Swimming, cliff jumping, chasing horses… and saying Goodbye.

So, after a weird couple of days at Duruxa, I was pretty surprised that Lizzie and Lauren hadn’t made excuses to leave early, thinking what a bunch of weirdos we all were! They’re lovely girls, also recent graduates in their first year of The Real World (except their Real World is in Santa Barbara, California not the English West-country…). They’re both planning on leaving their current jobs (Lizzie, with a homeless charity and Lauren in retail) when they return home, but are not sure what they’re going to do next… kinda just like Matthew and I.

The weather continued getting better into the weekend and on Saturday afternoon – when everyone was healthy again – we headed to the River Dobra just outside of Cangas de Onis for some more wild swimming. Unlike the little river we’d been in the day before, this was public and popular and it being the first sunny day in a while, and a Saturday, we were ready for big crowds of people. As it happened, since we didn’t head down until mid-afternoon, it wasn’t that busy. There were a few Spanish families and groups of friends around, but not so many that it ruined the absolute beauty of the clear blue river.

This Dobra was warmer than the river we swam in the day before, and the water was so clear and fresh. We found a good spot to jump in from the rocks and Lizzie, Lauren and I spent quite a while swimming around… it was brilliant.

Me, Lizzie and Lauren – jumping in the River Dobra

We were working up an appetite for the meal we’d plan to go for later, and when we were done swimming we dried off on the rocks and found a hedge to hide behind and change into our ‘evening wear’. (Lizzie and I somehow managed to find the only section of the hedge with a hole in it, and decided to change at the only time people were walking along the other side of it… it was a lucky day for one group of Spanish boys…)

Jillie and Dane took us to their favourite restaurant in Cangas de Onis which does an incredible meal deal of three courses and bottle of wine or cider (one bottle between two) for ten euros! For our starter, we all tried the classic ‘Fabada Asturiana’ – which is the one of Asturians favourite dishes. It’s a thick, rich stew made with a whole lot of fabada beans and various meats – I gave most of my meaty bits to Matthew, but I did try some chorizo and found it quite tasty. As we’d already been warned by Jillie and Dane – just the starter on its own would have done for the main meal!

The rest of the meal was a blur of tasty fresh fish, delicious spanish cakes and plenty of sidra (cider) and wine. We were sat outside the restaurant, which was opposite a sidrerìas (cider house) – which gave us perfect front row seats for viewing the traditional Asturian way of pouring sidra. Apparently the sidra tradition also exists in the Basque country, but Asturians claim to be the pioneers of the drink and take particular pride in its pouring. Waiters hold the bottle high over their head with their arm at full extension and pour straight over their shoulder into glasses that they hold in their other fully extended arm below. All of this is supposed to be done whilst looking straight ahead, but we had a lot of fun spotting the newbies at work who (understandably) couldn’t take their eye off the glass they were pouring into.

A pretty accurate depiction of an Asturian sidra waiter

***

None of us slept that well on the Saturday night – simply because we were all so full up from our incredible meal. I guess it probably hit us particularly hard, being used to a very healthy diet at Duruxa, based around fresh vegetables from the garden. We were all happy to get back to our staples of beets and kale the next day.

We went into the local market in Cangas de Onis on Sunday, which Matthew and I had been to once before with Jillie since being at Duruxa. There’s a stall for everything – from old ladies underwear to delicious local cheeses, from beautiful harem trousers to home-made chutneys and cakes.

Matthew was starting to feel the beginnings of The Stomach Bug, and when we got home from the market he had a rest and tried to sleep it off. In the evening, the Californians taught Matthew and I a card game called ‘Signs’, which involved working in pairs and each pair having a secret sign which they had to signal to each other without anyone noticing – much laughter and confusion ensued…

***

With only two full days left at Duruxa, and in Spain, the weather made us want to leave even less. Monday was a beautiful day, much hotter than it had been recently and lovely clear skies… I spent most of the day clearing weeds from the area that we had harvested potatoes from the week previously, and preparing the ground to plant more. It wasn’t an easy job, especially in the sunshine, but when Dane had picked up more powdered milk for Pachu on Saturday, he’d been given a huge sack of ready-to-plant potatoes as a free gift, that we needed to get in the ground as soon as possible. It was nice to be doing a physically tough job too, as I hadn’t done much of that so far at Duruxa and it always makes me appreciate dinner more. I was working in what the Duruxians call The Potato Garden, but what I like to call The Jungle. The ecosystem in that garden is crazy! Weeds taller than me, slugs the size of cats (okay, so the slugs might be a slight exaggeration for story telling purposes, but you get the idea)… The plants growing there are all huge and luscious and healthy-looking which is great, but which also means a lot of the weeds are in a similar state and are particularly tough.

Corn and Fabada beans growing in “The Jungle”

Lizzie and Lauren were helping me for a while, but they left early because Sunday was also Dane’s birthday! The girls had offered to prepare some salad and some freshly harvested potatoes (we found quite a few that we’d missed when weeding) to have with the lamb ribs that we’d decided to barbecue on the fire. So, that evening we once again had the hilarity of five people who barely eat meat (with Matt as the exception), trying to prepare and cook ribs. Amazingly, they turned out really well! We’d gotten Dane a couple of bottles of sidra at the weekend, but we thought we’d save him the spectacle of any of us trying to pour it the traditional Asturian way. We all had a lovely evening around the fire, topped off with an amazing carrot cake made by Jillie.

***

Out of nowhere, it was Tuesday 17th July – our last full day at Duruxa, in Spain, and of our entire adventure (well, at least for now)… Woah.

Poor Matthew woke up with The Stomach Bug in full swing and spent most of the morning in bed. He hadn’t want to sit out of Dane’s birthday antics the night before but had probably pushed his stomach a little too far on the food front, and was paying for it now.

The hot weather continued on Tuesday, in fact I think it got a little hotter. My morning task was to get started on planting the potatoes in The Jungle. First of all I needed to prepare the seed potatoes – which were already sprouting up all over the place. I set myself up at a table in the sunshine, desperate to grab as much sun as possible while I was still in Spain, and tried to convince Pachu and Sella that they did not want to eat raw, sprouting potato. I needed to cut each potato so that every piece only had one spouting cluster on it – a nice easy-going job for first thing in the morning on a sunny day. When I had a bag full ready to plant I headed down to the area we’d cleared in The Jungle (The Potato Garden) and got to work making holes with a mattock. It was hard work on a hot morning, but it felt good to be working out a bit before lunch. Matthew managed to get himself up to give me a hand for the last hour or so too.

Jillie and Dane had to go in to Cangas around lunch time to give an English lesson to a Spanish couple that James normally teaches once a week. Whilst James is away, Jillie and Dane are covering for him and getting a bit of teaching practice. Before they set off, we’d decided that it was a perfect day to go to one of the local beaches and that it would be a nice treat for our last afternoon – Lauren and Lizzie were also leaving the next day. So we agreed to be ready for four o’clock and we’d all head down when they got back.

After a quick break for a left-overs lunch, I decided I wanted to try and get one more row of potatoes done before I needed to get ready to go to the beach. I seemed to work a lot faster after some food-fuel and got a row done in no time. I was literally dripping with sweat though – so much so that Matt thought I’d been in the shower (I know, gross), so I decided maybe I should have a quick cold shower, as there was a forty minute drive before I could jump in the ocean.

So I jumped in the shower. I heard a bit of shouting between the girls and Matthew when I was in there, but didn’t think much of it.

It turns out two of the wild horses – the black stallion and the black mare – had escaped. I dried myself in record time, threw on a dress and sandals, and ran out to help. I grabbed a head-collar and ran over to the field at the entrance to the farm… the horses were already wandering down the drive.

I tried approaching them calmly, doing the silly only-used-for-animals-and-babies high pitched voice. They seemed pretty intent on getting away from me. I continued to follow them and asked one of the girls to try and cut through the woods to block them off. I think the horses must have heard me because at that point they started cantering down the drive instead.

Shit. So, off I went, running after them. I had visions of them running all the way to the main road, or of them meeting a big tractor, or of Jillie and Dane coming home and meeting them on the way. It was still hot, and I was soon covered in sweat again as I ran down the windy, up and down drive – about half a mile or so long. Oh and when I said ‘I threw on a dress’, I really did just throw on the dress. I was commando, in a dress, sprinting and spluttering after two wild horses.

We were lucky that the “neighbours” had recently got a new stallion that was in a field at the bottom of their drive. Two stallions can never pass each other by without a chat, and the mare was just blindly following her man. So they both pulled in to the drive and I breathed a slight sigh of relief. Right, now just to use my one head collar to catch two scared-of-humans-and-prone-to-kicking wild freakin’ horses, one of whom was a stallion talking to another stallion – so, er, pretty over-excited.

I knew the girls or Matt would catch up with me soon, but I also knew that I was the only one who really had a slight clue about horses, and I wanted to catch the horses ASAP so as not to disturb the neighbours who would definitely try and speak to me in Spanish. The predicament was that I knew the mare would definitely be easier to catch (she had gotten to be the most friendly on my visits to their field to try and talk to the foal/match-make Pachu), but I also knew that the stallion would be unlikely to follow her – he was the one in charge and would just continue chatting to the his new alpha male competitor. But I only had one head-collar with a rope attached to it by a knot that looked like it was tied a thousand years ago and would be pretty difficult to undo.

Somehow, I managed to approach the mare and get her in the head-collar. Stupidly, I hadn’t tried to undo the knot and separate the head-collar from the rope before catching a horse, so now I was keeping hold of the mare whilst simultaneously trying to undo the knot and stop the stallion from passing me. I alternated between looking like I was doing some weird dance where I kept sticking out my right arm and leg – horses tend to be put off my limbs sticking out – and turning the mare to be used as a roadblock to trap the stallion.

I was so pleased to see Lauren and Lizzie approaching, apparently I’d run pretty fast. I handed the mare to Lizzie and Lauren and I set to trying to trap the stallion in a corner. By this point, one of the neighbours was at the other end of the drive by the house. She seemed to know about the sticking out your limbs to stop horses passing thing and between us all we managed to get the stallion in to a pretty small space. Eventually, I got the rope around his neck.

“Muchas gracias!”

The neighbours were probably thinking what a bunch of stupid British/Americans we were – me quite obviously wearing a dress and not much else, the two girls quite obviously without much idea about horses and Matthew quite obviously pretty sick… none of us able to speak much Spanish and all making a right meal out of catching two horses.

By this point poor Matt had caught us up after trying to run on an empty stomach (he hadn’t eaten that day, being in full swing of The Stomach Bug). He took the mare from Lizzie, and we started trying to lead them both home. We totally underestimated the strength of the horses though and before long they had gotten away from us and were running back down the drive. Oh well, at least they’re going towards home. We didn’t bother running this time.

When we got back to the farm, we couldn’t see any of the horses in the field and I had visions of them all being lost deep in the woodland. As it turned out, Pachu and the chickens had cornered the two horses. Nice. As I approached the stallion this time, he was cool as a cucumber and was very grateful for me protecting him from the apparently terrifying baby donkey and group of chickens. Horses are weird.

We managed to get them back in the field (where the other horses still were, they’d just been hiding), and even get the rope off the stallion’s neck, just as Jillie and Dane were driving up the drive. We explained why were all hanging around by the field with red faces and Jillie and Dane thanked us profusely for getting everyone back in one piece.

Finally, it was time for the beach! Matthew was still feeling pretty weak and didn’t feel like sitting on a hot beach would be the best thing for him, so he stayed home. The rest of us set off pretty quickly, after getting all hot and sweaty again I could not wait to get in the sea! It was a forty minute drive with some beautiful scenery, and we stopped on the way to take some photos.

We stopped for a chat with some cows on the way to the beach

It was a pretty small beach and when we got there it was still quite packed. Thankfully, Jillie and Dean are a perfect duo when it comes to difficultly parking a van in a busy car park and we’d soon parked, dumped our stuff on the beach and were swimming in the sea.

The sea was pretty warm. We swam around for a while, the tide was quite far in so we were able to swim in to some of the big caves. Dane told us that last time they were here the tide was out and they walked through some of the same caves we were swimming in. The caves were incredible – absolutely beautiful and full of colour and shape, but also kind of scary the further back you went as it got pretty dark back there.

We swam back in to the sunshine and Jillie headed back to the beach to keep an eye on our stuff. Lizzie, Lauren, Dane and I swam over to another part of the beach and took a breather where we could stand up. Dane was eager to go cliff-jumping and I was pretty eager to join him, so we headed to what looked like a good place to jump from. It was hard work just getting up to the jumping point – working our way around sharp rocks and gorse bushes and trying not to walk too close to the edge – and Dane had to direct me a lot.

We finally got to the top and Dane figured out a couple of different places we could jump from. He chose the highest point and I decided on the same, feeling pretty confident. Dane had done quite a bit of cliff-jumping before and he talked me through how to push myself away from the jagged cliff-face below as I jumped. As he was talking, I began to realise that I had never jumped from anywhere near as high before (we were at about forty feet).

Dane pushed away from the cliff and jumped forwards and down, landing with a splash in the blue water a few seconds later. Lizzie and Lauren, waiting in the sea, cheered. I cheered. I looked down. Uh oh. I was suddenly terrified.

I spent the next ten minutes standing up and sitting down, with Lizzie, Lauren and Dane yelling encouraging words up to me. I hadn’t thought I’d be so scared! I’d had too much time to think about it and now didn’t feel very confident in my ability to push myself away from the cliff as I jumped. Although I’d just seen Dane do it easily, with plenty of room to spare, the protruding rocks below me looked pretty intimidating. On the other hand, I also didn’t fancy navigating my way back through the sharp rocks and gorse bushes without Dane to guide me.

Eventually – and maybe subconsciously when the others weren’t paying much attention – I just did it. It was a quick decision and I think I must have closed my eyes as I jumped, the next thing I knew my back was slamming against the warm water. I’ve broken my back. My fear had caused me to pay little attention to my jumping technique and I’d landed on my back, for the first minute or so I was in excruciating pain and not able to do much except lie on my back shouting.

“I did it!” and “Owww, my baaaaccckkkk!”

The pain chilled out a bit after a couple of minutes and I decided I probably hadn’t broken my back. I was so pleased to have done it! Lizzie, Lauren and Dane whooped and cheered and we all swam back to the beach where we treated ourself to ice creams and lay in the evening sunshine.

The beach was pretty empty by the time we left

It was hard to drag ourselves away from the sun and the sea, and we got back pretty late. Jillie made us dinner while we all quickly packed our bags – we were leaving early the next day. Matthew was feeling a lot better and managed to eat some dinner, I covered my back in ibuprofen gel and we slept like logs.

We woke up early and had goodbyes with Jillie, Pachu and Sella, and with Dane at the bus station. (I got a last bit of shameless self promotion in and gave a copy of Is this the Future? to everyone!) It was hard to leave Duruxa, we had such a magical experience there and really felt a part of the community. I can see it becoming a really incredible place, filled with healthy and happy people, children and animals – and, of course, a excellent model of how to live self-sustainably. When we left, Jillie and Dane were planning to embark on a week or two of eating entirely food from the gardens – I’m looking forward to hearing how that went on Jillie’s blog (which can be found here at http://kissingsheep.blogspot.co.uk/). They also spoke to us about their ideas for the future of Duruxa – perhaps a healing retreat or a centre for workshops in all aspects of sustainable living… I can’t wait to go back and see how it’s changed in a year or so.

***

So, this chunk of travelling has come to an end… but all it’s done is make me itching to get started again! I’ve met so many incredible people in the last four months, and have a lot to think about in terms of how to live my life as sustainably as possible. I’ve already got a big list of places I want to visit that I’ve been told about from people I’ve met along the way. I cannot recommend HelpX (and WWOOF) enough for a way of travelling cheaply and getting to meet, and live with, such a huge range of people.

Now the challenge is to keep the inner-peace that living so in step with nature provides a part of my every day life. I have lots of recipes to try and I’m hope to fit in some barefoot walks every now and again. I’m lucky enough to be returning to my parent’s place in the Cornish country-side where there is a small vegetable garden I can help out with, and plenty of grass to roll around in. I’m already trying to convince them to let me try and build a compost loo!

Time to start planning the next adventure…

Thanks for reading, comments always welcome :)

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