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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!

When the natural circle of life is closing… by Astrid

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.

Hermann Hesse


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.


Jelle, our beautiful donkey of more then thirty years has left us. He died by himself after a few months of disease, a disease that we don’t know what it was. He just lost a lot of weight and his muscles just disappered to the point were we had to lift him up every morning. In the beginning we tried to walk him in the meadow for exercise but one day he fell pretty bad and after that he refused to walk outside. He was old. But some days he looked better and we all thought maybe…but then he couldn’t stand up again and slowly it got worse.

Jelle spent two years in Paraiso and was always to be found near his best friend Norbert. Jelle would patiently wait at Norbert’s side when he was taking a rest in the meadowgrass and then they would slowly move along to the next piece of yummy grass!


Accompany us for a day at “Paraíso del burro”!

Even if you do not have the possibility to come over to visit us here in Asturias, use your imagination and accompany us through our daily life!

The first task of the day is giving the donkeys alfalfa and letting the four dogs out of their sleeping- stable. The breakfast, with freshly made porridge, is already being prepared in the living- room, where we take it together at 9 a.m. making plans for the day. After breakfast we let the donkeys out and prepare their stables, what includes spreading new straw, filling the water buckets and the strawracks.

After the stables we take a coffee together on the terrace. After this refreshment everybody begins with the work she or he chose to do while staying at Paraíso. This can be fencing, working in the vegetable garden or building a compost boundary.

Marleen or some of the volunteers choose to cook on this day so we can have our communal lunch at about 2 p.m. This could be a little appetizer like toasted bread with goat cheese followed by zucchini lasagna as main course. Salad, home made bread and cheese are always part of the lunch as well as a glass of wine for those who like it. Usually we end the meal with a cup of coffee. After that we prepare the donkey dinner that consists of a big bag of carrots and two kilos of apples, which have to be cut in small pieces.

Food bowls

The time between lunch and donkey collecting is free time, so some of us choose to have a siesta, others go with the flow and continue working or go for adventure! Asturias is one of Spain’s most beautiful regions and full of hidden treasures like big forests, hidden beaches and abandoned crystal mines.

At about 6 p.m. we collect the donkeys from the grazing land and control if they have enough water. We spread the apples and carrots between them; add grains and vitamins or medicine for those who need it. For dinner we halter the donkeys to secure that every one of them has the time to eat out of his own bowl. Also the dogs have to be closed in their stable and be fed, as well as the cats are given their food.

A typical dinner at 9 p.m. would be a vegetable soup with bread and cheese or whatever you fancy. We end the day with giving the donkeys straw for the night and taking the dogs for a walk while others take care of the kitchen.

By Astrid

Self-made volunteering at “Paraíso del burro” by Astrid

What can you expect when you want to volunteer at “Paraíso del burro”?

Tanja (a volunteer from Sweden) said while driving through the metal entrance gate when I arrived “Whatever you expect, you won’t be disappointed”. What a huge compliment- and she wasn’t exaggerating!

Wwoofing seems to be an easy concept- working on a farm in exchange for board and lodging. In reality, every wwoofing farm differs of course significantly in the work that has to be done, the sleeping place and the food.

One opportunity of Paraíso are the different tasks that have to be done. The animals require caring and feeding, filling the water buckets, cleaning the stables and of course the donkeys have to be brushed and caressed!

Tanja and Marleen giving Alfalfa

As we are still building Paraíso the work also includes fencing with mesh wire or wooden board, building a flower garden next to the house and also general maintenance, like spreading the dung between the apple trees or planting and weeding in the vegetable garden.

There is the housework: like getting water from the public water tap at the “area recreativa” with its spectacular views, shopping in Arriondas, baking bread, making yoghurt, cooking meals and cleaning the house.

After all the work you will be able to enjoy the fantastic vegetarian kitchen of this house! The meals are creatively cooked with plenty of fresh vegetables and commonly eaten at the big wooden table in the living- room with its fantastic views.

Why self – made volunteering? In Paraíso you will be asked to choose and organize your work on the tasks you would like to fulfill during your stay yourself, although there is general work that has to be done by everybody.

In the evening you might sit in front of your sleeping caravan on the donkeys’ grazing land, enjoying the stars and the sound of the neighbour’s cowbells, and know that you arrived- at the paradise of the donkeys.


With the advent of spring there is lots of work to be done here at El Paraiso del Burro. Priorities include making sure all the perimeter fences are secure, repaired where needed and safe for the Donkeys. Daily care of the donkeys continues with several of our residents having ongoing health problems that need attending to and monitoring. Grooming and feeding times along with general observation when they are in the fields is a good time to spot if there are any general changes in their behaviour, feeding habits and physical health.

We have had a constant stream of volunteers over the winter months and their contribution has been invaluable. Building work has been completed, we are making good progress with fence repairs and of course the Donkeys continue to receive care, attention and affection.

We are always interested to hear from people who have time to volunteer. Volunteers need not stay for a week or more at a time. Some of our volunteers live locally and come on a regular day each week – this is good as it gives us some continuity and also allows or temporary volunteers to learn from our regulars.

If you want to volunteer at El Paraiso, we are always on the look out for people with a whole range of skills and experience including: building or construction, land management, ability to operate strimmers or chainsaws, apple picking (in season), vegetable growing, care of donkeys, cooking, gardening and general maintenance. Our main requirement however, is for people who are willing to work and who can live in our community as part of a team. We also spend time relaxing and enjoying the company of others – it is surprising what you can learn if you put your mind to it.

Maybe if you are unable to volunteer, you might like to sponsor our work here. Please contact Marleen for further information. We hope to hear from you soon.


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.

Winter in Arobes

Winter in Arobes, beautiful and difficult (photo: Daniel Izquerdo Berlana)

We’re having a winter with snow and ice, like in the distant past, villagers say. Wonderful scenery as the picture shows. But for donkeys – originally living in Africa – the Asturian winter months are all but easy. And most of our donkeys are very, very old … Often they have to stay inside because of the rain or snow, and they have all kinds of diseases now. Hoof infections: Jip and Flora, infection of the tear duct: Flora and Juliet, colds: Leo, Anes, Lola, Joep, Jelle. Coughs: Norbert, serious limp: Leo. Fungal infection: Ray and Platero. General condition of weakness: Niño. We are seeing a lot of the vet these days…

Jelle’s condition is not good, his back legs are very weak. When he lies down, he can’t get up by himself anymore. Hopefully he’ll live to see the spring and summer! Two friends of the donkey paradise devised a special donkey stretcher, so that we’ll always be able to bring donkeys back to the stable. Inside the new stable they will devise a donkey hoist, so that we don’t need six people every time to put Jelle onto his feet.