Wednesday 30th March Cochichos Farm
After a good night’s sleep we get up and go to see about breakfast and meet Marc and Paula our hosts for the next few weeks. We sit in their kitchen and over coffee and toast Marc gives us a history of the place and how they came to be here.
Then Peter arrives and joins us for breakfast too and we learn he is another workawayer from Belgium. There is also another couple helping out but they are staying in their caravan down at the bottom of the grounds. They are a Swiss/American couple who are eco travellers with their 8 year old daughter.
After breakfast Marc shows us around the extensive grounds, they have 3 or 4 holiday apartments and also a lot of orchards and gardens including workshops, sheds, stores and a greenhouse. There is also a swimming pool, sauna and petanque court!
We are soon tasked with a number of jobs for the day and get down to work. Our first job is to hoe and rake a vegetable patch that has recently been rotovated in preparation for installation of an irrigation system and planting.
The sun is out and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. We soon have this job complete and move onto 3 flower beds that need extensive weeding.
After doing a thorough job on the first bed we move onto the second, this is when Marc comes out and tells us he just wants us to scrape up all the vegetation with a hoe so that he can rotovate after!! So the job is a lot easier in the end. For lunch Daz helps Marc in the kitchen whilst I continue weeding and when it’s ready we sit down with Marc, Paula and Peter to enjoy lunch.
After lunch Daz and I finish off weeding then we assist Marc in putting in a new irrigation system onto the patch we prepared earlier and the one beside it.
Sometime tomorrow the American/Swiss couple (we haven’t met them yet as they are away for the day) will start planting both patches with potatoes, aubergine, onion, courgette and tomatoes. We tidy up and it’s nearly 6 pm so we finish for the day. It’s been hot, hard and dusty work but we’ve enjoyed being out in the sun and we feel we have accomplished some good work.
After cleaning up we join everyone again for dinner and a glass of wine. We have a good time chatting and laughing about stuff over the dinner table and get on well. Looks like we will enjoy our time here.
Thursday 31 March Cochichos Farm
Up and breakfasted and ready for work by 9.30am. It’s another glorious day outside. This morning Marc walks us over to their citrus orchard. There are about 12 trees… Florida orange, Australian fingerlime, marmalade orange, land late orange and mandarin. There are also 4 season lemon. He needs the irrigation system overhauling. First we need to close all the sprinkler heads and then put water pressure into the system and flush each line out, this gets rid of the dirt that has entered the lines. Then we need to check each sprinkler head by each tree to ensure it is free flowing. If it is limescaled we replace it with a clean one and put the old ones aside for later cleaning. Then we need to put a handful of feed at the base of each tree and a layer of mulch to provide a water absorbent material around the tree and finally fix down the sprinkler heads so they are secure under each tree. Marc brings over the mulch from his stock pile on his very old mini tractor to save us moving it with multiple wheelbarrow moves!!
Just before lunch I leave Daz to go to the dentist, I lost part of a filling back awhile in Ronda and Paula has booked me an appointment with her dentist, thankfully. But Daz is surprised to see me back pretty quick… we got the wrong day, it’s tomorrow!!
For lunch we have BBQ, sausage and pork chops and salad… yummy.
In the afternoon I get the joyous task of descaling the two aluminium ladders from the swimming pool!! Daz helps me unbolt them then I have to use a mixture of vinegar, water and salt to scrub them.
Marc pops over after a while to check my progress but this vinegar/salt solution isn’t working. So he gives me more salt and another bottle of vinegar which I can apply neat. The ‘calc’ is lifting (I assumed Marc meant calcium but actually it might be calcium carbonate – the limescale you find in your kettle) but the aluminium appears to be discolouring. So not a brilliant solution. I’m busy rinsing the ladders before they permanently discolour and he returns with bathroom descaler. It works well although there’s a lot of scale to remove.
Whilst I have been doing this Daz has spent all afternoon using Marc’s new 140 bar karscher pressure washer to clean all the surrounding walls of the pool. This is to prepare them for repainting later. The washer is very powerful and takes all the dirt and a lot of the old paint off. He is about half way through when Marc asks him to do the pool paving as well, so he needs to start at the beginning again as the spray from the paving just gets the walls dirty, so they need washing down again!!
After work we decide to cycle to Olhao to do a little shopping. It’s only 4km away and this time we take the direct route, so no fence climbing is involved. On the way back we stop in a bar we saw in Quelfres, a very old lady serves us two glasses of red wine and a small plate of tapas… €1.40, cheapest drinks so far!! Cheap but she coughed her nasty phlegmy cough over everything she gave us. And she struggled to find some clean (?) glasses!
Friday 01 April Cochichos Farm
April fool’s day… but we don’t realise until too late!! This morning I continue the pool ladder cleaning and Daz gets to dig up and replant some yukka and small trees to new homes before continuing with the karscher cleanup around the pool.
Finally Marc and I decide all the scale is off the ladders but there’s still some discolouration. Apparently Paula will inspect them so meanwhile I start weeding an area of the gravel drive using a hoe. At 1145am we head to the dentist. Paula drops me off. The dentist has a look and apparently I had a large filling in a molar but there’s not much molar or enamel remaining. I’d broken off some of the original amalgam and this was repaired with a composite which didn’t really ‘cement’ well to the old filling or enamel. He drills out all the old stuff and then refils and reshapes. He’s worried that with so little tooth remaining the problem will reoccur and then I should consider a crown. It takes 45mins approximately and costs 45€. A good deal methinks!
In the afternoon Daz and Peter help Marc remove the old pool liner as they are having a new one put in next week. The pool was emptied yesterday and now there is a horrible sludgy pool of water left in the deepend. Daz is soon covered in sludge and stinking as he helps get rid of the water in buckets before cutting away the old liner.
The liner is also a foul stinky mess on the underside, covered in algae and mud. Whilst they have fun in the pool I continue weeding the gravel drive… deep joy!!
Saturday 02 April
This morning Marc takes us out to the market in Olhao with Peter.
There are two market buildings side by side along the water front, which are a ‘must visit’ for the huge variety of extremely fresh fish and sea food straight from the port and the vast array of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Olhão is well known for it’s fish market, in particular and if you haven’t got anywhere to cook some yourself, then try one of the numerous local cafes along the roadside nearby – you won’t be disappointed! We are about to try a cafe but Paula phones and wants Marc back home. So we head home.
Back at the farm there’s going to be a family gathering Inês (Marc & Paula’s 8 year old daughter), Maria Emilia (Paula’s mother), and Jane (Paula’s friend). Maria Emilia cooks a Portuguese speciality ‘bacalhau dourado’ – salted cod and chipsticks. Bizarrely the salted cod comes from Norway. After dinner we play ‘Nominations’ with Marc and Jane. They pick up the game very quickly and Marc is victorious.
Sunday 3rd April
We have some plans to visit the islands off Olhao but instead we end up watching Broadchurch. We finish series 1 and then watch series 2. A marathon TV viewing day. Series 1 was excellent though and Series 2 was good too.
Monday 4th April
It’s raining and it’s been raining much of the night. The jobs Marc wanted us to do are all outdoor jobs that we can’t do now everything is wet. Instead Marc decides to tidy the shed but I think it’s going to be a bit crowded with all of us in there so I carry on weeding the drive – I think the ground will be softer after all the rain and the weeds will lift more easily. I hoe the drive all day, only stopping to make lunch whilst Daz tidies the shed with Marc. Marc’s Dad is visiting from Belgium – he left this morning at about 5am so he may arrive tomorrow. He’s driving and bringing Marc’s compressor. He’s not good with stairs so he’s moving into our apartment and we’re moving into one of the holiday apartments which was vacated today. It’s a lovely apartment – we’re very impressed.
Tuesday 5th April.
This morning Daz is off to the fish market early with Marc to pick up some fish for the Zanzibar fish soup we are cooking for lunch. Whilst they are away Marc tasks me and Peter with weeding the area around some Kiwi trees he has planted.
After about half an hour a white van and trailer turns into the drive, it’s Marc’s dad and his friend, Mimo, who set out from Belgium yesterday. They must have driven through the night to get here so early. I walk over to say hello and ask them if they are tired from their drive. The reply I get is that they are fine, they have wine!! And that sets the bar for the rest of the day as they both start drinking wine whilst sat chatting in the kitchen with Marc and Paula.
In the meantime we get on with weeding the gravel drive because the area around the Kiwi trees is finished. As lunch nears Daz pops off to cook the soup and then we all get together to eat. By this time Marc’s dad is definitely a little worse for the demon drink and getting louder. In the afternoon we continue weeding the drive, it’s a long tedious job and not much fun, but we are nearing the end.
After finishing for the day we prep the evening meal, Spaghetti Bolognese, and Marc senior tells us we should put a whole potato in it to stop the acidity, but after the amount of wine he has consumed I am not sure if he will be tasting it anyway. He manages a bit of food but soon decides he’s had enough and goes to bed!.
There’s been on going consideration over the last 4 -5 days as to whether to petsit for Chris and Des in Venta Valero. They’ve had a UK visit planned for ages but unfortunately the various housesitting sites have not produced a housesitter. It’s a month back in Spain and not what we planned but it’s something i’d like to do to help them out and it’s not as if we have a rigid schedule.
Wednesday 6th April
This morning after breakfast we finally finish the weeding of the drive, hooray!! Then Daz and Peter go with Marc down to the nearby river to cut some bamboo for use in the garden. (Daz – we drive down the dirt lane to the stream that runs near the bottom.
A lot of the area is overgrown with bramble and then the bamboo is growing on the stream edge behind this, so it takes a couple of attempts to find a patch that is readily available. Finally Marc slips down the stream bank in the dense Grove of bamboo and starts swinging the machete and chopping the bamboo down. There’s lots of old stuff which is no good as we are after the younger greener stuff that will last longer in the garden. But after a while we are through to the good stuff and Marc passes them up to me where I am stood precariously on an old wall beside the bank, then I can pass it back to Peter who bundles them together. Each bamboo is about 15 feet long and once we have about 50 Marc scrambles out of the stream and we load them into his van… well the first 6 feet, the rest are hanging out the back! But fortunately it’s a short drive back to the B&B, and we don’t encounter any other traffic!!)
I get on with planting some lettuce, carrot and onions whilst they are gone.
When they return Daz and I start cutting the bamboo to size to build a support framework for cucumbers and tomatoes to grow on. But about half way through we are pulled off to complete another job.
The rear guest apartment is now empty but has new people coming tomorrow, so there’s just time for us to weed the gardens outside and also prune back the vines and banana trees.
Whilst all this has been going on the pool guys have arrived and are busy installing a new liner.
Thursday 7th April
Daz and I finish creating the bamboo framework and then I strip and cut the remainder of the bamboo canes. I then take all the debris left from preparing the canes to the wood chipping machine and create some more wood chippings.
Meanwhile Daz stacks wood in the log pile, making an area for old wood and another for the new wood to dry out.
Once that’s all done we weed the gravel paths around the holiday cottages and in front of the house. Marc has taken Marc senior and Mimo to look at the local market and by the time they return with food for a Barbecue we are both starving! At last it’s lunch time – Marc has barbecued some pork from a black pig only fed on acorns and it’s delicious (The production of Iberian pig is deeply rooted to the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a rare example in the world swine production where the pig contributes so decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem. The Iberian breed is currently one of the few examples of a domesticated breed which has adapted to a pastoral setting where the land is particularly rich in natural resources, in this case acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak.) After lunch we decide we should go into Olhao, we intended to visit the islands but we’ve missed the ferry so we book a trip for Saturday.
We have a cycle along the harbour and then visit a shopping mall. Then we head home and stop for a drink at a local bar. We sit outside watching the traffic at the busy junction when we spot Marc in his van with Paula, Marc senior and Mimo. They stop for a quick chat – they’re off shopping. They have just pulled away when there’s a massive explosion from the other direction. A lorry turning left at the junction has just had a massive blow-out. We nearly have a heart attack.
It’s definite. We are going back to pet sit for Des and Chris. We’ve asked Marc if we can leave our bike here and we’ll hire a car for a month.
Friday 8th April
It’s painting for us today. The walls around the pool that Daz washed down the other day need a fresh coat of white paint. I use the roller and Daz comes along after with a brush and does the fiddly bits.
We didn’t realise but Marc senior and Mimo have left – they got up and left about 4am. All day we paint but by the end of the day we’ve done all of the walls around the pool and have made a start on the outside walls. A job well done I think – Marc seems pleased with our progress.
This experience has probably been the biggest eye opener to date. Marc and Paula gave up jobs/lifestyle in Luxembourg to come here; perhaps in some ways the change was forced upon them; both worked in banking – one as facilities manager the other in customer services. Unfortunately Marc lost his job and Paula wanted a change from the ‘stressful’ banking career. And so today they’re here in the Algarve with 3 acres of land and 3 holiday apartments and an apartment in Olhao. Sounds blissful and working in the garden in fantastic sunshine has been bliss for us and it’s interesting to work for someone like Marc who has a degree in agriculture; he knows how to get hens to produce the greatest egg yield; he knows how to look after all his fruit trees and various plants; he knows how to plant lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber etc and keep them healthy and watered and he’s even learning how to cultivate crocus or is it croci so he can harvest saffron. This in itself is a particularly hard job.
(You can harvest about a tablespoon of saffron threads, as the stigmas are called, from 50 corms the first year. Each flower only produces three stigmas. But because the price of saffron is so high, you don’t have to grow a lot to make a profit. However, you do have to have enough land to grow a reasonable quantity for sale. It takes an acre of land to produce 1 pound of saffron. Fortunately Marc thinks he has enough land for this and to be able to rotate the crops around to rest the land when needed. Part of the reason saffron is so expensive is that it is extremely labor-intensive. It must be harvested by hand after the first frost over a three-week period. Only the burnt-orange bordering on red stigmas are harvested. Marc hopes to keep the labor costs down to make a profit from selling saffron spice. If it all goes right he thinks he can make 40k a year!!)
However, all in all this slice of heaven is proving less than idyllic for Paula and Marc. This is tough work not necessarily in the sense of it being physically hard (although much of it is) but in the number of hours the 2 of them are committed to being here. Admittedly it’s just been Easter and they’ve been fully booked but it seems like they don’t have a moment’s respite, I’m not sure this is the dream lifestyle they were after when they left their life in Luxembourg but we hope they can get to a level where they can relax a little and enjoy time off and the occasional family holiday.
Saturday 9th April
It’s the weekend and we’re off to Olhao to do a boat tour of the islands. On the ride in we spot a couple touring on a real tandem. They’re from Quebec, Murielle and Louis, and are here for 3 months. We’re going to watch their blog and if we can’t catch up with them in Portugal we hope to see them in Canada.
Our Eastern Algarve and Ria Formosa boat tours are a wonderful way to explore this beautiful and diverse coastline.
The Ria Formosa natural park covers a 60km area and is comprised of sand dune islands, marshland, saltpans and freshwater lakes. It is a haven for an astonishing variety of flora and fauna, including rare birds such as the purple gallinule.
Our boat tour departs from Olhão and sails to Culatra Island. Most go for lunch but we walk to the beach and have a beer and paddle. From there it’s a short cruise to a deserted beach to relax, swim, snorkel, or just take in the beauty of nature. We then sail on to Armona Island where we will anchor for an hour or so to take in all the delights of this little island from the crystal waters and fantastic views to the cool beer and excellent coffee! Then we sail back past the old water mill and a very small residential island (with no electricity or running water) known as Coco Island returning to Olhão just before sunset.
After the tour we go back to the Indian restaurant we discovered our first night here. It’s good and tasty and spicy but very pricey – but we’re both loving it. A young lad has been sitting with his family at another restaurant and he keeps coming over to look at the tandem so when we leave I ask him if he wants a go. He’s about 12 and can reach my pedals so Daz takes him for a spin down the cobbled Street – I wish I’d taken a photo!
Sunday 10th April
The weather has taken a turn for the worst – very windy and wet so there’ll be no sightseeing today. Instead we go into Olhao with Marc and Paula (and Peter) to watch Inês perform with her gymnastics group in a display for the Games of Olhão. As well as gymnastics there’s a mini duathlon with a run and canoeing – it’s for a team of 2 – a parent and child.
It’s fun to watch but the wind picks up and it’s really windy.
After, we go for a gin in one of the harbour front bars. Whilst we’re there Paula sees her Swedish guests who are staying in one of the holiday apartments. He (Robbin) is head chef in 15 – one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants in London – they’ve been living in the UK for the last 10 years. It’s fun chatting to them all. Back at the ‘ranch’ Peter continues in his typical lazy manner – letting everyone else clean and tidy the kitchen and prepare another meal whilst he contributes nothing – he clearly doesn’t believe he should help with any of these tasks – lazy Tosser!
Monday 11th April
Back to work today. Marc has woken with a bit of a hangover so we get another 15 minutes of respite before he manages to task us. There’s a good chance of rain today, so no painting for us, but we have their kitchenware cupboard to upgrade. First we need to empty all the pots, pans and cooking machinery they have accumulated and then take all the shelving down. It’s a tight space and in the end Marc asks me if I would rather plant some tomatoes and let Daz carry on. So I leave Daz, he still has to finish getting everything removed from the walls then scrape them down as the original paint is flaking off everywhere.
Then he is going to fill all the holes and replaster the stucco ready for painting. Marc is out and we think Peter has gone shopping with him, but then we learn that he has left, well, for a week’s holiday anyway. And he didn’t even say goodbye, not that we will miss him! It seems he doesn’t like us because we’ve asked him to help in the kitchen since we have to help preparing the meals and cleaning up but he doesn’t believe he should do kitchen chores although he wants to eat the food!!! By the end of the working day Daz has finished the plastering and now needs to wait for it to dry before painting tomorrow. He comes over and helps me. I have been planting tomatoes and cucumbers and marrow. As a result we need more bamboo to support each tomato plant.
Daz helps with my last bit of bamboo construction and then we are done.
Tuesday 12th April
More shitty weather today so work is a bit fragmented. I paint the storage cupboard whilst Daz cuts the shelves down to size. Then we sand and paint them and then fit the brackets to the walls in the cupboard.
in addition to the bad weather there’s the arguing between Marc and Paula – today the main argument is about their electricity contract, yesterday it was smoking, the day before something else. I thought Daz and I argued a lot but by comparison ours is almost nothing. They seem so stressed that everything leads to an argument – it ain’t good!
Wednesday 13th April
Today the weather is still a bit poor, this Algarve weather we have heard so much about is the worst period of weather we have had since starting to cycle. But today we start working on the shelving in the kitchen pantry and then returning all the crockery and cookware in some sort of semblance of order!! Marc and Paula are away all morning and once we have done the shelving and reorganised the kitchen Ware. Then Daz paints a board that will be hung on the pantry wall to hang all their frying pans from hooks. That done we get on with making lunch, but with no work and our hosts away we sit and drink tea and play cards whilst waiting. Finally they are back, and then we eat. After lunch Daz hangs the board and then the frying pans, whilst I set about some trees and bushes by the poolside that need pruning.
Daz comes and brings the mulcher and we then get rid of all the bush we have decimated! In the evening Marc goes and picks up two new workawayers from the station. Elisa and Francesco are from Northern Italy and will stay and help out for a couple of weeks before returning to University and some exams.
Thursday 14th April
Today the sun is finally out, but we still won’t be painting the remainder of the walls incase there is a shower. Instead we are all going to dig up and move 4 trees from near the poolside and move them over to the back of the house. After Marc has shown us the trees and where he wants them, Daz and me set about digging up the first tree whilst Elisa and Francesco dig the holes to put them in.
It’s hard going as there are a number of impediments to our digging around the tree; the steep bank, the close proximity to a wall, the numerous water irrigation pipes and not least the sheer size of the root ball we need to dig up!! But finally after about 2 hours of digging we get the first one up and out.
On to the second, this time it’s on top of the hill so a little easier.
We get this one done fairly easily compared to the last then when that’s done we move onto the big one, an olive tree on the reverse slope. It’s huge and the root ball looks like it will be massive. We get about half way through the job before breaking for lunch. But within no time we are back out to try and get the beast out of the ground. After further digging and root cutting we are knackered and the tree doesn’t feel like it’s budging at all. Marc has a look and decides to bring the tractor to see if we can pull it out with some strapping.
After some messing about we finally get the root ball moving. Now it’s just a question of getting it to the new home!! Luckily the tractor has a bucket on the back and with the straps and some back and forth action we finally get it onto the bucket so it can be moved! The rest of the afternoon we spend cleaning up, mulching, filling in the holes and then I vacuum the pool floor
whilst Marc fixes some of the irrigation piping and Daz looks on! This is our last day of work, because although we aren’t leaving until Saturday morning we have managed to book a fishing trip for tomorrow with the help of Paula. Unfortunately this sets off another argument as Marc says he would love to go too, but this would be a bit of a push to leave Paula on the farm, as she is already going a little stir crazy here!!
Friday 15th April
No work today, but we are still up early as we are off fishing, yey!! We get some breakfast then it’s on the bike and off to Olhao. It’s a bit cloudy but the weather seems OK, and we go to the market to get a picnic lunch, cheese, bread and fruit. Then we cycle over to the harbour to meet our fisherman. We lock the bike up, change our cycle shoes for crocs, and stand at the meeting point for a couple of minutes before realising the other person stood there is our guy! But bad news he has for us (Yoda eat your heart out!) although the sun is not out and there’s a chance of rain, all OK for seasoned fishermen, the wind is too strong. He reckons we won’t be able to feel the fish on the line in the blustery wind and also it will be no fun sat with it whistling round our ears for 3 hours. So unfortunately we make the decision to cancel, but agree to ring him again when we get back in May after our housesit.
So what now? We have a picnic, and the day off so Daz suggests getting the train to Tavira which has been recommended to us a couple of times. Sounds like a plan, so we put our cycling shoes back on and cycle to the train station. There’s a train in just over an hour so we sit in the sun and have a coffee and cake just around the corner. Then we catch the train and 25 minutes later we arrive.
Tavira sits on the Giláo river, which empties into the Atlantic. It has a lot of Roman and Moorish history and there is still an old Roman bridge that connects the two parts of the town along with more modern versions. We walk down to the centre and visit the tourist info office and the nice man there gives us a map and tells us what is good to visit, but says everything will be closing for lunch in 15 minutes!! But we set off and soon we are marvelling at the interior of one of Tavira’s 21 churches!
It’s very nice and there is also an exhibition attached to the church which we have a quick look around, then we walk over to the old castle and gardens and have a mooch around before climbing the worn tower steps and looking out over the rooftops of Tavira. We decide to have our picnic lunch here and settle down to eat as a steady flow of tourists come and go.
It’s very pleasant and everyone says hi or enjoy your picnic, and we are thoroughly relaxed. But it’s soon time to continue our sightseeing. And we wander the old streets before spotting a sign for a Camera Obscura with lots of Tripadvisor awards. It’s in an old water tower and Daz is a bit reluctant to pay the money (€3.50 each, tight git!) but I use my veto card and so we pay to go see it. We are shown into a lift that takes us to the top of the water tower by a young girl and led into the darkened interior. Then she flicks a switch, it gets even darker and then she opens the roof shutter that allows the light from outside to be reflected off a mirror and through two lenses onto a white painted dish before us… wow, the picture it projects is crystal clear and shows the town below us, with the people and cars moving around. It’s fab. We can see people walking over the Roman bridge and driving along the back streets. She points out local features and as she rotates the mirror in the roof we move around the dish to get a 360 degree view of the town. At one point she places some concertinaed card on a bridge and it looks like the cars are travelling up and over these card bumps, very funny. Daz loves the whole experience and I am glad we saw it.
Once back outside we head down to the river and walk along some gardens towards the old market. There are lots of fish darting about and we only realise when the silvery flashes off their sides catch our eye. Then we realise the river banks and shallows are attracting scores of them as they are here to feed. We are mesmerised by their antics for a while, but soon we decide to have a rest and so sit at an outside restaurant for a glass of wine.
After a while the sky clouds over again and it looks like it might rain soon so we carry on and walk over the old bridge to the other side for more sightseeing, but soon the heavens opens and there’s nothing for it but for us to take refuge in the quintessential Irish Bar!! We decide to call a taxi to get us to the train station, but in the confusion it doesn’t get ordered and then when we realise and order one properly we miss the train by several minutes, fortunately there’s another in 50 minutes so we wait in a nearby cafe out of the rain.
Once back in Olhao the rain has stopped and we are starving, so we revert to type and go back to the Indian restaurant we have enjoyed so much whilst here. Another delicious curry demolished and it’s 11pm, time to cycle back! We’ve had a great day out and although we missed the fishing we are sure we will manage to get out on a boat next time we’re here – in May.
Another news flash; Jane and Jac are both visiting us from England. We told our friends about our housesitting plans in Venta Valero and first Jane planned a long weekend and now Jac has managed to arrange the same flights. This is so brilliant – we are so excited!
Saturday 16th April
Today we are leaving Marc and Paula, and heading back to Spain and Venta Valero to house sit for Des and Chris for 1 month. Daz goes off early with Marc to pick up our hire car from the airport in Faro and I pack and clean up our apartment. Then we say farewell, but see you soon to Marc, Paula and Ines and set off, having left the tandem for them to look after for the next month!!
On the way we are going to stop in Seville, to experience the Feria de Abril, a huge spring festival that lasts a week and is always 2 weeks after the end of Semana Santa, the Easter festival.
The origins of the Fair can be traced back to a cattle fair which took place on the grounds of the Prado de Sebastian in 1847. The people of Seville have never been afraid of a good party so the following year three marquees appeared at this same event where local dignitaries were able to socialise. These tent structures are known as ‘casetas’ growing in numbers year after year until the 1920s when the Feria de Abril had grown into the city’s biggest annual fiesta. In 1973 the event moved venue to its current location opposite the Parque de María Luisa in Barrio de los Remedios. This fairground is known as ‘Real de la Feria’, it is an enormous site located between Los Remedios and Tablada which for this one week becomes a city in its own right. At last year’s event it was reported that around 1,050 temporary ‘casetas’ were set up to allow ‘Los Sevillanos’ to celebrate their beloved April Fair. Located right next to the ‘Real de la Feria’ in Calle del Infierno a huge fairground is set up with lots of the typical rides and attractions together with a circus show.
Basically the whole week is one huge party of Flamenco dressed ladies and suited men with lots of horsey stuff!!
In Spanish the Monday night is known as ‘La Noche del Pescaíto’ which sounds interesting until you translate it to ‘Fish Night’. It simply refers to this being an evening when traditionally fish is eaten for dinner. After dinner people head for the ‘Portada’ which is the beautiful structure at the entrance to the Feria where thousands of lights are switched on by the Mayor of Seville at midnight.
Then it’s time to head for the ‘caseta’, crack open the sherry and let the Fino Sherry and let the partying begin.
Tuesday is the first official day of the festival when there are horseback parades through the fairground with the women wearing beautiful flamenco dresses and the men in their traditional suits known as ‘el traje corto’. Seeing these finely dressed ‘Sevillanas’ at the Fair it is easy to understand why the poet Byron referred to Seville as being “famous for its oranges and women”! The birthplace of flamenco lies just across the river in the barrio of Triana so it shouldn’t come as an great surprise to learn that the colourful dresses are known as ‘trajes de gitano’ or ‘gypsy suits’.
The rest of the week continues with more of the same beginning with a midday procession called the ‘Paseo de Caballos’ in which beautiful horses carry people in their traditional attire to the Real Maestranza bullring. Every evening some of the year’s top bullfights take place at this historic Plaza de Toros with tickets often selling out many months in advance.
There are more than 1000 of the ‘casetas’ in the showground which are fully equipped with a bar, kitchen and substantial music system. From early afternoon the drinking starts, the tapas appear, the music gets louder and by the evening there will be plenty impromptu flamenco dancing going on. But these are privately owned tents so unless you meet a member of one of them who invites you along you won’t be able to go into them. Fortunately for us there are about 4 or 5 large public casetas ( yes only 7 public bars amongst 1050 private ones – not a good balance methinks!) and we managed to push our way into one of these crowded tents where the flamenco music was loud and flamenco dancing was breaking out all over in ones or twos or small groups. It was an amazing atmosphere and we managed to push to the bar to get a small beer before sitting back and watching everyone enjoying themselves.
We also stopped to watch the horse ladies and the numerous horses and traps, decorated especially for the festival. It’s an amazing spectacle but slightly subdued by the constant rain showers which meant all the casetas drop their shower proof sides so it’s difficult to see anything of the private parties inside. In dry weather the sides are kept open allowing for some fresh air and light. Another issue was that the cheapest accommodation we’d found for the night was 120€ and we’d decided this was too expensive. So without a bed for the night we knew we couldn’t both ‘enjoy the party’, and knowing we still had a 2-3hour drive to Venta Valero put a dampener on our spirits. We watched the antics in our chosen public bar for several hours and then decided we should leave. Unfortunately we couldn’t see outside and by the time we had managed to extricate ourselves from the mass of bodies, we discovered it was raining. The rain turned into a torrential downpour and by the time we made it to the bus stop we were soaked. (BTW a huge area is dedicated to parking and from it there’s a continuous stream of buses to and from the festival – all for just €7 – most excellent).
Back at the car we headed out of Seville only to find a roadblock manned by the police with breathalyser a tense moment for Daz who’d had 2 small beers but we passed and finally made it out of Seville (many of our chosen routes were barred).
We stopped in Priego de Cordoba to have dinner at one of Des and Chris’s favourite – Balcon del Adarve. It’s already late but there’s only one couple there but whilst we have our meal, which is delicious, more arrive. Apparently if we want a busy service we need to be there at 11pm!
After dinner another 20km drive to Venta Valero. There have been a lot of changes since we were here; new doors, new porch and rubbish removal. It’s lovely to see Des and Chris again but we’re shattered and soon admit defeat and go to bed.