Monthly Archives: January 2011

Open days for 2011

We are planning a series of Open Days throughout 2011 for individuals, families and groups. If you would like to come along and have a look at the Sanctuary, talk with us about our work and meet the staff and of course the Donkeys, please come along on any of the dates listed below. Please note, groups of more than 6 people should contact us before hand.

Time: 11.00 to 14.00

Sunday 6th February

Sunday 3rd April

Sunday 5th June

Sunday 3rd July

Sunday 7th August

Sunday 2nd October

Sunday 4th December

If you require directions please contact us via email or telephone:

marleen.verhoef  @

Tel: 646.188.375

A letter to America – Brianna Alexander

We always ask our volunteers to contribute to the Blog – sometimes we receive it some time afterwards but never-the-less we always welcome their observations, accounts of their experience and their memories. Here is a letter Brianna sent to her family in America which she felt summed up her experience here at El Paraiso del Burro in May 2010.

May 20, 2010:

Asturias is the most beautiful place in the entire world. If you’ve seen Avatar, its a lot like that. Flowers EVERYWHERE. Flowers growing out of the ROCKS. Not between them but on them. The mountains seem to defy gravity, they remind me of paintings I have seen of the steep peaks of Chinese river valleys. However, this is because it rains at least once a day, the clouds are dark and full of thunder but luckily rather small and pass quickly.

Marleen is the most amazing person I have worked with so far. That woman has it all figured out. It fact, by the end of my time there I was joking that I would come back in 2012, to be there in the green mountains when the world ends. Each morning we would drink coffee, eat muesli and homemade yoghurt with fruit and bread (a house of vegetarians, thank god!), and discuss the work for the day, with each person choosing what they would like to do best. Luckily, they use and ancient method of stable cleaning whereby they actually only clean it out once a month, only putting a thin fresh layer over the top each morning, so that the fermenting manure keeps the donkeys warm.

Oh, the donkeys! So cute and so sad. They have all been “rescued” in some way, some have skin infections where their hair falls out, some have stomach injures where they cannot eat hay, or have rheumatism or arthritis, with the saddest ones having multiple broken ankles or dislocated shoulders from a lifetime of pulling impossibly heavy loads. Now they are completely free, we are not even allowed to use halters and leads unless we absolutely must. We would lead them along gently by their chins or by clicking and pushing their hips, talking to them all the while. Some are in so much pain they don’t even leave the stable on nice days.

But you can see that they are happy here: the newest addition, who was rescued from a barn full of cows where he had been dumped, was full of worms and covered every inch in dread locked cow dung. His name is Toby, and he was my favorite. I would brush him for hours, and he would hang his head and sort of fall asleep and follow me like a dog when I stopped. When I get a job I want to send a little money to help sponsor him. It costs 50 euro per month per donkey, and there are 18 total. The organization is called Paraiso del Burro if anyone is interested in looking into it, a VERY worthy cause. There are also 5 rescued dogs (one so frightened it took three days before she would let me pet her) and 3 horses, all unridable. One mare had hips that looked broken in half from a lifetime of breeding foals too big for her. But now they just get to wander around in the cider apple orchards, and get a big bowl of apples and carrots every day.

During my stay, I helped build a fence and a gate, weeded the garden, planted the herb bed, the sunflowers, spread donkey manure. Then halfway through my stay I learned one morning from a tearful Martha that a good friend from both CZ and Kingman, Konstanin, had died or been murdered by falling down the escalator shaft at a San Francisco BART station. I started going on long walks every afternoon after that, watching the tiny baby foals and calves and lambs, listening to the angry alt rock I liked in High School and trying to decide how I felt about how fragile all life is.

The next few days I spent butchering blackberry brambles and gorse bushes that were taking over the upper meadow with a machete in the rain, and I think that managed to get everything within me sorted out, eventually. I have a couple of blisters, but mostly I’m grateful to Konstantin for giving me the gift of showing me how beautiful and fleeting life is. Sometimes when you’re as young as I am you forget how much time you have to live, forget that there are so many people you will love so much that you have yet to meet. Those long walks in the rain, in the farmlands of Asturias really cemented the outlook on life I was hoping to gain through my time here.

I didn’t leave the farm must other than my walks in the neighbouring countryside, mostly because it rained so much. Spent a lot of siestas reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, which if you don’t know is by Hemmingway about the Spanish Civil War. The effect of the war and fascism is still very obvious on the culture, I feel like I might need a whole other letter to explain my interpretations of it. I’m now working on the Once and Future King….its so nice to have time to read for pleasure again. One Sunday I went with Astrid (one of the two German volunteers, there were six of us total) and Marleen to a Sunday market in the neighbouring town, and got a lot of free samples of local cheese as we chose a goat cheese to bring home. The architecture in Asturias is really cool: Asturias is the area in Spain that was never conquered by the Romans, and only briefly by the Moors, so it still retains a heavy Celtic influence, including elaborately carved gables, bagpipes, and Spaniards with red hair. Weird. They also have these great fancy glassed in porches to capture the sun, otherwise there laundry would never dry out properly.

The last weekend I was there Martha came up with three (wonderful!) friends of hers, and we all walked in the countryside together and she and I had a good cry. We also had some wine sitting in a flowery meadow in the rain, adorable pictures to follow shortly. That evening we went into the town of Arriondas, which was celebrating the finish of a stock car race through the mountains. It is traditional in Asturias to drink Cidera, alcoholic cider, by pouring it from a great height into a glass to make it froth. I didn’t realize how strong this brew is and had quite the headache the next morning.

But we all left for Santander together the next day, and after a quick evening walking around the city with Francesca, who is a teacher in Santander in the same English program as Martha, I left for Barcelona on a TRAIN. The train was only 8 euro more than the bus, and the journey took 8 hours less. go figure. Loved it of course, especially the tunnels and going through a seemingly endless landscape of sand hills an hour outside of Barcelona. Now Im here staying with my friend Nicole who was an exchange student in CZ, and this is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE WORLD. Its got the liberal artistic whimsical feel of San Francisco, multiplied by 700 years and 15 world famous artists and 2 languages.


Also, here is a link to the pictures I took: