Down & Up The Mountain

Our first day of work on Tuesday started at around 9am and we worked until lunch (a delicious spread of pasta, veg sauce and salad) at around one, had a long ol’ break and then did another hour or so after the main heat of the day at around 5.30. My day began with weeding, with Clara, around the garlic and onions in the bottom garden and then picking strawberries. The strawberries here are the biggest, reddest and tastiest I’ve ever had! We picked some strawberries in the Pyrenees as well, but these ones are something else. Matthew spent most of his first day digging trenches for the trees in the orchard and watering them all, and Andres dug a new long-drop.

The two main issues with growing things here are lack of water and wild boar. The fence around the bottom garden has drinks cans poked through all around so that if the boar try to get in, the rattling of the cans scare them off. Also, now that Karen has Jimi and Bob, they also help with keeping watch and barking at the boar and she said she hasn’t actually seen one for quite a while. Karen also uses old drinks cans for keeping moles away, she buries a can in the earth at the end of each row of plants, with just the top visible. The idea is that the wind blows along the top and makes a sound which scares the moles away, and there isn’t a mole hill in sight so I guess it’s working.

In the evening, Clara and I started digging trenches on the slope below the balcony, getting ready to plant sunflowers and marigolds. Clara and Andres are a lovely couple, they’ve only been together for a month or so, so are totally besotted with each other – which is adorable. Clara is twenty-one, absolutely beautiful with a really sweet personality to match and studied English Language Teaching at Uni. She finished last year too, so is in a similar ‘oh wow, so this is the real world huh?!’ situation as Matthew and I. The employment situation in Spain is even worse than the UK and she’s only had a couple of short-term jobs since Uni… like us. Andres is twenty-eight, totally lovely, and a qualified translator who can speak four languages fluently. He’s lived in London for two stints of two years (four in total) and in Morocco for a year and he’s got lots of stories to tell!

On Tuesday evening, the mysterious Aldus appeared. He’d made the long walk from Granada in just a few days. Aldus is a thirty-nine (but looks more like twenty-nine) Latvian guy who has been travelling for the last eight years – doing a mixture of helpXing and paid work around Europe and in New Zealand and Australia. He’s a really interesting guy who seems to have done just about everything – he has degrees in Philosophy and Latvian Linguistics, has been in the army, has worked in security and construction, is a trained hairdresser and carpenter… the list goes on.

Karen’s cooking is amaaaazing and I’ve already asked her to marry me. She cooks vegetarian (with the occasional bit of fish – we’re having Paella with some squid in tonight), and often spicy food, which suits me down to the ground. On Tuesday night we had the best bean burger I’ve ever tasted with a delicious hot sauce and some yummy salads. She could seriously open a very successful vegetarian restaurant – which I told her, and which she said she has considered before but it sounds too much like real work, she prefers just being an awesome hostess to her many helpers.

After dinner on Tuesday, Karen took us all to ‘Eagle Rocks’ – a beautiful area of rocks with a great view, just a five minute walk from Karen’s. We saw some baby mountain goats in the distance, running up the vertical mountain edge – the way they move is incredible.

Wednesday was Matthew’s Birthday! So, Karen (being the amazing hostess she is) decided we would all have a lie-in, followed by pancakes for breakfast at ten and starting work late. So, Matthew and I were lounging in bed around 9 when I suddenly noticed something on the ceiling.

“Is that a spider?” I asked Matt.
We both looked at it for a while… it looked much too big to be a spider… it must just be some fluff or something… right?! Wrong. It was two fucking huge spiders, mating.
So, bang went all of my insect-related Zen I found at ECOlonie. Although, I was still quite impressed with myself, I didn’t even scream! But I did have a little trouble breathing and had to leave the caravan, like, immediately. Matthew was super brave and got a jar from Karen to catch them in… biggest spiders I’ve ever seen, with stripes and hairs and everything. Since then, we’ve seen a few more – an even bigger one in the garden and dead ones in the sink in the morning. Karen’s pretty sure they do bite, but she’s not sure if they’re poisonous or not. All I know is that they’re super gross, and I now shake out all my clothes and shoes each morning. Needless to say, there’s no barefooted gardening or walks going on here! There’s also snakes and vipers to watch out for… Andres has seen the same snake (we think) a few times, and we’ve all heard it’s rustling. But from the description, it’s not a viper.

Anyway, after the little spider freak-out, we had a lovely pancake breakfast with freshly picked strawberries and a huge array of Karen’s home-made jams. That day, I did some more weeding, some ground raking and I made some plant pots out of old 5litre plastic bottles, by cutting off the top and making holes in the bottom. I then filled them about an inch with small stones, and then to the top with a mixture of sand and soil. Adding the sand was because we were using them to plant cuttings of plants – mainly vines – and sand apparently helps encourage growth when using cuttings as opposed to seeds.

Lunch was delicious, obviously. A highlight being the Moroccan carrot salad which Karen got from the ‘World Food Cafe’ vegetarian recipe book which I am definitely investing in at some point. It’s got authentic recipes from around the world, along with information about the places and beautiful photography. There is an abundance of home-made cider here, and for the first few days I was drinking at lunch and dinner, and sometimes whilst working! We’ve really be indulging after not drinking for a couple of weeks and eating pretty simply in the Pyrenees. I’ve started to chill it out a bit though as although drinking home-brewed means it’s a lot better for you and also no hangover, drinking every day isn’t really something I want to get in to the habit of. Karen’s homemade cherry wine is delicious though! There’s not as much as that as there is cider, so it’s just for special occasions (ie. Matt’s birthday), but maaaan is it good.

For Matt’s Birthday dinner, Karen made an amazing (obviously) chestnut stew, and rice pudding for dessert and she even brought out a candle for him to blow out. She also made mouth-watering brandy chocolates which we had one each of on Wednesday and since then they have been the consolation prize for when we’re playing games – which we do a lot. Andres and Clara did a really sweet gift for Matt – they wrote Birthday messages , in Spanish and English, in the night sky, using a torch and the slow shutter speed trick, and took photographs. Matthew chose the game that evening so we had a poker night, with plenty of laughter and cherry wine and Andres kicked all our asses.

Game playing is a big part of life here, and I’m really enjoying learning lots of new games. I’m getting a bit better at Poker (maybe), have learnt Backgammon, Mentarosa (a Spanish version of Liar’s Dice), Scattergories and several new card games, including our afternoon favourite ‘Down & Up The Mountain’ which is quite similar to Whist.

A highlight of the week was picking cherries first thing in the morning at Karen’s neighbours place (he tends to stay at his house in the village nowadays so doesn’t mind). There’s really no comparison to picking up a box of cherries in Tesco and picking them off the tree in the morning sunshine. Clara had to go home on Friday because she’s taking an exam this week… we swapped email addresses and have missed her smiley face the last few days.

Another big highlight was this morning. Today was our first whole day off working and we got up at 6.30 and walked for six hours – up San Juan mountain and back. San Juan is 2800m above sea level and is one of the biggest mountains in the Iberian peninsula and definitely the highest I’ve ever been! It was hard work, but incredible. We even got to see some fully grown mountain goats at the top! As my friends will know, I’ve been struggling with a shitty knee conditions for the last ten year on and off, so today was a really big challenge… especially coming back down the mountain on the uneven ground. I’m in a whole world of pain, but it was totally worth it and we have another day off tomorrow to chill out. Matthew also twisted his ankle quite badly on the way back down, so we were a right wounded pair. We took Jimi with us (not Bob, because she’s in heat at the moment and is a bit unpredictable.. oh yeah, Jimi, Bob and Sid are all females by the way!) and she was an absolute star! She raced up to the top of San Juan several times, but kept coming back to check on Andres, Matthew and I licking each of our legs before bounding back up the mountain. Aldus left two hours after us and we met him on the way back – he’s a pro. We probably could have done it faster but we wanted to take our time and we also stopped to take photos etc.

I have so many photographs from here already! Spiders, mountains, mutant strawberries… but once again, I can’t upload unfortunately. Karen lived here for four years with no internet or phone signal or anything. She now has an internet connection via satellite, but streaming, uploading and downloading is a wee bit too much!


I’m off to eat Paella now.
Lots of love to everyone!


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