Of birds and beasts in Mallorca’s spring

Living in rural Mallorca and no longer having to commute into a city for work has given us more time and appreciation for the nature that surrounds us. We’re more aware of seasonal changes – and have become just a teeny bit obsessed about noting the ‘firsts’ of each season.

It’s been a good week for ‘firsts’. We went for a walk on Sunday and retraced some of our earlier steps on the Via Verde (or Via Verda as it’s known locally). This ‘green way’ is one of Spain’s network of eco-paths – conversions of disused railway line routes – and connects Manacor with the small town of Artà, in the northeast of Mallorca.

These feet were made for walking

The path opened without a great deal of fanfare in October 2014 and we began 2015 by resolving to walk the full length of some 29 km – in stages – during January. A spell of bad weather meant we didn’t finish until mid-February. But, hey ho, we did it.

Spring wildflowers on Via Verde, Mallorca

Wildflowers in abundance on the Via Verde, near Son Carrio.

Poppies on the Via Verde

Poppies on the Via Verde

The path looked very different on Sunday, with so much greenery around and swathes of wildflowers lining the route. Our latest walk gave us some ornithological sightings that were our ‘firsts’ of the season: a swallow (yes, this early) and a bee-eater.

In the past couple of days we have also seen our first tortoise of the spring, ambling through the undergrowth in an untamed part (one of many) of our land. It was Pip – the newest addition to our family of adopted felines – who discovered the creature, alerted by the rustling sounds from the foliage it was navigating its way through. A tortoise was clearly ‘the very first’ for this relentlessly inquisitive little cat, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it!

Tortie kitten in window

Inquisitive Pip seems to have heard something interesting . . .

Mediterranean tortoise, Mallorca

An early outing for this Mediterranean tortoise

The sighting was good news. Our area is a natural habitat for the Mediterranean tortoise and we’re always pleased to see them surviving. No doubt there will be coin-sized babies soon, which means we have to tread carefully when we’re out on the land.

A cyclist’s surprise

First-time visitors are always surprised to see tortoises roaming freely around. Last autumn we heard a shout from the other side of our gates and opened them to find an English Lycra-clad cyclist with a concerned expression on his face.

“Have you lost a pet tortoise?” he asked, in a broad Mancunian accent, pointing back up the lane. “Only I’ve just seen one up there.”

We explained that the creature he’d seen was a wild Mediterranean tortoise and that sightings were quite common; he beamed in surprise. It reminded us – for the zillionth time – how much we enjoy living  in the Mallorcan countryside, in the midst of nature.

Our next seasonal ‘first’? Who knows? But you can be sure we’ll be as thrilled as we are every season . . .

Read more about the ‘Via Verde’ here in my article recently published in abcMallorca magazine’s spring edition, and online:

http://www.abc-mallorca.com/via-verde/

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Manacor’s chicken roundabout

Chickens. I think I’ve previously mentioned my hankering to have a few at our finca in rural Mallorca. I’ve had a thing about chickens since I was a young teenager and we had a family holiday in North Wales, staying in a cottage on a farm. Every time I went outside, chickens would appear all around my feet, and then follow me as I explored the farm. I’ve even chosen a few names for my ‘gals’. . .

In theory, we live in a great place to keep chickens. Our land includes a large open field, where I can imagine these feathered lovelies roaming happily around, pecking at the ground. All we would need would be a safe warm home for them at night. We have no foxes on Mallorca, but we occasionally see polecats – and friends of ours had their flock devastated by one of these. So it would need to be a very secure home.

Besides the sound of contented clucking chickens, and their company when you’re outside, there’d be the benefit of a regular supply of free-range eggs. We’d probably have more than we need (I’m not keen on eating eggs and wouldn’t want The Boss to become egg-bound), but the excess would make useful thank-you gifts for those neighbours who sometimes give us some of their garden produce.

Sense beats sentiment

Alas, it’s not to be. The Boss (who is far more practical than I am) has on several occasions pointed out why keeping chickens wouldn’t be such a good idea. And he’s right on all counts – particularly the one that says free-roaming chickens and our seven feral ‘adoptee’ cats all on one finca could get messy.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

So, I’ve been getting my chicken fix elsewhere. On the busy ring road (the Ferrocarril) in Manacor, there’s a roundabout (Plaza de Madrid) with shrubs in the middle that’s become home to a flock of chickens. They’ve been there for ages – probably more than a year; we usually see them several times a week, and are always on the look-out for the latest flurry of fluffy chicks. These chickens rarely seem to stray away from their roundabout and the traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

"How's our Facebook page doing?"

“How’s our Facebook page doing?”

Manacor’s famous feathered friends

We have often thought they were rather vulnerable in town, with only the shelter of some bushes to protect them. What about passing cats and canines? Sadly, on Saturday, their lack of protection was evident. We spotted four bodies and a lot of scattered feathers on the grass; the rest of the flock had survived whatever had attacked them, but it must have been a terrifying incident for them all.

I imagine we’re not the only ones who were upset to see what had happened: the citizens of Manacor have really taken their feathered neighbours to heart, and people regularly throw food onto the roundabout for them. These clucky birds even have their own Facebook page – Ses Galines de sa rotonda. When I looked just now, 2,876 people had liked it (an increase of more than 30 since I checked last Thursday). And I bet you can guess who one of them was . . .

The fiestas continue in January on Mallorca

I remember January in the UK as a rather dull month, after the Christmas and New Year festivities. It’s all a bit different, since we came to live in rural Mallorca . . .

For a start, the Spanish celebrate the arrival of The Three Kings – who bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th (the 6th – the Christian festival of Epiphany – is a public holiday here).

By the time the gift wrapping is in the local paper recycling bin the Mallorcans are already gearing up for the Sant Antoni Abad fiestas, celebrated on January 16th and 17th (the Saint’s day).

No cold feet for Antoni

Antoni was not a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian monk who lived in the desert. The Devil – disguised as a woman – visited him there and tried to tempt him with ‘her’ charms. Antoni’s way of resisting temptation? He walked across some burning embers to suppress his lustful thoughts. That would do it . . .

A few centuries ago, when rye crops in the agricultural area around Sa Pobla were decimated by a poisonous fungus, the islanders remembered Sant Antoni and the power of fire to overcome evil spirits. Believing that these spirits were to blame for the loss of their crops, they lit bonfires to ward them off.

The bonfires continue in the 21st century, as part of the fiestas to celebrate the Saint’s day (January 17th). These are fiestas for the towns and villages with a rural heritage, and our nearest town, Manacor, is one of several places on Mallorca that really make the most of this fiesta.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

Manacor goes to town

The main event is on the evening of the 16th, when bonfires are lit and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals indulge in torrades, cooking botifarrons and other types of sausage over fires, and local brews such as hierbas – the famous Mallorcan herb liqueur. There’s music, traditional Mallorcan dancing (ball de bot), and it’s all very jolly. Many Mallorcans have told us that this is their favourite fiesta of the year.

Manacor council has published a 24-page brochure (in mallorquín) for the Sant Antoni 2015 festivities, also available online at http://www.manacor.org. It’s a lavish affair, detailing the programme of Sant Antoni-related events (which started on January 9th and end on 17th). Oh, and for those who like a sing-song, the words of the traditional Sant Antoni songs are helpfully included.

There’s a competitive element to the fiesta too, with monetary prizes for the best bonfires, floats, costumes, and more.

The programme shows the route of the procession of floats, bands, dignatories, and demonis (devils) on Friday 16th, starting at 7pm. At 8pm the first bonfire is traditionally lit outside the Rectory in the town centre – and after that all the other bonfires can be lit. At 10.30pm, there’s dancing in the Plaça de Ramon Llull. It’s a long night, but with an early start next morning for many . . .

It’s not over until it’s over

 

Taking his dog to be blessed

Taking his dog to be blessed

Pets on parade

Pets on parade

On January 17th – the feast of Sant Antoni Abad (the patron saint of animals) – locals bring their pets and animals to be blessed by the local priest. It’s a colourful and often cute procession of humans and animals, walking, riding on horseback, or on floats. In Manacor, the procession assembles at 9.30am, for the 10.30am parade. (Times, and even the day, may vary in different towns and villages). After the blessings, it’s time to go home and recover: January 17th is a public holiday in Manacor.

Apart from the public events, there are many Sant Antoni celebrations in small rural communities and we are spending at least part of the evening of the 16th at a farm in our valley, invited by our Mallorcan neighbours to join in their fun.

As they say in these parts, molts d’anys.

 

From the boat to our table – via Porto Cristo fish market

When we started looking at properties for sale in rural Mallorca, we’d already decided that we wanted to be able to reach the coast fairly easily from our future home.  Mallorca isn’t a very large island so this wasn’t much of a restriction.

From our finca in the Mallorcan countryside we can drive to the coast to the north or east of our home within 25 minutes. One of the several seaside places we enjoy going to is Porto Cristo – Manacor’s port.

Porto Cristo is bustling in the summer – and not just with holidaymakers from abroad. Many citizens of Manacor own second homes here in the port and relocate themselves to their seaside homes – only some 11 kilometres away – during July and August. When we first heard about this we were quite amused: people we’ve known in the UK with second homes usually had to travel a long way to reach them – either in the air or on Britain’s clogged-up motorways.  Folks here may travel only around 15 minutes to reach their home-from-home.

Summer at the seaside

We don’t blame the Manacor folks for moving to the coast. During the two hottest summer months many businesses in Manacor itself close at lunchtime and don’t reopen until the following day. People who relocate to Porto Cristo may have further to travel to work in Manacor but, when the day’s (or half day’s) work is done, they can beetle back to the port for the cooling sea breezes.

Porto Cristo is in party mode for the Festes del Carme each July. Events during the week include a seafood fair (this year on Monday, 7th) and a late-night weekend firework display that never fails to delight the crowds lining the port. These are two events we – and apparently the entire population of Porto Cristo and Manacor – attend every year.

This morning we had an appointment in Porto Cristo. Afterwards, we achieved something we’ve meant to do since we moved to Mallorca: we bought a fish at the small harbour fish market.  You only notice the place is there because a few weathered fishermen are usually hanging around outside. The fish market is open six mornings a week and, in summer, for an hour in the early evening. We’d always thought you had to buy fish in bulk here but, no, they are happy to sell individual fish too.

Wind and rough seas had limited the catch today, but we chose a good-looking Cap Roig (also known as a Red Scorpion fish). We’ve eaten this fish in restaurants, but never cooked – or cleaned – one. I was pleased that one of the lingering fishermen volunteered to gut it for me.  Now all I have to do is cook it this evening . . .

Get your fresh fish here!

Get your fresh fish here!

 

Fresh from the Med

Fresh from the Med

 

 

 

Fly-tippers not welcome in rural Mallorca

Our concrete water storage tank – or depósito – has a new metal lid. The previous one was rather ancient and the metal around the edge was literally fraying. It had become so ill-fitting that it recently fell down into the water tank itself, and the sharp edges pierced the plastic lining. Yes, more expense, for a repair.

A new lid was required and we headed to a small metalworking firm we’ve used before in Manacor. It’s not exactly on the beaten track, this place, but it always seems to be busy – which, in our books, is a good sign. The company delivered our new galvanized steel lid and frame last month. It’s been so well made that it’s a shame that only The Boss, Jaume the water delivery man, and birds passing overhead will ever get to cast their eyes on its artisan workmanship.

A job with a view 

The unusually wet November meant that The Boss wasn’t able to cement the new lid into place but, on Sunday, he set about the task with zeal. This was one job he was more than ready to cross off his ‘to do’ list; when the colder weather comes, standing on the top of our water tank – exposed to the north wind whipping up our valley – is not the place to while away any amount of time.

“It’s like being on the roof of the world up there,” he said, when he popped back to the house for our mid-morning caffeine fix. The view is pretty amazing, stretching right across the valley.

While he was working, The Boss had heard the sound of a vehicle slowing and stopping in the lane, by the holm oak tree at the corner of our land. It’s not a place you’d expect anyone to stop and, last time it had happened, we’d later found a tiny ginger kitten that had been dumped, so The Boss went to investigate. This vehicle was an elderly battered white furgoneta (van) with a Madrid registration, but there wasn’t a sign of the driver. A few minutes later, a short Moroccan man with a weathered face emerged like Indiana Jones from the dense forest of wild olive and mastic – to find The Boss waiting for an explanation as to why he was wandering around our land.

Man on a mission

The stranger said he was a qualified builder but couldn’t find a job, so had been reduced to driving around the countryside searching for scrap metal and other junk that he could sell. He told The Boss that an area of our land (almost inaccessible on foot to all but the determined, or desperate) had been a popular fly-tipping spot for years, although sadly – but only from his point of view – it seemed to have lost its appeal.

When we first moved here we realized that people had been stopping in the lane and hefting anything from old tyres to empty bottles into the undergrowth below. To this day, there are some old tyres in a particularly inaccessible location, in the deepest part of our small-valley-within-the-larger-valley. We even once saw something down there that resembled some unwanted sheep shearings in an old sack. Fortunately, since we’ve been in residence, fewer people are using our land as their dumping ground of choice, but fly-tipping in general is still a problem – and one that’s guaranteed to raise my hackles. There are plenty of places these days for the legitimate disposal of rubbish, so there’s really no excuse for littering the countryside of this beautiful island of Mallorca.

On that particular Sunday, pickings had been slim for the foraging Moroccan, but we had some rubbish of our own for disposal. The Boss  suggested that it would be a good idea in future to ask permission before venturing forth onto other people’s property, then, indicating the old metal storage tank lid, asked him in Spanish “Is this any good to you?”

Despite the poor state of the redundant lid, the man’s leathery face pleated into a toothy grin. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure – although I doubt he’d have made enough money selling that old thing to cover the cost of the fuel used for his foray into the countryside.

'Tyred' of fly-tipping

‘Tyred’ of fly-tipping

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

 

We live a long way from a traditional British fish and chip shop . . .  but not as far as you may think. Visit www.eatdrinksleepmallorca.com to find out about a great chippy in Palma de Mallorca.

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy a flavour of the finca life?

In a week’s time my blog ‘Living in Rural Mallorca’ will be on year old, and this is my 91st post. However, I have no grounds to boast, because it’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything, and a few followers have even been in touch with me to see if I still reside on Planet Earth – let alone in our finca.

Here are excuses I could have used:

  • We won the Euromillions lottery and are now living on our own private island.
  • The dog ate my computer (well, that one has been known to be used where missing homework is concerned, but fails here because we don’t have a dog – and they may eat paper, but probably not plastic and metal).
  • The BBC decided to make a documentary about our life as expats in rural Mallorca and we’ve been up to our ears in Pan Stick, clapper boards, and Angela Rippon.

However, none of these is true, so here’s the reality: we’ve been busy.

Springing into action

May is the month when we prepare our outdoor spaces for summer: dragging the outdoor furniture from its winter storage, doing any necessary repairs, cleaning the terracotta-tiled terraces, and that most time-consuming of tasks . . . weeding. Into the mix this year we also added some external wall-painting and interior ceiling-painting. And, in case we weren’t quite busy enough, I found myself writing a large amount of copy for the magazine for which I work as a freelance writer.

May is also the month when my father and his younger brother (my Uncle Ray) always come to stay for their spring holiday. This year we had an added treat: my brother, his wife, my three nieces and two boyfriends (my nieces’, not my brother’s!) decided to holiday here at the same time. Our little finca certainly couldn’t accommodate everyone, so brother rented a nearby finca for his family and we all got together, here and there, to enjoy ourselves over the course of a ten-day period. Blog? At midnight, I was just too tired to fire up the computer.

A romantic taste of rural Mallorcan life

A finca life can involve a lot of work – as you’ve probably gathered if you’ve read some of my previous 90 posts – but it also offers the chance to escape the stresses of daily urban living. If you’d like a taste of this Mallorcan rural life – without the maintenance and financial upkeep – check out the lovely place my brother and his wife rented for their holiday, by Googling ‘Ses Pedres, Manacor’ (or check it out on TripAdvisor).

Ses Pedres

Ses Pedres

Apart from being in a lovely rural location (yet still very convenient for Manacor and the beaches of the east coast), the owners were charming – supplying fresh eggs from their chickens, citrus fruits from the land, and even a home-made sobrasada (the Mallorcan cured pork delicacy – presumably made from a previous finca resident). And to add to the enjoyment, the extensive land around the finca was home to chickens, a young Mallorcan black pig and a Menorcan breed of horse.

Could be tempted to book a holiday there ourselves – if only we had the time . . .