Claims, Creativity, and Covid-19 in Rural Mallorca

Few passengers at Palma Airport when we collected our rental car

Almost two weeks have passed since hailstones the size of hens’ eggs destroyed our car sunroof. Fortunately, our insurance company didn’t quibble about the claim: on the Monday morning after the storm, they told us to take the car to their authorized claims assessor in Manacor.

From there, a taxi—the insurers arranged and paid for it—whisked us (at unnerving speed) to an eerily quiet Palma Airport, where we collected a rental car, which was also covered by the insurance. Línea Directa, in case you’re wondering. With any luck, we’ll have our own car back this coming Tuesday.

Don’t ask yet about the damaged inverter for our solar-powered electricity system. I’ll get back to you on that one. Whilst our broken one is in the repair shop, we have a loan inverter, so it’s business as usual in terms of electricity. No excuse not to do the ironing then.

Creative Distractions

Except that I’m busy doing more interesting things. Firstly, I’m working on the revisions for my debut novel which, it may not come as a surprise to read, features a radio presenter, cats, and Mallorca. I finished the first draft in late May and, following advice from other writers, put it to one side for a while (almost three months). Revising/editing is a slow but exciting process. I reckon I’ll be finished by Christmas. Christmas 2021. I jest… possibly. After that, my manuscript will be given the professional-editor treatment.

I am also excited about launching a podcast soon, in which I’ll be talking to other people who have chosen to live in rural Mallorca. I’m looking forward to hearing and sharing my guests’ own experiences and advice they may have for anyone planning to do the same. You’ll be able to listen to the podcasts here on this blog (assuming I master the techie requirements) and on the usual podcast apps.

The Second Wave

Beautiful weather again for lunch this week in Port d’Andratx with my friend Sandra

Keeping busy has been a distraction from the second wave of Covid-19. The Balearic health minister has today announced the closure of public play areas and suspension of children’s entertainment and activities for a 15-day period, to coincide with the reopening of schools. Some temporary measures the Balearic government introduced last month have also been extended for another 15 days; these include no smoking in public spaces; reduction of restaurant and bar capacities to fifty per cent, and the closure of beaches and municipal parks between 9pm and 7am (to prevent large gatherings of youngsters).

It’s not all doom and gloom here. Yesterday, the sunshine and blue skies had returned and I met my friend Sandra for a tasty lunch down in the southwest of Mallorca at Port d’Andratx. We chatted to a couple of young women from London who were also eating there. They had defied the British government’s advice against non-essential travel to have a holiday, even though quarantine will follow on their return. It was interesting to hear that they felt much safer from Covid-19 here in Mallorca than they did in London.

Be safe, wherever you are, and make the most of the last days of summer 2020 if you can.

Jan Edwards ©2020

Lockdown Log in Mallorca – Day 80

The outdoor sofas are back in use. Pip seems to approve.

The toughest lockdown rules in Europe are slowly being eased, and Mallorca (along with her sister islands) is in Phase 2 of the de-escalation. All being well, we’ll move into Phase 3 next Monday, 8th June.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will ask Spain’s Congress of Deputies tomorrow to vote for approval for one final two-week extension to the state of alarm, which came into effect in mid-March. After June 21st, we’ll be in that unknown but much-mentioned state of ‘new normal’.

What will Phase 3 mean for us? Never mind that. I have a far more vexing question that needs answering: Why, when we greet them during our wanderings in the lanes around our finca, do cyclists and walkers always respond in a different way from us?

Talk, Talk

If we say buenos días, they reply bon dia. If we try bon dia, we get a buenos días in response – or sometimes what sounds like a conjoined version of two greetings: holabondia. Sometimes, whatever we say, we get an adiós or an adéu – an economical way of saying both hello and goodbye: one word that’s as brief as our encounter. This is what happens when you live on an island where both castellano and the local Catalan dialect mallorquín are spoken.

Then there’s the other greeting that’s common amongst Mallorcans. It sounds like ‘wep’ – although it’s written as uep. I suppose it’s the closest equivalent to ‘hi’ and is often accompanied by a lift of the arm or an upward tip of the chin. This does feel like something very local and, to me, a somewhat masculine greeting – because I don’t remember ever hearing a woman use this.

Uepping Like a Local

Ooh, look, an ostrich!

Uep is a greeting I’ve used only to attract the attention of one relatively new neighbour. Taking one of our recent morning walks along a route we hadn’t trodden for months, we spotted the incomer: a young ostrich, strutting its stuff in a field of gobbling turkeys.

We stopped to look at it for a while and, hoping it would come closer so we could get a better look, I called out hola – a ‘hello’ used in both castellano and mallorquín. Our ostrich neighbour ignored us, so I tried uep and that did get a reaction: the ostrich ignored us, but the local greeting set the turkeys all a-flutter around the yard.

Maybe we should stick to our roots and offer the folks (and beasts) we meet a cheery English ‘good morning!’ or, given the part-Irish ancestry of The Boss, even a ‘top of the morning’. Now that would confuse the locals.

Jan Edwards ©2020

Lockdown Log in Mallorca – Day 56

Almost two months have passed since we went into lockdown in Spain. From last Saturday we were allowed a new privilege: that of one daily session of exercise, or a walk (the latter within a radius of one kilometre from our home).

After our first walk up the lane – passing numerous cyclists huffing and puffing up the hill – we changed to another route. We’ve since walked down to the floor of the valley, as far as one of the bridges over the torrente (stream) that runs through our valley.

It’s a glorious stretch of countryside, through the farmland of mallorquín neighbours Llorenzo and Bárbara. We hadn’t seen either of them since the lockdown began (in fact we’ve barely seen a soul, apart from the nice man from Terragust delivering our picked-that-morning fruit and veg each Friday).

Bárbara was picking chard in their produce garden, close to the lane, as we went past and it was good to have a decent chat with her – albeit one observing a safe distance and without the traditional hug and cheek kissing.

‘I’ll leave some for you by the gate, for when you come back,’ she said to us in castellano, waving a bunch of enormous chard leaves as we returned to our walk. These are not wealthy people, and their generosity is touching.

All Change

The torrente in March 2019, which we walked alongside

In March 2019, we went for a (very) long walk with Peter (one of our part-time neighbours), following the path of the stream. The stream bed and the banks had been cleared of all vegetation by the local town hall, as a precautionary measure, following the devastating floods of October 2018. It looked horribly stark but enabled us to walk through fields that hadn’t been accessible before.

That long walk revealed new vistas of the valley and an abundance of ducks living in the area. Before turning back for home, we spotted an orange tree on the other side of the stream, in the garden of what looked like an abandoned property. Peter – wearing some very sturdy boots – waded manfully through the water to do a little scrumping. Sitting on the bank of the stream, feeling like naughty children, we really appreciated those juicy fruits before our return walk.

When we arrived at the bridge this week, we were amazed to see how overgrown the torrente had become. On one side of the bridge there was so much vegetation growing that we couldn’t see any water. Only a single duck – startled by us into a noisy take-off – suggested there was water somewhere down there. Looking in the other direction (see below), we could see water but also much vegetation. The path through the fields that we had taken was no longer visible amidst the undergrowth. What a change in just 14 months.

Close-up of the same stretch of the torrente.

Another Not-So-Close Encounter

On our way back from this latest walk, we saw a stranger working in the garden of the house just down the lane from our own. Having been starved of face-to-face contact with other humans for so many weeks, we stopped to talk to him – again at a safe distance – and found out that he was a gardener. We said we hadn’t seen our neighbour José Luis for a very long time. Was he OK?

The gardener told us that our unfortunate neighbour has developed an extreme pollen allergy: if he’s outside for more than a few minutes, his eyelids and lips swell. What a horrible affliction to have – not only at this most beautiful time of the year (IMHO), but also when many of us are now taking advantage of the freedom to go outdoors again for exercise or walks. No wonder we haven’t seen him.

If we didn’t already appreciate how fortunate we are to be enjoying The Great Outdoors once again, this would have been a salient reminder.

Mallorca Moves into Phase 1

Spain has begun a four-phase de-escalation of the emergency measures that came into force at midnight on March 14th. Each province of Spain will progress through these phases at a rate that’s appropriate to the local circumstances, but each phase is expected to last around two weeks.

From Monday, May 11th, Mallorca begins Phase 1 – as will Menorca and Ibiza. (The small island of Formentera entered Phase 1 last Monday).

Here are some of the things possible during this new phase:

  • Going out together in the car (so far, only one of us has been able to go out to the supermarket, bank, or pharmacy)
  • Leaving our municipality and travelling to other parts of Mallorca
  • Social contact with a maximum of ten people who don’t live with us – observing social distancing measures, of course
  • Shopping in places no larger than 400m²
  • Having a drink on the terrace of a bar (but not indoors)
  • Visiting a library or museum
  • Going to church

There are, of course, still restrictions, such as limited capacities in places that are re-opening. And although hotels are allowed to re-open, only guests who are lodging can use them – and there are some access restrictions.

As much as we love walking in our valley, the carrot on a stick for us is having a long walk on a seafront, followed by a coffee or cold drink on the terrace of a bar, looking out to the Mediterranean. Small pleasures. It’s not every weekend that you can say you’re looking forward to Monday…

Jan Edwards ©2020

Logdown Log in Mallorca – Day 51

Wildflowers growing on the side of the lane in our valley

Yes, it’s day 3,789 of lockdown here in Mallorca (Spain). Not really; it just feels a bit like it sometimes.

But there was A Big Change in this country on Saturday, as Spain’s restrictions – reported as the toughest in Europe – were eased slightly for adults. From Saturday, May 2nd, we were allowed out for exercise (sports) or a walk.

Of course, there are restrictions, such as dedicated time bands for going out; this is is designed to minimise the risk to those most vulnerable to the virus. For walks, we can travel up to a radius of one kilometre from our homes; exercise is not so restrictive, but must be done within the same municipality. We cannot hop in the car and drive anywhere to walk or work out. (Oh, how I long to walk beside the Mediterranean again).

Lucky to Have Land

We’ve not exactly been lazy during the lockdown. Exercising to online videos could have been an option if our wifi signal was better, but we opted to walk.

We’re fortunate that our finca has plenty of land. More than half of it is still virgin territory for me, as it forms a valley within our valley and not only are the sides of this mini-valley steep, they’re also perilous, as the land underfoot is just loose stones. I had a small taste of this danger in our early years here, when I ventured out and slid several feet, ending up in a heap on the ground – my unplanned descent broken by a well-located shrub. This required a hospital visit to check on very painful ribs which, fortunately, were just badly bruised, rather than broken.

From this limited personal experience, I know that one careless step could lead to hurtling down the side, through a tangle of wild olives and mastic bushes, to an uncomfortable stop at what is the long-dried-up bed of a stream. Andres and Guillermo, elderly brothers who lived in the valley as small boys, once told us they’d fished for eels down there. And that there had been peach and apricot trees for scrumping.

Stepping Out

The rest of our land is not as dangerous. As well as the garden we’ve created, there’s a large flat field – which has become our walking track during lockdown. We don’t use the field for anything in particular, as it’s mainly layered with huge rocks and stones. The Boss used to get out his man toy (a bushwacker) to level the wild growth to the ground, but this marvellous piece of kit died last year and we have yet to replace it.

Almost since lockdown began, we have had a routine: 20 circuits of the field in the morning and 20 in the early evening. This was mainly to counter all the extra baking I’d been doing. We’ve missed very few sessions and, as a result, now have a well-trodden and compressed roundish track amidst what is now a field of waist-high (and in my case, some  shoulder-high) wild grasses and wildflowers. You could probably spot it from the International Space Station, if you were up there looking down on our part of rural Mallorca.

Felines in the Field

The cats that share our finca have been visibly bemused by our routine. Shorty, our affectionate ginger, started to follow us but realised that if he just sat in the middle of our track, he would get a few terms of endearment and a stroke on the head from me each time we came around. The others just sit in the grass at the side of the track and watch us.

During these walks we’ve also discovered Dusty’s secret daytime hiding place. He has a spot in a dense cluster of wild fennel and a plumbago bush that we certainly didn’t plant, but which thrives in the ashy area that was once our bonfire site. You’d never know that he was there but, one day, we saw him stalking through the grasses and then disappear from view. It was as though he’d entered the door to a parallel cat universe. Now that we know his secret spot, we can just about see him as we pass by.

As the weeks have gone by, we have watched Mother Nature continue her spring tasks. Some wildflowers have died, to be replaced by new ones. This morning we spotted some pretty blue flowers that weren’t out yesterday. We’ve seen several tortoises and butterflies galore. These little details are so easily be missed in the daily pace of ‘normal’ life (remember that?).

Venturing Out

On Saturday we used our allotted walking period to check on a couple of neighbouring holiday homes for their owners. It was good to see the land of other people’s properties for a change.

Yesterday, we walked up the lane for the permitted one kilometre. We didn’t expect to see many people out in the valley; but did spot a woman walking a dog in the distance and waved (but had no idea who she was).

What we did see were cyclists. Lots of them. In fact I woke up yesterday to the sound of cyclists yelling as they freewheeled down the lane. Our valley is a magnet for cyclists: it has a very steep and challenging gradient that has earned it a place on the route of the Mallorca 312 cycling event, which takes place at the end of April each year. (This year’s event has been rescheduled to October 10th, 2020).

Our rural valley is in the municipality of Manacor and it seemed that every cycling enthusiast in the town had taken the opportunity to escape on two wheels to the countryside yesterday.

Social distancing wasn’t as easy as it should have been, with huffing and puffing cyclists constantly passing us. In future, we’ll be wearing our black bandit-like masks…or continuing our field circuits, away from the sporty sorts.

Jan Edwards©2020

A Flavour of 19th-century Rural Mallorca

Visiting Manacor on Saturday, February 2nd, we were surprised to see a large group of people wearing traditional period costume, gathered around a memorial stone. All soon became clear when we realised what day it was. These local people were honouring Antoni M Alcover, who became the parish priest of Manacor in 1886 but is best known today for having collected and written down more than three hundred traditional folk tales – known locally as Rondaies – from around Mallorca.

Antoni Alcover i Sureda was born into a farming family just outside Manacor on February 2nd in 1862. On this day, flowers are laid at the memorial stone and people in local costume of the 19th century come to celebrate the life and writings of the man often referred to as Mossèn Alcover. The town of Manacor has a number of events around the anniversary of his birth, including public readings of his stories.

Traditional Mallorcan dress

Local Manacor people wearing the traditional dress of Alcover’s era to celebrate the anniversary of his birth

We spoke to this group of people, proudly wearing the clothes of Alcover’s era. We are always fascinated by the locals’ willingness to dress themselves in traditional Mallorcan costume at every opportunity. I wouldn’t mind betting that most people have period garments hanging in their closets; we’ve certainly seen a few hanging in our local dry cleaner’s from time to time, freshly pressed for their next outing.

These garments would probably have been the ‘Sunday best’ of their time and not what your average rural Mallorcan would have worn when cultivating the land. I like to think that farming folk of that era would have worn more comfortable – and lighter – garb when working outdoors. The authentic 19th-century wardrobe looks a little warm for the Mediterranean climate!

Alcover didn’t just gather folklore from Mallorca; he also made notes for what would eventually become  the Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear. The first volume of this magnum opus was published in 1930 – two years before Alcover died.

If you’re interested in reading some of the folk stories collected by Alcover, a selection of them is published in English in a volume entitled The Best Folk Tales of Mallorca, published by Editorial Moll in Palma.

Jan Edwards ©2019

No Smoke Without Fire in our Rural Mallorcan Valley

Bonfires are blazing at the bottom of our valley. We can’t see the flames from our finca, but smoke has been billowing from different parts for days. In summer, when the merest whiff of smoke tickles our nostrils, we’re outside peering all around in case a wildfire has broken out. Bonfires are forbidden in wooded areas such as ours for almost half the year and only barbecues are likely to be creating smoke during these months.

Bonfire smoke

Smoke billows from down in the valley

In the autumn and winter months, farmers and gardeners choose calm days to burn their mounds of combustible unwanteds. We sometimes see vertical columns of smoke making a lazy ascent towards the sky and can usually work out from its location which neighbour is having a burn-up. But the smoke that’s been wafting daily over our valley is not from ordinary bonfires.

Our torrente after the clearance

Our local landscape has changed dramatically as a result of the clearance work

Prevention is better than repair

I wrote a while back about the appalling floods that caused the loss of 13 lives in the northeast of Mallorca – the area known as the Llevant. As well as the tragic loss of life, property and roads suffered damage that in some cases is still being dealt with.

Since that incident, work has begun to ensure that the area’s torrentes – often-dry stream beds – are cleared of vegetation and widened to accommodate even excessive rainfall, such as that which fell on Sant Llorenç on October 9th.

For several weeks, enormous earth-moving vehicles have been trundling along the torrente at the bottom of our valley, ripping out trees and shrubs and reshaping the banks. The vehicles have fallen silent now and all that remains is for the workmen to burn the mountains of vegetation they’ve removed along the route of the stream. The bonfires have been happening for days and will probably continue for a while. Although they aren’t particularly close to our finca, our black car is dotted with ash particles – but it makes no sense to clean it yet.

Any excuse for a BBQ

Tomorrow evening the aroma of smoke will also hang over Manacor, our nearest town – but it won’t have wafted from our valley. The 16th of January is the eve of Sant Antoni and it’s traditional for fires to blaze in the streets during this much-loved fiesta. Tomorrow, butcher’s shops and supermarkets will do a roaring trade in Mallorcan sausages and pancetta, to be cooked alfresco over the roaring flames of the fires dotted all around town. And maybe also in our rural valley. Pass the BBQ sauce…

Jan Edwards ©2019

Motorsport Rally Comes to Our Valley

Rally sign

Unless you’re in a rally car, of course…

One of the reasons we wanted to live in rural Mallorca was the expectation of peace and quiet. I worked for quite a lot of years in radio and TV – environments where you’re subjected to sounds all day. My ears needed a rest.

We were quite surprised one morning during our first spring here to find that our back field had become a parking lot. Who were all these people who had taken advantage of a large gap in our old stone wall to park their cars on our property?

The answer came very soon: the annual Manacor motorsport rally was driving through our valley and the owners of the parked cars had arrived early to spectate. Finding nowhere to park in our narrow lane, they took the only obvious option. Mystery solved.

Revved and ready

Several years have passed since the last Manacor rally came through our area. Further down the valley, some of the water course walls had been repaired and we assumed the local council didn’t want skidding rally cars knocking them down!

Today, the engines were revving again. We had two weeks’ notice – via a large signboard – that our lane would be closed to all traffic except Rallye Llevant competitors between 8am and 3pm. We could either go out early and stay out until mid-afternoon, or stay put. We opted for the latter.

It’s quite exciting when something like a rally or other sporting event comes through our valley. Yes, it can be a little inconvenient for those of us who live here, but it provides some free entertainment and, when it’s all over, we get to appreciate rural tranquillity all over again.

 

©Jan Edwards 2018

No Country for Old Rubbish

Discarded in the countryside

Dumped white goods make me see red!

Exercise is good and, in the absence of a desire to don Lycra and join a gym, The Boss and I have recently set ourselves the challenge of a daily walk. As a writer, I spend a lot of time perched on my bottom – not good for its shape or my general health; this new regime is designed to make both of us a bit fitter (although it may be too late for my derrière). But, despite the benefits of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other for upwards of 30 minutes, one of our latest walks has made our blood pressures soar.

The cause of our anger was finding two locations in our picturesque valley where people have dumped rubbish. First, we spotted an old fridge that had been pushed down a slope into a field, where it was almost concealed by the hedgerow. Then, further along that day’s walking route, we saw this lot dumped in the entrance to a field. The nature of the rubbish suggests it came from a restaurant or cafe; we have neither of these anywhere in the vicinity, which probably means that whoever left it went out of their way to get rid of what they didn’t want. Shame on them.

 

Discarded rubbish in Mallorcan countryside

Who dumped this lot in the entrance to a field in our valley?

When I first visited the Spanish peninsula in my late teens, on a touring holiday, I was shocked by the rubbish I saw discarded in the countryside. Stained mattresses, disgusting cookers, saggy sofas, and more were dumped here and there in rural areas.

That was quite a few years ago and I believed that people would be more enlightened by now. There is no excuse for fly-tipping in quiet rural areas or anywhere else: Mallorca (and most likely the peninsula too now) has plenty of official facilities (parcs verds) where people can take unwanted items.

Tourists wouldn’t have dumped this unwanted stuff in Mallorca’s glorious countryside, which means it must have been people who live on the island. People whom you’d imagine would want to preserve and protect the natural beauty of Mallorca.

 

©Jan Edwards 2018

Freshly Born Lambs for Our Mallorcan Valley

Meadow in Mallorca with sheep

Two new arrivals for our rural valley

Almost hidden in this pastoral Mallorcan scene you may be able to see a ewe and, with her, two tiny Persil-white lambs that have just about managed to scramble up onto their feet. We stood silently for some time watching the second one’s efforts to stand up for the first time but, with only a phone camera to capture the image, I couldn’t zoom in any closer than this.

Given the state of mum’s nether regions (probably best you can’t see too clearly, especially if you’re about to eat), these little lambs were born whilst we were taking a long walk; we didn’t see them as we passed the field the first time, but did on our return journey home.

It’s easy to spot lambs in rural Mallorca at the moment; they’re everywhere. But seeing them so newly arrived was a magical moment. And one that put spring firmly in our sights.

©Jan Edwards 2018

Good Reasons to Own a Trailer in Rural Mallorca

On Monday, The Boss went to Porreres to buy our latest trailer-load of logs and we’re hoping that this will be the the last we’ll have to buy until late 2018. This winter on Mallorca has felt colder and wetter than previous winters we’ve had here. We certainly haven’t had as many coffees or lunches on the terrace – and it doesn’t take a lot of sunshine for us to eat and drink outside.

Some people are surprised that we buy our logs in, given that we do have a lot of trees on our land. But the issue is one of safety: most of our trees and shrubs grow on the steep sides of the valley on our land. The combination of loose stones and earth underfoot and a powerful chainsaw is one that, with one small slip, could end in a messy visit to our local hospital’s Urgencias department.

Logs in a trailer

Of course, there’s the work of unloading the trailer…here, nearly finished

Before we moved to Mallorca, we bought a trailer. At the time I was a bit sceptical about the need for such a thing: was it just another boy’s toy?  But when we arrived here and compared the cost of buying small sacks of logs from a garage or DIY store, or collecting logs in bulk direct from a woodyard, the benefit was obvious.

The trailer has proved its usefulness in other ways too – such as enabling us to bring bulky purchases home (rather than incurring the cost of delivery). And we’re not the only ones to appreciate it: some of our cats like to sit on the trailer’s heavy waterproof cover, enjoying prime views over their territory.

Cats on a trailer

Also makes a popular hangout for the cats!

©Jan Edwards 2018