It was a pleasure to be part of ‘El Paraiso del Burro.’ The 3 weeks flew by faster than I could have imagined and in that time, I learned a lot about donkeys that I didn’t know, which is basically everything about them. Marleen’s knowledge, the knowledge of the people from the other donkey sanctuary and helping with making a quiz about donkeys for an open day took care of that. I feel like I could start my own sanctuary now!
In my last week two people from a donkey sanctuary in Extremadura came to show us their vision and way of taking care of donkeys in Spain: the kind of food, which donkeys go together well, treatments, bedding, medication and more. I found it so interesting to hear what they did differently and especially why. Sharing ideas can be very inspiring and it makes me look further than my own little world, which is refreshing.
I loved helping with the donkey care and learning about every donkey’s special needs and their characters. This also applies to the other animals such as the horses and dogs. And it’s so nice to see how much effort there is being put in into the care of all of them (even the rats!)
Next to the animal care, I liked how you could just decide to start your own project. You could just think of something that you thought could use some change, ask Marleen and begin. It could really be anything, like gardening, building things, making art… all to make the place a little more lovely every day. When I heard that the main house wasn’t even there in the beginning, I could not imagine how this place must have looked like years ago and all the changes that have been made. Seeing it develop must have been so cool.
It’s not only the stories about El Paraiso that I like, but also very much the stories of the people that I met: how they discovered this place, the reasons why they came, what they did before and their plans for the future. Hearing the travel stories from people, all the places they’ve been to and all the things they went through are so inspiring and makes me feel like I can’t wait to create my own adventure. – I really have to write down every new idea because there are almost too many to remember.
During my stay I found out that, for a lot of the volunteers, it wasn’t their first time being here. Marleen must do something right if so many people keep comig back! And I think she does, because to everyone she is very welcoming and there is always a place for someone to stay. In my case it was in the lovely caravan on top of the hill where the donkeys would chill around and sometimes disturb you by scratching against the caravan while you’re trying to have a little siesta!
The hospitality is great and porridge in the morning is my new favourite thing and I am definitely going to try making it at home. Also, 3 times a day a warm meal is so good and was really something I didn’t have to get used to! Although I am not really into cooking and I am not really a good cook, this place makes me excited to try new things and learn to cook properly. Thank you to those who taught me some new cooking (and baking) stuff. Everyday these lovely meals made by the volunteers or Marleen is a luxury I appreciated so much and maybe even more when I am not there.
When I look back at my stay, I think I fell a little bit in love with the region ‘Asturias’ with its oh so green mountains and snow on some tops, which make the views so amazing, especially in the mornings when walking the dogs up to the hilltop. One of the first things I thought when I took the bus to ‘Paraiso del Burro’, was that the landscape reminded me of a place, green and massive, where dinosaurs could live, and in my imagination, I could see one appearing right around the corner (which would have been ridiculously cool). And even though that would never happen, luckily there was a donkey called Pancho at the sanctuary who basically makes the same sound as a T-rex!
I am really going to miss this place, the people, the animals and all the experiences. I can’t wait to come back and hopefully see the people I met again – which doesn’t seem that difficult since so many people come back here ;).
‘Till that time, I’ll still have some little straw pieces appearing in random places to keep as souvenirs.
Your time was up, fig-belly Kees
So slowly you went on your way.
From Paradise to heaven is only one step
But you took your time to go
Losing your appetite
Your sense of adventure
And your urge to escape and discover.
Your time was up, my dear friend Kees
So softly, softly you went where you were called.
Thank you for having been with us for so long
For being such a good friend
Leaving us with the pictures of your past
And with many sweet memories of you.
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.
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.
The two most recent four-legged arrivals at Donkey Paradise are Bella, a big brown horse, and Stevie, a wee black pig. Both came from the same place near to Arriondas.
Marleen heard about Bella first. Her owner called to say the beautiful old horse of his childhood was going blind; could Marleen do something about her eyesight, or maybe even take her to Donkey Paradise? She was, after all, the beautiful old horse of his childhood, and it would break his heart to have to take her to the slaughterhouse.
Marleen arranged for a vet specialising in eye treatment to examine Bella. The vet said that with antibiotic eyedrops, one eye could be completely saved and the other partially restored. Bella would not go blind after all.
I went with Marleen to give Bella her first eyedrop treatment, and there I saw what squalor she was living in. Bella is a large horse, as large as any of the animals at Donkey Paradise, but her stable was just a few times larger than she was. She had no water to drink, and the floor of her stable was filthy. Her brown-and-white hair was terribly knotted all over and covered in sticky burrs. I expected a horse living in such unpleasant conditions to react badly to strangers. However, Bella took her first eyedrops without any fuss. She also drained an entire bucket of water, poor thirsty girl.
Marleen continued to visit Bella morning and evening for the next week and a half, administering eyedrops and a little food and water. Bella responded very quickly to treatment. Within a few days she started to come to Marleen as soon as she arrived (thankfully the weather was fine so Bella could be out in the field rather than in her stable), and she continued to take the eyedrops willingly. Soon she would be ready to come to Donkey Paradise.
The transition of a new animal into life at Donkey Paradise is never guaranteed to go well. Often, they are animals who have been abused or neglected, and they sometimes find the transition very stressful. So, when Bella arrived in a big white truck, we all watched to see how she would act once released into her new home.
Thankfully, Bella quickly identified a patch of green grass in front of the house and began grazing on it. She seemed calm and curious. She went peacefully to her new quarters – the Perrera, a fenced-off area within the main paddock – and ate fresh oat straw from her large trough. That night, the two white horses that roam free in the main paddock, Kari and Mara, trotted over to the Perrera and got acquainted with their new equine compatriot. They haven’t had a chance to spend any time roaming together yet, but they will in time. Maybe they’ll be friends?
With food, medication, and shelter established, there was one more matter to take care of to improve Bella’s quality of life: her knotty hair. Volunteer Marieke took on the task of brushing Bella all over, and an hour and a half later, Bella was restored to good condition. She is perhaps cleaner than she has been in decades.
Now Bella is allowed to wander the main paddock during the day, grazing at the acres of fresh grass and chomping the occasional fallen apple. So far, her presence has not disturbed the donkeys of Stable One and Stable Four, who are accustomed to having the main paddock to themselves. In fact, venerable old Alfredo appears to have taken a shine to Bella. Normally, Alfredo skulks around the stables, or restricts himself to the area right in front of the house. Now, he can often be seen plodding behind Bella and grazing where she grazes, even if it’s out of our sight.
Marleen says that before Alfredo was rescued, he lived in close quarters with a horse. So it might be that Bella has not only gained a new lease of life at Donkey Paradise, but she may also have brought renewed vigour to Alfredo, who can once again have a horse for a friend.
Once upon a time there was in the Donkey Paradise a much beloved volunteer. He, a traveler, had seen a lot of places in the world and now wanted to settle down and learn to grow his own food. Around the cabaña in the valley he created his own small paradise. Miche -Michael – left after a stay of 2 years. He and Maria now have their own family.
In case you wonder where the name of our new donkey ‘Miche’ came from: now you know, he was named after our volunteer with that name. Donkey Miche came from Gijon, where he had lived alone and without a shelter in a plot of land near the harbour for over 15 years. He is not really used to people or other donkeys. He wants to make friends but doesn’t really know how to go about it.
After his castration he will be able to live together with lots of other donkeys; he will be able to socialize and gain the skills needed to make friends and he will be well cared for.
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”
The two new inhabitants of the Donkey Paradise want to present themselves to you, so here they are:
“Hello there! My name is Elfie, and I have been a working mule all my life. Now I am so old, that both my previous owner and me have lost count of the years! I was bought free by one of the volunteers of this paradise, and she also gave me my name. I like it – so far I they only called me ‘mule’ (‘mula’ in Spanish) and it’s nice to have a real name now. I live in a little house now. I used to live outside and I still have a bad cold and that’s why I am now wearing a warm cover during the nights.”
“I am Willem and I like Elfie but she doesn’t like me. And, even worse, the people here will not let me near the other donkeys until I’ve had an operation … Just my luck!! But then maybe that is not as bad as going to the slaughter, so I will not complain too much. Hopefully I will be able to join the lovely lady donkeys afterwards.”
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”.