Living in rural Mallorca

Country life in an old Mallorcan finca

Manacor’s chicken roundabout

Chickens. I think I’ve previously mentioned my hankering to have a few at our finca in rural Mallorca. I’ve had a thing about chickens since I was a young teenager and we had a family holiday in North Wales, staying in a cottage on a farm. Every time I went outside, chickens would appear all around my feet, and then follow me as I explored the farm. I’ve even chosen a few names for my ‘gals’. . .

In theory, we live in a great place to keep chickens. Our land includes a large open field, where I can imagine these feathered lovelies roaming happily around, pecking at the ground. All we would need would be a safe warm home for them at night. We have no foxes on Mallorca, but we occasionally see polecats – and friends of ours had their flock devastated by one of these. So it would need to be a very secure home.

Besides the sound of contented clucking chickens, and their company when you’re outside, there’d be the benefit of a regular supply of free-range eggs. We’d probably have more than we need (I’m not keen on eating eggs and wouldn’t want The Boss to become egg-bound), but the excess would make useful thank-you gifts for those neighbours who sometimes give us some of their garden produce.

Sense beats sentiment

Alas, it’s not to be. The Boss (who is far more practical than I am) has on several occasions pointed out why keeping chickens wouldn’t be such a good idea. And he’s right on all counts – particularly the one that says free-roaming chickens and our seven feral ‘adoptee’ cats all on one finca could get messy.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

So, I’ve been getting my chicken fix elsewhere. On the busy ring road (the Ferrocarril) in Manacor, there’s a roundabout (Plaza de Madrid) with shrubs in the middle that’s become home to a flock of chickens. They’ve been there for ages – probably more than a year; we usually see them several times a week, and are always on the look-out for the latest flurry of fluffy chicks. These chickens rarely seem to stray away from their roundabout and the traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

"How's our Facebook page doing?"

“How’s our Facebook page doing?”

Manacor’s famous feathered friends

We have often thought they were rather vulnerable in town, with only the shelter of some bushes to protect them. What about passing cats and canines? Sadly, on Saturday, their lack of protection was evident. We spotted four bodies and a lot of scattered feathers on the grass; the rest of the flock had survived whatever had attacked them, but it must have been a terrifying incident for them all.

I imagine we’re not the only ones who were upset to see what had happened: the citizens of Manacor have really taken their feathered neighbours to heart, and people regularly throw food onto the roundabout for them. These clucky birds even have their own Facebook page – Ses Galines de sa rotonda. When I looked just now, 2,876 people had liked it (an increase of more than 30 since I checked last Thursday). And I bet you can guess who one of them was . . .

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Keep the Mallorca home fires burning

Not a snowflake in sight as the tractor scoops up our logs.

Not a snowflake in sight as the tractor scoops up our logs.

It’s extremely cold on Mallorca right now. Anyone who’s visited our lovely Mediterranean island only during the warmer months may find that hard to believe, but it’s all relative. We find 5 degrees Celsius (which it was this afternoon at 4pm) very cold compared to the summer temperatures here, which are often in the thirties. And let’s not mention the bone-penetrating dampness . . .

Quite a lot of snow has fallen on Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains, leaving three roads (at time of writing) impassable. February is the coldest month on the island and it’s not unusual to see snow atop the loftiest peaks of the UNESCO World Heritage Site mountains. This year we’ve had snow on lower ground too. Over the past couple of days it has settled in various locations from Artà in the northeast, down to the southwest, including the capital Palma de Mallorca.

Because we don’t see a lot of snow on the island, a lot of people are Very Excited about it. Especially those in broadcasting. I remember what it was like when it snowed when I was a radio presenter in the UK.  Snow stories have dominated the news and topical magazine programmes here on local TV station IB3, with well-wrapped reporters broadcasting live from barely recognizable snow-swathed locations. Well, it makes a pleasant change from news of political corruption and interminable court cases. And we have learned the mallorquín word for snow – neu – which, under normal circumstances here, probably won’t be that useful.

But have we seen any snow in our valley? Not a flake. All we’ve had is rain and bitterly cold weather. The cold spell looks set to continue a little longer, so we stocked up on logs this afternoon, heading to the town of Porreres with our trailer for a double load of almond, olive, and Holm oak wood. We’ve found yet another log supplier and, although we have to pay ten euros more to fill our trailer than at the last place, the wood has what The Boss calls “good burning qualities.”

Now all we have to do is unload the trailer and stack the logs. But it’s far too cold for that today . . .

 

 

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Blessing the animals in Manacor, Mallorca

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Something that has always impressed us, living in rural Mallorca, is the islanders’ passion for keeping local traditions alive. Young and old take part in the various festivities throughout the year – such as last weekend’s Sant Antoni fiestas.

What particularly impresses me is the willingness of teenage boys and young men to dress up in traditional costume (which includes voluminous  trousers), and engage in activities such as the local folk dance known as ball de bot.

I remember a male work colleague in the UK ‘coming out’ to me about his Morris dancing hobby. He lived in the same village as us and knew that I was bound to spot him performing locally with his troupe, but asked me not to mention it to anyone else at work. There seems not to be any similar embarrassment here among young guys who are doing their bit to keep  Mallorcan traditions alive – and isn’t that great?

Last Saturday we attended one of the annual animal blessings ceremonies that take place around the island to mark Sant Antoni (January 17th). Locals take pets and farm animals and process through the streets to the place where the local priest is stationed to bless each one as it passes. He must have had a very sore throat by the time he blessed the beast at the back of the long queue . . .

Cute kids in costume on a float

Cute kids in costume on a float

Dimonis are everywhere - and some are pretty scary!

Dimonis are everywhere – and some are pretty scary!

Another float on parade

Another float on parade

Not a dimoni you'd want to meet in a dark alley!

Not a dimoni you’d want to meet in a dark alley!

"Does my bum look big in this?"

“Does my bum look big in this?”

It’s a well-attended and charming event in Manacor, with plenty of cute “ooh” and “aah” moments. As well as individuals walking along with their pets, there are floats decorated with a rural theme and bearing people and farm animals, and the dimonis – or demons – that are a fixture at so many traditional events on Mallorca. The main streets are closed for several hours and lined with spectators – some of them seated on dining chairs brought out from their houses for more comfortable viewing.

Sunshine  meant it wasn't too chilly for a chinchilla!

Sunshine meant it wasn’t too chilly for a chinchilla!

A billy with a bottle

A billy with a bottle

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Among the many animals that the priest blessed in Manacor last weekend were a chinchilla, dogs in traditional (human) costume, cats on leads, and even a hawk of some type, perched on its owner’s hand. We also saw a rather handsome billy goat.

As I write, some of the people who put so much effort into their costumes and decorated floats, will already be planning for next month’s big carnival weekend . . . another great tradition embraced with gusto.

Please note that all photos on http://www.livingonruralmallorca.com are my own unless otherwise stated.

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Rural Sant Antoni celebrations on Mallorca

The first time we were invited to join some mallorquín neighbours at their farm for a Sant Antoni celebration, I spent some time planning what we should take as a contribution to the communal supper. I settled on a dessert – a classic tarte tatin – and was both surprised and delighted when it turned out to look like the best one I’d ever baked.

When we arrived at the farm that chilly January evening in our early time of living on rural Mallorca, I added our contribution to the long table, which was covered with platters brought by other guests. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for originality when I noticed that my tarte tatin was the only dessert that wasn’t a Mallorcan ensaïmada.

Get with the traditions!

Later that evening, when most platters were left with only ensaïmada crumbs, and my tarte tatin was barely touched (except by The Boss), it dawned on me that it was the tradition to end a celebratory meal with ensaïmada.

We were there again this year, but without a tarte tatin. As usual, the feasting was done at a row of long plastic white tables and chairs set up in the farm’s spacious garage/storage room, decorated with handwritten Sant Antoni-related messages. We shared this space with a couple of cars, and a large flat-screen TV that had been brought out so that guests – who also included a couple of Germans, another English couple, an Israeli and his South African wife, and a dozen or so Mallorcans – could keep an eye on the IB3 TV coverage of Sant Antoni events in Manacor. I don’t think anyone really paid the broadcast any attention: we were having too much fun of our own!

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Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Pass the ximbomba

Pass the ximbomba

This is how it's done

This is how it’s done

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

After a very traditional Sant Antoni feast, a couple of bottles of home-made hierbas (the local herb liqueur) was passed around the table, and it was time for a sing-song and the playing of the ximbomba – an essential musical instrument for Sant Antoni celebrations, which looks a bit like a drum with a stick through the top of it. The playing method is rather suggestive – using a wetted hand to rub up and down the cane stuck into the drum part – and the resulting sound is the sort of farty noise that would have small English children giggling with delight. Several guests had a turn with the ximbomba – which isn’t as easy to play as its simple appearance may suggest. Every effort produced gales of laughter around the table – and prompted another toast with hierbas to the saint whose life we were celebrating. There would be sore heads in the morning . . .

Visca Sant Antoni! Long life Sant Antoni!

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No Pip squeaks during another trip to the vet’s

Pre-op spruce-up for little Pip

Pre-op spruce-up for little Pip

Pip – who arrived at our finca as a tiny kitten (almost certainly abandoned) – has this week joined the growing list of felines we’ve had neutered since we have lived in rural Mallorca. At around six months of age, she was beginning to show signs of coming into oestrous. With a large, rather aggressive tom often wandering through our finca, on the prowl for the kind of action she would soon have been willing to offer him, it was time for yet another visit to our excellent local vet’s in Manacor.

The cute little poppet had previously been there shortly after her arrival, where she had been photographed, fussed, examined, and presented with her own passport (after being vaccinated). Unlike Minstral (our Birman, who lives indoors) and the rest of our adopted glaring – all ferals – she doesn’t seem to mind travelling in the car and didn’t utter a single squeak from inside her carrying case.

Pip was sterilized on Tuesday morning, and the patient is now supposedly taking it easy for a few days. She had a short supervised outing in this morning’s warm sunshine, on the terrace, bouncing about like a little lamb. Apart from the shaved patch on her flank and the dressing over the incision wound, you’d never know she’d had an operation.

Her sterilization wasn’t the only thing the vet dealt with. Apparently our pretty kitty also had acne on her chin, which has now been treated. Who knew that cats could get the condition most often associated with the trials of teenage life? We certainly didn’t. It seems there’s always something new to learn when you have cats in your life . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The fiestas continue in January on Mallorca

I remember January in the UK as a rather dull month, after the Christmas and New Year festivities. It’s all a bit different, since we came to live in rural Mallorca . . .

For a start, the Spanish celebrate the arrival of The Three Kings – who bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th (the 6th – the Christian festival of Epiphany – is a public holiday here).

By the time the gift wrapping is in the local paper recycling bin the Mallorcans are already gearing up for the Sant Antoni Abad fiestas, celebrated on January 16th and 17th (the Saint’s day).

No cold feet for Antoni

Antoni was not a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian monk who lived in the desert. The Devil – disguised as a woman – visited him there and tried to tempt him with ‘her’ charms. Antoni’s way of resisting temptation? He walked across some burning embers to suppress his lustful thoughts. That would do it . . .

A few centuries ago, when rye crops in the agricultural area around Sa Pobla were decimated by a poisonous fungus, the islanders remembered Sant Antoni and the power of fire to overcome evil spirits. Believing that these spirits were to blame for the loss of their crops, they lit bonfires to ward them off.

The bonfires continue in the 21st century, as part of the fiestas to celebrate the Saint’s day (January 17th). These are fiestas for the towns and villages with a rural heritage, and our nearest town, Manacor, is one of several places on Mallorca that really make the most of this fiesta.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

Manacor goes to town

The main event is on the evening of the 16th, when bonfires are lit and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals indulge in torrades, cooking botifarrons and other types of sausage over fires, and local brews such as hierbas – the famous Mallorcan herb liqueur. There’s music, traditional Mallorcan dancing (ball de bot), and it’s all very jolly. Many Mallorcans have told us that this is their favourite fiesta of the year.

Manacor council has published a 24-page brochure (in mallorquín) for the Sant Antoni 2015 festivities, also available online at http://www.manacor.org. It’s a lavish affair, detailing the programme of Sant Antoni-related events (which started on January 9th and end on 17th). Oh, and for those who like a sing-song, the words of the traditional Sant Antoni songs are helpfully included.

There’s a competitive element to the fiesta too, with monetary prizes for the best bonfires, floats, costumes, and more.

The programme shows the route of the procession of floats, bands, dignatories, and demonis (devils) on Friday 16th, starting at 7pm. At 8pm the first bonfire is traditionally lit outside the Rectory in the town centre – and after that all the other bonfires can be lit. At 10.30pm, there’s dancing in the Plaça de Ramon Llull. It’s a long night, but with an early start next morning for many . . .

It’s not over until it’s over

 

Taking his dog to be blessed

Taking his dog to be blessed

Pets on parade

Pets on parade

On January 17th – the feast of Sant Antoni Abad (the patron saint of animals) – locals bring their pets and animals to be blessed by the local priest. It’s a colourful and often cute procession of humans and animals, walking, riding on horseback, or on floats. In Manacor, the procession assembles at 9.30am, for the 10.30am parade. (Times, and even the day, may vary in different towns and villages). After the blessings, it’s time to go home and recover: January 17th is a public holiday in Manacor.

Apart from the public events, there are many Sant Antoni celebrations in small rural communities and we are spending at least part of the evening of the 16th at a farm in our valley, invited by our Mallorcan neighbours to join in their fun.

As they say in these parts, molts d’anys.

 

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A walk on Mallorca cut short

When we lived in Oxfordshire we often did long Sunday hikes in the beautiful Cotswolds but, since moving to Mallorca, our walking seems to have been mainly along beaches, seafront promenades, or in the lanes of our rural valley. And usually at a fairly leisurely pace. My hiking boots hadn’t had a decent outing for a few years, but last week we decided to mark the start of the new year with a walk in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountains.

After a long period of hiking abstinence, we were breaking ourselves back in gently. We drove to the mountains and the monastery of Lluc – a place of incredible peace and beauty (even more so outside the tourist season). There’s a walk up to a large cross at the top of Calvary hill, behind the monastery, and that was to be the starting point for our hike. Once we’d done that, we’d decide where to walk next.

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Lluc from Calvary hill

Lluc from Calvary hill

Oh crumbs!

As we neared the top, The Boss noticed that I was leaving a small trail of crumbly black material in my wake: the soles of my hiking boots (a few years old, but worn only a few times) were disintegrating with every step. By the time we’d made it up to the cross and back down to the car park, there was little left of what had once been my boot soles. I walked gingerly back to the car like a reluctant penitent who’d chickened out of walking barefoot by wearing thick socks. Ouch.

Snaking in the pass

Our walking cut short, we did something I thought we’d never do: drove the twisting mountain pass down to Sa Calobra. The Boss won’t mind me mentioning that he used to have a problem with heights. There was a time when he never would have contemplated driving (or even being a passenger) along this snaking 12km stretch of highway. Since we moved to Mallorca his dislike of heights seems to have disappeared but still I was shocked when he suggested that we drive along Mallorca’s most renowned stretch of road.

Not a white knuckle in sight . . .

Not a white knuckle in sight . . .

A perfect fine weather winter drive

Italian engineer Antonio Paretti was the visionary behind this fabulous mountain pass, which he carefully designed to avoid destroying the mountain scenery, and to create a gradual descent to the waterfront hamlet of Sa Calobra. In winter you’re unlikely to meet a coach packed with tourists coming the other way, taking more than its fair share of the tarmac, so – in good clear weather – it’s an ideal time to do this drive.

The ribbon-like road snakes through the mountains

The ribbon-like road snakes through the mountains

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The Sa Calobra pass requires a decent degree of driver concentration, but it’s a truly awesome journey for car passengers. If Signor Paretti’s genius road had had a few more miradores – viewing points – we’d have been able to stop safely and I’d have taken better photos, rather than fuzzy images from a moving car. Perhaps we’ll drive it again one day – or better still, fly over it in a helicopter. Now that would be something . . .

Destination Sa Calobra below

Destination Sa Calobra below

 

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New Year, new oak trees, on rural Mallorca

In November, we came home clutching two very young oak trees from our day at Dijous Bo (which means ‘good Thursday’ in mallorquín). A stall at the annual fair – Mallorca’s largest traditional event of its kind – was handing out small tree plants to anyone who wanted them. Although our rural Mallorcan finca has plenty of land, it doesn’t have a lot of soil, but we figured it had to be worth at least giving these young trees a shot at growing into something for future generations to enjoy.

Because I had a large amount of writing work to do, we stuck the well-rooted plants into a bucket of water and put them aside. Planting things here is a bit of a logistical operation that we didn’t have time or the energy for then.

The New Year on Mallorca started with glorious sunshine and blue skies. We’re in a period known as ‘la calma’, when we enjoy clear skies and warm sunshine, and usually kid ourselves that winter is going to be mild this time. Reality is sure to hit soon, but the conditions were perfect for a spot of gardening. And what could be better than planting two young trees on the first day of a new year?

A pickaxe (an essential piece of kit for planting anything on our land), shovel, gardening fork, and watering can were deployed and we now have two baby oak trees at the end of our field.

We’re never likely to be able to shelter from the sun beneath them but, one day in the distant future, somebody will be able to enjoy these trees. And that’s a good feeling at the start of a New Year.

Great oaks from little acorns . . .

Great oaks from little acorns . . .

 

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Merry Christmas from rural Mallorca

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This photo would have included either Pip – the latest kitten to join our feline family – or Minstral, our elderly Birman. But they both declined to pose in front of the Christmas tree for the camera. Well, they do say never work with children and animals . . .

A Merry Christmas to you and thank you for reading Living in rural Mallorca during 2014. Feliz Navidad, or Bon Nadal, as they say in these parts.

 

 

 

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London luxury comes to our Mallorcan Christmas

One Christmas, early in our time on Mallorca, a courier’s van arrived outside our gates. We assumed the driver was lost and trying to find a property somewhere in the valley. Much to our surprise, the parcel he had to deliver was for us. We weren’t expecting anything – and certainly not something from the company whose name was emblazoned on the side of the box: Fortnum & Mason.

Having established that the large box was indeed addressed to us, we waved goodbye to the driver and rushed indoors to find out who had sent us such a superb parcel.

Gourmet goodies

It turned out to be from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina, who live in Oxford. They have been coming to stay with us for a holiday or two every year since we’ve lived here and seem to love Mallorca and the finca nearly as much as we do. Their generous gifts from Fortnum & Mason have continued each Christmas and their carefully chosen selection always adds some gourmet luxury to our Mallorcan festivities.

The DHL driver no longer drives out to the valley to deliver to us. Instead, he rings us at the finca and arranges a time and venue for a meet with The Boss. In a car park in Manacor, the latter exchanges his signature for whatever parcel is being delivered. When the driver rang today, saying that he had a parcel for us, I fixed up the rendezvous and was just about to tell him what type of car to look out for, when he stopped me and said he knew. One thing we’ve discovered about the Mallorcans – certainly in our area – is that they have incredible memories for details like this.

Our unexpected parcel turned out to be another generous gift from our friends. Aren’t we lucky to have such great friends – and such delicious treats to add a touch of luxury to our Christmas in rural Mallorca?

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

 

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