Preparations for winter on Mallorca

Autumn on Mallorca means preparing for the winter, when you live in the more-exposed areas of the countryside. In the past few days The Boss has climbed the ladder to swathe our two terrace canopies in bubble-wrap and tape, as protection from the worst of what winter may throw at us weather-wise.  Walk around some of the island’s resorts and you’ll see the more vulnerable exterior fixtures and fittings of hotels that are closed for the winter similarly covered. Our terraces look a bit sad, as a result, but we had to spend a lot of money recovering the canopies this year, so it’s all about protecting our investment against the elements.

Canopies under wraps

Canopies under wraps

We do have one small terrace that catches the sun and is sheltered from the north winds, where we keep a table and chairs throughout the winter. Unless it’s raining or very cold, we often have our mid-morning coffee here and sometimes lunch too. Today, despite the gloomiest of skies, we fired up the BBQ one last time this year (before The Boss tucks it away for winter) and had a leisurely lunch al fresco.

Pip – fit to pop

Our outdoor cats are also aware of the changing seasons. They stay closer to home and, in the morning and early evening, are all waiting at the front door of our home waiting to be fed. In summer they are grazers, coming to the terrace to eat when they feel like it but, at this time of year, their habits change.

This summer grazing habit of six of our cats resulted in a bit of a barrel-belly problem for Pip – our youngest cat (an adorable calico). As she stays close to the house most of the time, any food left uneaten by her cat companions was clearly too much of a temptation. She was either being plain greedy or just ‘clearing up’ any leftovers to be helpful.

Lip-lickingly good, those leftovers ...

Lip-lickingly good, those leftovers …

It’s hard to put a semi-feral cat on a diet – she could be eating things out in the wilderness that is our valley – but we’re doing our best. Pip is now having her meals separately from the other cats and, when they have finished eating, we’re removing their bowls. The cats have adjusted well to this – probably because eating for them at the moment is more about gaining winter weight for warmth, than grazing on a whim.

Be prepared

On the subject of food, many seasonal restaurants are now closed until around Easter next year. With fewer tourists and so many places shuttered up (or swathed in plastic), a sense of the impending winter is in the air – although it’s still officially autumn and the air itself has been pretty mild some days (in the low 20s Celsius some days). The Boss – in the best Boy Scout tradition – has prepared us for what may come. He’s stocked up on logs for the stove and red wine for the rack. Winter? I guess we’re almost ready for it …

 

 

 

A gap in the garden

Something was missing when we looked out at the garden yesterday although, strictly speaking, not missing at all as it is still very much present …

In January this year we noticed that one of our huge sword plants had sprouted a stalk that looked like a giant piece of asparagus. It quickly grew taller and we knew that this was the beginning of the plant’s death knell. It would produce flowers, then eventually die. We had no idea of timescale but hoped it would survive so that our visitors in the spring could see it.

Sky-bound

Sky-bound

It survived until yesterday, nine months later, and all of our visitors this year were able to see what looked like a freaky type of tree. We’d been wondering how much longer it would last, as it still looked pretty green and healthy. The flowers it had sprouted up on high were a magnet for the local bees and, after the flowers had died, small green things replaced them. These baby swords would drop to the ground regularly and we’ve been scooping them up to avoid our garden eventually turning into a spiky no-go zone.

For most of its nine months, The Spike had had a tendency to lean, and we’d already worked out more or less where it would land if it fell over before we could remove it. When it crashed to the ground some time yesterday (we missed the event itself), our predictions turned out to be accurate.

The End

The End

Now we just have to dispose of the ‘trunk’ (which we’re told secretes an irritating fluid you don’t want to get on your skin) and pick up the thousands of baby sword plants from the garden path. Then decide what to do about the new gap in our garden greenery.

 

 

 

 

Season of mellow fruitfulness on Mallorca

Autumn arrived very suddenly this year on Mallorca. On the day the season officially changed, it was as though someone had flicked a switch and disconnected summer. It was off with the shorts and on with the jeans. We’re not really complaining because autumn has so far brought a decent amount of rainfall – something desperately needed on the island.

Within a few days of rain falling (at times, hammering down), our garden was re-invigorated: plants that had seemed on the verge of death perked up and sprouted new growth, autumn crocus popped up around the base of the birdbath, and flowers have bloomed again. What had recently been a parched rock-solid patch of garden is now lush with the dreaded heart-shaped weeds that return every year. After more than a decade of painstakingly digging them out individually, with a view to killing them off forever, I raise my hands in defeat, flying a white hanky on the handle of the garden trowel: “Enough!” The weeds are green. It’s the colour of a garden.

Not quite winter, not quite spring

This time of year is called ‘winter-spring’ by the locals and there are clear similarities to the official springtime. New growth, plenty of lambs frolicking around in the fields, and chirpy birdsong surround us. The big difference is that winter, rather than the warmer summer months, is to follow. The Boss is already making preparations to ensure we’ll be warm and draught free indoors.

dsc_1686

dsc_1687

The damp weather also brings mushrooms and toadstools. We find plenty on our land but, being nervous about identification of these various fungi, wouldn’t dream of eating any. But don’t they make great subjects for photos …

 

 

 

 

Follow the clues to locate rural properties on Mallorca

You could be forgiven for thinking that SatNav didn’t exist on Mallorca: all manner of methods are used to guide visitors to the homes of rural home owners on Mallorca.

A warm Hawaiian welcome ... in rural Mallorca

A warm Hawaiian welcome … in rural Mallorca

The above fake flower garland – now looking like a wilted version of the traditional Hawaiian lei after recent heavy rain – hangs over a post at the end of the lane into our valley. A few more were hanging along the route, although these have now disappeared. Such garlands are offered as a sign of welcome in Hawaii, so we assume they were leading guests to a good old rural Mallorcan knees-up.  Dress code: anything but a grass skirt, sir.

Bags, balloons, and boxes

We’ve seen plastic bags tied in bushes and trees to indicate the route that delivery people or workmen should follow to a property they’ve never been to before. A trail of balloons tied to posts and trees usually leads to a bunch of the things on the gateposts of a home where a lively children’s party is taking place. And a few weeks ago we saw the oddest thing yet (if only I’d had the camera): a number of large empty boxes perched at strategic locations, bearing a label with a picture of a fat leg of Spanish serrano ham. Someone had eaten an awful lot of ham to free up those boxes; presumably those who followed this trail of cardboard clues were not going to a vegetarian lunch ‘do’ …

Hi-tech/low-tech solutions

Of course, SatNav exists on Mallorca. We even acquired the technology when we had to change our car last October. One day we’ll figure out how it works. We once gave our GPS co-ordinates to some more tech-savvy friends who were coming for lunch at our finca for the first time. Some time after they were due, they phoned from a location more than 20-minutes’ drive away to say they were lost, and we had to talk them in. Maybe we won’t bother to learn how the SatNav works after all …

How do we now direct people to our off-the-well-driven-route home in rural Mallorca? Yeah, it’s a map, hand-drawn (by The Boss), emailed in advance to visitors. We save the lei for when they arrive …

 

 

 

Human encounters in rural Mallorca

Since we moved to our rural home on Mallorca, we’ve seen quite a few changes in terms of the people who live or visit the valley on a regular basis. We often reflect on times or conversations with those who have touched our lives here, but no longer do so.

The Naked Gardener

Wolf was one of the first to leave the valley during our time here. A friendly German opera singer (and singing teacher), he used to attend to the garden of his rented finca in the nude – good reason to keep well away from using  hedge-clippers! We dubbed him The Naked Gardener. A few years ago his landlady decided to sell the property, so Wolf and his elderly dog had to find a new home. Last seen, he was renting a place on the coast – but without a garden.

The naked truth

Margarita was the wife of Pedro, an elderly farmer with a rustic home in the valley and their main home in nearby Manacor. Margarita had inherited various small plots of land dotted around the valley and the couple used to move their flock of sheep around to take advantage of the several (and fairly scrubby) grazing options. We used to love the sound of the sheep bells clunking as the flock scuttled along the lane to their next meal.

In their happier and healthier days ...

In their happier and healthier days …

Pedro drove his tractor and Margarita perched behind him. In winter the slender lady seemingly wore every item of clothing she possessed to keep warm. They would occasionally stop at our gates for a chat, which always began in castellano but would, somewhere along the way, lapse into barely comprehensible mallorquín.

My favourite Margarita moment happened one day during one of these encounters. “You’re becoming more like a Mallorcan every day,” she said to me in Spanish, smiling. For a moment or two I thought she was complimenting me on my improving language skills but, oh no, she was referring to my increase in weight – and said it in a way that sounded like approval! Sadly, Margarita developed dementia and passed away last year, and Pedro is a rare sight these days.

Treats for Francisco’s donkeys

More recently we have missed some entertaining conversations at our gates with Francisco. Born nearby, he now lives in the north of the island with his partner, but kept his local connections by doing gardening and similar work for the owners of holiday homes in the valley. Francisco has been ill and unable to work for some months and we’ve missed his wicked sense of humour.

"I know this woman has carrots ...."

“I know this woman has carrots ….”

An animal lover, Francisco still owns donkeys in the valley and, in his absence, a German neighbour is feeding them. If we go for a walk down that way we take some carrots for the donkeys as an extra treat. No doubt these beautiful creatures are also missing Francisco too …

 

August ends but Mallorca’s summer isn’t over yet!

Porto Cristo beach in the quieter month of May

Porto Cristo beach in the quieter month of May

Even after more than 10 years of living through August in rural Mallorca, this holiday month takes some getting used to each year. To start with, many of the shops and other businesses in our local town close for lunch and don’t re-open until the next morning. It’s a nuisance if you’re in the middle of a DIY job and run out of something vital to finish it. And that is why we recommend not doing DIY projects in August.

The heat is another good reason to down tools for a few weeks. August is the month when the locals head for the beach early morning or late afternoon. At the later end of the day, the tourists are just packing their beach bags and heading back to their holiday accommodation to freshen up for the evening when the locals arrive in groups to claim their spots on the sands.

Holiday home … just down the road

One thing that still amuses me is the number of people who live in Manacor but have a second home in Porto Cristo – around a 10-minute drive away. Many of them leave their main homes to take up temporary residence in the cooler air of the resort for August.

In the UK, it’s more usual for those with second homes to have them further away from their main residence. Former neighbours in Oxfordshire had a cottage in Cornwall. On occasional Friday nights they’d load up the car and head southwest in ever-increasing traffic jams, probably arriving just in time for a cup of tea before it was time to drive back for work on Monday. Having a second home just down the road has some merits …

Dipping into local life in Porto Cristo

This August we’ve again had the occasional morning swim in Porto Cristo. The east-coast resort has a town beach, so the passing traffic (road and harbour) means it’s not a tranquil spot, but it’s perfect for a bit of exercise swimming first thing. We can swim, have a coffee, and be heading home before the town’s roadside car parking charges come into effect at 10:00h.

We’ve enjoyed observing the local early-morning beachgoers. We’ve seen exercise classes on the sands for the elderly; excitable clusters of kids being supervised in various sporting activities, and senior chaps in swimming shorts walking from one end of the beach to the other, toes in the water, as they converse in an animated fashion.

But my favourite sights are the ‘bobulations’. Don’t reach for a dictionary, as you won’t find this word lurking within its pages; it’s a combination of ‘population’ and ‘bob’ – which I made up. These are the groups of local ladies (often of a certain age), who stand chest-high in a circle in the sea or, in deeper water, bob about (still in a circle). They just chat, little exercise is involved. Most wear a hat of some sort to protect their recently re-helmeted hairdo from the sun, but the sea rarely gets a lick at their locks.

August is now over for another year, but you can bet that full-time residents of Porto Cristo will be on the beach early mornings for a week or two more. We look forward to a few more mornings in their company …

Fiestas galore on Mallorca … except in the countryside

Fiesta bunting

Bunting time!

Living in the open countryside, we are in a fiesta-free zone. But in villages and towns all around Mallorca, July and August are the months to deck the streets with fluttery bunting, get out the stacks of ubiquitous white plastic chairs, and party hard. The locals either join in or get out of town (or the village) for the duration. We can choose which ones we want to attend.

The main components of these fiestas are usually music (local bands or DJs), food (anything from giant ensaïmadas and enormous paellas, to tapas or street food, served from vintage food trucks), and drink.

Party time in Sant Llorenç

On Friday night we attended a fiesta in the small town of Sant Llorenç, combining all three: the Sant Llorenç Boscana Craft Beer and Swing Festival. It was held in the square by the distinctive town hall building, one side of which was lined with stalls  offering around 20 different beers (no, we didn’t try them all).

Boscana Cervesa Evolutiva

Beer, anyone?

DSC_0627

This was only the second edition of this particular festival. Apparently some lessons were learnt after last year’s inaugural event. One, was to bring in a refrigerated truck to keep the beer cold. The second was to provide some food to soak up the alcohol. On the opposite side of the square some local eateries and a bakery had set up stalls selling a few snacks, and someone known as Kitchen Guerilla was rustling up some sausages on a BBQ.

Strike up the band

Five swing bands were on the billing and an enormous professional-looking stage was set for the live music. Until the first band – Long Time No Swing – came on stage, we were treated to a performance by a strolling local pipe-and-drum group (xeremiers) and then a local batucada band.

Traditional Mallorcan music

Traditional Mallorcan music

The latter is a popular (and incredibly noisy) feature of many local fiestas. The drummers process through the streets followed by crowds of people – a bit like the Piper of Hamelin, but thankfully without the rats.

Eventually the stage came alive with the music of the first of five bands scheduled to play. We stayed to see Long Time No Swing and Monkey Doo – both terrific. When we left for home (around midnight), there were still three bands due to perform. Nessun dorma in Sant Llorenç that night!

Long Time No Swing

Long Time No Swing

Swing band Long Time No Swing

Long Time No Swing

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Lindy Hoppers are Sant Llorenç

What most impressed us about this night was the dancing. Dozens of couples took to the centre of the square to dance the Lindy Hop, and they seemed to know what they were doing. Unlike most dancing, this one seems to be done in sneakers – so no twisted ankles due to perilous platforms or soaring stilettos. What struck us – apart from the ability of so many locals actually to do the Lindy Hop – was the joyful nature of this dance. We couldn’t stop smiling as we watched.

Lindy Hoppers

… and Lindy Hop

At some point we spoke to a girl who was taking a break from the energetic dance and she told us there’s a popular Lindy Hop class run in the town in the cooler months. Ah, that would explain it. This time next year, The Boss and I could be Lindy Hopping ourselves. Just need to persuade him. And buy some sneakers.

And so to bed …

Unlike the good citizens of Sant Llorenç, we were able to leave the noise behind and go home for a peaceful night’s sleep. That’s country living on Mallorca for you …

By the way, if you love Lindy Hop, the Mallorca Lindy Festival takes place in Inca, at Fàbrica Ramis, from October 7th-9th.

If you’re thinking about a visit to Mallorca next August, keep an eye on the Boscana Cervesa Evolutiva Facebook page for the dates of the 2017 festival.