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For the past six year, a large grey-coated mule (age unknown) has regularly been seen grazing on a plot of land near Gijon. Recently, some friends of El Paraiso del burro, who help out at the dog sanctuary in Infiesto, noticed that for about two months, the mule did not appear to have been cared for. He was beginning to look neglected and in poor health. He was without shelter, food and water, tethered to a tree and covered in parasites.

It was clear that he has either been abandoned or his owner can no longer care for him. The helpers from the Dog sanctuary managed to take him food and water but their concerns would not go away. Following discussions with the local police, it was agreed that he should be relocated to El Paraiso del Burro. The policemen even came along to see him off to his new home.

He is now settling into his new home in Arobes. He is thin, timid and rather afraid of humans but with time, care and a good diet, he should bounce back to good health and enjoy his days with our other residents. One of the first jobs we need to do is to eradicate the parasites…

Oh and bye the way, we have called him Pablo. Welcome to El Paraiso del Burro Pablo.

Welcome Pablo the Mule.


Paradise by Mia

This is my last day here in Paraiso del Burro. Tomorrow I’m leaving to go home to Sweden. The rain is pouring outside. Just ran out to get the donkeys in with Marleen, and Amber,  so that they won’t get cold and sick. The question is not if  I’m coming back, I will come back some day. And I guess thats what everybody feels after they spend some time here. Ive been here for a month, and I feel that I could stay here forever. Its really a paradise like its named. I’ve been enjoying every second here. All the other volunteers have been so nice. All ages, all so openminded people with nice hearts. 🙂


I’ve learned a lot about donkeys, and they really are smarter than horses. And they are really funny with their personalities. Their sounds, disabilities, stubborness and many of them are so curious. 😀 They all seem to enjoy it here.. If I were a donkey this would be my dreamplace.

Asturias is so beautiful, Its so green if you compare it to Malaga where I was before I came here. But it is also pretty cold in the night here, It is the high humidity that really gets it in to your bones.

The place itself is amazing. It so beautiful, and you really find some peace here. You forget what day it is, and you don’t care really. You just find your daily routines, and time just flies away.
Marleen is an amazing woman, so open minded, funny and intelligent, and propably the best cook I have ever met. The food here is so delicious. Mixed with nice red wine, makes you enjoy it even more. But be careful, dont eat too much 😉 Dont know how many kg I have put on since I came here hehe.


Except for taking care of the donkeys, I have been building a fence that I finished yesterday. I got a little help from some other volunteers, and I really enjoyed building it. If you are lucky You will see it when you get here 🙂  I have also been here during the “appleweek” that means, that Ive been picking ALOT of apples. And kind of sick of them now. They were sold to a cider factory, and I think this year is the record of kg;s ever picked, more than 11 tons 402 sacks of apples.. can you believe? And glad to be a part of that, to raise money to build a new roof to one of the stables.
I reccomend this place to everyone who likes animals.. If you never experience it you will miss something very special. Im so going to miss it!
All my love to Paraiso del burro and Marleen and to all the amasing people I have met here – 😉 see ya soon!

Asturias – other places to visit near Donkey Paradise

Whilst working as a volunteer at Donkey Paradise I was given the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful hikes in nearby areas.

The scenery in Picos de Europas is spectacular and there is plenty to see and do whilst there.  One day we all set off to hike through the gorges of the Ruta del Cares.  Photographs cannot capture the magic of the mountains with their steep peaks, deep ravines, rushing streams and variety of wild flowers and bird life.

On another occasion we set off for the coast.  Here we visited the “bufones” – unique geological formations where the waves rush into underground caves to spout up through openings and give the illusion of a dragon roaring and breathing steam from hidden depths.  Then you can stroll along the cliff tops until you reach a secluded little beach and take a dip.

By Barbara de Bruine – Summer 2010

All the way from America…

Mike and I started planning our amazing summer in Europe in March, mostly between classes (or sometimes during classes 😉  We are both 3rd year veterinary students at Cornell University in New York, U.S.A. and when we heard about El Paraiso del Burro, we knew that it had to be on our list of stops.  It was our third stop and we had had very good experiences with our the other places we have been.  But Donkey Paradise turned out to be my favorite stop by far.  We were only supposed to stay for 2 weeks but it is the type of place that makes you want to stay for longer (we ended up staying for over a month.)

El Paraiso del Burro truly is a magical place where you learn and grow as people. For instance, we didn’t know very much about donkeys before we arrived. We quickly learned that all of the donkeys were individuals with their own personalities and habits. Like Norbert for instance, who we let into the garden to help us with our task of weeding. When our eyes were upon him he would pull up the grass with a speed we could not match. However, once our backs were turned he quickly began making himself a lovely salad of beet root, peas, and strawberries. Further mischief was seen every day in the adventure that was bringing in Lola’s gang (Lola, Anes, Ryo, and Kees) for their evening feeding. They were nice enough to give us several tours of the finca (in one day!) as they ran circles around it away from us. Our interactions with the donkeys did not just involve us chasing them though! We loved feeding time every night, when we were able to feed the donkeys and listen to the musical sound of 18 mouths chewing in unison. We were also able to practice some veterinary care by regularly cleaning out Joep’s hoof, giving injections to Platero, practicing physical exams, etc.

Aside from working with the donkeys, we also really enjoyed the projects we undertook here such as building fences, gates, and weeding. The work was very gratifying and we only wish that we could have done more during our stay here. However, it was not all work here, on our off days we had the luck of visiting some of the beautiful sights that Asturias has to offer. This region is an amazing place. As a group we hiked the Cares walk which offered some of the most amazing views I have ever seen. We also took a trip to the coast to see the gorgeous Asturian coast line. Perhaps our favorite place that we visited was the surreal Black Forest, which was like nothing we had ever seen before. Furthermore, we also were able to meet some of the friendliest people this world has to offer.

So, in the end, we leave with mixed emotions: sadness about leaving this one of a kind ‘”Paradise”, but also excited to share all of the stories and memories that we have of it. We have learned a lot, not only about donkeys, but about ourselves. We came to this place sure of many things. That we could never be vegetarians, for instance (and than we would go a week without having any meat and not even miss it). We were also sure that we were destined to be cat/dog veterinarians, but, after a few weeks of working with the donkeys (and the three wonderful horses), we are not even sure of that anymore (a state that is much more exciting!). One thing we can be sure of is that we have cherished our time here and cannot thank Marleen, Tanja, Carla, and all of 18 donkeys, 3 horses, and 5 dogs for all of their hospitality, patience, and generosity. We will never forget any of them or the great moments we shared here.

Lyndsay 2010

Dinner time at El Paraiso del Burro (Donkey Paradise)


We are two Wwoofers, Flora and Chole who have spent 10 days in The Donkey Paradise. It is a very beautiful place where you can find tranquillity and serenity within its many and varied landscapes and in the company of animals. There are many jobs that you can help with and lots you can learn from Marleen and the girls that live here.

Although time went by very rapidly, we were happy to have been able to help them a bit. We are not vegetarian but Marleen’s cooking is so tasty that we now think it is possible to eat very well without having meat. We have never before worked with donkeys and have been able to discover that they are very placid animals with big personalities ! We are very pleased with having lived this and plan to return as soon as we can !

Flora playing sweet music on her accordion

A note from Susie

Hi Marleen,

I am truly missing everyone in Paraiso. I would much rather be crowded in a stable than on the streetcar. Hope everyone is well; give pets and affection to burros and the girls.

2 weeks at El Paraiso. Seems I just learned all the names of the burros, the funny particulars of each personality, and got into the rhythm of life, knew the schedule and already it was time to go. With tears in my eyes for miles, the bus carried me away to the hustle bustle mystery of human only life.

I came to El Paraiso because I have enjoyed burro acquaintances of the past and I am not a very good tourist- I would much rather be involved in some action I care about and can learn more about. Here one learns burro, but also so much about other cultures as we come together from around the world for this project. the care the volunteers show one another….an extra day of Carla’s lasagne, THANK YOU

Here I learned that burros can be most excellent teachers, if not unflappable bodhisattvas. These animals have had difficult past life histories and though their bodies may be forever deformed by the hard labour and neglect and lack of care given to their hooves and diet needs, they are resilient and persevere. Watching the ancient ones file out of the stable in the morning the first day wrenched my heart. Each step slow, some burros taking many, many minutes to walk the 12 feet or so down the ramp. Hannah with her left hoof turned out, the little brown sheep like donkey, Jip, legs so crooked and bent, and dear Juliette.


Juliette became my silent hero. Her head and neck hang so unnaturally in the deep gully of her dislocated shoulders. The deepest curve I have ever seen is her back. Walking from behind, I watch the hind legs slip in and out of joints. This girl so overloaded with work and beatings, so slow to leave the stable in the morning, is the donkey furthest away and up the highest hill in the evening. I was told she actually has been known to jump a fence. I often had the privilege of walking her home from wherever she was hiding up the hills. Walking beside her with a hand under her chin (halters are not used here, no reminders of work) felt like a walking a staggering drunk home from his nightly binge. Watch your toes around Juliette because she can’t control where hers go.

I hope to never forget the calming rhythmic sound of the burros munching straw and alfalfa in the stable. I hope someone records this to sell to aide people’s busy minds. It is better than ocean waves lapping at the shore, really. Maybe some tech savvy volunteer can record this and put it on you tube.

Of course their are the humans and dogs and cats that also reside here. Balancing all these beings and their needs, all as well pampered as the donkeys are, is Marleen. What a rare human that can care, so graciously and generously, for both 4 legged and 2 legged. All beings are considered here, the spiders and deer…well maybe not the flies.

There is much to do here, the daily chores of cooking and dishes; the burros’ needs; and also the garden. Fences – a never-ending source of repair and problem solving. The deer get in the dogs get out and the problems this can bring. Finding one’s place and choosing what to do without a structure of authority is a unique part of El Paraiso that took a few days for me to work out. Rare it is in life to work this way- to be asked to do what you feel like doing. That Marleen trusts her volunteers’ integrity to do so and still get things done would be the hardest thing for me to do if it was my operation.

Marco and the finca

I hope that this refuge is successful, sad that it is so desperately needed for burros, and that all the energies needed to support this community of beings grows strong.

Donkey Soccer (by Farina and Ralph)

We have now been for two weeks in the ” El Paraiso del Burro”, which is really what its name promises, a paradise, not only for donkeys.

Wakening up in our own caravan, seeing the dogs playing, taking a walk through Marleen’s beautiful property, having fun with crazy people here (and animals, too!), enjoying the great food and of course working on our own chosen project: preparing a part of the garden and taking care of Marleen’s strawberries. There is quite a lot freedom in what you chose to do and how you do it. There are many aspects, which will give you a great experience you should not miss!

There are many skills to acquire here, not only in how to communicate and treat animals (especially donkeys), but also in taking responsibility for your surroundings and of course many kinds of manual works. We have learnt for example some skills in building. Since we have been here a new stable was built, we also learned about organic gardening and got some great new recipes (like vegan cheese) – and by the way learned how to bake our own bread.

Who's leading who?

The best result of our stay is the scientific proof that a fishing-rod in combination with a carrot really works to make a donkey follow you. On this basis we invented a game called ”donkey-soccer”, in which you have to get a ball in the combatants goal without loosing touch with your ”team-donkey”, who you have to convince to go in the right direction only with your donkey-fishing rod. In fact it didn’t really work since the donkeys living in Paraiso are on one hand quite spoiled and therefore do not really hasten to get the carrot, and one the other hand a little afraid or at least suspicious of the ball -we think they will just need more training.

Farina & Ralf


Tobias - Photo - Frans Bizot

Our 20th donkey is called Tobias. A young couple in Holland, Job and Joyce, who have adopted him, gave this name to him.

As his owner didn’t want to keep him any longer and we didn’t have enough stable space, volunteer Peter built a separate makeshift stable for him, so that he could make his acquaintance of the other donkeys bit by bit. By now he has mixed in very well with all the others.

With only 13 years Tobias is our youngest donkey. He’s also very handsome, now that we’ve cleaned him from a thick layer of cow dung.

Do you want to Volunteer?

At ‘El Paraiso del Burro’ we need our volunteers. The Donkeys need daily care including feeding, grooming, health checks, stabling and contact. They are great animals to be around, each with their own personality, likes and dislikes, routines and friends. Maybe you have some spare time this coming year? Perhaps a week or two in Spain might appeal? Perhaps spending a few days with us here in Asturias? In addition to caring for the Donkeys we also require a great deal of help with other aspects of life here at the Sanctuary such as fencing, clearing scrub land and brambles, apple picking, building and general maintenance, cooking, help around the vegetable plot….the list is endless. Marleen has the philosophy that volunteers can come and make their own choices about the work they do.

Caravans for our Volunteers

The accommodation is usually in on-site caravans however, we are still developing the infrastructure so amenities are basic. The food we serve is usually cooked and provided by Marleen but occasionally we have a volunteer who likes to cook and give Marleen some respite. The diet is vegetarian and wholesome. The peace and tranquility that is on offer cannot be bought. It really is a paradise nestled in a beautiful part of green Spain. As one of our volunteers recently wrote in the visitors book:  “Well, it seems to me as if somebody has thrown a small seed into the country, and the beautiful flower grows very fast in the Asturian soil, carrying the message of love between human and animal. (Timo)”.

If you want to visit us or spend some time this year volunteering, please contact Marleen directly at: marleen.verhoef at or find us through the WWOOF programme.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Paradise.......from tiny seeds

Volunteers also take the opportunity to enjoy Asturias. It is a beautiful and impressive area that has miles and miles of unspoilt beaches, spectacular mountain ranges (including the Picos de Europa Mountains), glorious woodlands and forests and an abundance of fauna and flora. It’s not all work here in Paradise!