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

Smokin’!

Driving down the lane from a trip to town yesterday, The Boss spotted an unfamiliar elderly lady walking with the aid of sticks, who paused near our old holm oak tree. Sadly we’ve experienced an elderly person – suffering dementia and wandering vaguely – before, so The Boss stopped the car and wound down the window to greet her and check that she was OK.

It transpired that the lady was visiting a neighbouring finca, where a younger woman was busy attending to a bonfire in the field. At the sound of conversation, this fire guardian came out into the lane and joined in the chat. Spotting that the woman’s hat was smouldering on top of her head, The Boss immediately alerted her to the fact. She threw the offending hat to the ground, stamped on it and proceeded to pat the top of her head urgently to extinguish any possible flames.  (All was well up there, in case you’re concerned).

This little incident was over in a matter of minutes and certainly wasn’t captured on camera. It’s a lesson to anyone though that bonfires can be dangerous things. Indeed, The Boss once set light to his own trousers without noticing, until things got a little warm down there. I didn’t get a photo of that either … but here’s a shot of our own finca’s now more-cautious fire-starter in action.

Bonfire

Smokin’ but no flames yet

©Jan Edwards 2017

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 . . .

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/

Bee aware

Since we came to live in rural Mallorca, we’ve always been careful to ensure that there’s water available on our land for any passing thirsty wildlife. It’s particularly important during the summer months when we often have no rain at all for many weeks, and the temperatures are consistently high.

We brought four birdbaths with us from the UK, which are dotted around our property – and it’s simply a matter of making sure they’re all cleaned and topped up regularly with water. Our feathered friends are certainly grateful, calling regularly year-round for drinks and a spot of exuberant bathing (after which a water top-up is usually required). On one occasion we saw a family of partridge – six birds in total – all perched around the edge of the birdbath closest to the house. It would have made a great photo, but as I grabbed my Nikon from a shelf and removed the lens cap, they took off – as one – with a clattering of wings.

Dusty's turn at the watering hole

Dusty’s turn at the watering hole

The cats, the birds . .  and the bees

Ironically – birds and cats being natural enemies – the feline family that has adopted us, also use the birdbaths for drinking. Thankfully, never together.

Bees ready to hit the water

Bees ready to hit the water

But there’s new competition at the bar: for the past few days we’ve had numerous bees coming to drink from the largest birdbath, at the front of the house. We’ve always had plenty of bees around the place, as two farmers further down the valley keep hives – and we deliberately made our garden bee-friendly, with plenty of tempting lavender and rosemary bushes. I love the buzz of a few bees around the place – makes me think of summer – but The Boss thinks that the huge number of bees around might just be from a swarm that’s settled somewhere on our land.

Just in case, I’ve just checked out beekeeping gear on the Internet, and found a natty white bee suit – looks like a onesie with attitude – that might look good on The Boss. Or we could just call on the expertise of our beekeeping Mallorcan neighbours . . .