Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Other Type of Neighbor

It has been a good week.  We took a great hike on Wednesday.  We left our house and drove down the mountain, stopping to take photos of the cloud-covered valley below.  

Once on the hard-top road we drove through Pampaneira, turned left and headed through Bubion, the village directly across the valley from our house, and then through Capileira, the second highest village in Spain.  The road continues up the mountainside. After we had driven 28km we stopped and looked across to our house.  We were probably only 2-3 km away, but it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get there.

We live right in the middle

We parked about 10km up above Capileira at the Ranger's station and walked on a dirt road towards Mulhacén.  We followed the road for two hours enjoying views in every direction.  


We saw Ibex resting in a pile of rocks with one large Ibex keeping lookout.  We spotted many large beetles and later learned from our friend Kiersten that they are called Baetica Ustulata and are being used to study climate change.  They only live in the Sierra Nevada and the plant they eat is growing higher up in the mountains as temperatures warm; the study is to see if the beetles will also move higher in the mountains.  We saw them at 9000 feet elevation.

Baetica Ustulata

And then there was the IKEA delivery.  I have worried for weeks, even before we went to IKEA, about whether or not the delivery truck would make it up the mountain, or what if they refused to try, or what if they stalled on the steepest part and drifted down the road and over the mountainside (I can imagine many unlikely things at 2:00 am).  

Friday was the day.  We had left a map of how to get here with instructions that we would meet them at the Ermita El Padre Eterno and they could follow us up the road.  We left our phone number, as well as the number of a Spanish-fluent neighbor.  

In the end it was not a big deal at all.  They called Sam and he communicated with them just fine.  We met at the Ermita and they were right on my bumper the entire 7 kms.  No way was an old lady going to out-drive them; I thought at one point they may try to pass me.  The two men were very pleasant and everything got delivered in massive amounts of cardboard and plastic.

Sam started assembling immediately and by the time we went to sleep last night we had a table and two chairs, a bed and half a cabinet.

The mattress almost didn't fit down the stairs and into our room, but with only a small amount of plaster being scraped off and falling to the floor, it finally made it.  We got the largest mattress available, which is just a bit smaller than the king size we had in Oregon.  I feel a bit extravagant, but I have to say it was a very comfortable night.

Today began well and Sam was happily assembling furniture when suddenly we heard a man yelling, and the yelling got closer and louder.  We looked out and couldn't see anything, but a minute later it sounded desperate and so we went further out into the yard and saw an old man leaning over our fence calling to us.  We walked around to where we could talk.  Sam thought he needed help; I assumed he just wanted to meet us.  

Even after we were standing right next to him the yelling continued, and the only word we understood was "aqua."  We haven't been getting water from the barranco for several days and had already planned to take another stroll up there tonight to see if the pipe had once again come up from the pool, so we assumed he wasn't getting water either. 

But it was clear that in his mind this was somehow our fault.  We called our Spanish-fluent neighbor and he spoke with him for a bit.  It turns out we were the man's second stop having already had an angry encounter with another neighbor who shares the barranco water.  He has decided that he is the only one who should get water from the barranco and he threatened to cut our pipes and to "denounce" all of us.  From what we understand, being denounced involves a complaint to the Guardia Civil and our neighbor believes that, if denounced, then the Guardia Civil will come cut all the pipes on the mountain. 

In the end we said "si" a lot and we told him we would turn off our pipe that draws from the barranco. We have enough water in our alberca to get us through a few months of irrigation and hopefully this will get resolved.  He seemed content that he had straightened us out and the last we saw he was off to start yelling at the third neighbor who shares barranco water.

Off he goes with his horse and five small dogs

Yelling over another fence

I, of course, am hoping for a friendly resolution that works for everyone. Sam assures me that will happen. 

In the meantime, we have furniture to assemble and mountains to climb.

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What I've Learned So Far

We have been in Spain for just over one month now and have already learned many things. Yesterday I reflected on the first trip we took to Europe.  We spent 17 days in France in 2004 and I remember standing outside a cafe in Vézelay being shy about going in without understanding how it all worked. Do we just sit?  Do we wait to be seated?  How do we order?  We quickly recognized that we would starve if we allowed our uncertainties to hold us back.  

We have come a long way since that moment in Vézelay, but there are still times when uncertainty has control.  Yesterday we went to the weekly market in Pitres.  Each village has a market day and on that day vendors come and set up booths of shoes, or clothes, or housewares.  And there are produce stands and trucks selling chickens and churros, or cheeses and meats.  We bought spelt bread from a man with numerous healthy-looking loaves, then we purchased peaches and pears from a produce man.  We wandered to a second produce stand to buy some peppers so that Sam could make his special Chili Rellenos.   There were many women calling out requests and frowning at the offerings until the produce woman put together just what they wanted.  I stood next to the pile of peppers waiting my turn.  I waited, and waited, as satisfied customers left and others arrived and were served. The produce woman looked my way several times but then was off helping another woman.  It was hot and I waited beyond my usual tolerance before finally giving up and walking away.  I later learned from a friend that I should have picked up a pepper and that would have brought the woman over to help me.  I was hesitant to touch anything because I have been scolded for that in other settings.  But now I know, at least until I develop some language skills, that I need to be a bit more demonstrative if I want to get served at the market.

I have learned some other things this past week:

  • Geckos are good to have in the house; they eat bugs and some consider them a symbol of good luck.  
  • Gecko poo looks like rat poo.  
  • Gecko poo is better than rat poo.
  • Gecko poo on the bed probably fell from the ceiling because Geckos don't get on the bed.
  • It will take me awhile to get used to having Geckos in the house.

Our Gecko

Gecko Poo

Other things I have learned:

  • IKEA is a wonderland
  • IKEA is overwhelming
  • IKEA in Spanish is even more overwhelming
  • IKEA packaging is brilliant
  • Sam is good at assembling IKEA furniture

And we have learned the pleasure of getting an unexpected phone call from a neighbor at noon inviting us to a party that same day at 2:30.  We got cleaned up, walked over with a bottle of wine, and spent the next 4 hours laughing and talking with a delightful group of British and Spanish neighbors of varying ages.  We are blessed to have kind neighbors who live life with a gentle ease.

The days are quite warm and I am challenged by a lack of physical energy.  Sam thinks it is the adjustment to living at 4500 feet elevation and not yet sleeping well.  I need to be patient with the many adjustments.  In the meantime I am focusing on the simple gifts of this life we have chosen.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


This past week we had some short adventures including a day high in the mountains near the Sierra Nevada ski area with impressive views extending in every direction.  

Another day we hiked down to the Poqueira river gorge where we soaked our feet in the cool water while eating a snack of apricots and cheese. 

We continue to learn about our home and surroundings.  Each walk around the property leads to new discoveries and we have learned more about our solar-power system and how to properly maintain the batteries.  We have chosen a simple life: not a life free of demands.  But the work required is just the work of living, and there is joy in that.

More acquisitions have occurred, ranging from a milk-frother to a chain saw, but still no furniture. Perhaps next week, although we are getting very used to living with one tiny bed, two chairs and a small patio table.  

The past few days have been full of festivities in the nearby villages.  Two nights ago a carload of British neighbors drove past on their way to the "Witch Festival" in Soportujar.  And, after a week of listening to the band practice, the past two nights we have fallen asleep to the sounds of music in Pampaneira and Capileira.  The music goes on nearly until sunrise.  We can't imagine how people stay up celebrating all night long for several nights in a row.

One evening early last week I was sitting outside and heard someone calling, "hello!"  When I realized that "hello" was not "hola," it occurred to me that someone was calling out a greeting to us! Every property here is fenced and each driveway has a gate that is closed with at least a bolt, and probably a lock.  I have wondered how we would go about meeting the neighbors. We keep our gate locked at night, but have tried to remember to unlock it during the day in case someone wanted to stop by.  On that day we had forgotten to unlock the gate but Richard and Manuel had walked to the back of our property and let themselves in through an unlocked gate there.  

It was a delight to meet some of the neighbors and we appreciated their initiative in coming to greet us.  We all walked around the property together and observations were made and advice offered. Manuel knows the uses and specifics of the various plants and herbs and we learned to chew a sage leaf for a tooth ache, and to prune walnut trees only in August so there is no "bleeding" from the tree. Richard did some translating for us, but Manuel was talkative and animated and much of his message was clear even without a common language.  I invited them in but then was reminded that we do not yet have a table and chairs, so making someone feel welcomed is a bit awkward.  We will invite them back when we can offer them a place to sit.

Last week while driving down the mountain we came near a man who was walking along with his thumb out.  It was a very hot day and he was clearly in need of a ride.  We stopped and he climbed into the back seat.  He was sweaty and dusty and was appreciative of the ride.  He and Sam chatted in Spanish and we learned that the man lived somewhere up on the mountain and Sam told him that we did as well.  We took him to the turn for Soportujar and wished him well.  Yesterday while driving back up the mountain we saw him again and so we stopped and offered him a ride.  We learned that his name is Andre, and it turns out he is one of our neighbors.  We drove him down the steep track to his house where we were greeted by many dogs of varying levels of aggressiveness. Andre was very thankful for the ride and we think he told us that his home is always open to us, but there is a good chance we misunderstood.  He figured out where we live and seemed surprised that we have bought the place.  I'm sure that we will have many more opportunities to visit.  

Back in the U.S. we would never pick up hitch-hikers, especially sweaty, dusty, bearded ones.  But life is very simple here and relationships are necessary for survival.  We came with a goal of being more open and generous and we are so pleased to have responded with trusting kindness to this neighbor.  One of the lessons I learned on the Camino last year is to be open to the kindness of others. So far we have been the recipients of much kindness and we look forward to passing that on to others as opportunities occur.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Understanding water...

It has been a productive week.  We finalized the opening of our Spanish bank account - a process that seemed much more involved than purchasing a home. Apparently we passed the money-laundering test, and yesterday Maria Jose at the Banco Popular was ready with a stack of papers for us to sign.  We should receive our debit card next week.

We purchased a new car.  While we were still in the U.S. Sam did lots of research on 4x4s.  We need something that will get us up the mountain in all types of weather, but will ride comfortably on the highway when we take road trips.  The vehicle must be narrow enough to maneuver through the tight streets of Europe, while also having space for additional passengers and their luggage in case we have guests coming to stay.  We didn't want to spend a fortune or get something that would scream "rich American."  

In the end the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk seemed to meet every requirement on our list (except perhaps the "rich American" announcement).  We were fortunate to rent a Renegade in Madrid, giving us a two-week trial of the vehicle.  Last night we returned the rental to the Granada airport and we picked up our new car. Everyone at the dealership was excited for us and there were hugs and kisses shared.  I was ridiculously happy with the "free" keychain and external battery with the dealers logo on it, plus they gave us floor mats at no extra charge. 

But this blog entry is about water.  

Here at the finca we have two water sources.  A spring provides water for the house.  Clear, cold, delicious water bubbles out of the ground a little further up the mountain and apparently has never run dry. A system of pipes and hoses brings the spring water to a tank at the top of our property and from there gravity delivers it gushing from our faucets.

The second water source provides for irrigation.  This water comes from a stream in a barranco (ravine) 2 km uphill from our property.  The barranco water is ample and gravity allows for the effective use of sprinklers.  This method of irrigation originated with the Berbers who inhabited these hills in the 8th century.  All over the mountains and hillsides there are channels or acequia, that bring water from the high Sierras to the fincas.  For more than 1000 years residents of the Alpujarras have depended on this method of delivering water for the survival of crops and animals.

The water from "our" barranco flows through pipes and hoses, similar to the delivery of our spring water.  We have a large holding pond, called an alberca, that is kept full in case the barranco runs dry, but apparently this is rarely an issue.  

Just before we moved in, the previous owners patiently walked us through the entire water system.  Sam and I followed along on the 2km walk up to the source of the irrigation water.  We learned how to keep the pipe clear so that the water would flow, and we learned how to troubleshoot in case there was a time when we were not receiving any water. We were both suffering from jet lag, but we understood most of the information and, in addition, we were left with a thorough handbook, written by the previous owner, that also explained much of what we would need to know.  

Last Saturday night Sam went out to water the garden and the hose sputtered, then stopped. We tried turning various valves this way and that, but we were not getting any water. We had only been here for 24 hours and found this a bit unsettling.  We had water in the house, so the spring water was fine, but the irrigation water had ceased to flow.  The previous owners kindly responded to our panicked text reminding us to trace the problem back to the source and we went to sleep with plans to get up early and walk to the barranco.

Sunday morning we headed up the hill to the barranco.  I decided to wait for Sam while he bushwhacked his way through the weeds and brambles to the pool where our piping system begins.

Sam heading up the hill to the barranco

While I waited, I took photos of the view.

After awhile Sam returned triumphant!  The pipe had come up out of the water and, as a result, no water was flowing to us.  He took time to dig out the small pool with his hands, then pushed the pipe under the water, and placed a rock on top of the pipe to keep it from re-surfacing any time soon.  It must have gotten dislodged by a thirsty animal.

We walked back home feeling satisfied and relieved.  As soon as we got back we tested the water and were happy to have it gushing freely again.

We will undoubtedly learn many new things about living off the grid and I'm sure that at times we will panic, and question what we were thinking by taking this on, but it was encouraging to easily resolve the first issue we faced.