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.