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
Love for donkeys is not just a Dutch thing, judging by the volunteers in our Donkey Paradise who come from all over the world.
At this moment for instance we have volunteers from Spain (of course!), England, Sweden, Hungary, Belgium, Italy and Venezuela. In the past we also had helpers from Australia, United States, New-Zealand, Lithuania, Finland and even China!
It’s always a great experience to get to know people from other countries and cultures, although the language that we speak in the Donkey Paradise is sometimes a strange mix of everything!
After a gorgeous lunch I sat down in the field and looked into the happy faces of Kari and Mara..
Then I felt something sitting beside me making a very happy sound..it was Arvo snoring.
Running out of her space in the stables came Ronja and the sound of a purring cat joined Arvo.
But of course do not forget the donkeys…here Rosie is taking Ronja for a ride though the garden..
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!
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
Had a great visit to the Donkey sanctuary in Asturias a couple of weeks ago. The surroundings there are breathtaking, set in a backdrop of mountains, valleys and lush meadows. The people there are very welcoming and hospitable, making it an extremely enjoyable and relaxing visit. Although the setting is tranquil the people do have a very important job to do and they work hard to look after the Donkeys. We took part in brushing the donkeys down which they seem to enjoy very much, waiting patiently until it’s their turn. They have a great peice of land to live and graze on and their quality of life is very good. I would recommend visiting the sanctuary to anyone.
When the natural circle of life is closing…
Like described earlier, in “El Paraíso del burro” the donkeys are a part of your daily life. Even more strong, you are a part of their life as well. And the natural circle of life includes spring and new birth as well as winter and death.
The natural circle of life is closing when an animal is coming closer to the end of a hopefully happy life… we try to provide a natural environment for our donkeys, to keep their life as close to their biological life as possible. A natural life would include a natural death, though with the help we provide to keep the animal alive we also help to prevent a natural death. A donkey that can not stand up alone will not survive in the steppe of Nubia or Somalia , their natural environment. So we act against the nature, because we act out of our human nature!
Donkeys know no fear of death as we humans do. But they get old and feel pain, and their worried carers observe their every movement. Does the donkey eat as it usually does? If so, we are relieved. But if a donkey still eats, does it mean that it wants to live, or is it a matter of pangs of hunger? Finally, suffering and pain have no reason if there is no hope for bettering, let alone recovery.
Some weeks ago we have had the whole discussion over and over again here in Paraíso. The health of Jelle was not improving despite intensive and loving care of the team. The questions differed from a definition of the quality of life to our personal egoism to keep an animal alive. It touched our heart and kept our head busy while working, eating or talking.
Then the moment we all feared but expected came and Jelle did not eat his breakfast as he usually did. We looked at each other sadly, agreeing that we would wait for Marleen arriving in the night so she could say goodbye to one of the oldest donkeys in the sanctuary.
In the end Jelle died a natural death some hours later in April 2010.
As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.
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 !
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.
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.
It was on a typical Zamora´s sunny November´s day that we got on the road to Asturias. We had left Asturias a few months previously and now we returned within 15 km of our old house in Cangas de Onís. We had an opportunity to get to know almost all of Asturias including the Picos de Europa, The Sueve and Cuera mountain ranges… but we did not get to know of this beautiful and sunny oasis within the green and fresh Asturias.
I know I am going on… and yes we are talking about the Donkey Paradise. It was such a nice feeling to find ourselves during a downpour in the middle of a magical stable made into a kitchen, drinking tea with Marleen and all the other volunteers from Asturias and Madrid. The time spent during our life´s jurney at The Donkey Paradise has enabled us to spend days with people from the Canary Islands, Madrid, Germany, Holland and Sweden. We shared conversations in a unique and strange language that can only be understood here.
We stayed in our caravan-suite with fabulous views. We would sleep with our dog Senda and some days we would be joined by Mama and Tito, our cats who are mother and son ; we also had a lots of staff. Each day would be unique, some were foggy while others may be sunny, rainy and on some occasions we even got up with several inches of snow. Imagine the silly slips we took !
What can we say about the donkeys? They are such an adorable animal and yet so stubborn and at the same time cute that in the end we came away loving each and every single one of them. Each donkey is like a friend, you can almost guess what they are thinking all the time as you form a close relationship with each donkey while staying at the sanctuary. To go around the 7 hectars of the sanctuary to collect the donkeys on a sunny afternoon is an experience that we will never forget.
Our favourite donkeys are Juliet (for Estefanía) and Joep ( for Dani).
Passing throught the sanctuary on our life´s journey has transformed us, we now are more tuned into animal welfare ; you must not forget that we belong to the same family, the mammals. During our stay, we lost two donkyes : Niño and Jelle. We hope that they find enough good grass in the paradise where they are now. We have even decided to stop eating meat, not a hard decission here at the sanctuary as all the meals are vegetarian if you so wish.
Talking about food, it is such a wonderful experience to try the meals that Marleen, Tanja, Carla and other volunteers prepare. Well prepared vegetables are very nice… We also loved the bechamel and other sauces, we have even learnt how to bake bread and make home made yogurt.
Work on the field is very pleasant and you are always in the company of other volunteers and the donkeys are never too far, there are also dogs and even some cats. Some volunteers will work erecting fences while other do the cooking or work in the vegetable plot. You can always pace yourself while doing the job as Marleen is always very happy if you take things easy.
One last little project that we got involved with was to clear some land in front of the house for a garden border with a herb spiral included within it. We first had to clear the plot before we put a fence around it to prevent the donkeys eating the plants. We also added well rotted manure…
It is very pleasing to see people from nearby villages coming to help every week like Peter and Lynn or Joann. It is very satisfaying to see people helping and getting involved with the projects such as this. We are very pleased to have been part of it.
After 6 months, we now know that we like donkeys, love Marleen and all those who are involved with the project.
We will return one day for sure. Love from Estefania and Daniel.
Futuro jardín y espiral de hierbas aromaticas