How to drive on Mallorca’s off-the-beaten-track country lanes …

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

Cyclists love Mallorca's rural lanes.

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.

Stone curlews

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.

Polyester-clad bottoms 

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.

Sheep

Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.

Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.

 

"Mum, wait for us!"

“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

Horses came before cars ...

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.

Random hazards

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!

Jan Edwards ©2016

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Life behind bars in Mallorca!

No, The Boss and I are not currently residing at His Majesty’s pleasure in what some people dub ‘the Palma Hilton’. (That nickname for the island’s prison must really annoy Mallorca’s real Hilton hotel, Sa Torre Hilton near Llucmajor). Neither am I pouring foaming pints of beer for British holidaymakers in a lively Magaluf bar. I’m referring to the iron window bars, known in Spanish as rejas.

They’re a common sight at the windows of houses in Spain and something that made an impression on me when I  saw them, quite a long time ago, during my first visit to the country that is now my home. At the time I thought it would be horrible to live with bars at the windows, but I’ve now become so used to these things that I now couldn’t imagine not having them. Presumably many others feel the same as these traditional features are still incorporated into many new properties.

Keeping some out . . . others in

They are first and foremost a security feature, enabling windows to be left open for fresh air, with a degree of protection from anyone who may wish to enter the house without an invitation. They also help prevent unsupervised young children from falling out of a window (or teenagers from doing an unauthorised late-night exit through their bedroom window to meet friends!).

At one time, of course, many houses wouldn’t have had windows fitted with glass (which is still quite expensive on the island), so bars in the window space would have been essential as a security measure. We saw an example of this once when we stayed for a night in a townhouse in Pollensa: our bedroom window in this charming old property had shutters, but no glass! Thankfully it was a warm(ish) night . . .

Another maintenance job for the property owner

The downside of these things is that they do need to be painted from time to time to keep them looking good. And it’s a very fiddly job (and one that’s often bumped down the ‘to do’ list in our house as a result).  The upside – apart from the security benefits – is that property insurance companies may give a discount on premiums if bars are fitted.

For our cats too, there seems to be a feeling of safety sleeping behind the bars. Pip certainly seems to take advantage of a ‘protected’ place to snooze away the daylight hours. Her favourite window – the smallest in the house – is in our small guest suite. She’s actually the only one of our cats that can fit into it. No need for a ‘do not disturb’ sign here . . . unless I’m around with my Nikon.These bars are very good for resting one's feet on . . .

These bars are very good for resting one’s feet on . . .

Mediterranean menace preparing to march

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

If you go down to the woods today, it’s not a teddy bears’ picnic you’re like to find, but the nest of the processionary caterpillar – at least, if the woods are mainly pine trees. These are the habitat of this crawling Mediterranean menace and these strange almost candyfloss-like nests are where they plot their manoeuvres. At around this time of year, they’re preparing to leave the nest to pupate in the soil and when they do, watch out!

We first saw these on the appropriately named Pine Walk in Puerto Pollensa. We hadn’t a clue what they were then (it was our first spring on the island) but watched in fascination as these hairy striped beasties marched across our path, nose-to-tail (do caterpillars have noses?), like a well-disciplined army corps.

Keep your pets away

They look like the sort of thing that a small boy would want to collect and keep in a shoebox under his bed. But processionary caterpillars are definitely to be avoided, as their hairs are irritant to humans and potentially dangerous to pets and other animals. And you don’t even need to come into physical contact with a caterpillar: when under threat, they shed hairs which can be unknowingly ingested.

For the time being, we’ll be giving pine trees a wide berth . . . and joining the teddy bears’ picnic on the beach instead.

The guns fall silent

No hunting sign

Apart from the almond blossom, one of the best things about February on Mallorca is that the hunting season has finished. For a few months now we have a reprieve from the shots that have been our early morning alarm call for a few months. The rabbit and thrush population quite like it too . . .

Here’s lead in your Lycra

There’s a large old finca not far from us that was once dubbed ‘the shooting lodge’. Its owners used to allow hunters to shoot on their land; taxis full of macho gun-toting chaps from Palma would arrive at weekends. Their shots would echo around the valley and sometimes it felt like living in the Wild West. Let loose in the countryside, these urban hunters were seemingly unaware of the restrictions regarding shooting close to other properties and highways. On occasions, we even heard lead shot peppering the roof of our little house; once, a passing cyclist got a little lead in his Lycra . . .

Now that ‘the shooting lodge’ has been refurbished and is used as a weekend home, the Palma hunters no longer visit. The shooting we hear is largely that of our Mallorcan farming neighbours, who continue the tradition of hunting for the cooking pot.

But some of the outsiders who still come are not as careful about their targets. There have been cats shot in our valley – whether intentionally or because these men (I’ve not seen a single woman hunting around here) shoot as soon as they see something moving, I don’t know. When I hear the first shots on one of the days when hunting is allowed, I pray that all our outdoor cats will be safe.

The return of Nibbles

Around seven weeks ago one of our cats disappeared. Nibbles has always been an affectionate cat but also inclined to go off for a day or two. We thought he’d return as usual – with an enormous appetite for food and a cuddle. But the days rolled by, and turned into weeks. The Boss and I told ourselves that he had simply decided to move on; we couldn’t bear to consider that anything bad might have befallen him.

On Saturday evening we had a jaw-dropping surprise: Nibbles was waiting outside the door for dinner, along with his siblings. He was welcomed back by the other cats like the prodigal son returning with a Euromillions lottery win. They weren’t the only ones pleased to have him home.

Home sweet home for Nibbles - reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

Home sweet home for Nibbles – reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

With the hunting season over, outdoor cats are now safe from this particular hazard. Just the others to worry about now . . .

Trying to prevent weeds in the Mallorcan garden

The Boss deals with the intricate task of cutting the membrane to fit the space.

The Boss deals with the intricate task of cutting the membrane to fit the space.

Weeds are just plants that you didn’t want. I’m not sure who said that, but it has stayed in the recesses of my mind – only to come to the fore again after the recent heavy rains on Mallorca. The plants – those we’d wanted – perked up considerably after a soaking, but there are also early signs of the plants we don’t want, that will blight our garden from autumn through until early next summer. The soil that was baked brown and rock-hard all summer, now has a just-visible green mantle: weeds. Oh joy.

But more annoying than the weeds growing around the plants we do want are the weeds that grow in the gravel path. And this year we’re determined to stop the blighters coming up.

Beach babies

Which is why I’ve been bringing out my inner navvy (who knew?). The Boss and I are in the process of renewing the path that leads down to the powerhouse – and I’m wielding the shovel.

The original gravel we put down was the Mallorcan sandstone known as mares. It was relatively inexpensive and therefore our first choice, given that we had plenty of other bills to pay at the time.

However, being sandstone, in the course of a few years that gravel had turned into . . . a beach! The cats loved it – rolling around contentedly in the stuff. The humans, meanwhile, were repeatedly treading it into the house. Something had to be done.

A material girl

So The Boss and I are in the process of scraping away all the sandstone, removing signs of any weeds-in-waiting, then laying down sheets of green material that I hope will prevent the weeds growing through (whilst allowing water to drain through). Then we’re covering these sheets with new gravel – proper stones this time.

It’s hard work. I’m currently the one wielding the shovel, moving stones from the back of the trailer to the ground. The Boss is on slightly lighter duties; he unfortunately sustained a hernia during a previous DIY exercise and soon goes into hospital to have all his bits pushed back into their correct place. I’m not complaining about the work: all the twisting and turning, wielding a stone-laden shovel can only be good for the waistline, can’t it?

The people in the DIY shop were very confident in the weed-proofing powers of the  material we bought. I didn’t like to tell them that, six months after proper tarmac was laid down on the lane past our finca, weeds were sprouting defiantly through the black stuff . . .

Wildfire – the most feared hazard of rural life

Living in rural Mallorca is wonderful, but country life has its hazards. And the most terrifying of these is wildfire. During the island’s long hot summers these fires occur far more often than they should, causing serious environmental damage and endangering the lives of firefighters as well as the people, animals, and property in their path. Last year there were more than 80 such fires on Mallorca – some started deliberately.

Airborne aid

A few years ago we had first-hand experience of the frightening unpredictability of fire, when a blaze ripped through our valley. A neighbour (a local, who must have known about the illegality of bonfires in the summer) had been burning some garden rubbish, and believed the fire was extinguished when he left it. However, the fire had travelled through the roots of wild olive and re-ignited, spreading quickly onto our land.

It was a very dramatic day, with a helicopter scooping up water from neighbouring swimming pools and water tanks to dowse the erratic flames (fortunately not too close to the house). We were extremely grateful – and in awe of – the airborne and ground firefighters who extinguished the blaze.

But the fire in our valley was but a spark compared to the one that’s devastated almost 2,000 hectares of forested mountain terrain on Mallorca – the worst wildfire here for some two decades. The fire broke out last Friday at around lunchtime (the result of human carelessness) and, only today, has it been reported as being finally under control.

Help from the mainland

It affected three municipalities in the southwest of the island – Andratx, Estellencs, and Calvia – and more than 700 people had to evacuate their homes because they were at risk. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from the Spanish mainland to assist the teams here, along with members of the military emergency unit, UME. Seaside holidaymakers – not in any danger from the blaze – watched in amazement from beaches in some of the southwest resorts, as firefighting planes and helicopters scooped water from the Mediterranean in front of them.

Thousands of amateur photos must have been captured and emailed by holidaymakers, but here’s one of a number taken over the past few days by Warwick Upton, a respected professional photographer on Mallorca.  www.warwickupton-photography.co.uk

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

And for a chilling account of how it feels to be so close to a raging wildfire, here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend and fellow blogger/journalist Vicki McLeod.

http://familymattersmallorca.com/2013/07/29/our-nit-de-foc/

Saddle up

Horses are a common sight in our part of rural Mallorca, where the sport of trotting seems to be as popular as football for many people. Between Manacor – where trotting races are held at the hippodrome every Saturday – and our finca there are horses to be seen grazing contentedly in fields, and also being exercised.

It’s not uncommon to come across a horse and trotting rig in country lanes or even on main roads (although it must be said that traffic is a lot lighter on roads around here than you’d find in the English countryside). Motorists tend to be fairly respectful of riders, giving them a wide berth. It’s just as well really, as we rarely see riders wearing proper headgear, even when they’re out on the busier roads. (Two of my nieces are good horsewomen and would be horrified to see such risky riding).

No cows . . . but plenty of hats

As the weather improves, we often see people riding horses down through the valley, and up to a dozen at a time can pass our gates. Many of them wear cowboy hats rather than riding helmets, and, if they see us in the garden, will tip their hats and call out an ‘adios‘ to us.

In the summer months, in the late afternoon or early evening, a large party of riders sometimes heads down the valley and across country towards the coast. They usually return at around 3am, and the first time we experienced this, I was woken by the spooky sound of horses galloping up the tarmac lane. On an otherwise silent night, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse came to mind . . .

But what a romantic expedition it must be: cowboy hat at a jaunty angle; the promise of a beer or two at the beach bar, while the horses rest for the return journey, and a moonlit ride home through the cool of the night. Bring on the riding lessons!

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