Chapter Two - Helpx at Cortijo Los Plumas in the Alpujarras

Updated: Jan 29

See Episode 2 of my Vlog on this trip here

Walking down the rambla, with the stream, the varied flora and fauna and rugged mountains either side, was always interesting, I never grew tired of it. The only noise to break the tranquillity of the walk would be the distant ringing of cowbells, worn by the 100 or so goats that the shepherd would be ushering to another parcel of land, often around the time of our evening walk.

The five Los Plumas dogs, Essi, Maxi, Barney, Lily and Rosie, are working dogs. They fiercely guard the Los Plumas land, amazingly so. Sometimes if the shepherd’s dogs come too close, there can be trouble. Which happened one evening, resulting in Barney getting a nasty bite, that he was still recovering from when I left. I hope he’s OK now, as he had taken quite a battering and was somewhat forlorn for a few days.

The dogs really are amazing, Essi will stay up all night, laying out in the yard, any activity and she’s on it, calling the other dogs to arms many times a night. She’s an old girl, I’m really not sure when she sleeps! And still she comes on the morning horse ride with us, which is usually for several miles, at a fast pace!

After the evening walk we would return to the cortijo for a little supper, sometimes an evening meal if we’d eaten lightly at lunchtime. The kitchen is the main hang-out area, with lots of chatting whilst Andy or Amanda would be preparing food, or whilst eating. Both have many interesting stories to tell.

Andy is currently filming and producing a documentary on the mysteries of an ancient Spanish civilisation. I have a slight interest in anthropology, but more so in geology, which his investigations have to touch upon. It was quite fascinating as to how much detective work he was having to do to even postulate upon what may have occurred ten thousand years ago. The mystery continues!

He’s a fabulous chef! Very patient with his food preparation, chopping the fresh vegetables into perfectly equally sized pieces, I’d not have the patience for that! And the food was delicious, fresh and healthy.

Two of the cats would hang about the kitchen, Freddie and Frankie, with Freddie being the cuddliest pusscat I’ve ever met! Alas, now and again he would bring in a live mouse or gecko and play with it for quite some time, poor things. Frankie, the ginger-puss was friendly but not needy! The third cat, little Lissy only ventured up to the house now and again, mainly living in the hay barn. Again, she was very cuddly and friendly.

After supper I’d return to the casita, Barney would come and sleep in the casita with me. By 10:30pm it would be dark, Mars would peep up above the opposite mountain around that time and slowly the night-sky would fill with the most magnificent starry display. Such a treat when you rarely get to see many constellations in the UK, let alone the full swathe of the Milky Way.

The first two nights, Sunday and Monday, I barely slept, so spent a lot of time star-gazing. After a couple of days I really wasn’t feeling too clever. I think it was a combination of working in the heat, lack of sleep and also adapting to the meal times, as I tend to eat all day long! When I did try and sleep, all I could do was itch!

My hay allergy meant I had rubbed the rash on my arms and legs raw, which was a vicious cycle, as I couldn’t put bug spray on broken skin, so I was getting a lot of bites from what they call Sand Flies, I think in the UK we call them Midges! Which meant I scratched even more. There was also a lot of horse-flies about, they give a nasty bite, nearly three weeks on, I have three bites still not healed. Luckily there wasn’t too many mozzies about!

Anyway, I soon realised that riding my mountain bike really did sap my last bit of energy, so I only rode every couple of days or so. By the Wednesday I felt I had acclimatised to my new routine, having had my first decent night’s sleep on Tuesday night.

My only time off site, apart from riding out on the horses, was a trip to the local town, Cadiar, where I bought snacks, so I could graze a little more! I’ve got an energy in/energy out kind of metabolism, so keeping reserves topped up is important to me.

The days begun with a cuppa up at the cortijo around 7am, then we’d go down to the horses. Amanda would do the technical stuff! Such as rugs, hard feed, fly cream etc. I would prepare the stalls with fresh straw, fill and put up the hay nets, fill the water troughs and muck out the yard.

I liked to do all this before we went for a ride, but sometimes it was necessary to do it afterwards, which was a right pain as the sun would be blazing by 10am. De-pooping in the heat I found quite uncomfortable, especially as by then I really needed some food! And I’d be in long-sleeved top, jods and riding boots……a little sticky to say the least!

Most days we groomed and tacked up the horses after the stable work. Sometimes we’d have a visitor join us. Jenny from the local mountain bike holiday venue, Pure Mountains, rode with us a couple of times, and Mister Grey’s owner, Tina, rode a couple of times too.

Amanda has four horses;

Toro the bay, quite a heavy-set Spanish X, who is in fact Andy’s horse. He’s very well behaved and will go as fast or as slow as you want to go with no dancing around. He’s ridden in a Dooley, bit-less bridle. Such a good boy, and a pleasure to ride, and is the go-to horse for visitors to ride as he’s so trustworthy.

Luna, the more dappled of the greys, is a mare that Amanda has been bringing on after being considered a bit of a lost cause by her previous owners, and she’s doing well, pretty much a good girl although a little hormonal when in season! She had the hots for Mister Grey for a while!

Sombra, the whiter of the greys, a Spanish Arab cross, medium weight, fun ride. I didn’t quite get to grips with managing his head whilst hacking, if he was up front he was pretty well behaved, but when behind other horses he would want to rush and in trying to contain the rushing, resulted in him throwing his head about. I’m sure others would ride him better than me, I tried to ride him quietly, but didn’t always succeed.

Brilliante, the dun, a cheeky teenager that Amanda is bringing on. He’s only around 6 years old, so still pretty young and developing his muscles for the long hilly rides, I’m sure once he’s fully fit he’ll be a fun ride!

Mostly it was just me, Amanda, two horses and five dogs, riding different routes across the hills, in the cool of the early morning. It was so good to be riding again, the serenity of a nice slow hack belies the expense and work it takes to keep horses. If I was rich, I would definitely have my own horse, and keep it full livery somewhere! It’s not like a mountain bike that you can just shove in the garage when you can’t be arsed with it! I do enjoy the housekeeping, grooming etc, it is a labour of love, but very time consuming.

Amanda schools the horses in a very kind way, nothing is forced. Understanding horse psychology and using it to hone a mutually respectful relationship between horse and human can be a very slow process, but she gets the results.

#Flora #Fauna #DragonFly #Rambla #Barranco #Stream #Mountain #Horse #Riding #MountainBike #Alpujarra #Spain #HelpX #Cortijo #SierraNevada #Stables #MTB

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