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.

Things that go bump in the night

Image

We’ve become quite good at detective work since moving to the Mallorcan countryside; you have to be when you live in an old finca like ours. Strange things happen from time to time and, if we didn’t work out the reason for them, we’d probably go mad. And there is always an explanation eventually.

All manner of things have piqued our curiosity. One of the earliest mysteries was the occasional pile of empty almond shells found around the terraces and garden. Who was eating our almonds and shedding shells in neat little heaps around the place? A Mallorcan neighbour gave us the answer: it was what’s known here as (wait for it) . . .  an almond-eater. These cute-looking little rodents – with facial markings that make them look as though they are wearing bandit masks, and a tail topped with something like a pom-pom – certainly live up to their name. They’re incredibly shy and we seldom see them . . . just evidence of their presence.

Then we had the incident with the vanishing *butano. In the course of a week, The Boss had to replace the butane bottle that powers our shower room water heater three times. No, we hadn’t suddenly become super-obsessive about showering every hour. It took some considerable thought, mess, and money, to sort that little mystery out. I’ll tell you about it in a future episode on this blog.

The latest in many strange occurrences happened just this last Thursday evening. I was working at the computer, and The Boss was watching TV when, suddenly, we heard the strangest rumbling noise from outside. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before – and most evenings in winter there’s nothing much to hear except a generator somewhere.

My immediate fear was that someone driving down the lane had swerved to avoid one of the cats that have adopted us, and driven into one of the old dry stone walls. It might have explained the noise. But, as The Boss pointed out, we hadn’t actually heard a car (few pass this way in the winter once darkness has fallen). Nevertheless, we rushed outside, armed with a torch probably powerful enough to confusing incoming aeroplane pilots, to scan the lane. Nada. Satisfied that neither human or feline had been injured, I returned to the warmth of the house, while The Boss scoured the terraces around the house, finding nothing out of order.

It was only this afternoon, having been out all day yesterday and this morning, that we worked out what had made the mysterious noise we’d heard. At the bottom of our field is an old abandoned finca, which was where one of our Mallorcan neighbours had been born. It’s been empty for years and, over the past year in particular, the roof had become rather dilapidated. See https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/10/03/ripping-off-the-roof-at-last/ for an image of what it used to look like. Every time the wind was strong or we had heavy rain, a tile or two would fall to the ground.

Now, there is no roof at all. The entire thing has collapsed into the upper floor of the old house, and only the four walls remain standing. The strange rumbling noise we’d heard suddenly made sense: it had been the sound of roof tiles and old beams crashing down.

I’m just hoping that the next strange noise we hear isn’t the rest of the place finally falling to the ground.

* For those who own or rent property in Spain, and use butane gas for heating or cooking, there is good news: the cost of one of those orange metal bottles of gas has been frozen by the Spanish goverment at 16,10 euros. It had been due to increase in price on January 1st, 2013, to 19,06 euros.

Into each life a little decadence should fall . . .

The Boss and I have changed a lot since we moved to live in rural Mallorca. I hope for the better . . .

For a start, living in such beautiful surroundings has made us more environmentally aware. Some of this is due to the practicalities of our ‘off the grid’ life. For example, if we’re careless in our use of electricity, the chances are that our solar system will do the equivalent of screaming “Woah! I need a little generator support here!” And diesel, apart from being rather unfriendly in environmental terms, is also quite expensive.

So, we think carefully about usage, and would never dream of running the dishwasher, the washing machine and the iron all at the same time. And I try to do jobs that require a good slug of electricity on days when our 16 solar panels are basking in sunshine. If we’re lucky with the weather, we don’t have to rely on the generator to keep us in clean ironed clothes.

We’re similarly careful with water usage: we have to be, as it’s delivered by tanker to our cisterna, 12,000 litres at a time.

I must confess that I probably wasn’t so careful about these things when I lived in the UK, even though we had quarterly bills to pay for such services. The bathroom  tap would run while I was cleaning my teeth (now a ‘sin’ in our household), and lights would be on in unused rooms, just for decorative effect. Everything was ‘on tap’ and available – even if it meant bigger bills for less careful use.

A zest for cooking . . . and gourmet goodies 

Happily, my writing keeps me fairly busy, but I do like to find time to do things such as making  bread, biscuits, and preserves. In the early days of living here, I’d have been slightly overwhelmed by a generous gift of lemons – wondering how many G&Ts we’d have to drink to use them all up! Now, I head for the kitchen (where, it must be said, I am quite a messy but reasonably successful cook) and turn these gifts into preserves.

Friends who came for lunch last Thursday brought us a large basket of organic lemons and grapefruit; this summer, we’ll be spreading the resulting marmalade on our morning toast, thinking of our friends in their home in New York, and remembering a sunny January day when I spent most of one joyful morning shredding the peel from a small mountain of citrus fruit.

But within this changed girl remains a part-time hedonist: when the opportunity is there, I love dining out on fine food and wine, and I get little-girl-excited when I discover previously untried gourmet foods and ingredients.

So, when we opened a parcel yesterday – a generous gift from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina in Oxford, who have visited us annually since we moved here, and probably love the finca as much as we do – we were thrilled to find some delicious Fortnum & Mason gourmet goodies within. And among the wrappings was a jar of F&M Majestic Marmalade. And, I kid you not, it’s flecked with gold leaf: it lives up to its name, looking like something a princess – or her servant – would spread on her morning toast (crusts removed, no doubt).

Our breakfast toast may be rustic in style – crusts intact, and with the bottom of the loaf slightly burnt, due to our thermostatically-challenged oven – but, when it comes to the marmalade that will be gracing it for the next week or so, all that glitters is definitely gold . . .

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

Merry Christmas from rural Mallorca

IMG_2430[1]Christmas is always a time for reflection and we’ve been reflecting on our first festive season here at our finca in rural Mallorca. Things have changed a lot since that first Christmas, in 2004.

Then, we’d only had our solar powered electricity system for a couple of weeks, which mean that  the kitchen we’d had installed was finally fit for purpose, and we were looking forward to an enjoyable Christmas dinner – our first in our Mallorcan home. Our last, in England, had been the saddest one of my life, and I was determined to make this one special.

Talking turkey

We’d ordered our turkey from one of the butcher’s stalls in Manacor market, and been served by a man who’d found our request for a whole turkey surprising. He told us that Mallorcans don’t generally roast a whole bird, and prefer to buy poultry jointed. We agreed the weight of the – whole – bird we wanted, and a collection date, thanked him, and turned to leave.  Our man on the meat counter had one final question for us, delivered in deadpan fashion and in Spanish: “Do you want it dead or alive?”

We had to laugh, because we’d recently heard a story of some expats who’d won a turkey in a raffle and, when it was delivered to their home, it was still very much alive!

Talk talk

Christmas Day duly arrived and the centrepiece of our traditional British festive feast was prepared and put into the oven to cook. While this was happening, we’d be contacting loved ones back in England to wish them a Happy Christmas. The only problem was that we didn’t have a telephone in the house (not, however, for the want of trying), so we had to use a mobile phone. And to compound the difficulty, there was only one place where we could get a mobile signal, and that meant standing on a wall.

We took it in turns to perch aloft, using the phone, while the other provided a useful leaning post in case of any wall-top wobbles. It being our first Christmas away from our families and friends, The Boss and I each spoke for quite some time, and it was probably an hour later when we finally went indoors to check on the turkey.

Fill ‘er up

No delicious aromas greeted us from the kitchen: the oven had gone out and, judging by the cold  door, it had probably done so shortly after we went outside to make our phone calls. The butano gas bottle was empty. So Christmas dinner that year was rather late – but we had a good laugh about it.

And every Christmas morning since then, we’ve made sure that we’ve changed the oven’s gas bottle for a full one – just in case.

Merry Christmas!

Power to the People

Shocked by the size of the bill we’d received from a local electrician – for what had seemed to be a very basic check of our finca wiring (and his sustained electric shock into the bargain) – we decided to use a different company to undertake the major work of installing additional switches, sockets and wiring for our future electricity supply.

We’d been determined to use Mallorcan labour for any major jobs around the place but, when our two new electricians eventually arrived with their toolboxes and huge reels of cable, we discovered they were actually Argentinian. No matter; they were also efficient, tidy and seemingly shock-proof – unlike our previous electrician. We were happy to leave them to get on with the job, while we solved the problem of sourcing some electricity.

Easy . . . or watt?

GESA didn’t want to know us: we were too far away from the nearest mains source for it to be viable to connect our property.  Like most of our neighbours, we would be getting our power from the sun, via a solar energy system, with a generator for back-up. Now, doesn’t that sound easy?

Knowing nothing at all about the subject, we placed ourselves at the mercy of a company specialising in these things. All we had to do was give them a list of our electrical appliances and a rough idea of usage, then they came up with a solution.

That solution involved 16 solar panels, 21 batteries, an invertor and – of course – a decent-sized generator.  All except the solar panels would be housed in the little casita we had built without previous permission, but had had legalized (at considerable cost). The panels themselves were to be mounted on a rack, cemented into a base.  What we gave no thought to at that time was where we’d actually put what would end up looking like a sunbathing version of the Angel of the North . . .

Jan Edwards©2012

5 Things to Know When Buying a Rural Property in Mallorca (Part 3)

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, welcome. You’ll find the other three things to know about (water supply, waste water disposal, and disposal of rubbish) on the previous two posts. This last part focuses on electricity and gas – two essentials.  We lived for eight months with limited electricity: no usable plug sockets and only two hours of lighting a night (if the sun had shone), courtesy of a small rooftop solar panel. I’m not sorry we did it, as it has made us more careful about using electricity – and it was quite romantic in its own way. But I’ll always remember the day when the electrician who was completing the installation declared that we finally had power. So will he: I went up to him and gave him a big smacking kiss on the cheek . . .

You’ve got the power?

Our bank of solar panels – a sight that took some getting used to!

Rural properties are often too far from a GESA sub-station to make it viable to be connected to mains electricity. That was the case with our finca. So we had to seek an alternative. We decided against wind turbines (too noisy for our liking) and opted for solar power. After all, Mallorca has 300 days of sunshine a year, so it’s a plentiful resource here.

If you’re looking at a rural property with no existing power supply, the first step in deciding what type and size of solar power system you need is to make a list of everything electrical that you’re likely to use. Armed with this information, a specialist in solar power will be able to work out the specifications for a system tailored to your needs.  A system basically comprises solar panels, batteries (charged by the sun) and an invertor. You’ll also need a generator, for those occasions when the sun doesn’t contribute enough to keep it all going, and a tank to hold the diesel that fuels it. As you’ll have gathered by now, all of these things (except the panels) will need to be housed somewhere secure and weather-proof; in our case, it’s an outbuilding.

So, there is a considerable upfront outlay, but at least you won’t be receiving electricity bills from GESA. And if you’re careful with your electricity usage, you can keep generator running costs down.

My top tips:

  • Don’t underestimate your electricity requirements. It’s cheaper to have the correct sized system installed at the outset.
  • Buy the best panels and batteries you can afford.
  • Talk to at least two solar power companies and compare their prices and specifications. Ask about the life expectancy of the individual components. Our first invertor caught fire and had to be replaced.
  • If you have to build something in which to store the system components, make sure you have planning permission (one day I’ll tell you the sorry tale of our own building)
  • Be sure that you’ll be happy with the siting of the panels. Our engineer’s first suggestion would have completely blocked our view of the valley, so we opted for a different site. As it happens, we don’t think the first location would have been as good anyway.
  • If possible, spend some time with someone else who has a solar power system so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Once the system is installed and up and running, turn it all off in the event of a thunderstorm close by. Our second invertor was struck by lightning just a few weeks after it was installed!

Going for gas

A trip to the gas depot for refills

You won’t find mains gas in the Mallorcan countryside, but almost everyone uses butano to power their oven and hob, and water heaters (although solar-powered water heaters are increasingly popular). In towns and villages, you’ll often see the orange gas canisters being delivered by truck, but don’t expect that service to be available in rural areas. Instead, you’ll need to go to  the nearest Repsol butano depot with your empty canister(s), which will be exchanged for full ones at a cost (currently) of 16,50 euros a canister. If the property has no existing canisters (which should be left behind when the current occupiers leave), you’ll need to head to a Repsol office to get the necessary paperwork. You cannot just turn up empty-handed and buy a canister of gas.

It is possible in some circumstances to have a large butano tank installed on your property, but there are certain conditions that must be met for this service to be available. Speak to a Repsol office if you are interested. It certainly saves lugging the containers around (the standard size holds 12,5 kg of butano).

My top tips:

  • Check the rubber hoses that connect the gas to the appliances – they have a limited life (an expiry date is printed on the hose) and it can be dangerous not to replace them. The efficient householder will make a diary note so that replacing out-of-date hoses isn’t overlooked.
  • Get yourself a sack barrow to manouevre the canisters about. They’re pretty heavy.
  • Save the hassle, and find an alternative, eg solar-powered water heating and electric oven/hob.

I always cooked with gas in the UK, but my Smeg oven (bought here) is very unreliable temperature-wise. Could it be the gas, I wonder?

Jan Edwards ©2012

5 Things to Know When Buying a Rural Property in Mallorca (Part 2)

Rubbish Disposal

When we came to view properties on the island, with a view to finding a rural home to buy, the rather important matter of rubbish disposal didn’t occur to me. Sub-consciously, I must have assumed there’d be something similar to the service we had back in the UK, where, once a week (until it became fortnightly), the refuse disposal operatives – or whatever PC-term had been coined at the time – came to remove the rubbish from the wheelie bin, which we dutifully placed outside our gates on collection day. (It was our job though to retrieve the empty bin, which had a habit of rolling down the hill because somehow it was always left with its wheels perfectly aligned for downward motion).

A smelly car companion

Where we live, we are our own refuse disposal operatives: taking the black bag full of our rubbish to the nearest communal bin (a ten-kilometre drive away) is something we do at least once a week and, if we remember, a little more frequently during the hotter months. Believe me, when the rubbish has had a chance to stew in a black bag, within a black dustbin, in the heat of a Mallorcan summer, it makes a very smelly car companion – even when shut in the boot. Of course, we could reduce the amount of rubbish if we had a compost bin, but The Boss is convinced that it would attract rats. As we have nine outdoor cats, I’m pretty sure that any rat in its right mind would keep well away but, for now, the subject of composting is closed; a pity really, as our soil could sure use a little organic boost.

Recycling facilities are good here on the island, and there are appropriate bins for waste plastics, paper, glass, and even old clothes and shoes, dotted around our nearest town. Again, it’s our responsibility to take our recyclable waste to town, which we do diligently.

Be Bin-Alert

So, if you’re looking to buy or rent a rural property on the island, find out where you’ll have to take your rubbish and recyclable waste – and if there are any restrictions in terms of times during which rubbish cannot be put into the bins.  Local regulations here state that non-recyclable rubbish can only be deposited in the bins in the evenings. This being Mallorca, of course, nobody really seems to take much notice of this.

And if you’re considering a home in a village or town, do make sure that the nearest communal bins are far enough away from the property not to be a nuisance.  Or you’ll be buying a lot of air freshener . . .

Jan Edwards ©2012

 

The destination for our bags of rubbish

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things to Know When Buying a Rural Property in Mallorca (Part 1)

If you want to buy – or even rent – a rural property in Mallorca, there are plenty of things you’ll want to find out about before you commit yourself to a decision. And over the course of this week’s three posts, I’ll write about what I consider to be the five must-know things to keep front of mind, while you’re being enchanted by the beauty of the scenery, birdsong and rural charm.

Today’s two things are water-related. In the UK, we took it for granted that water came out of the tap when we turned it on, and we gave little thought to what happened when we flushed the loo or ran the washing machine. Living in the Mallorcan countryside is different.

  • Supply of water

A rural property won’t be connected to a mains supply, so find out where the water comes from. Some properties have their own well, but you’ll need to know that it’s in a good state and where it is. Does it have an electric pump and, if so, how old is it? Having the water tested is recommended if you’re planning to use it in the house, rather than just using it to keep your garden plants perky.

Our well has been out of action for at least a couple of decades and needs more than a good poke about with a long stick to put it back in service. It’s on the list of ‘things to do when all the more important things have been done’.

Water being delivered into our cisterna

If, as with our property, water has to be delivered, you’ll need a cisterna or storage tank, with pipe connections to the house.  If the property you’re viewing has a cisterna, have a look at it and see whether it shows any signs of leakage.  Repairing a leaky cisterna is inconvenient and can be expensive. You’ll need to find out if there’s a way to gauge fairly accurately how much water is in stock, so you know when to order more.

You’ll also want to check out the cost of water delivery by a local service. Ours comes in a tanker that delivers 12,000 litres at a time.

  • Waste water ‘n’ all that

What goes in, must come out . . . somewhere. In a rural property, waste water doesn’t go into a main sewer but into what’s known as a pozo negro (meaning, literally, black well), or septic tank. Find out how old it is, its exact location, and when it was last emptied. Don’t worry, there are companies that offer this as a service. They come along with a tanker and lots of pipes and suck out what’s left after the bacteria within have done their stuff. How often the pozo negro needs emptying depends on several factors, including – obviously – the number of people using loos, baths and showers. Ours is emptied every 18 months or so. And, amazingly, you won’t need a peg for your nose while it’s being done . . .

On Wednesday, I’ll continue the theme of five essential things you need to know when looking to buy or rent a rural property in Mallorca.

Jan Edwards ©2012

A Shocking Tale of Electricity in Rural Mallorca

Living without electricity for eight months was not part of the grand plan for our move to live in Mallorca. Although the notion of candlelit evenings had been a romantic one when we’d first bought the finca and during our subsequent holidays here, it didn’t take long for the reality check to arrive once we’d actually moved in.

How was I going to style my hair without a hairdryer? How would we manage to do our laundry and ironing? And, as someone who’d given up a good career to become a freelance writer, how was I going to do that seriously when I had no means of charging the battery on my laptop? Even the old typewriter I’d had before I bought a computer was an electric one and, if you saw my handwriting, you’d know why writing with a pen and paper wasn’t really an option.

Socket To Us

To be strictly accurate, we weren’t entirely without electricity. We had one small solar panel mounted on the roof and an old battery which, on a good sunny day, provided us with a 12-volt power system. It was just enough to give us about two hours of lighting daily – as long as we had only one light on at a time and continued to use what were probably the world’s first low-energy lightbulbs. Trust me, it was brighter by candlelight.

In preparation for the installation of solar power (which would take a lot longer than we thought), we decided to get the light switches and the few existing sockets in the house checked out for safety, and enlisted the services of Señor Gomilla – a local electrician who’d only just returned to work after open-heart surgery and whose angry-looking scar was visible through the jungle of grey hair exposed by his unbuttoned shirt.

He was not too impressed with what lurked within our walls. I think it was something to do with the electric shock he got while probing beneath the yellowing old plastic switchplates, and the tangle of rather charred wires. Luckily it was only a 12-volt system . . .

And we weren’t too impressed when we received the bill for his services. He clearly charged extra for electric shocks sustained.

Jan Edwards ©2012