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22. Shifting bricks, bees and sheep

22. Shifting bricks, bees and sheep

David Cramp | On 07, Oct 2012

Building a house in mid winter is not always an easy matter. Southern Spain is portrayed in the travel brochures as a warm and sunny place but this isn’t always reality. That October/November we suffered rain, rain and rain interspersed with nights down to -15C but what we found we could do was assemble the building materials ready for the building push in the spring.

Toby and 64 bricks

The lie of the land prevented us from using a flying fox and supermarket trolley as we had done at Castellar and after the supply truck tipped in the river and had to be dragged out by a bull dozer, no other driver from the building supply company, San Blas, would attempt this and so we resorted to wheel barrows and donkeys.

My brother in law came out from the UK to help which was very useful indeed. He could get through the river with up to 60+ bricks in his barrow whereas I could only manage 45, while the donkeys plodded along carrying bricks as well as cement bags, and bit by bit, the pile of useful things grew next to the house including an ever growing heap of sand. Getting this over was the most difficult thing.

Bricks off the truck

My brother in law came out from the UK to help which was very useful indeed. He could get through the river with up to 60+ bricks in his barrow whereas I could only manage 45, while the donkeys plodded along carrying bricks as well as cement bags, and bit by bit, the pile of useful things grew next to the house including an ever growing heap of sand. Getting this over was the most difficult thing.

You’d be surprised at the tiny amount a wheel barrow holds or how heavy sand is and when after a supreme struggle you finally manage to get through the river and up the hill with a barrow load and you tip it out, the resulting little ‘mole hill’ is pitiful to look at.

One item, a huge reinforced concrete ‘viga de puente’ (bridging beam) which would hold the house up weighed over a ton and a half and most of the neighbourhood farmers were recruited to stagger through the river and up the hill under its weight.

There were also a myriad of other items to think about as well. Over our hill looking into the next valley, our finca bordered that of an ex bull fighter who’s sheep kept getting through the fence into my land. I didn’t worry too much about this as they kept the undergrowth down, but my nearer neighbours in our valley did mind. They wanted to put their sheep on my land in exchange for fruit, veg and meat products and as they were in ‘our’ valley they claimed priority. Juan our nearest neighbour had evidently spoken to the bull fighter about this and came to me with a solution. The bull fighter had offered to pay half the amount of a stock proof fence if I paid the other half and that would solve the problem. Cheeky sod! His sheep were the problem and it was up to him to solve it so I told Juan that I wouldn’t pay the money but I would shoot the bull fighter’s sheep if I saw them again on my finca. I wouldn’t have done anything of the sort of course but they would have done and so believed me. Juan was horrified at this latest evidence of madness from ‘el ingles’ (although he would have done the same) and walked off to relay my message. Nothing more was said about the matter but within a week, a new stock proof fence had appeared on my border and another little problem had been solved.

Setting off to collect the beesBut there was still the bees to collect and so a week later my brother in law, Toby and I set off in two vehicles to pick them up from Castellar in what was to be a true trial of extreme endurance. Getting small, nucleus beehives down a cliff on a flying fox was one thing but getting the by now full sized hives up again with no flying fox was another. It was very cold, the rain was extremely heavy, the wind was wild and the beehives were full and very, very heavy as I hadn’t harvested that year (yet). There were several moments over those few, long hours when I thought I simply couldn’t go on and at all times one slip would have ended in disaster. After lifting each hive up the cliff to the truck we were quite happy to flop down in the cold, slippery mud to rest. I was a mass of aches and pains, covered in stings, cold, wet and hungry and we still had another apiary to start on. The approach to this second apiary looked bad and sure enough the vehicles sank into the mud and wouldn’t move. Now many will think, ‘well why continue?’ The answer is that you can’t stop. Once you have bees loaded you have to get them to their new place by dawn, or put them back where you collected them from – by dawn. After what seemed hours of digging, we managed to get the vehicles free and load up the next lot of hives after which we got totally stuck again. To cut a long and very painful story short, we finally managed to get the bees on the road by just after midnight and set off immediately to the nearest bar for a couple before the 5 hours haul back to Aracena which took 7 hours. The looks we received in that bar, covered in mud from head to foot were a treat to see.

Once back at the finca we found the driving rain had caused the river to burst its banks and moving the bees to their new location was another extreme trial (one of many that night). The overflow waterfall was in full flow and the noise was deafening and dawn had broken so we lost a few bees and in a state of complete exhaustion, cold, wet and covered in stings and only a hovel to go to I asked myself for the millionth time why I was living like this. But after a freezing wash in the river to get the worst of the mud off, followed by a scolding hot coffee and whisky in front of the fire, I was happy again.

I have trucked bees into many places; moved them across the high Pyrenees from France into Spain, hauled them up shifting rivers in the East Cape in New Zealand and into some very extreme places hunting manuka but I don’t think that I have ever undertaken a move that was so truly difficult and so painful as the move from Castellar – but we didn’t lose a hive and within a day, all the bees were flying well from all hives. And as for building a house? True, we still had a mountain to cross before we even nearly had a decent home, but we had our bees back with us and that meant a hell of a lot. I had answered my question.

 

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