Before we arrived from England, a rumour circulated among the neighbours that we would be keeping giraffes. In fact we had decided to turn over a new leaf and move to rural Andalucia to make a business out of breeding alpacas.
Lorna Penfold and I opted for a change of lifestyle when Lorna chose to leave the hectic world of teaching competitive freestyle disco dancing and move to this sunny part of southern Spain.
The move had been fraught from the start: the day we put our house on the market in England was the same day that the queues starting forming outside the Northern Rock at the beginning of the worldwide economic crisis.
We had managed to source some alpaca females, two from Britain and one from a breeder based in Spain. From the day the animals arrived we have had car-loads of people stop and take photographs outside our house, including officers of the Guardia Civil, guns and all.
We had decided to try Andalucia as a base for our breeding business as this was an area of Europe that was not yet a centre for alpacas. To date there are only about 400 animals in the whole of Spain, compared with about 25,000 in the UK. Alpacas originate in Peru, where there are about three million of them.
With the developing financial crisis, selling the animals proved difficult: the fall in the number of expats moving to Spain, combined with the lack of money within the farming community in Spain, has meant that a few animals have been sold as pets and the market has yet to take off.
This has meant that we had to come up with a Plan B, and as we were renovating our old olive mill, we realised that we could offer people a place to holiday in peace and tranquillity. In the past few years people from Britain have started to venture away from the normal holiday destinations and begun to hire cars and make their own travel arrangements; this has therefore opened up more opportunities for a varied range of holidays.
What we have tried to provide is a place where parents or adults can come to relax, and “step off the world for a while”, but also a place where children can be kept occupied, swimming in the pool or interacting with the alpacas, and walking our five dogs. We also try to get kids involved with decorating our gardens. Last year we encouraged all the children that visited to paint us a terracotta pot with their own design so that we can remember them all.
We live without mains electricity, so we cannot just sit and watch television 24 hours a day. Our location also means that mobile telephone coverage is patchy at best and our internet is provided by a dongle that can go off for hours at a time.
All our electricity comes from solar
panels fitted on our roof, and stored in batteries; water
comes from a spring in the hillside. Living here can be hard work and sometimes we have had to make do without water.
If there’s a leak, we have to fix it ourselves and if we have a bad winter without sun for weeks on end, we have no power for our washing machine. Even if we manage to do some hand-washing, we can’t get it dry.
Friends who live in the UK seem to think we live the “dream”, and, in some respects we do have a wonderful life, but I am not sure people realise you have to give 100 per cent to live life in this way and embrace all the pitfalls as well as the good things.
Many of these inconveniences pale in to insignificance when the baby alpacas (cria) are born on the farm. These creatures are remarkable mothers, and generally manage to give birth unassisted.
Four cria have been born on the farm so far, including one that died aged four days. This is something that we were not prepared for, but a fellow breeder told us: “If you have livestock, you have to expect dead stock.”
That’s a fact of this way of life, but scarcely makes it any easier to bear.
Having now been living here for more than four years, we still get the feeling that some of the local farmers drive past our place, and call us el loco Ingles – the crazy English – but we don’t really mind that. We try to give 100 per cent to everything here, and we hope that the locals appreciate it.
I like to think that whatever happens to us in the future we will always be able to say we have really thrown ourselves in to what we have tried to do. Too many others are too scared even to try.