February in Mallorca brings almond blossom…and sometimes more
It didn’t for us. We were both sleeping soundly when a low-intensity earthquake happened in Mallorca during the early hours of Tuesday.
The ‘quake measured between two and three on the Richter scale (according to the National Geographic Institute), with its epicentre between the village of Petra and the town of Manacor, at a depth of nine kilometres. The same area suffered a much stronger earthquake in 1919.
A rude awakening…for some
It was around three o’clock this morning that vibrations woke sleeping residents in the area. If they slept through the gentle shaking, they probably woke when all the dogs in the neighbourhood began their concert of barking.
The good news is that the earthquake apparently caused no damage to people or property, although I imagine some of the good citizens of Petra will have had to straighten any pictures on their walls this morning.
The first we knew about the earthquake – which happened not too far from where we live – was reading about it on social media. I immediately went around the rooms of our home, expecting to find pictures hanging at jaunty angles, but there wasn’t a wonky one anywhere.
Sun and ‘snow’
It’s almond-blossom time here in Mallorca and we’ve had some beautiful weather to go with it. Temperatures have, in the past few days, been around 10 degrees Celsius higher than is usual for this time of year.
Although it’s a treat to have calm conditions and temperatures in the low twenties – especially after the recent destructive Storm Gloria – it’s another sign of climate change. As we drank our coffee outside yesterday, basking in warm sunshine, it was hard to believe that on February the 4th, 2012, snow fell all across the island (unusually, even in the capital, Palma de Mallorca).
An orange tree in Camp de Mar in February 2012
At the time, The Boss’s cousin and wife had just arrived in the southwest resort of Camp de Mar for a walking holiday. Their plans altered when they woke one morning to find the unexpected snowfall. Our drive down to visit them was quite memorable.
Almond blossom petals are the only ‘snowfall’ we’re experiencing at the moment; I imagine the ‘snowfall’ around Petra was somewhat heavier during the earthquake.
By the way, if you’re feeling a little envious of our warm weather, I should tell you that today is forecast to be seven degrees cooler than yesterday, at around 14 Celsius. That’s much more like February in Mallorca!
Plastic waste. Don’t you hate what it’s doing to our planet? On the recent guide4dogs beach walk from Colonia de Sant Pere to Son Serra de Marina, in the north of Mallorca, several of us commented on the amount of plastic we saw along the way. Last Sunday, the marine conservationists of the excellent local NGO Asociación Ondine had organised a Dos Manos (Spanish for ‘two hands’) beach clean at Son Serra – the last clean-up of 2017. The Boss and I decided we’d go along and ‘do our thing’ because this beach is not too far from us and is one we visit at all times of the year.
All hands to the sands
The weather wasn’t good on Sunday as we set off, with wind and rain battering the car. It would have been so easy to stay at home, but we had said we were going and going we were!
It was a relief to find that the rain had stopped when we arrived at the blustery meeting point. The virgin beach at Son Serra de Marina is popular with kite surfers because the sea along here can be pretty rough and it looked quite spectacular on Sunday, especially once the sun came out for a while.
Rain had moved into the distance
Ever-changing sky on a stormy winter day
Now that’s a bit better! Still cold though…
We’d equipped ourselves with some new heavy-duty gardening gloves and a collection bag. We set off, heads down, searching for plastic waste – and it wasn’t hard to spot. Some of the volunteers were assigned to collecting microplastics – working on their knees with a grid and a sieve to sift through the sands for these tiny pieces (up to 5mm), which are a huge threat to the marine environment (and, ultimately, us as a race).
We were encouraged to make a plastics-related New Year resolution for 2018
Volunteers bring back their bounty
The first instalment of collected waste
A festive reward afterwards
Because we’d been heads-down perusing for plastic, we were surprised at the end to see how many volunteers had come along to help out – in spite of the cold weather. More than 50 of us had turned up. We knew several of them and enjoyed chatting afterwards over hot chocolate, mulled wine, and home-made cookies – provided by volunteer Steph.
Of course, by now, more plastic will have washed up onto this beach. The point is that these beach-cleaning events raise awareness of the problems caused by single-use plastics, prompt change in everyday habits, and also provide data for scientific study. At the end of the collecting period, we returned to our starting point to tip our findings onto a growing pile. This was then sorted into different types of plastic so that numbers could be recorded and the haul was then removed from the beach.
Asociación Ondine has released the findings of Sunday’s Dos Manos event, at which a total of 4,500 items were collected, weighing 82 kg. Amongst these, from a fairly short stretch of Son Serra de Marina beach, were:
1,529 microplastics (818 of which were nurdles – the tiny pellets used in the plastics industry to make larger items)
681 bottle caps
97 utensils (including drinking straws)
It’s a sobering thought…
Asociación Ondine has become Save The Med Foundation (in 2019)
Find out more about this Balearic foundation on their Facebook page or on their website and read my article about its founder Brad Robertson here.
If you’re looking for a gift for a hard-to-buy-for someone, how about a year’s membership of the Foundation?
Which non-fiction books about Mallorca would you recommend to someone moving to the island? That’s a question I’ve been asked a few times, so I thought I’d answer it in this post.
We arrived to live in rural Mallorca in 2004 with one thumping good book about the island (in English): Majorca – Culture and Life(Könemann). It had been a farewell gift from a BBC work friend (Julia) and was so interesting that, before we left the UK, we bought another copy to give to my dad – destined to spend holidays with us on Mallorca; you can also find this book for sale on the island.
Over the years, we have added further books about Mallorca to our bookshelves and, if it’s of interest, these are some others we’ve found to be practical, inspiring, and interesting:
Just a few of our books about Mallorca
A Home in Majorca by Tomás Graves (La Foradada)
Written by the son of the late writer Robert Graves, this book is fascinating for anyone with an old Mallorcan finca. Its strapline is ‘A practical guide to the traditional house and rural life’ and that about sums it up perfectly. This is a book to pick up and dip into just for the interest of its contents, or to scour for a possible solution to a domestic ‘situation’ – such as cleaning a chimney or dealing with a crop of olives. It’s available in English (and probably quite a few other languages by now) and I can thoroughly recommend buying a copy.
Beloved Majorcans – Guy de Forestier (La Foradada)
Here’s a book that gives a useful insight into the character of the islanders themselves. Described as ‘An outsider’s guide to social and personal relations on the isle of Majorca’, it should help you avoid making any major social gaffs and go some way to explaining greetings such as what The Boss and I call ‘the chin cock’. Guy de Forestier is a pseudonym; the book was written by the Catalan architect Carlos García Delgado, who has lived on the island since he was a child.
A Birding Tourist’s Guide to Majorca (www.birdingmajorca.com)
If you live in the Mallorcan countryside, chances are you may be curious about some of those feathered friends you’ll see around your land. This book is the perfect twitcher’s companion, explaining which birds may be seen on the island – where and when. We bought our copy (19,50 euros) from the visitor centre at S’Albufera natural park (which is well worth a visit as it has the island’s greatest diversity of birds).
El Litoral de Mallorca (geoPlaneta)
This is a complete guide to Mallorca’s coastline, illustrated with aerial photographs. The text is in castellano but even if you don’t speak the language, it’s fascinating to look at the images, which also show footpaths and some points of interest. When we first arrived we went through it page by page, identifying beaches that looked promising. Nautical sorts will also find it useful, as it includes basic information about marinas around Mallorca.
Todas las playas de Mallorca – Miquel Ángel Álvarez Alperi (La luz en papel)
If you love spending time on a beach, you have 262 to discover on Mallorca! And this book will help you find those that most fit your tastes – whether it’s a popular resort with all the facilities you could want, or a hideaway cove where you may share the sand with a gull or two. As far as I know, it’s only available in castellano, but each beach has its own page, illustrated with a photograph and annotated with symbols that are easy enough to understand.
Gardens of Mallorca – Charlotte Seeling and Carina Landau (Feierabend)
This will look good on the coffee table, but it’s also a useful book if you’re interested in gazing at gardens of a Mediterranean nature, or seeking inspiration for your own patch of paradise. It’s in three languages – English, castellano, and German – and is illustrated with lots of beautiful photographs. Useful if you want to identify the type of trees and plants that grow best on Mallorca.
Country Houses of Majorca – Barbara and René Stoeltie (Taschen)
With texts in German, English, and French, this is one to inspire the interior décor of your rural home on Mallorca. Each chapter is dedicated to a country property, with a description and photographs. Be prepared to drool a bit…
Living in Style Mallorca (teNeues)
Larger and glossier than the above book, this one earns a place on many coffee tables. It’s packed with lots of full-page photos of gorgeous properties (not all rural) and will give you plenty of ideas for decorating a home on Mallorca. Be prepared to drool quite a lot!
If you’re in Palma, it’s worth popping into the lifestyle store Rialto Living to check out the books section – which usually has a choice relating to Mallorca.
Anders – a loyal reader of Living in Rural Mallorca and also a finca owner – got in touch with me to share the list he has compiled of books about Mallorca. Whilst mine is of books we’ve found useful and informative for practical purposes, Anders’s list comprises a broad spectrum of books about Mallorca and it’s surprising how many there are! Check the list out here – the season for reading a good book, sitting by the log fire with a glass of good Mallorcan tinto, will soon be here!
A blaze of colour, although the farmer probably didn’t appreciate the invasion of his cereal crop!
Poppies seem to have been late emerging this spring on Mallorca. Perhaps it was because of the huge amount of rain that fell on the island over the winter months?
I love poppies and was keen to plant some in the garden, imagining a future scene reminiscent of Claude Monet’s famous Poppy Field. A welcome gift of California poppy seeds was liberally sewn over the small patch of our garden that has more than an inch or two of soil.
Lost to the lane
Last year a few of these seeds did grow into poppies but, this year, we haven’t had a single one in the garden. However, the wildflower-strewn verges of our lane have become home to a few that are more West-Coast America than rural Mallorca. Ho hum. Well, this is a breezy island…
A touch of Monet on Mallorca?
Elsewhere in rural Mallorca poppies are having a field day (pardon the pun). On our way back from an appointment in the town of Sa Pobla yesterday we spotted a particularly colourful field. I didn’t have my camera with me, so the image is courtesy of my iPad. And there are quite a few similar displays of poppies elsewhere on Mallorca…just not in our garden.
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:
The Boss and I have just come indoors after having lunch on our rural Mallorca home’s small front terrace. It’s something we’ve been able to do more than is usual for January, as the weather has been surprisingly warm and sunny for the time of year.
Today’s home-made guacamole (from creamy avocados grown on Mallorca) served with a medley of crisp raw veggies (sounds like I swallowed a recipe description here!) was more the type of dish we’d eat in spring or summer; it was too warm today for home-made soup or a steaming jacket potato fresh from our Jotul log-burning stove.
This winter is proving to be like none that we have experienced since we moved to Mallorca in April 2004. Back then we started to record temperatures and weather conditions in a new five-year diary. It’s been interesting to look back occasionally at what we experienced in those early years:
January 26th, 2005: High 6 degrees C. Low of zero degrees. “Woke to a covering of snow.”
And the same date in subsequent years, highs and lows as follows:
Today our outdoor thermometer (which stands in a shaded position) has registered 18 degs C. And our rural part of Mallorca is often a few degrees cooler than, say, Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital. We’ve had quite a few similar temperatures since winter officially began – and only a couple of short cold snaps.
The downside to the unusual amount of warm sunshine and blue skies is the lack of rain. Farmers are having a tough time with their crops and, this week, the Balearic government has announced measures to help the agricultural community during this time of drought. Other sectors are also being affected by the unseasonable weather: yesterday I heard of a heating company that has done hardly any business so far this winter.
Mallorca’s dry warm winter has both good and bad sides, but one positive has been the early blossoming of the almond trees across the island. This beautiful, delicately scented blossom never fails to make me smile in the winter months – whatever the weather.
Captured on camera today.
Almond blossom from 2014 – when the sky wasn’t quite as blue as today’s!
If you’re on Mallorca in early February, it would be a pity to miss the Fira de la Flor d’Ametler (the almond blossom fair), which takes place in the town of Son Servera on Sunday, February 7th, 2016.
Mallorca is enjoying some exceptional autumn weather this year: daytime temperatures peaking in the low 20s; blue skies, and very warm sunshine. This is what the locals call the veranillo de San Martín or, as we’d call it, an Indian summer. It looks as though it’s set to continue for the rest of November at least, which means we may save some money on logs for the fire this year.
But despite the warmth and sunshine, we are still experiencing the early morning mists and fog that are typical at this time of year. Very often the sea mists are below our finca, moving through the valley and creating an ethereal beauty that begs to be captured on camera. Sometimes the mist moves around our house, the swirling droplets visible in the air and settling on the coats of the cats who have adopted the finca as their favourite restaurant and hotel.
Fighting the damp
It all adds up to a damp environment, of course. In our first autumn here I had to throw away several pairs of shoes that had grown furry in the damp conditions. It really was uncomfortable before we had electricity – especially as the gas heaters we were using to warm the house were increasing the dampness in the atmosphere. Once we had an electricity supply, we purchased a portable dehumidifier – and still sing its praises every year throughout the ‘soggy season’.
Our essential finca friend.
The damp situation inside the house did improve dramatically once we’d had a new roof and a chunky layer of insulation added, but our living room still suffers until we start to have regular log fires. It gets no sunshine at this time of the year, and the north-facing wall at the end of the room is built from concrete blocks, rather than stone.
And recycle . . .
With ample sunshine recently we’ve been running the dehumidifier every morning for a couple of hours. It makes a real difference to the comfort level in the room. And because we have had very little rain for some time, the extracted water that accumulates in the dehumidifier’s tank is proving useful in the garden; we do love a bit of recycling . . .
Since I drafted this on Sunday (after enjoying a tapas lunch by the sea), the forecast is for the warm spell to end within a few days. This weekend, from Sunday, we shall see wind, rain, and daytime highs of around 13 degrees Celsius. It’ll be a shock to the system after such a warm and sunny two-thirds of the autumn . . .
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 . . .
Spring on rural Mallorca this year has rapidly become summer. We’re reminded that it’s actually still only spring by the singing of the nightingales in the valley throughout the night. Spain – including the Balearic Islands – is experiencing temperatures more common in July and, on the Spanish mainland, it’s set to sizzle up to 40 degrees Celsius by Thursday – when temperatures will be around 15 degrees higher than average for the time of year. Phew.
Although holidaymakers may be loving the hotter-than-average May temperatures, the early heat has had a detrimental effect on our house-and-garden maintenance schedule. It’s too hot to paint the shutters, or do some repairs involving cementing.
Fortunately, between our last visitors and the next ones – my dad and his younger brother, arriving on Thursday – The Boss had time to bushwhack the field. The wild flowers this year were superb, so we left them in all their glory until the heat zapped the last bit of life from them. Then it was time for The Boss to don his safety gear, fire up his bushwhacker, and get to work.
While clearing the field of the long wild grasses he’d cut down, The Boss found a nest of partridge eggs. The parents had not chosen a good location – on the ground at the base of an almond tree – and had subsequently abandoned the nest, which contained 15 cold eggs.
No countryside for young partridges: a nest of abandoned eggs
We guessed the partridge parents-to-be were probably last year’s young, with little idea about choosing a great place to raise their kids. Although it was sad to see the eggs left behind, it was probably as well, given that we have seven cats that spend a lot of time in that field!
Perhaps Mr and Mrs Partridge knew what they were doing after all . . .