Monday, 27 July 2015



After putting the new pipework on two of the terraces, we were chomping at the bit in anticipation of water day. The water came on Saturday.  We had expected water day to be on Sunday but upon checking on Saturday morning saw that it was flowing so we needed to change the plans we had already made for the day. You can often hear when the water is running without going to the terrace above to see, but currently the cicadas are drowning out a lot of the sounds. The water we get is diverted to our property manually through an acequia. The acequias were constructed by the Moors centuries ago to channel the water down the mountains and these channels remain to this day. Our water is diverted using a stone, the magic stone (la piedra mágica) as I call it. Once it comes to our property we can either divert it to the terraces to water the land, fill our domestic tank or, if neither of these options are chosen, it goes into a water deposit, an alberca, which we also use to water as and when we want to. It all relies on gravity and pressure. Once the alberca is full it overflows and the water goes off downhill, to join the river in the valley eventually. The purpose of Mark's new pipework was to divert some of the water directly to the plants from the acequia. 

This is what all the excitement is about!

It was very satisfying to turn the taps and see the water springing from our new pipework. There were leaky joints to tighten, taps to adjust to balance the pressure through the system, lots of climbing up and down the terraces to turn taps on and off, blockages to clear, but all in all the plan has worked out successfully!   Following this, we filled our domestic tank and finally watered the terraces below using the alberca (water deposit). It is surprising how time flies when you're having fun and an activity we thought would take a couple of hours actually lasted all day. We think we can get it down to about 4 hours in the future. We didn't notice the heat too much because there was lots of getting hands wet, getting sprayed when trying to replace loose fittings and overall preoccupation and excitement with the event!

The water apprentice ('scuse the rubbish behind, we are waiting to get a tow bar on our car so we can take it to the tip!)

We are going to repair parts of the irrigation system on the other terraces but it's good to know that a fair bit of the work is done. Our kind neighbour called one evening with a jar of his honey for us and wanted to show Mark his own irrigation system. Bearing in mind that our neighbour does not speak English and Mark is at 'improvers level' in Spanish, it's a good job he was going off to inspect something practical and visual. Mark returned with the message 'keep it simple'. We may well take on board our neighbour's advice when looking at the two lower terraces.

As the acequia water has run through open channels you cannot drink it unless it were treated. We only use our domestic water from the acequia for washing - ourselves, clothes and dishes! We collect our drinking water in big water carriers from springs and fuentes. Knowing our drinking water was low we had a trip out to a fuente (spring) in a neighbouring spa town, Lanjarón. Lanjarón is famous for its bottled water and (I believe) it was the first established bottled water company in Spain, now owned by Danone. Most of the fuentes in town are beautifully tiled and often have an inscription or verse by Federico García Lorca.

Filling our boots at a fuente in Lanjaron

I couldn't agree with you more, Federico

So with all fluid levels topped up for the time being we continue to brace ourselves for the drought. It occured to me after visiting the Alhambra a couple of times over the past few years that my favourite aspect of the gardens is actually the water. The Moors certainly gave this precious commodity the reverence it deserves.

We look forward to our second week 'en casa' and the pleasures and challenges that face us.

Reflections on our first week

What an amazing first week we have had and what a learning curve!

According to the Spanish news, it has been the hottest July for 50 years and we are experiencing daily temperatures of  around 38 C. Even the Spanish are saying it is too hot! We are getting used to these temperatures and how to adjust to them: waking and starting the day early and doing the most strenuous work then, siesta at 2pm (it would be wrong not to!!) and back into more gentle action about 5pm. In the past, Mark and I have always struggled with the idea of eating late when on holiday and are usually ravenous by 7pm (how very English!) but we find we are eating later and later each day and adjusting more and more to the way of life.
I can't wait to go our and explore

Our cats are starting to settle in and becoming bolder. Only another 3 weeks before we introduce them to The Great Outdoors!
I'm starting to like it here

I'm really too hot to care

I'm finding it OK but you must remember I am a princess and I am only used to the very best!

We have also sampled our local municipal pool at the end of siesta on two afternoons. Its a 25 metre pool with good depth, even in the shallow end. A lovely way to cool off and shake out tired muscles. It sure beats going back into the office after lunch. Next week I was thinking we might go there for the afternoon with a picnic, book and umbrella. A longer time spent there will let me get in a few lengths, something I love to do, before the teenage boys that dive bomb the minute the lifeguard turns his back arrive!

Last Tuesday the removals lorry arrived with our furniture and belongings. The boxes are in our storage area and we are starting to open them. I have had such pleasure in rediscovering some of the objects that I packed away a couple of months ago. It's like a great big Christmas! I would recommend to anyone that every couple of years or so they pack all their worldly belongings into boxes, throwing away the things they forgot they even had (because if you don't remember you've got it you definitely don't need it) and then unpack again two months later. What a great way to fuel reflection, nostalgia, memories! It is also very empowering to realise just how much you can actually live without. On a lighter note, some of our more essential tools and other such items have arrived, which we are grateful for. As we have definite seasons here, I am going to pack my winter clothes away in boxes, something I never did in the UK owing to the unpredictable climate. I wonder if I will experience the same delight in rediscovering my winter clothes when the Autumn comes!

Comida rica
We have had some lovely fresh local food and I am getting time to cook more, which I love doing. It is going to be a while before we have the chicken accommodation set up, so currently we are buying eggs, the best we can find at the time. On Thursday we laid our hands on some rather nice organic free range eggs from an organic stall in the market. As they were rather special, I made a crema catalana dessert. Not wanting to waste the egg whites, I also made my first ever almond macaroons from the almonds that have already ripened. They were vey nice, even though I say so myself!

Almond Macaroons
That evening, we had coffee with a triple dessert of crema catalana, almond macaroons and a Spanish liqueur.
Coffee with triple dessert: crema catalana, almond macaroon and liqueur.
A keen triple-deserter!

There are days when we don't go into town, which calls for homemade bread - pan casero. Our kind and lovely neighbour has given us a big bag of peaches from one of his trees - and they are beautiful, some of his honey he extracted only the day before, and some massive tomatoes which I have made into pomodoro sauce. The slo-cooker I brought out is useful as it supposedly runs on very little power, and we are running entirely on solar. One evening we went into the seaside town of Salobreña as we needed to make a journey further afield to buy a printer/scanner. We called into a favourite restaurant on the beach and ordered a fritura de pescado (selection of local fried fish) and an ensalada Costa Tropical (a salad of the region with lots of fruits in it). It is good to feel the airmiles coming down and the taste of fresher food.

Mister Sparrow at work/ admiring the views

Mister Sparrow's view

Monday, 20 July 2015

Mark's pipedream

I started my day in a way that would be unconventional in the UK. I hopped over the balcony and onto an adjoining flat roof to clean the solar panels before the sun got onto them. The battery level has been flashing red, indicating 'low' ever since we arrived.  We have not been hammering the appliances but there are several other reasons why this may be: firstly, there was a possibility that dust was stopping them from working efficiently, secondly, they work better at temperatures much lower than 38 C and thirdly, our builder had been running a cement mixer the previous week. I don't mind heights unless there is a possibility I can fall. As I had to stand closer to the edge than I would have liked, I soon broke into a sweat. But the panels were lovely and clean after I had finished! Once finished I cleaned the back of the frames with the remainder of the water and noticed a wasps' nest just about to spring into action for the day. How stupid not to have checked for this before I began. I disturbed a nest last year and these bad boys can pack a punch! The thought of being atttacked on the roof by some feisty wasps played briefly through my mind! Thanking my lucky stars, the wasp spray came to the rescue and, several minutes later I was on my way down to breakfast, bearing a bunch of grapes freshly picked from the vine that wraps around the balcony railings. Whilst I had been on the roof there were some agreeable noises coming from below. I had picked some of the almonds that had ripened early the night before and I could hear  Mark breaking them with a hammer. So it was freshly picked grapes and almonds on the muesli! We are chuffed that there are still some citrus fruits, although they are falling rapidly, so we are getting fresh orange / grapefruit juice at the moment

Whilst I was on the roof, Mark had also been planing an ancient rustic door whose frame had moved slightly and was sticking. It is now really pukka. This called from a bit of impromptu James Taylor - handyman, of course!

Our trip to town today consisted of buying irrigation equipment to upgrade the irrigation system (goteo). We had drawn a plan the night before and had a good idea of how many joints, taps, elbows, T's would be needed and the width of pipe to get the pressure and flow to the plants on 'water day'. We returned in our workhorse car laden with irrigation equipment which included 500m of pipe!

The pipedream project will continue to keep us occupied tomorrow, as well as receiving a delivery from the removals lorry. Never a dull moment! Later this evening I checked the solar battery level and it is now reading amber. It is humbling to be reminded now and again of the impact of using electrical appliances.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Agave Heaven

Today was water day. We went to check the levels of the alberca and our domestic water tank, both of which were full. Then we went up the lane to fill a reserve tank of 1000 litres which is placed at the highest point of our land so that it can supply the plants by gravity. This took a little jiggling of taps, stopping off the supply through one pipe so that it fed another etc.We are getting the hang of it! Soon we had 1000 litres tucked away. Not nearly enough, and we are looking at purchasing several more reserve tanks in the near future for irrigation purposes. We have also been discussing putting in pipework to carry the water to the plants  instead of through the channels that have been carved into the terraces, which is wasteful and erodes the soil. This needs a bit of planning, measuring up and discussion before purchasing the necessary materials. Finally, we went further uphill to view with satisfaction the magic stone that diverts the water to our property. On our return, whilst humming 'roll away the stone', a Mott the Hoople classic, the cicadas were in full song. They start at about 10am and quieten down at approx 4pm. They sing so loudly that we have to raise our voices slightly when sitting in the shade outside the main door to the house. On the way back from the water mission we had bumped into our lovely neighbour who informed us that there is likely to be a drought in  August and we might only get water once during the whole month, instead of every 8 days. That should be interesting.

After our second breakfast (!!!) I set about finishing painting the window frames that required a covering of mosquitero, whilst Mark tidied the workshop from the previous day's woodwork activities and went again to check out the workings of the water system which will help plan the irrigation water-pipe project we have in stow.

As the drinking water was running low, we decided drive to a village higher up to fill our containers. The water is from melted snow that filters through to springs and is of superior quality. The agaves are in flower at present and are spectacular. A flower head is approximately 5 metres high. Beautiful! They warranted us stopping to take a photo, especially as they may be over their best in a few days.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Sparrows - 1, mosquitos - 0

Today we went a long way to fulfilling our plan to cover existing openings in the house with mosquitero. For the time being, this will allow circulation of air in the bedroom and allow the cats to see out and experience fresh air and the breeze without leaving the house. In the next few months it should stop mosquitos from coming in and feasting on us. We have used metal, rather than the normal plastic net in case we have an aspiring escapee.

It's surprising how long these 'little jobs' can take, and the task has occupied most of our day as it involved a trip into town to buy the materials. The frames covering the French doors require a little more painting and the window frames downstairs require a second coat of paint before the plastic mosquitero goes up. That will have to wait until the morning.

The water arrived to our property this evening. It is diverted to properties on the hillside through irrigation chanels known as acequias (a-say-key-az) and comes to us every eight days in summer months. It provides us with domestic and irrigation water. Drinking water is collected from a nearby spring source or, my favourite option, we go to one of the fuentes in the Poqueira villages higher above us. The alberca, a water deposit that is used to irrigate two of our terraces, has now been filled by the water. Tomorrow we will look at topping up our domestic tank. It is lovely to hear the gushing of water around the property, very refreshing! 

Tonight a mass of cloud filled the valley whilst we were eating on the terrace. We could see the village below us on the other side of the river but the mountain peak opposite was shrouded. The day has ended with us being exhausted but with a sense of achievement and excitement for tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

We have arrived!

Today our real adventure that we have been making preparations for over the past 3 years or so really began. It has been the day when Mark and I have travelled to Málaga on a one way ticket with our four cats in tow. It has felt a lot more final today. No snatched holidays whilst taking precious annual leave from our jobs. No finite period within which to see to formalities, collect harvests and plan a few walks and meals before getting on the plane back to Merseyside!

The weeks, months and years prior to today are a story in themselves. But I feel this blog should be about now. Because we only have now.

Our day began at 2 am. The cats, Lisa and Towersey (our 15 year-old sisters), Pepper (our 13 year old British Blue princess) and Bobby (our lovely 6 year old tabby boy) had all been locked in from the night before, so they knew something was going to happen. The journey to the vets the afternoon before for their pre-flight checks had already raised suspicions. With thier IATA -approved pet carriers carefully prepared, they were placed into them just before the taxi arrived to take us to Manchester cargo terminal for 4am. Our departure felt rushed in the end and we only hastily said goodbye to our two adult sons who are staying behind in the UK to pursue their careers. 

With cats safely delivered and labelled up at the cargo terminal, amidst the singing of feline voices, we checked in and had an uneventful and smooth flight to Málaga, although feeling at the same time anxious and maybe a little guilty that our furry felines would not be appreciative of the bigger picture and the longer term benefits of living in a rural location. We had the cats cleared by a cattery close to the airport as we knew it would be hot and having someone do this work and speeding them through the process with their inside knowledge we felt would help to keep the situation as pleasant as possible.  We collected our Spanish car from the airport parking, having left it there when we left spain at the end of May, and after a few phone calls to the clearing agent, we met him and were reunited with the cats in the car park of a DIY store on the outskirts of Málaga Airport. Job done, and feeling tired and ragged, Mark drove us all to the house, where the cats were let out of their carriers to find a corner each of the house to recover from their ordeal.

Of course it is currently very hot, approx 40C, and although Mark and I love the heat and the way of life it brings, the cats have some adjusting to do to the summer months. In addition, after one of them absconded for 3 weeks when we moved 2 1/2  years ago, and returned a poorly waif half the weight she had been 3 weeks previously, we have vowed to be very strict in keeping them in for 4 weeks. The house is cool inside and some of the windows, especially those that we have repainted, have mosquito net on (mosquitero). However, some require repainting and it seems a shame to put up mosquito net without painting, only to have to rip it down shortly when we decorate. So for the time being these windows are shut. This has defined a priority for us and tomorrow I vow to paint the frame of the window in the living room and put up mosquitero as this will bring a lovely through-draft into the house. Mark is going to set about making wooden rectangular frames and stretching  mosquitero over them then pinning them to cover the French doors in the bedroom. The mosquitero will hopefully keep the cats in, allow a nice breeze into the house and protect us from mosquito bites in the bedroom on summer nights.