Just another day in paradise
I wake up to the sound of my alarm telling me that now is the time to start yet another shiny day. Still feeling sleepy, I stumble out to find a random pair of boots and greet the now so familiar faces of the other volunteers with a smile and a yawnish “good morning.” The air is sharp and our breath turns into white fog as we start the morning routine here at the Donkey Paradise. Everybody knows what to do, so the first feeding of the day is usually a smooth operation. I tick off stable 4 and go to give my furry friends Rocco, Mini-Maggie, Franka, Lola and Xana a round of hay and their everyday morning-scratch. As always, they are waiting impatiently at their gate, giving the impression that they have not had food for at least a week. Each has their own peculiar sound, ranging from Xana’s profound screams to Rocco’s almost asthmatic wheezing. Once fed, the donkeys calm down and the routine proceeds. When all of the donkeys, horses, mules, cats, dogs and pig have had their breakfast, us humans get started with our feast. Rumor has it that Marleen cooks the best porridge in Asturias, and I have found no reason to disagree.
After cleaning the stables out (hopefully without having to throw out too many donkeys trying to steal the fresh straw), we all work on different projects. The projects range from improving stable buildings to taking Stevie the Pig out for a food frenzy under the chestnut tree. Today, I go to the garden in order to battle some of the wheat that tries to take back the stone lane, listening to music meanwhile and letting my mind wander off. I think about how working here does not feel like working at all. It is like living in a bubble surrounded by snow-covered mountains, a place where anything can happen. Waking up to fields covered in mysterious fog and sitting out at nighttime watching shooting stars on the starry sky sets your imagination free. Some days I wouldn’t even be surprised to meet dancing elves in the surrounding forest or see a unicorn stand majestically in the horizon. Here anything seems possible… and, as one of the other volunteers put it, this is not only a shelter for donkeys, it is also a shelter for people. There is room for everyone, as long as they have a kind heart and a gentle approach to animals. In other words, it is a place where you can feel free to be you.
And then, after finishing the day’s work and relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine or a dance instructed by our Polish swing-king, we go out for the last evening round. I stand quiet for a moment, listen to the gentle sounds of the donkeys nibbling their fresh straw and I wonder. I wonder how a place so far from home so quickly can turn into feeling just as safe and beloved. Like coming from one home to another. My usually so ever-restless heart falls quiet for a moment as I draw in a breath of the fresh Asturian air. Then I give my donkey buddies a last goodnight kiss, turn off the lights and start walking towards the warm house. Just another day in donkey paradise has come to its end.
Photos of Camille with Mia, by Dominic Fleischmann
The good summer weather has meant that the many volunteers who have stayed here have been working mainly on outdoor tasks and their efforts have made a great difference to the environment here.
In general the volunteers’ day starts with breakfast and animal care, in particular the cleaning of the stables, feeding the animals and providing them with clean water. Later, there is time for the volunteers to work on particular tasks and projects or certain aspects of animal care such as helping the farrier, cleaning the donkeys’ eyes and ears, grooming the donkeys or walking the dogs.
There are also projects within the grounds and this year some volunteers have been continuing with the pruning of old wood from the many apple trees or clearing and reorganizing the vegetable garden which has been greatly improved by a lot of hard work as you can see from the photo below.
The biggest project this summer has been the digging out of a small pond above the main Lily Pond to provide an area for quiet meditation. The excess water from the small pond will drain down into the Lily Pond. A fair number of vehicle tires were found abandoned in this area and, as they are difficult to remove entirely and to recycle, they are being used to form the bank of the pond and will be covered eventually with a lining which will hide them. We think that the pond is coming along nicely as these photos will show.
The lovely Frieda died during the night of Thursday 9th July. Volunteer Tom went in at 4 to turn her over. “She looked calm, with her friends standing and sleeping by her side,” he said.
Volunteer Miriam dedicated the famous song ‘No coming, no going’ (Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village France) to her:
‘No coming, no going
No after and no before
I hold you close to me
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me
Because I am in you and you are in me”
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.
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.
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.
I hope you enjoy these photos of the landscape and the animals enjoying the sunshine after the rain.
Winter is a beautiful time of year here in Asturias, when the Picos de Europa mountains are often covered in snow and there is a good view of the mountains from the grounds of “El Paraiso del Burro,” however, at this level, we rarely get snow covering the ground for any length of time.
Winter is a time of year for taking a little extra care of the animals to ensure that they do not get too cold or too wet. At “El Paraiso del Burro” we have large, dry stables and outdoor shelters, stocked with plenty of hay and drinking water, to keep our donkeys warm and dry. They are always brought back into the stables to shelter from the heavy rain, wind and occasional snow.
Donkeys come originally from hot, dry countries and their coats are quite different to that of a horse. A donkey’s coat becomes wet through very quickly on rainy days and the donkey quickly becomes cold and miserable. As donkeys can also be prone to pneumonia or bronchitis, it is important to provide a shelter for them so they are able to get out of the rain. How often do you see a donkey left out in a field in the rain? They never look very happy do they? Please provide a shelter for your donkey and remember that if you look after him or her well he will live longer and be healthier.
Finally, I wish you all a very Happy New Year from everyone at “El Paraiso del Burro”.
It was love at first sight, Lua. When I looked into your eyes, I knew your place was with me.
You settled in well with the dogs, cats, donkeys and horses. After years of being tied down, you enjoyed your freedom here and even jumped and played around like a giant puppy.
And then the limping started. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it turned out to be the worst of the worst: bone cancer in your shoulder – very painful, very fast growing. You lost your regained joy of life and even stopped liking your food. So the vet came to end your life in the best possible way, given the circumstances.
Sunday 30th March was a beautiful sunny day for the first “Art Workshop” to be held at the Paraíso del Burro. The event was a relaxed and happy affair with a mix of adults and children taking part. The event leader was Lydia who demonstrated the techniques needed to create and print some wonderful pictures, mainly relating to animals and nature but totally personal and without the need for any previous experience.
In the morning we learned how to create our pictures using a variety of materials which were glued into place onto thick card. Almost any material can be used: card, fabrics, ribbon, flowers, tea, coffee… You are totally free to let your imagination flow.
All work stopped for lunch and everyone enjoyed a picnic in the open air with a variety of food provided by all in attendance and shared between everyone – both volunteers and those attending the workshop.
The afternoon session involved the printing of the prepared work and the revealing of the finished article. Once your picture has been created it has to be painted over with a water-based paint and prepared in readiness for printing. It is then covered with dampened printing paper and passed through the “press”. This was the most exciting part of the day for everyone as they peeled back the paper to reveal the finished article to gasps of amazement and joy.
What a fabulous day we all had and grateful thanks go out to Anuska for organizing the event and to Lydia for supplying all the materials and demonstrating the techniques in such a clear and patient manner.
On Sunday 5th August the Association had a stall at the annual picnic or Romeria organised by “Animales del Oriente” in Infiesto. The event started at 12.30 when Marleen and Miquel set up the stall for the Donkey Paradise with small items which we sell, along with a few “donkey cakes” which were sold very quickly. Next year we must certainly make more cakes.
The event starts off slowly, with a few people looking around the various stalls which include books, DVD’s, toys, bric-a-brac, pet supplies and artisan goods. There is lively music with D.J. “Mark” and a bar for refreshments. People have the opportunity to relax and enjoy a picnic in a beautiful setting next to the river and its famous cave which is the setting for a small chapel.
After lunch, the event picks up a pace and lots of people arrive with their dogs to take part in various events. Añes and Lola come along to give rides to the children and games are organized for children. There was also a display of agility and dog training.
It is very much an event which we enjoy being a part of. Unfortunately I only took photos during the early part of the day and they don’t show how busy the event became later on, however, you can see more photos and read about the event by going to this link or www.animalesdeoriente.com and clicking their Facebook page.
Visitors of all ages came to the Open Day at the Donkey Paradise on Sunday 1st April. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a good time was had by all, especially the donkeys and other animals, who enjoyed all the extra love and attention they were receiving.
We would like to say a big “thank you” to all who came along and supported the Donkey Paradise.
Here are photos of some of the visitors and helpers at the Open Day, just scroll over the picture for a description.
The next Open Day will be on Sunday 3rd of June if you would like to come along to meet the animals and their human friends.