I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK

"I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK, I sleep all night and I work all day"

“I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK, I sleep all night and I work all day”

The dead almond trees in the fields nearby have been acquired for my winter heating, after I asked the current owner of the land if I could take them.  So I bought myself a chainsaw on Friday night on the way home from work.  You’re not a proper man until you’ve bought your first chainsaw, and you are probably half the man you were when you’ve had your first accident with it, so I spent a considerable time going through the manual to understand the safety factors before I tried to start it.

Then I couldn’t start it.  So I spent half of Saturday pulling the starter handle, flooding the carburettor, drying it out and flooding it again.  Then my friend Carl came round and just started the damned thing. (Aaaaarrrrgghhh!)

Dead almond tree

Dead almond tree

The price of firewood goes up every year, so my plan is to put some time into cutting down these dead almond trees and stock up for the colder weather in December and January. And also, put Matilde to work! This is the perfect opportunity to get my big fat donkey doing something useful, carrying the timber home.

"She's a lumberjack and she's OK, she eats the trees then she sleeps all day."

“She’s a lumberjack and she’s OK, she eats the trees then she sleeps all day.”

Matilde decided to go into competition with me and she wanted to eat the tree I tied her to while I was chopping other trees down. The logs were finally loaded onto her saddlepack and Matilde began to earn her keep for a change. It was a very heavy load and would have involved four journeys with a wheelbarrow (or the same number of trips with my Rhino bike & Mule trailer), but Matilde carried the load quite comfortably. In fact she was quite happily trotting along and I had to slow her down.

Matilde fully loaded

Matilde fully loaded

Pause for praise and encouragement, photo call for working donkey  with Puig Campana in the background

Pause for praise and encouragement for the working donkey

Matilde delivers the load

Matilde delivers the load

And after all that exertion Matilde enjoyed some carrots as a reward, then went back to lazing on the field which is her main occupation. Of course, as anyone familiar with the Monty Python song knows, lumberjacks have buttered scones for tea…

"On Wednesdays I go shopping, have buttered scones for tea..."

“On Wednesdays I go shopping, have buttered scones for tea…”

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Drought in Alicante

I wrote last week that I would write further on the Alicante drought situation, and I have been writing a case study for my A-level Geography students, so here is perhaps more than you expected on the subject (!)

Water resource issues: Drought in the Alicante Region 2014

In late 2013 it became clear that a serious water shortage was beginning in Alicante and a year later it is now clear that the province has been hit by a major drought.  This case study describes and examines the causes and effects of this drought, in Alicante and looking at particular examples in the Marina Baixa / Benidorm area, then makes an assessment of the current drought management solutions.

  1. Water supply and climate in Alicante

Alicante is in the the south east of Spain which is the driest region of mainland Europe, and it is even suggested it is the driest populated region in the world. So it is not surprising in itself that it has always experienced problems with water supply including cycles of drought.  It is simply more noticeable at some times than others and the degree of shortage goes through regular cycles.

A recent article studying the complexities of the water problem in this region confirms the seriousness of this shortage: precipitation in the province of Alicante is at its lowest for a hundred years.[1]  The regional climate pattern shows that extreme droughts are a natural hazard and the records show that they occur in three to four year periods: 1983-1986; 1992-1996; 1997-2000; 2004-2008.

Naturally, when we examine the causes of drought, precipitation as the main input needs to be the starting point. Precipitation is scarce and totals just 350 mm on average. It is intense and irregular, usually concentrated into a few days in autumn, mostly in October when 80 % of average annual rainfall can fall in a few hours, often causing instant floods due to surface runoff.[2]  The table below shows mean monthly precipitation (all precipitation including rain, snow and hail) in Alicante. This shows the average figure and clearly the autumn months are the period of peak rainfall.

average-rainfall-spain-alicante

That is what happens typically, but in this normally wet season in 2014 there was only a two-day period in September and October in which the rain fell. It was the first rainfall since mid-May. If the main input into the hydrological system of Alicante is missed during this period, it is unlikely that the aquifers of the region will be properly recharged until the same period the following year, and if the precipitation is at such a low figure again in 2015, the cycle of drought will have even more serious consequences.

Looking further into cause of the water shortage we can point to climate change and rising temperatures in the region. This would account for both the decrease in precipitation and the increased surface water loss due to evaporation.  Unlike other countries with Mediterranean climate south eastern Spain  is also affected by dry air from the Sahara which at times dominate the weather (and this is regularly evidenced in the red-orange dust that is deposited after rainfall on cars and other surfaces that make it plainly visible).

 

  1. The impact of drought in Alicante

We can see that the impact of drought might be felt by three distinct sectors: urban settlements, agriculture and environmentally sensitive areas. The previous droughts mentioned above did not interrupt the supply of water to urban areas due to the new infrastructure put in place during the 1970s when a pipeline was constructed into and through the Alicante region to bring water from the Tajo-Segura river basin precisely to address the shortages during the regular periods of drought. Also Spanish law since 2000 has required water agencies for each of the main river basins in the peninsula to draw up a drought management plan. These are called SDPs: Special Drought Plans. As a result of the water management priorities built into these plans, urban water supply is given priority over other sectors. The reason for this may be thought self-evident, as people need water in all aspects of life for everyday living. However, it is also a political problem because people living in urban settlements do not want restrictions placed on their water use, and some water is used for non-essential purposes, e.g swimming pools, car washing, water parks, etc.  Local politicians who told their voters they were not allowed to fill their swimming pools – with the hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of water this requires – would be vulnerable to losing their seats in future elections!

The main economic factor in the region’s expanding urbanisations is tourism and this is another reason why urban water resources must be safeguarded.

 

  1. Historical water management in Alicante

The historic need to collect and store water, then transfer this precious resource to places where it was needed, results in Alicante having a historic hydrological monument: the oldest dam in Europe was built in the 17th century to hold the flood waters of the Vinalopó river in the period of heavy rainfall and use this water for irrigation over the dry period.[3]  We can go even further back into the past and look at the sophisticated water engineering of the Islamic period, when many of the existing patterns of terraced fields were constructed, and carefully measured to allow the gradient of the drop to distribute water channels over the greatest possible area.  In upland areas these water channels were fed by natural streams, for example the water channel system around Sella which distributes water served by limestone aquifers in the Sierra Aitana. In the flat lands nearer to the sea, the water channels for agriculture were served by wells, including the mechanised noria (an Arab word) powered by a mule or donkey providing a regular flow through a chain of revolving buckets.  Storage was either in a communal cisterna – an open water tank serving a settlement – or an aljibe which was an individual covered water deposit where a whole year’s water could be stored for one household.  In addition, household water was historically provided from wells and also by mobile water sellers transporting water in carts, and examples can be seen of this in Benidorm even into the late 1960s.

noria photo

Cross section of the noria and water table; and an example in Benidorm still in use in the 1950s

Clearly all of these historic methods of collecting, storing and transferring water were adequate for a small population in a primary economy where the largely agricultural and fishing communities were feeding themselves and trading their surplus even as far as Madrid.  But the exponential population growth coinciding with the tourist economy and the rapid development of Spain in the last decades of the twentieth century placed immense and noticeable strains on the water supply.

In the 1970s Benidorm ran out of water and had to be temporarily served by Spanish navy tanker ships moored off the Levante beach, which created a very poor image of the resort and damaged its reputation for several years.  Meanwhile individual hotels dug their own wells to draw water from the aquifers below, and that action led to over-extraction of fresh water, in turn leading to seawater contamination and salination of the aquifers. Eventually, the water problems of Benidorm were solved temporarily by the construction of the Guadalest reservoir pipeline, a system of exchange with the Amadorio reservoir but this still meant reliance on local precipitation and it was not enough. The building of a desalination plant at Sierra Helada, converting seawater to urban piped water, provided important additional supplies, but desalination is very expensive, and in any case one desalination plant is not enough.

Clearly the reliance of such a growing population on the local water supply would eventually lead to the over-extraction of water from aquifers, which are finite in a period of low precipitation.  The reservoirs at Guadalest and the Amadorio are nearly exhausted, as the snow melt from the high mountains in winter is now minimal. As with Marina Baixa and Benidorm, our local example, these problems of water scarcity are now being felt across the entire Alicante province.

 

  1. Effects of the present drought

Farmers are major users of water resources and Alicante has significant areas of farmland devoted to fruit growing, but the growing population, urbanisation and tourist resort development in the region, means that the impact of the 2014 drought has consequently fallen mainly on agriculture. In the competition for a scarce resource, farmers are given a lower priority. No matter how significant traditional agriculture may be,  it is seen as a secondary part of the Alicante economy.  Urban areas have been given normal water supplies while thousands of hectares of fruit trees are dry and dying.  Farmers are going out of business and the loss to the Alicante economy is estimated at 350,000 Euros.

 

 

Municipalities, while they are not short of water for urban needs, are paying a much higher price. Due to European legislation, more water is also being assigned to environmental issues[4] which will remove water resources from other areas (presumably agriculture will again remain a low priority).

 

  1. More recent water management solutions

Alicante  province can truly be seen as a model for water management and consumption in Spain, as individual consumers only use 100 litres of water each: that is half the daily average for the country as a whole.[5]  While this may be a good example for other areas, it still doesn’t solve the supply problems and Alicante needs water from outside the region.  This is, in other words, a national government question needing a large scale infrastructure solution and not simply a local onethat can be addressed by the local economy.

Since 1979 the region has benefited from the Tajo-Segura pipeline – a major construction project which brought water up from the south – but there are limits to the amount of water this can supply and it still did not meet the needs of all sectors of Alicante.  That pipeline was the southern end of a trans-basin project: the Júcar-Vinalopó pipeline which is projected to bring 12 hm3 annually to Alicante.  Funding for this project included 120 million Euros from Brussels, but there were administrative objections blocking the supply from Valencia in the north. It has taken the present drought crisis in Alicante to move the discussions forward, and finally in November 2014 an agreement was reached in Madrid regarding the different competing regional water interests. The pipeline from the Júcar would finally open in January 2015.

So it is clear that the solution to the drought crisis in Alicante is not within the capacity of local decision-making but can only be provided by new levels of water administration and finance involving both Spanish national government agencies and European funding.  As with many water-stressed parts of the world, Alicante’s drought problems involve negotiation and decision-making far from its own local administrators and the supply, storage and transfer of water is now a much more complex business than in the days of the aquifers, water channels and norias that once served a smaller population and a primary economy.

[1] Juan G.R., “The water problem in the Valencian Community and Murcia is complicated.” Water and Irrigation. .: Vol 5, No. 1: 29-30, September, 2014, Spain (Online 04/11/14: http://www.aguayriego.com/en/2014/09/el-problema-del-agua-en-la-comunidades-valenciana-y-de-murcia-se-complica)

[2] Auernheimer C., Almenar R., Chapín F. Tourism, agriculture and the environment. The case of

the province of Alicante, Spain. In : Camarda D. (ed.), Grassini L. (ed.). Interdependency between

agriculture and urbanization: Conflicts on sustainable use of soil and water. Bari : CIHEAM, 2001. p. 171-

194 (Options Méditerranéennes : Série A. Séminaires Méditerranéens; n. 44)

[3] The oldest dam in Europe is in Alicante.” Weekly You first. No 38, Year 2, 17-23 January, Alicante, 2012.  (Online 04/11/14: http://www.aguayriego.com/en/2012/03/el-pantano-mas-viejo-de-europa-es-alicantino)

[4] http://www.eu-drought.org

[5] Información 23 October 2014,  p.11, quoting Asunción Martínez, president of Fundación Aquae.

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Donkey sanity returns

The donkeys and I have had a very close shave this week: we nearly had our lives taken over in a most unwelcome manner. All is sorted out and our home is back to normal. What lesson can we draw from it? Rubí is reflecting on the matter and she will tell me.

Elca Seriu in the last light of the day

Elca Seriu in the last light of the day

It is a very sad fact of ex-pat life here in Spain that family and friends sometimes swoop down upon us, expected or unexpected, and seem to think it natural that we should hand over our lives and homes to them just because we happen to live in the sunshine. At work you sometimes hear a teacher in the staffroom saying, “My family are arriving next week,” and the sympathetic response is usually, “Oh no! How long for?” If they say three weeks, the tut tuts begin immediately. Rule of thumb is ten days probably the crunch point.

That is for regular family and friends, and then you get the occasional person – the person you don’t really even know that well but you met on the internet in some context – who is just doing the rounds with a sad story and needs “to get my life together”. Such was the case this week. I had an email last Monday from England from a person who had once stayed here for three days, between jet-setting around the world supposedly involved in off-shore financial stuff (which is a mystery for my poor rabit brain). Now he had fallen on hard times and was staying in England, sleeping on a mattress on someone’s floor.

“Would it be possible to park myself at yours for a fortnight?… I have to… work at an online TEFL course I have to do… I need a break… prior to starting a new life.”

My first instinct was to say no. I should have stuck to that, but the usual guilt feelings began to work on me. Poor guy, he seems to be in a terrible situation… down on his luck… horrible place he is staying in… needs a chance to get some peace to do his course. And I’m living a quiet life with donkeys and no troubles, apart from the troubles we all have (and I’m very concerned about a family member’s health just at present.) So I forgot my first instinct and said: “Yes, you can come.”

It is a quiet life with donkeys but every now and again somebody turns up to try and wreck it

It is a quiet life with donkeys but every now and again somebody turns up to try and wreck it

I had a reply immediately and a flight was booked for Friday, which gave me three days to get the room ready. It is a difficult time of year anyway: at work, getting exam classes properly ready for mock exams in January; at home, coping with the twice daily physical round of feeding, watering, grooming, cleaning, with the donkeys, and all in half-light and darkness as the days get shorter.

Suddenly we are all trapped by my bad decision

Suddenly we are all trapped by my bad decision

I had a bad feeling about this but there was no going back now. Too sudden! Too desperate! This guy had been running from one situation that was going wrong to another for the past four years since I had known him, and now he was going from big finance schemes to an online TEFL course and it would all be sorted out in a fortnight staying in my house. Didn’t make sense.

Still, I rationalised, it would do him good. He could spend some time looking after the donkeys when I was at work during the week. Get on with his course for a fortnight. What was the worry? It took me three evenings to sort out my house and make it suitable to receive a visitor: I live alone and I have not cleaned the house properly since the beginning of the summer! There was no guest room but a room full of junk and paintings and laundry. The poor donkeys did not know I was getting us all into this situation: I never discussed it with them.

Well: is it Tuesday?   I think we should at least be told.

Well: is it Tuesday? I think we should at least be told.

When he arrived here on Friday I collected him from the bus station in Benidorm and he talked about himself non-stop for two hours. I took him to a meal with friends in a restaurant in Finestrat and he carried on talking about himself for another hour, not noticing the stretched patience and then growing anger of my four friends. He drew out a twenty Euro note at the end of the meal to pay for his share and announced that was the last of his money but luckily his good friend (me) would see him all right for the next “few weeks”.

Oh no… I remembered what had been my first instinct when I first received that email. Too late now. After the meal and back home again, I asked him when was his return flight and he was very vague about it. I guessed there was no return flight. He asked me what I was doing for Christmas, at a totally random point in a conversation about the practical points in the bathroom shower arrangements. I quickly told him I was planning on going away (having guessed his long term plan was to stay as long as he could.)

“Would you like to see the donkeys now?” I asked.

“I don’t really like animals,” said my guest, and rolled another cigarette to add to the pile of ash now accumulated in the saucer of a precious Italian ceramic Desimone coffee cup and saucer set given to me as a birthday present by my daughter years ago, and just taken from my cupboard.

I will spare you the details of the awful night that then followed but it involved my “guest” slamming doors at three in the morning, leaving all the lights on, then when finally done on his night patrols – which involved filling the house with the stench of tobacco – then snoring all night with a monumental vibration that shook the house until nine o’clock in the morning.

I had no sleep, of course. At breakfast, I confronted him about his intentions and there was no return plan except to just live here. I reminded him of his email: a fortnight to work on his TEFL course. I made it quite clear to him I was not going to be taken for a ride.

I fed the donkeys and went up to Finestrat. After a long conversation with a really good, patient and kind friend, we came up with a solution. The guest could move into a flat that was temporarily empty and stay there until his return flight, free of charge. I went back to my house with the good news. He did not want that. He said if I was throwing him out he preferred I paid for a flight for him back to England. My house was full of tobacco smoke now and he had also set up his computer on my dining table, together with all his other office equipment, and was now clearly in control of my house. (Except of course for the washing up, which was my job.)

Puig Campana: a peaceful  background to a takeover of my house

Puig Campana: a peaceful background to a takeover of my house

At this point, I suddenly found inspiration in the long hard journey that brought me here. I shouted at him at full volume to get his life in order and not come here messing up mine. Astonishingly, he very quickly found some money and booked his own flight back to England. It turned out to be Iberia to Madrid, then British Airways to Heathrow, using the Air Miles card of another friend. Amazing how the other half live.

Is it feeding time yet?  Has your guest gone?  Can we just do normal things now?

Is it feeding time yet? Has your guest gone? Can we just do normal things now?

My first instinct is to never want to return to England. My second instinct is to not let England come here very much either.

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Summer in November

The drought in Alicante continues and I will be posting more about that very soon. I am doing a study of the drought situation for my geography lessons with GCSE and A-level students, and I shall write a blog post here shortly with the details. This is the most arid territory in mainland Europe and the present conditions are quite extreme.

The donkeys love it: they are – after all – African animals and they love dry dusty conditions. Dust baths are glorious! Here is a selection from today’s dust bath routine.

Aitana rolling in the dust

Aitana rolling in the dust

Matilde inspects Aitana to check her dusting technique is OK

Matilde inspects Aitana to check her dusting technique is OK

Evening dust bath: the donkeys have been really active on the dust bath front today. Now it is the turn of Morris: he has one last dust bath as the sun goes down.

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The lovely Rubí donkey, and is it Tuesday?

Rubí was my first donkey. When I went to Parcent on the other side of the Sierra Bernia looking for donkeys, nearly four years ago, Rubí was the two year old donkey who stood out as the real charmer. I bought her immediately. Here is the blog post from that day in December 2010.
It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Unknown to me, Rubí was pregnant with the foal that would eventually be called Morris.

Over the years, Rubí has always been the donkey in the background. She is a true Eeyore: always facing awy from the others, and me, gazing into the distance and wondering if it is Tuesday.

Rubí out walking last Sunday, nervous about nearby dogs

Is it Tuesday? I think we should be told.

In the morning at first light, the donkeys gaze up at the house and bray for their breakfast. The first thing they get is chopped carrots and Matilde, Aitana and Morris stand around snorting and stamping in expectation. Meanwhile Rubí is usually at the other end of the field, ignoring the whole sordid business of carrots, and looking into the far distance watching the sun come up over the Mediterranean. That could provide a valuable clue whether it is Tuesday.

When the first two donkeys arrived in March 2011, Rubí proved quite a character from the start. We had the famous local incident where I was marooned in Finestrat overnight. This was due to Rubí refusing to walk home in fading daylight.

In four years I have learned to understand Rubí’s funny little ways and work with her. She is a very affectionate donkey. She will not walk through the valley path to Finestrat because she arrives at a particular spot on the path and decides it is too dangerous. (Crocodiles? Imminent earthquake? Who knows what goes on in Rubí’s head?)

Rubí is not always quiet: at times she goes quite wild.

And then there was her foal Morris…

Morris on 1st October 2011 pictured with Rubí half an hour after being born

Morris on 1st October 2011 pictured with Rubí half an hour after being born

It’s a confusing life for a poor Eeyore donk, and maybe she will never know whether it is Tuesday.

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Lazy donkeys eating in October sunshine

After hearing unusual noises I went down to the field and Morris was doing circuits with a plastic bucket on the end of his nose. I could not get a video of that because he stopped immediately I arrived. Videoing that will be a project for another time…

So I threw the donkeys a handful of algarobas (carob beans) and here’s another equine foodie video.

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The new toy (and other matters)

20141004_152004

Happy birthday Alys! I hope you like your new toy!  (Now you need to download Whatsapp to get free international text messaging and I can send you the latest donkey photo as it happens!)

The donkeys had their new toy a couple of weeks ago, pictured above. It is an inflatable boat fender bought in a ship’s chandlers in Vilajoyosa.  Just as last year with the failed football toy, they have still not responded to it. The rope handle is supposed to make it interesting for them, so they could pick ity up and run with it, or throw it around.  So far it simply gets an occasional sniff or a slight kick, but they are diplaying little real interest in it.  Now I have put it in a tyre, so when I return to the field I can see when they have taken it out and moved it.

20141004_153847

Animal feed store Nutrivila delivered the monthly food supply a few days ago. The four donkeys get through 14 bales of straw, 8 bales of alfalfa, and 5 sacks of grain every month. (Current cost about 150 Euros per month.) I mix the alfalfa in with the straw, so it works out about 70% straw and 30% alfalfa (straw bales are bigger); and one scoop of grain each per day, just as an aid to digestion. I would like to compare donkey diets with other donkey keepers who comment here.

Nutrivila van after delivery

Nutrivila van after delivery


Aitana and Matilde in breakfast bowl of mixed cereals and carob beans

Aitana and Matilde in breakfast bowl of mixed cereals and carob beans

And here’s a few more pics from recently.

Donkey ear in the sunset (Matilde)

Donkey ear in the sunset (Matilde)

Relleu mural

Relleu mural

Rubí out walking last Sunday, nervous about nearby dogs

Rubí out walking last Sunday, nervous about nearby dogs

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