First Sunday of Lent (with donkeys)

I spent the first two hours of Sunday morning coaxing the donks back down the three steps I had spent an hour encouraging them to go up yesterday, into the enclosed ‘studio’ at the back of the house (now a temporary stable). They did not want to descend the steps. Eventually, Rubi decided that the alfalfa I had placed within smelling distance was worth overcoming all other donkey risk assessment procedures, and down she came. The sound of Rubi crunching alfalfa was too much for Matilde, so she arrived within ten seconds.
The next stage of my new complicated domestic life with donks was to lay a trail of straw through the kitchen and living room and encourage Matilde to come outside, so I could walk her to Finestrat and collect bales of forage from my friend Brian who has stables and bulk food storage.

The fight to get Matilde out of the house while Rubi stayed behind was violent and noisy. Rubi tried kicking the kitchen door down after Matilde had been taken outside. Furious sounds were filling the air from both sides of the house. I went out to the back to calm Rubi and Matilde slipped her knot and came running through the house again to rejoin Rubi…

Finally, I got them separated and Matilde out of the house again, with pack saddle on, and tied up with a new knot (invented all by myself) which worked better than the previous knot. I spent twenty minutes calming Rubi, brushing her and buying her off with alfalfa, carrots, grain mix, digestive biscuits, and reading her one and a half pages of donkey psychology from an American New Age website. That didn’t do much, so I said three Hail Marys and Rubi seemed to quieten down.

I set off with Matilde, up the main road to Finestrat, a 4 km walk. (The 2 km short cut to Finestrat for donkey and pedestrian is still not safe. There is a precipitous turn, descending the ravine, which I must work on before a donkey can do that route.) Matilde really went at a great pace. Even with the saddlepacks on for the first time, she was trotting along merrily. They were empty at this point in the day, but they were still new to her.

We climbed up the hill to Finestrat and out the other side for another two kilometres to Brian’s stables to pick up the forage. Just before we arrived at Brian’s, there was a braying in the distance. It came from up the hill towards Puig Campana. Matilde stopped walking and froze, listening intently. I had never heard either of my donkeys bray when I went up to the Sierra Bernia to visit them over these past three months. I waited, expecting a return call from Matilde. Nothing. She walked on.

Just before we arrived at Brian’s stables, Matilde stopped again. She had picked up a scent. I knew this from walking with Dalie in France. Matilde had the scent of the other donkey. She did the usual donkey shuddering, working up and tuning the sound, then she let out a glorious piercing primal bray that seemed to echo down the ages from the African savanna, and the wild equine life of thousands of years ago. My eyes were moist with the emotion of hearing my donkey’s innermost feelings. Beautiful.

We arrived at Brian’s and picked up the feed. Brian’s horses and goats were a source of fascination for Matilde. She rubbed noses with a fancy goat and seemed to grin. Then we made our way back to Finestrat, Matilde laden with the forage in the saddle packs. At the Bar Moli, I stopped and tied Matilde up. Obviously, I could easily have passed the Bar Moli without stopping for a pint of beer (especially as it’s the First Sunday in Lent), but Matilde needed a bowl of water on such a hot day, so I was kind enough to realise that and bought myself a pint.

In that short space of time that we stopped at the Bar Moli, everyone in Finestrat seemed to stop and talk to the donkey or talk to me about the donkey. The same comment was heard over and again. “At one time, you always saw donkeys here. Now, it is a rare sight!”

It would have been a common sight fifty years ago. On Tuesday I will bring twenty six Year 8 students on a school trip to the Museu Finestrat It is a museum of rural life. I stopped outside the museum today to take a photo of Matilde to show the children what a fully laden burra would have looked like. Now it is a curiosity, but once it would have been an everyday sight.

The Museu Finestrat shows how the animals were kept on the ground floor of the rural house, heating the upstairs floor. “Donkeys inside the house!” my kids will exclaim, on Tuesday…

I walked Matilde back to Elca Seriu and walked her through the sitting room and kitchen, to be reunited with Rubi and show her the shopping… A bale of forage from Brian. Matilde collapsed and lay down, exhausted after the 12 km walk. She had before never walked more than from her old stable to the top of the road, three hundred metres away.

I was seriously worried for a few minutes, listening to her panting and sighing. I quickly went to bring some food. No sick animal responds to food. Ahah! She sat up and ate… Rubi stood there accusingly, as if to say, “What have you done to my friend?”

She may be exhausted now, Rubi, but you will be very healthy donkeys soon, exercised regularly!


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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2 Responses to First Sunday of Lent (with donkeys)

  1. Karin says:

    Wow!! Took a few days off from emails..and came back to this! They are beautiful and look completely “at home”. I like the idea of just giving the girls the house! Congratulations!

  2. Barbara says:

    Ah I think you have another cinema star, just like Dalie!

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