here has coincided with the annual Blues Festival and we managed to bag one of the five spaces on the free aire next to the river just as another van was leaving. Result!