Keeping dry in rural Mallorca

Bathers in Med

Spotted at Cala Ratjada on November 15th 2015.

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’.

Portable dehumidifier

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Thunderstorms and Solar Power are not a Good Combination

Until this week, we were having a rather unsettled spell of weather on Mallorca, with some much-needed (unless you were holidaying here) rain and some thunderstorms. The Boss and I quite enjoy watching a dramatic storm – and we do get a few – but we are always  wary about the damage that an electrical storm can do to solar power equipment. We have bitter experience, having suffered an invertor failure a few years ago during a particularly bad storm. The invertor was only three weeks old – and had cost a huge amount of money – so we were relieved to learn that the (expensive) repair was covered by our household insurance. And that our solar power system engineer would lend us an invertor until the repair could be done.

When he came back with our fixed original invertor,  he recommended that we switch off all our system equipment during future storms. So we now keep a weather eye open (pardon the pun) for any thunderhead clouds on the horizon or distant rumbling, and switch everything off if the storm arrives.

A Rude Awakening

This is fine during the day but, at night, it means somebody (and it’s always The Boss, because he’s gentlemanly like that) has to get up, go outside and dash down the field to the dependencia, where all the equipment is housed, to switch everything off. So thunderclaps at night don’t only wake us up, they can get us up too.

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Hopefully last week’s overnight storm will be the last for a while. This week we’ve had temperatures in the low 30s (Celsius) and plenty of sunshine. Our cats disappear after breakfast to hide themselves from the heat – whereas, in stormy weather, they often like to gather together in the outside recess of our dining room window. As you can see, from a photo I took during last week’s bad weather, the pale ginger Peanut – the youngest of our adoptees – has been accepted by the rest of the family . . . even if it is only as a willing pillow!

Jan Edwards Copyright 2014 

Things you don’t expect to see in a Mallorcan country lane

We have been busy at our finca in rural Mallorca lately. The Boss cleaned our terraces with his new  Kärcher pressure washer, and they’ve never looked so clean. As with many tasks done around the finca, there’s a consequence job: the powerful machine blasted away not only a load of winter grime, but also some of the grouting between the tiles. Ho hum.

When I haven’t been working on writing jobs, I’ve also been outdoors doing jobs – including painting one of the small walls blasted clean (of its former paint!) by the mean machine. Most of my time outside though has been spent on the relentless Battle of the Weeds. It was while doing a spot of weeding yesterday morning that I saw something very unusual in the lane that runs alongside our property.

There have been other strange sightings here over the years. We once saw two donkeys walking down the lane like a couple of people out for a country stroll. That experience turned into an inadvertent case of donkey-napping – and one of the early posts on this blog.

And a little faster . . .

On another occasion – while our dear friends Duncan and Kristina were visiting from the UK – we saw something even more unusual: a team of speed skaters, dressed in tight bright Lycra, speed skating up the lane – having been driven to the bottom of the valley in the team’s minibus. We were exhausted watching them whizz up the hill. They appeared to take it all in their glide.

And even racier . . .

Yesterday, Good Friday, I saw something else memorable in the lane, while out in the battlefield (garden). To be honest, seeing three walkers isn’t unusual, as people do drive out to our valley to walk along the peaceful lanes. I could hear that they were German: two young men and a woman – probably in their late 20s or early 30s. The guys were dressed in the sort of clothes you’d wear for a walk in the country; the woman wore . . . a white bikini (and presumably shoes, although I couldn’t see her feet).

I’m far from a prude, but somehow a bikini didn’t seem like the most appropriate apparel for someone miles from the sea or a public swimming pool – and walking around countryside that’s largely inhabited by Mallorcan farmers (some of them on the elderly side and likely to have crashed their tractors at the shock of seeing so much flesh exposed in public).

We were once reprimanded by one of our Mallorcan neighbours for working in the garden on a Sunday – God’s day. Goodness knows what they would have thought of Miss White Bikini on a Good Friday!

If you were hoping to see a photo of her, I’m afraid I didn’t take one. I’m sure the woman felt embarrassed enough when she realized that the outing her friends had planned was a walk in the country – and not a trip to the beach . . .

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the terraces – the easy way

At about this time every year we start the process of getting the terraces of our rural Mallorca finca ready for the warmer months, and our usual alfresco lifestyle. We have three terracotta-tiled terrace areas and, before the outdoor furniture is brought out from its winter storage in our annexe bedroom, these areas have to be cleaned of the muck that accumulates over the winter.

It’s The Boss’s job. He’s the one with a pair of wellies. He’s always tackled this task with vigour,  using a large scrubbing brush and hose. I think he’s motivated by the prospect of long balmy evenings on the terrace with a bottle of good Mallorcan red (there are many of them – both wines and long balmy evenings) and something sizzling on the BBQ.

Another ‘boy’s toy’ for the collection

In previous years there have been murmurings about hiring a pressure washer for the job, but it’s never happened. This year he’ll be using one: The Boss is now the owner of a new ‘boy’s toy’ (although as he has pointed out to me, this is not a toy, but a serious tool).

While musing over the possibility of bringing some motorized muscle to this annual spring chore, we found a bargain on promotion at the Hiper DIY store in Manacor: last year’s model with all the spec tech of this year’s – for 150 euros less than the latest model. Who cares if it’s not the latest design? Ker-ching! Sold to The Boss.

Soon the sound of our pressure washer will echo around the valley. Let’s hope it doesn’t frighten the sheep . . .

Clean terraces? No pressure, with one of these.

Clean terraces? No pressure, with one of these.

Trailer Tales

When The Boss announced – prior to our move to rural Mallorca – that we’d need a trailer when we were living on the island, I did wonder whether this wasn’t a case of a desire for a new Man Toy. We certainly hadn’t needed one living in Oxfordshire. However, The Boss’s convincing case for owning a trailer once we were living in the Mallorcan countryside meant that we bought one before we moved, in case we couldn’t find a suitable one on the island. If only we’d known . . .

The Manacor area – in which we live – is largely agricultural and it seems that most country dwellers here have a trailer of some sort; we even regularly see one that has clearly been home-made: an old wooden fruit box that’s been mounted on a set of redundant pram wheels and is towed by an ancient moped ridden by an equally ancient man. There are plenty of more robust ones like ours too, and several places in the area where we could have bought one, as it happens.

Our trailer – manufactured in the Netherlands and bought in Oxfordshire – did, however, serve a useful purpose before we’d moved here. About a month before the Big Move, we drove our car and trailer down through France and Spain to Barcelona, where we caught the ferry to Mallorca. It was an opportunity to do some work on the finca and to bring some of our possessions with us in the trailer, in advance of the removal men bringing everything over. We shared the driving and I was surprised to find that towing the trailer didn’t present any particular problems (although I’m not sure I could have parallel parked the car/trailer combo, had I needed to!).

Bureaucracy Rules . . .

But if you’re moving to Mallorca – or indeed the Spanish mainland – I’d recommend buying a trailer when you arrive, to save all the bureaucratic processes involved in importing a vehicle. Yes, although our trailer has no engine, it went through the same processes as our car in order to be registered in Spain, and the task took almost as long as it did for the car to be legalized. Our problem was that we had no ficha técnica, the official document detailing the full technical specifications of the vehicle.  We had all the paperwork provided by the retailer of the trailer – which included a brochure containing all the technical details required. But it wasn’t an official Spanish ficha técnica, and therefore didn’t cut any mustard with officialdom.

Long (and oh-so-boring) story short, we had to contact the trailer manufacturer in the Netherlands to obtain additional details to enable us to meet the legal requirements here. We then had to have our trailer measured and inspected by a local official who, having confirmed that the details provided by the manufacturer were correct, produced the necessary ficha técnica. But this was only one of some nine documents required to complete the registration of the trailer in Spain. With the benefit of hindsight, we would have bought the trailer on Mallorca.

But, despite my initial reservations about the need for a metal box on wheels, our trailer has been very useful. It’s an easy way to transport large unwanted items to the local Ecoparc (where we do our recycling); bring construction materials home with us (saving a delivery charge) and, several times during the winter, to collect logs for our stove from a wood yard. And the cats have found a use for it too . . .

Shorty, Beamer and, almost hidden, Sweetie - enjoying the trailer life

Shorty, Beamer and, almost hidden, Sweetie – enjoying the trailer life

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

How to Make a Small Fortune in Mallorca

Start with a large one and buy an old finca!

I know. It’s an old joke, but there’s some truth in it (assuming you had any kind of fortune to start with – and we certainly didn’t).

This time last year we had to have our roof renewed and buy new gates. We’d hoped that we wouldn’t be spending any more large amounts of money for a long while. But in recent weeks our solar-powered electricity system has been requiring an increasing amount of generator back-up. Every evening we were having to run the generator for an hour or so to prevent it kicking in on auto-start during the night, because of the power drain caused by the fridge/freezer.

Eventually The Boss decided to switch off the auto-start before we went to bed: we really didn’t want the generator bursting into life in the wee small hours and startling the local sheep (or, of course, our neighbours in the valley). Although running our solar power system is ecologically sound, generators aren’t: diesel is horrible stuff and it’s expensive.

Winter Draws On

With winter ahead (and The Boss not keen on going out late at night to traipse down the field to the power house in bad weather), we knew it was time to replace our solar polar batteries. A few years ago we were told that we’d be lucky if they lasted five years; they managed nine. Once again we’ve had to shelve any dreams of a holiday, to spend the equivalent of several holidays on replacing our old batteries with a set that will hopefully last at least a decade.

Out with the old and exhausted . . .

Out with the old and exhausted . . .

Thanks to our finca, we’ll never have a large or even a small fortune, but we do have the good fortune to have a reliable and consistent electricity supply now and a sturdy roof over our heads – and, having seen the TV coverage of the heartbreaking devastation in the Philippines, we’re counting our blessings, if not our banknotes.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

Learning to Mend a Stone Wall

There are not many Saturday mornings when I leave home with an axe in my bag, but this was no ordinary Saturday . . .

It happened before we moved to live in rural Mallorca. At the time, we had bought our rustic finca as a holiday home; not that the times we used to spend here were what most people would envisage as a holiday: painting and decorating, making repairs, searching for essential services (such as plumbing) etc.

One of the jobs we arranged to be done was some work to our property’s old stone wall. Mallorca is criss-crossed with these ancient walls – which came about originally because people needed to clear stones from the soil so they could plant crops. We needed to create a gap in our own wall for gate posts and a gate, to provide access to our back field, where one day we would have an outbuilding to house a generator (which would need deliveries of diesel).

We used the services of an English stone wall craftsman, who’d escaped the dampness of the UK’s Lake District for the warmer climate of Mallorca. He was good. But such expertise doesn’t come without an appropriate price, and it was one we couldn’t afford for any future repairs that could become necessary.

A Crafty Day Out

Which is how The Boss and I came to sign up for a one-day course on the craft of dry stone walling, taking place on a farm in our home county of Oxfordshire. And why I was carrying an axe – and some sturdy gardening gloves – in my bag.

There were 10 budding wall-builders (only three of whom were men!) on the course, which began  with a safety briefing and introduction to the art of shaping stone. How hard could it be? Very. I chopped ’til I dropped . . . the axe. Not an auspicious start – and one which made The Boss move a few paces further away from my chop zone.

But eventually the group was let loose on one of the farm’s tumbledown walls and, by the end of the day (and fortified by lunch in the local village pub), we’d managed to turn a heap of stones into something resembling a wall. Stone-shaping aside, it was a strangely satisfying day, even if it did mean saying goodbye to a few fingernails . . .

The Boss has, on occasions, used the skills he learnt on that day to make small repairs to our old stone walls. I’d have helped, but he chose the safer option and gave my offer the chop.

A typical Mallorcan dry stone wall

A typical Mallorcan dry stone wall

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

Sloe, Sloe, Dig, Dig, Sloe

A hedge-in-the-making: one of 20 blackthorn shrubs that now grace our back field

A hedge-in-the-making: one of 20 blackthorn shrubs that now grace our back field

The Boss has an aching back – but he’s convinced it will have been worth it: he’s just planted 20 blackthorn bushes in the back field of our finca in rural Mallorca. One day they’ll grow up to become a long hedge and bear a multitude of sloes (see how hopeful I am?) with which he’ll make sloe gin. The fact that we can look forward to our own crop of sloes is down to our fantastic friends from Oxfordshire, who kindly brought the young shrubs over to Mallorca in their cabin baggage! https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2013/02/15/sloe-road-to-mallorca/

Planting anything on our land calls for more than a spade and fork, because what looks like normal land is mainly rocks with a covering of soil. Rarely can we plant something where we’d ideally like it to be, because a few test probes with a fork usually reveal that there’s not enough earth, or a mammoth rock is lurking beneath. Where would we be without a pickaxe?

Dynamite Might Do It

A Mallorcan wine-maker who lives nearby once told us how, as a child, he remembered dynamite being used to blast away rocks in one of the family’s fields so that an orchard could be planted. It’s a large field, so we can only imagine how noisy that must have been!

Whilst dynamite would be a quick solution – and less back-breaking – it would surely frighten the sheep in the field across the lane . . . and probably sound the death knell for what’s left of the ruined neighbouring casita. And think of the dust!

So our fledgling hedge was planted with muscle power. And don’t those muscles know it.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

 

A Cautionary Watery Tale – Part Two

When I look back at the various problems – OK, let’s call them challenges – that we’ve had living in our finca in rural Mallorca, most of them have been water-related. And several of them have arisen as a result of a job that we did in the belief we were making an improvement.

The installation of an electric water pump, to speed up the flow of water in the house, is a prime example: after having the pump fitted, The Boss was left with the task of digging a trench across the drive, in which to bury the electricity cable.  But when all was dug and buried, that wasn’t the end of it  . . .

Pump Up the Volume

With the new pump working, we knew we’d use more water and electricity, but were alarmed to discover how much more. Our water consumption had more than doubled and we’d been using enough electricity to power a small pueblo. It looked as though we’d have to avoid turning the taps on fully . . . which would rather defeat the object of having the pump.

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

To add to our woes, the water heater supplying our shower room had developed an insatiable appetite for butano.  Fearing a gas leak, we called back Pep the plumber, who quickly applied his analytical brain to the problem. Within minutes he’d dismissed our leak theory and suspected something far more serious. Muttering in mallorquin, he went out to his van – returning with a pickaxe.

Swing That Thing

The bad news, Pep explained, was that our hot water pipe was probably leaking, which would cause the water heater to use more gas. The even worse news was that the leaking pipe was likely to be under the floor tiles in our shower room – hence the pickaxe.

We couldn’t bear to watch Pep smash up our terracotta floor, so retreated – only to rush back at what sounded like a very loud mallorquin expletive. Kneeling amid shards of terracotta and an indoor fountain we hadn’t had before, was a very wet Pep. Swinging his pickaxe, he’d accidentally punctured the cold water pipe.

But he’d also found the hot water pipe, which was seriously leaking – explaining the increase in our water and power consumption. It seemed that the increased water pressure had ruptured a weak joint in the old pipe. Pep set to and eventually fixed both pipes.

Of course, there was still that large hole in the floor. And, as we had feared when we saw it, repairing that was another ‘consequence job’ for us.

Jan Edwards Copyright2013 

A Cautionary Watery Tale – Part One

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, we have no mains water or functioning well at our finca in Mallorca. When we want more water, we phone our supplier, who delivers a tanker-load into our cisterna or depósito – a storage tank – located on our land a few metres up the hill from our little house. Gravity-fed, the flow of water used to be painfully slow: it took five minutes just to fill the washing-up bowl in the kitchen. When we had visitors to stay, we had to work out a rota for using the shower, flushing the loo, and general tap usage, otherwise the flow would reduce to a mere trickle.

After some time – and once we had electricity – we decided we had to find a solution, and called on the services of the plumbing company in Manacor that we’d used for some other jobs. In fact, we’ve now used this business so many times – usually for plumbing emergencies – that we have a great relationship with the owner, Cito. Whenever he sees us in town on Saturday mornings, he comes over to greet us with hugs and kisses and to show off his much-loved granddaughter, who is usually with him and his wife.

A Gravity Matter

I’ve digressed slightly. Cito sent his man Pep to look at our problem. He shrugged his shoulders a few times, stroked his chin in contemplation, and suggested that the best solution would be an electric water pump, to replace the gravity-fed system – which might have worked better if we were living on a steeper hill. He rang his boss for a quote, which we reluctantly accepted as an essential expenditure. After a quick trip back to the depot for the necessary parts, Pep was soon back and at work.

It wasn’t long before he was able to demonstrate our new supercharged water flow. As he turned on the outdoor tap, an explosion of cal – the limescale that blights water here – shot out ahead of the gushing water. Apparently our pipes had been well and truly clogged-up (a common problem on this island, where kidneys and water-dependent appliances also suffer the effects of the cal-laden water).

Dig That

Satisfied that our water flow could now blast the barnacles off a Sunseeker’s bottom, Pep packed his tools into his van, then came to shake hands and say adios before leaving.

“Er, what about that electric cable lying across the drive?” asked The Boss, in his best Spanish. The cable had been fed through the shrubs from the new pump adjoining the depósito and across the drive, to the house. When would Pep be back to bury the cable?

“¡Hombre!” the plumber declared, shaking his head. He wouldn’t be. Digging the four-metre trench was a job for The Boss, but – Pep helpfully pointed out – it wouldn’t need to be any deeper than 10cm.  “Until you’ve done it though, don’t drive over that cable!” His words were left hanging in the air as we wondered how we’d get our car out of the drive until the trench could be dug.

And worse was to come . . .

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats - photo taken October 2011.

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats – photo taken October 2011

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013