Signs of spring are springing up all over Mallorca and, in our neck of the woods, these include sightings of Mediterranean tortoises. We’ve seen quite a few in the past couple of weeks, either plodding across the lane or negotiating their way across our lumpy land.
The spring o’clock alarm has raised this one
These are dangerous times for the sleepy adults that have recently emerged bleary-eyed (I assume) from their winter hibernation. Life can be even more hazardous for the newly born tortoises as they are almost impossible to spot in the undergrowth.
Yesterday our part-time neighbours- and very dear friends – from Yorkshire told us they’d found three baby tortoises in their garden – each no more than the size of a British 50-pence coin. Sadly it’s all too easy not to spot these cute little creatures as they amble around the land; our neighbours fortunately saw their ‘foundlings’ before they came to any harm.
As a follow-up to my last post, if you’re planning to light a bonfire on Mallorca, please check the pile before setting it alight. In fact, if you’re lighting a bonfire anywhere this spring, it’s worth raking gently through the heap first: the heart of a large pile of vegetation makes a cosy winter refuge for hibernating creatures of all types.
We spotted a dead rat in the lane near our home a day or two ago and it reminded me that we hadn’t seen a rodent – dead or alive – for some time. Thankfully. Having seven outdoor cats around the place is the best rat or mouse deterrent going.
Before the cats took up residence on our finca we tried a few measures to deter the rats and mice that we often saw around. The first was the large plastic owl (brought over with us from the UK) which we suspended from a branch on one of our almond trees. Our Mallorcan neighbours must have had a chuckle about that…as did the rodents, we imagine, since they weren’t the least bit put off.
There were electronic gizmos emitting an unpleasant sound that only rodents could hear – allegedly. If they did hear anything from these gadgets, they didn’t seem at all bothered.
The Boss blocked up any inviting gaps and holes in the structure of our house and, eventually, we stopped hearing the creatures scuttling within the thick stone walls or under the roof tiles. We still saw them occasionally outside but I stopped worrying about them coming into the house.
An unforgettable night
Look away now if you’re of a nervous disposition because, in spite of the various measures taken to make our home rat-proof, we had a four-legged, long-tailed visitor one night. I’m shuddering now at the memory of it.
I woke up suddenly in the depth of the night to the sound of scratching. It wasn’t The Boss – who was sleeping peacefully (little did he know …) – and it wasn’t our Birman cat Minstral, who sleeps at the other end of our one-storey home. What could it be? The noise became intermittent but closer so I shook The Boss until he groggily came to.
Silence had returned by then, of course. “Go back to sleep, you must have imagined it,” he replied after I’d explained my fears. “Nothing can get in here.” Minutes later the noise started again but The Boss didn’t stir. I listened carefully, trying to work out where the sound was coming from. The sitting room! Feeling brave, I climbed out of bed, grabbed my bedside torch and went to close the sitting-room doors. Whatever was in there could stay there until morning.
“What are you doing?” groaned The Boss when I slid back under the duvet.
“The thing. I’ve shut whatever it is in the sitting room,” I said confidently. “We can sort it in the morning.”
“You’re imagining things,” he replied sleepily, “just try and get back to sleep.”
And I did manage to drift off again. I know that because I was woken by The Boss yelling out some time later. Whatever I thought had been in the sitting room hadn’t; something had just run right across The Boss’s head! Yes, a rat.
We both jumped out of bed and scarpered to the guest room for the rest of the night – having made sure that the creature was confined to our room. All I remember of the next day was a lot of banging and crashing as The Boss tried to catch and remove the creature. And a long session afterwards with rubber gloves, buckets of steaming-hot water, and disinfectant.
A cautionary tale
So how did the rat get into the house? The original walls of our house are around 80cm thick, which means a deep recess between the windows and the external shutters (persianas). The Boss had closed the shutters at dusk from the outside, unaware that a rat had taken refuge within the recess. When it couldn’t easily escape it found its way into the house through a very small hole in the old mosquito screen (which we’d been meaning to replace). A very small hole.
The moral of the story: check those deep window recesses for unwelcome visitors before shutting your persianas. Fix those old mosquito screens. And adopt a few stray cats …
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
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
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.
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 …
After a family visit to Mallorca that saw twelve of my relatives gathered on our finca terrace for a catch-up on one occasion, we’ve been cleaning the place after our visitors and preparing for the arrival tomorrow of our lovely friends from Oxford, Duncan and Kristina, for a week’s stay with us.
On top of that there has been writing work to catch up with and more personal chores – such as digging out summer clothes from their winter storage and getting them washed and ironed. Summer has definitely arrived on Mallorca!
All this has kept us busy, but it’s very satisfying that we have created a home where people can feel relaxed while staying with us. And not just people: Pip, our feline family’s most-recent arrival (20 months ago) certainly knows a thing about chilling out … and hanging out with the grown-ups.
This is one of my favourite photos from the family visit: my dad (having a post-lunch siesta), with Pip snuggled up to him. Cute, eh?
In a word, slowly. Living, as we do, a couple of kilometres down a country lane from a main(ish) road, we have become accustomed to the potential hazards of driving in rural Mallorca. It must be said – with the greatest of respect to Mallorcan drivers – that anticipation of the possible dangers that lurk, for users of country lanes, is sometimes lacking.
Road surfaces on Mallorca are generally very good. It was something we – and our visitors from England – often commented on in our early days of living on the island; even though our lane, at the time, was just a string of potholes linked together with bits of ancient asphalt. But even with a good road surface, driving in the country can present some challenges – particularly in lanes that are too narrow for cars to pass each other easily when travelling in opposite directions. Once, a neighbour’s son (a budding Fernando Alonso) missed our car by just a few centimetres because he’d been driving too fast from the opposite direction.
Here are some other things to watch out for on Mallorca’s roads:
Cyclists love Mallorca’s rural lanes.
Mallorca is a magnet for keen cyclists and, during these cooler months of the year, many professional and amateur club cycling teams come here to take advantage of some excellent cycling conditions. If you’re driving, there’s every chance that you’ll find yourself crawling behind a Lycra-clad peloton. Or facing an oncoming one in a narrow country lane. Given the speed these bikes can travel, it doesn’t pay to be driving too fast.
The Rabbit and the Tortoise
Our valley was full of rabbits when we first moved here and, what with the potholes and Bugs Bunny’s numerous friends, driving down our lane (particularly after dark) sometimes called for lightning reactions. The buck-toothed population has diminished in recent years (myxomatosis contributed to this), but rabbits do still suddenly shoot out onto the tarmac from the verges. As do their larger cousins, hares.
The Mediterranean tortoise is another creature you could encounter on your travels. They will often just retreat inside their shells when a vehicle approaches, so careful driving is needed to avoid squashing them.
These rather inelegant birds give out a distinctive cry and we regularly hear their spooky shrieks at night as they fly over. After dark they also have a tendency just to stand around. Sometimes, even in the middle of the road. On one occasion, we had to brake hard to avoid hitting one that we’d been sure would take off as we approached. It just stood there looking defiantly at us until one of us got out of the car and approached it on foot.
After a period of decent rain, there’s yet another potential hazard. Mallorcan country folk (often women; often wearing polyester pinafores) wander along the sides of the lanes, bent double and collecting the snails that have been lured out by the damp conditions. Watch out for foragers – for snails and, in season, wild asparagus – particularly as you drive around bends, as they may not be visible below the level of the stone walls. Seemingly abandoned unfamiliar vans or small cars along a country lane may be an early warning sign of foragers who have driven out from a town or village for some of nature’s bounty.
Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.
“Mum, wait for us!”
Sheep have a tendency to escape, because of their remarkable aptitude for climbing over dry stone walls. These woolly Houdinis can be a real danger if you come across them while driving too fast. And, take it from me, it’s almost impossible to shoo them back to where they came from. Another possibility is that you’ll encounter a shepherd moving his entire flock from one field along the lane to another field. There is no hurrying these beasts.
Horses came before cars …
In our valley we often see individual riders and also groups of people out with their horses. Occasionally you see a trotting horse – complete with trotting carriage – out for some exercise.
The above are all commonplace. Some of the more unusual hazards we’ve seen in our lanes have included a team of brightly dressed speed skaters (speed skating up the hill, no less), two donkeys that had escaped from their field and gone walkabout, and a couple of piglets that escaped from the truck transporting them from a nearby farm to their unfortunate destiny. Oh, how we cheered those two little pigs on in their Great Escape attempt … which sadly failed.
Motoring on Mallorca can be a really pleasurable experience: traffic is a lot lighter than in the UK, for example, and the island’s scenery and distant views are beautiful. But don’t spend too long gazing at the views if you’re driving … you never know what may be ahead!
The official shooting season has finished on Mallorca for the time being. The silencing of the guns means our concerns for the safety of our cat clan are lessened. The seven outdoor cats that have adopted us over the past few years spend quite a few of the daylight hours fairly close to our home – and we can often catch a glimpse of one or more of them snuggled beneath a shrub somewhere in our valley. But their natural prowling instincts kick in after dark and in the winter it is often still dark when the first gunshots are heard.
We’ve often wondered about the hunters’ ability to see what they are trying to aim at during these dark mornings and on those days when fog lingers. And these are the times we worry most about the cats. Thankfully, for the time being, the guns are now silent.
But, of course, there are plenty of other hazards for cats in the countryside – both domestic and feral. One of these is the risk of parasites. The damned things are everywhere and, for this reason, the responsible thing for cat owners to do is take protective measures, which can be in the form of tablets or pipettes. According to our vet, the risk of becoming infested is increased where more than five cats live in close commune.
Now we don’t ‘own’ seven of our cats, but we have taken responsibility for their welfare – since they have made our land their home. We went down the pipette option, as anyone who has ever tried to give even a friendly domestic moggy will understand how difficult it would be to pop a pill down the throat of a semi-feral feline. We do, after all, have plenty of use for our fingers . . .
Precautions May Not Always Work
But even pipettes may not offer 100% protection. Last week two of our cats, little Pip and shy Chico, both fell ill. Chico hadn’t been for food for four days but we had spotted him sitting at the end of the field. We’d taken food down to tempt him but he wouldn’t come near us, disappearing over the stone wall into the next field as we approached.
Chico – back to health and enjoying his family again. He’s the one facing the camera.
Meanwhile Pip also went off her food. Hey, you may say, cats do that from time to time. But not Pip. She’s the first at the door waiting for us to bring out the cat bowls with their food and the one that likes to ‘tidy away’ any food left by the others. She was also rather subdued – another unusual sign – so we took her to the vet’s on Monday; it was the first of a few visits for her last week.
On Friday morning we found Chico sitting in our dining window recess. He seemed so listless that we immediately took him to the vet’s, where he was found to have a low temperature – a dangerous thing for a cat.
“No, I don’t take pills, thank you!” But Pip is back in fine form.
Long story short, after some seven visits in four days to our local vet’s last week, various tests and treatments, and saying adios to several hundred euros, Pip and Chico are now back to good health and eating well again. The cause of all the problems was a type of parasite. So you can never be too sure . . .
Coincidentally, a Katzenworld blog post on the subject of parasites popped into my mailbox last week and as it could be of interest to cat owners anywhere, I’m sharing the link with you here:
Happy New Year! Regular readers of this blog about our life in rural Mallorca will have spotted a new look to the site, and I hope you like it.
There’s also a new look to what’s known locally as la rotunda de ses galines(chicken roundabout) in Manacor, our nearest town. I’ve written before about this roundabout on the town’s ring road, which used to be home to a number of chickens. Sadly, the chickens were removed a short while ago and taken to a new home in the middle of the island. Somehow, one – a small white hen – was missed out in the round-up; poor thing must be horribly lonely and wondering where all of its feathered friends have gone.
Follow those Birds!
It’s fair to say that the removal of the chickens did not go down too well with many local people (including The Boss and me). Even the Ses Galines de sa rotonda Facebook page is still active – with 3,403 followers as of today. Scrolling back through the page, you’ll find a mock-up of a funeral notice for Ses Galines (they weren’t dead, but definitely gone).
December 28th was the Day of the Holy Innocents. In Spain this is the day in the year when people like to play practical jokes – rather like April Fool’s Day in Britain. On this date in 2015, a ‘flock’ of mini-‘statues’ of chickens appeared on Manacor’s former chicken roundabout. I approve. But I’d rather see the real things strutting their stuff again . . .
Back to where we belong
Chickens return . . . in a roundabout way
FOOTNOTE: January 12, 2016. We passed this roundabout this morning . . . and these ‘chickens’ are no longer there!
The past few weeks have passed in a whirl and, although I have written several posts in my head about living in rural Mallorca, that was as far as it went. Perhaps the most frustrating of the recent events that have kept me away from writing what I wanted to was a problem importing photos into Adobe Lightroom – something I tried (and failed) to resolve (even with some helpful suggestions from friends) for three days.
It was hardly a major disaster in the great scheme of things, but annoying when I had captured an image that marked a significant milestone in the lives of our feline family. Thanks to a sainthood-deserving member of the Adobe customer support staff, the problem was finally resolved (after a few hours of on-screen chat and remedial action!).
Long-time readers of this blog will know about Pip, the tiny kitten that ‘arrived’ in our garden in September 2014. She has grown (and how!) into an adorable cat that’s full of fun, affection, and charm. It didn’t take her long to befriend two of the other cats in our feline family, Nibbles and Shorty, with whom she used to have fearless rough ‘n’ tumble play-fights on a regular basis when she was only a third of their size.
Pip has calmed down now and left those mad kittenhood days behind her. She eats with the rest of the gang and sometimes follows them down into the valley as they head off to their respective favourite spots for a snooze. But mostly she stays close to the house, sitting in the deep recess (the walls are 60cm thick) of our dining room window – a space she seems to have claimed as her own.
One of the Family
There’s never really been any animosity between Pip and the other cats, but Beamer – the alpha male – always ignored her, and would simply walk away if she approached him. He was such a good big brother to the other cats when their mother Jetta went AWOL, that I always hoped he would do more than just tolerate little Pip. And then, just before Lightroom went loopy, I spotted something that made my heart sing: Beamer had jumped into the window with Pip and was giving her a wash! Once she was cleaned to his satisfaction – and after a little reciprocal licking – they curled up and slept together for the best of the day.
The pictures wouldn’t win any photographic prizes, but they won a place in my heart. And in the story of Pip.
This coming weekend on Mallorca we shall be turning back the clocks, marking the official end of the summer. It’s been a long hot one and, although we are already two-thirds of the way through October, we are thankfully still having a few lovely warm days. When the sun shines, we open doors and windows during the day to let in the warm air. As things cool, we close everything up but, in the evenings, the living room of our home in rural Mallorca already feels a little chilly. Oh, for cavity wall insulation . . . if there were a cavity to fill.
Winter Drawers On? Not Quite Yet . . .
We’re at the time of year when the lightest of summer clothes (and certainly anything white) is consigned to storage bags and boxes under the beds. (Buy an old Mallorcan property and you’re unlikely to find many cupboards for storing stuff). But we’re not ready yet to shrug ourselves into sweaters and woolly socks during the day. My much-loved Menorcan sandals (highly recommended for comfort) and I won’t be prised apart until my feet lose all sensation because of the cold. I’ve even worn shorts in the past fortnight . . . but also seen locals wearing thick sweaters, scarves, and boots . . . in temperatures up to 25 degrees Celsius!
The house ‘wardrobe’ also changes. The light sheer curtains that blow gently in the breezes of the warmer months will be replaced by curtains with thermal linings. I’ve already retrieved one pair from storage, ironed them, and hung them. Another two pairs to go . . .
October is a month of contrasts outdoors too, with signs of winter, but also of new beginnings. No wonder the Mallorcans call this season winter/spring. We have a garden with plenty of new growth (a lot of it weeds, I should add), but our family of ‘adopted’ cats is eating heartily as though preparing for a prolonged trip to Siberia. On Sunday evening, despite the diminishing daylight, it was warm enough to eat a BBQ dinner outside, for the first time in a few weeks. But a visitor earlier that afternoon reminded us that there may not be too many more alfresco dinners: on our birdbath – sprucing himself up after a long flight south – was that feathered emblem of winter, the robin.
The photo of the robin was taken from inside the house, and the close-up was achieved by cropping the image.
Some time ago I wrote about ses galines de sa rotonda– the flock of chickens that had been living in the middle of a traffic roundabout at Plaza Madrid in Manacor for the past couple of years. After an unpleasant episode involving some stray dogs, our feathered friends were recently given a safe ‘home‘ by the local council. Bravo, I thought, at the time.
The island newspaper Diario de Mallorca wrote an article last month about the installation, designed to keep the chickens safe from prowling pooches. The article explained that if the flock grew to more than the usual 15-20 birds, any surplus would be relocated to Natura Parc. Fair enough.
But this week we noticed that the chicken hut has disappeared. And, it seems, so have all the chickens – unless anyone has actually seen them in recent days? Looking at various comments on their Facebook page (3,188 ‘likes’) – if my translation of mallorquín is accurate – all of our feathered friends have been sent to Natura Parc. They’ll be sadly missed by their many fans . . .