Category Archives: Asturias

Province of “green” Spain

Life at the Donkey Paradise

This honest and personal account was written by a Volunteer at The Donkey Paradise


« In the larger context of my life so far, coming to The Donkey Paradise was a very good decision. I could call it one of the best, but I’m trying not to sound overly emotional. 

I had been wasting away in a university library for two years when I decided to quit my studies and come here instead. I’m gonna be honest, it’s kinda hard to tell people you’re throwing away a promising future to go and work on a donkey farm. But I felt like that was what I needed to do and I’m fairly sure I was right. The thing is that volunteering isn’t just traveling. It’s sharing people’s lives for a little while. It’s sharing their work and their joys and their troubles as well I suppose. 

Growing up, it was natural to me that I would get a degree, get a well-paying job, buy a house and have kids as quickly and efficiently as possible. As my parents had done and as all my friends’ parents had done. And for a long time I was alright with that idea, it was nice to be certain of what the future held. But the longer I studied, the less I could stand thinking of the future and of spending eight hours a day for a large part of the rest of my days doing a job that I wasn’t remotely passionate about. And I did try to muster up some passion, I really did, but I just didn’t have it in me.

The problem I was faced with then was that I had grown up with limitless hot water from a tap and central heating and shopping as a way to pass time. And I guess I had realized years before that, that material things don’t make me happy – 

But then who was I to declare a thing like that when I had never experienced life without them.


It is November and the days are warm and beautiful, but at night it gets cold. If the stove isn’t kept lit in the afternoon, then the temperature inside the Cabana is the same as outside. I take one of my sweaters underneath my duvet with me to sleep, so that in the mornings I have something warm to put on underneath another sweater, a hoody and a coat on top. What I’m trying to say is that it’s really goddamn cold and getting out of bed in the mornings is tough. But then we feed the donkeys breakfast and afterwards we gather in the warm, cozy dining/living room of the main house and we have Marleen’s glorious, warm porridge and the sun rises and several times a day we nudge each other and motion towards the view of the Picos and we stand there and take in the beauty of this place. 

I’m trying hard not to romanticise things. There’s more to frugal life than saving money on heating. There’s no Wi-Fi here and we try not to shower more than twice a week and sometimes there are water shortages and we can’t shower for days on end and in my first two nights here I seriously considered leaving. But once you have gotten used to things, and you get used to them very quickly, it becomes second nature and you start enjoying things like sitting in front of a lit stove at night or finally taking that warm shower.

So yeah, sometimes it’s cold and hard but at night, we sit around the table after a well-earned and wonderful homecooked dinner and for hours we do nothing but laugh and laugh about the weirdest things and life is good.


That’s an expression I’ve heard a couple of times here: “It’s a good life.” And it is.

Paraiso del Burro, 17.11.2018

Sissi Böhm »


Photos by:-

Vincent Galiano


Times of Miracle and Wonder? by volunteer Rebecca


Rebecca in the front, on a donkey walk.

The week before I left Donkey Paradise in July I thought about writing a blog. While I walked Jack during siesta time I thought about how great it had been to be able to stay for almost a year at this lovely place.

I remember my first week at El Paraiso well: learning the names of all the volunteers was one thing…learning the names of the donkeys seemed impossible, or maybe not; learning their names was hard, but to tell them apart, especially when they were out and about in the field, seemed an impossible task. They all looked so alike:  greyish or brownish with four legs and long ears. Now it sounds strange to me that I ever thought they looked the same, for they do not look like the same at all….except for, thank heavens, those four legs and long ears. More than 50 shades of grey, endless tones of brown, furry, bold spots, curly, smooth, freckles, skinny, fat and fattest, sad theatrical eyes like Sophia Loren, stern looking eyes, rigid ears or flexible ears that move like an owls head….the differences are countless and make each one of them unique. And yet I haven’t yet written about their character or the sound they make.



I was walking Jack that day and he was listening so well:  off the lead, walking behind me and when I stopped, he would stop and when I told him go run and whistled for him not much later, he would go run and return straightaway on my call. What a wonderful difference from the black, unruly dog of months ago. Would the volunteers that were here that first week believe their own eyes?



While thinking that I should write to Marian for example, how well this dog was walking, I should write Avital as well, about dear stubborn Alfredo, who never wanted to leave the yard in the morning. Avital tried everything…from singing lovely Disney songs, walking him in circles through the yard or to pushing his bum gently, nothing would work. Nowadays he’s one of the easier donkeys to start walking…no singing needed. He will finish his bowl of extra food (mostly without the ears flat in the back and mostly without kicking) and then when you’re bringing either Flora or Charlotte to the field he will walk with you – just like that. I could write that to her. A miracle?

Stevie 3


Also, maybe I should write to Claude about Stevie….about the fact that she’s far to big now to swoop up from the floor and carry in your arms (as we did once to weigh her; 20 kilos of screaming pig – not so easy). Or write him that we don’t have to put her, (while screaming her head off) on a ‘harness’ anymore in order to take her to her outside house in the morning. If we unlock the gate of her stable now, she will push her nose against the gate, open it and make her way up the hill while we follow her. Some days, I have to be honest, she will take a D-tour to the apple trees or to the far end of the field, but with a bit of guidance and some bribing (chopped up carrots will do the trick) she will go in. And in the evening we just open the gate from the outside area and there she goes…straight home to where her food is waiting for her. She’s such a lovely and smart creature and, besides that, she made some non-vegetarian, meat-loving volunteers here become vegetarian, which I think is great.



In the same stable as Stevie there is small horse Finn, a black Asturian beauty. Those who met Finn last year might remember him as a scared and scary horse…he would turn his bum to you if you entered the stable, eyeballing you and more than once he cornered me. With the love, patience and care of Marleen and so many volunteers, he’s now a cuddly boy. Although he might still sometimes show you his fierce self (which I really love about him), he is mostly the new softy…waiting at the stable door to be scratched on the neck and pushing his nose against your arm if you stop. He walks quite well on a halter now and it’s even possible to do his hooves (here too I have to be honest….he’s still not easy, but such a change) and I am so happy to have been there long enough to witness his change and that of so many others….both of animals and volunteers.

At El Paraiso the animals get love, care and attention; here they learn to trust humans again and, some volunteers who hadn’t been in touch with animals for a long time and kind of “lost touch with nature” as they called it themselves, have clearly found that touch again or discovered a whole new positive side of themselves, by working with the donkeys at the Donkey Paradise, or with the people.

And while I was walking Jack in July, up and down the hills behind the house for the last time, (he too was moving on too, being adopted by a young German volunteer) I thought about these things: about the animals, the many inspirational volunteers and the changes that I witnessed in the animals, the other volunteers, me, and the nature around me; magical, wonderful and, at the same time, plain and simple and so natural. I loved every minute of my time there and will be back one day, for a few days…or maybe longer.

More about Stevie

Stevie, the cute little pig who recently came to live at the Donkey Paradise, now has a wonderful outdoor pen, built by the volunteers, in which she can snuffle about, feel the fresh air on her skin and enjoy her new freedom.

Before she came to the Donkey Paradise, Stevie only had a small, dark, interior space as her home.  When she first went out into her new enclosure she was very afraid and squealed “like a pig” all the way.  She wears a halter to walk to her pen and then, at night, she returns to her indoor shelter.  She still squeals whenever she has to go out, but now it is happening less and less as she learns to adapt and enjoy her new environment.



Photos:  Rebecca

Stevie……………by Barnaby Haszard Morris, a Volunteer

A very cute little pig. Photo - Wim (volunteer)

A very cute little pig.
Photo – Wim (volunteer)

Stevie the pig lived in the stable next to Bella our new resident horse (see earlier blog) and, If Bella’s conditions were squalid, Stevie’s were appalling: a tiny, three-metres-by-one-metre space, never cleaned, no water, no light. At least Bella got to go outside sometimes. Stevie was stuck in her cage and more or less forgotten.

A couple of days after Bella arrived at Donkey Paradise, a space was prepared for Stevie in Stable Zero and she was brought to the sanctuary.   Marleen’s old dog Jolly normally occupies the back seat in her Pajero, but this day, her bushy black-and-white tail was displaced by the constantly wagging little tail of Stevie, who oinked all the way from Arriondas.  In fact, Stevie oinks almost all of the time, whether she’s being fed or watered or left alone. The only time she stops is when she’s picked up. This prompts the most terrible squealing, as if she were about to be killed. Once we got her into her half of Stable Zero and set her down on the bed of straw, the squealing stopped and the happy oinks returned.

A new arrival always prompts interesting responses from the established creatures. Stevie has particularly drawn the attention of the Donkey Paradise dogs, who often scurry up to her gate to sniff or bark. (Whether or not they want to eat her or are simply curious remains in question.) Unfortunately, Stevie’s stablemates Elfie and Finn – a mule and an Asturian horse – are not so thrilled about the new arrival. When Stevie was brought in, they immediately retreated to the far side of the stable, where they stayed until the following morning. Getting them out into the fields in the morning or into the stable in the evening used to take five minutes; now it takes half an hour. Sometimes, it’s not the new arrivals that need to be managed more carefully but the animals who already here and have to adjust to a different routine.

It’s still early days, but Stevie’s transition appears to have gone very well. Volunteer Tara has worked with Marleen on getting her feeding regimen right, and volunteer Ille is preparing a mud bath to go in Stevie’s quarters. Then she will be able to cover herself in mucky, stinky, piggy glory.

Barnaby Haszard Morris

Franka………………by Lonneke, a volunteer from Holland

I will never forget the early morning of the 4th of August 2015. Marleen went into stable 4 to do the morning feeding. Stable 4 is the home of mother and daughter Burri and Burribu, the ‘evil sisters’ Eyore and Fiona, and pregnant Xana. As the ladies were quite wild, I followed right behind Marleen to help her. Then I saw the expression on her face… Marleen looked like she just saw a ghost. Her jaw dropped, she held her breath and pointed. ‘Look!’ she said.

And there, in the middle of the stable, stood a little miracle: a brand new, fluffy, furry, perfect baby donkey. Everything about her was perfect. Her beautiful long ears, her cute white nose, her wobbly legs, her curved little hooves, her big bright eyes. She was clean, she was standing and her mother looked like she had no idea what all the fuss was about. We had tried to prepare ourselves. Marleen had informed the vet; we had a little stable where Xana could deliver; co-volunteer Tom had checked Xana every day for signs of an upcoming birth… and then Xana went her own way and gave us the biggest surprise the next morning.

Proud mum Xana with her little daughter.

Proud mum Xana with her little daughter.

Franka – named after the Dutch volunteer couple Frank and Helma – is two weeks old now and seems in perfect health. She jumps and runs around in the field, got acquainted with many aunts and uncles and looks exactly like her mother. Xana is in fact a teenage mom. She got pregnant when she was only one year old. She was meant to have babies every year until she would be worn out and ready for the butcher. Marleen rescued her in October last year, a shy and scared young donkey. And look at her now! She behaves like a perfect mother to Franka and the future of mother and daughter looks bright. Franka, our little miracle, born in a donkey’s paradise!

Franka is enjoying her freedom.

Franka is enjoying her freedom.

Little Finn the Asturcon

The newest arrival at the Donkey Paradise (El Paraíso del Burro) in Asturias is Finn, a young Asturcon pony.  The Asturcon pony is a semi-wild and ancient breed of pony, native to Asturias, and lives only on the Sueve mountain which is very close to the Donkey Paradise.

Finn leans on the cart for support

Finn leans on the cart for support

Finn arrived here in April 2015 and was extremely emaciated.  He is a young pony and small, even for his breed, which is normally strong and stocky; he could be anything from 1 to about 4 years of age.  He looks too small for a four year old but the vet says that his teeth show him to be around the age of 4.  Finn could barely stand when he arrived, and had to lean on the old cart in the yard in order to maintain his balance.  He was also rather ill:  his body was invaded by ticks and internal parasites (worms) and his penis was swollen.  The vet was called and his treatment was started:  he was given treatment against Babeciosis (a tick-borne disease), given antibiotics for the infection in his penis and anti-worm paste for the internal parasites.  He was keen to eat and so, with the addition of vitamins to his food, this has helped his progress.

Finn had no energy for the first three weeks.  On the first night he slept in the “shop” as this meant he did not need to move very far.  Each night Marleen would go to see him before she went to bed and, if he was in a difficult position, she would turn him to make him comfortable.  A volunteer, Rory, took it upon himself to help Finn as much as possible, and one day he was overjoyed to see Finn stand up on his own for the first time.  Then Rory would take him for walks around the land to increase his muscle strength.  Finn is very stubborn and also strong for his size and it is necessary to walk behind him to encourage him to move forward, however he never kicks or bites and his whinny is a lovely sound.   Sometime in the future it will be necessary for Finn to be castrated, but for the time being he will be left to gain his strength and enjoy his renewed health.

Now, just a few weeks later, Finn is able to live in the stables with the donkeys, he can go out into the fields with them during the day and he is improving daily.  Now he is even able to run around!  What a joy it is to see such a difference in him.

Finn is now able to graze with the donkeys

Finn is now able to graze with the donkeys

Winter tales


Winter Tales is just a play on words as at “El Paraiso del Burro” there are so many tales:  most are happy ones and many are wagging and wafting tales of different shapes, sizes and colours!


How is the winter progressing for our followers?  The beginning of February was rather stormy in Asturias, with the arrival of heavy snow, although we were lucky enough not to get any snow here at El Paraiso del Burro as we are a not so far above sea level. However, the snow can be seen all around us and some parts of Asturias were totally cut off by deep snowfall.  Furthermore, the main road just below the sanctuary is now closed indefinitely due to a landslide following heavy rain.  The donkeys have spent a lot of time indoors in January and February and so, when the sun finally came out this last week, the donkeys especially were very glad to get back out into the fields.

ChuloCalimero and Fito

In January we received two new donkeys all the way from the Pays Basque: the lovely Burri and her daughter Burriki.  Both were well loved but unfortunately their previous owners were unable to keep them and contacted us.

Burri Burriki1

Work continues of course and our willing volunteers are always busy, with stable cleaning and animal care especially high on the list.  This month there are new apple trees to be planted and continuing work to provide new pathways.  As you can see from the photos, the pathway leading to the cabin is coming along well and provides a much safer route and a new path is also being constructed behind the house to provide a dry route through an unusually muddy area.  Unfortunately, in the process of laying the path, part of it gave way due to water erosion and now a new drain will have to be put in to divert the water away.

Path to cabinPath behind housethe hole

I hope you enjoy these photos of the landscape and the animals enjoying the sunshine after the rain.

View of snowy peaksWikke at the gate

Caring for a donkey’s feet

The majority of the donkeys we welcome to El Paraiso del Burro have problems with their hooves, many of which are severe, as they have never been seen by a farrier before.  Donkeys naturally live in dry, stony conditions and are not used to the damp atmosphere and green pastures of Asturias.  Their feet absorb more water than a horse’s hoof and they are prone to Laminitis and to wounds and infections of the foot.  It is therefore important to check the hooves of the donkeys on a regular basis in order to be able to act quickly to stop infection from spreading and to keep the hoof as clean as possible.   


The donkeys at El Paraiso del Burro are seen by a farrier four times a year and, in between, we check and clean the hooves of all the donkeys.  Frieda has some severe problems due to poor care in her past.  Here we can see Frieda’s foot being cleaned by Simone to remove dirt and stones; the foot is then washed with sterile water, a “frog” antiseptic is used to prevent the spread of any infection and Simone then covers her foot with a pad to help support her legs and to keep her feet clean during the day.  At night, when Frieda returns to the clean, dry stable, her pads are removed so that the air can circulate around the foot. 


Frieda is a good donkey.  She is used to standing quite still whilst her feet are cleaned.  At first she is not too keen to walk on her “pads” but very quickly she adapts and seems to walk better as the foot is less sore.


Donkey Art T-shirts

From left to right: Margaret (Ireland), Helma (Holland), Sandra (Madrid), Ria (Holland), Marleen (Asturias), Juanma (Asturias). In the front: Simone (Italy) and Lynn (Asturias).

From left to right: Margaret (Ireland), Helma (Holland), Sandra (Madrid), Ria (Holland), Marleen (Asturias), Juanma (Asturias). In the front: Simone (Italy) and Lynn (Asturias).

The t-shirts we now have for sale to visitors of the donkey sanctuary are a great success. In less than a month we have already sold out some of the models and colours! In the photo the volunteers at our August Open Day are wearing some of the models. The print was designed by Lidia Fanjul, a young Asturian artist who gives art workshops.

Summer post – New friends and Old friends

It has been a very busy couple of months at the Donkey Paradise, but luckily there have also been lots of wonderful volunteers from all over Europe, and beyond, to help with the work and activities.  Also, Marleen was happy to have her daughter, Grietje, and her family over for a holiday with her and the animals.

Fito (left) says hello to Matias (right)

Fito (left) says hello to Matias (right)

We have a lovely new donkey called Matias.  He is quite old and unfortunately has not had a good life so he will need some care and attention but he already has a kind sponsor – Ria.  He was very wary at first but he is responding to love and attention and he has the loudest bray which Marleen likens to the siren of a boat in the fog!

Ria in the centre with Marleen (right) and Sandra (left)

Rias in the centre with Marleen (right) and Sandra (left)

Some dear friends of the Donkey Paradise, Frank and Helma came again from Holland for their summer holiday, which is more like a working holiday.  This time they brought with them an enormous trailer loaded with goodies – a beautiful wooden house and a car port.  The car port will be used mainly as a shelter for the dogs as it can get extremely hot here in the summer months.  Thank you to Helma and Frank and to those who helped them in the erecting of these buildings.  The summer house will have a special use – more about this in a later blog. 

Frank and Helma prepare the roof tiles

Frank and Helma prepare the roof tiles

Look out Frank!!

Look out Frank!!

It looks great

It looks great

At the beginning of August we held our Open Day and this was well-attended and enjoyed by donkeys and visitors alike.  Perhaps you can pick out some of the donkeys you know in these photos.

Yara and Sandra

Yara and Sandra

Open Day donkey picnic

Open Day donkey picnic

Donkeys and visitors together

Donkeys and visitors together

Not much left!!

Not much left!!