Moving into the New Community House

So now the three of us, Vajradevi, Bianca and I are living here in Mas de Lluc, the community house. We arrived here the on same day and were plunged straight into the usual catalogue of complications. El Gordo, our second 4×4 chose that time to have an intermittent electrical fault and completely died on us two days running when we were just about to set off up the long rough track to the house. Two days running we had to unload all our luggage and a vast amount of food shopping into Dapple (our little white van)and phone the Grua (breakdown lorry). We’re making friends with the man who drives it, he thinks it’s very diverting and always chivalrously offers me his shoulder to lean on when I climb up onto the side of the lorry to drive the car off. ‘Guapas y fuertes’ he described us – ‘beautiful and strong’. Quite.

The first breakdown we stayed the night in a Hostal in Valderrobres, but the second time I decided to walk the 7km up to the house to pick up our other 4×4, Rozinante. I was keen to see if any mishaps had happened in my absence, since the house had been standing empty for a month. As I walked up the stony track I counted all the things that could have gone wrong. Firstly would the river on the way be too deep to cross? (it had been raining heavily) Would the big bank of solar panels be a) stolen b) damaged by a hailstorm c) blown away? Had the house been broken into? Would Rozinante start? Would the well be flooded? I was less worried about things being robbed, as I have a lot of trust in people in the nearby village. The same cannot be said about the weather!

The river was OK, I could wade across. And when I turned the corner near the house the first thing I saw was our solar panels undamaged. The house was fine – no break in. I got into Rozinante and she started first time. It was all going to be alright… Then I walked down to the well, newly excavated just before I left the previous month. I lifted the heavy manhole cover – and gasped. There was certainly plenty of water – the level was way up above the electric pump. Ah well, 6 out of 7 mishaps avoided not bad.

I phoned Gerardo, our plumber/electrician. ‘The water in the well’s very high’ I said. ‘That’s not bad’ he said. ‘But it’s flooded the pump’ I said. ‘That is bad’ he said. ‘I’ll come on Saturday. Don’t switch it on.’

Finally El Gordo was fixed and we all arrived in the house. There was much to learn. Our solar energy system, for a start. What did the mystifying array of lights, warnings and figures on the control panel mean? And when it went ‘peep peep’ with the red light flashing how worried should we be? When Gerardo arrived on Saturday to fix the pump we had a long list of questions. His explanations were mostly even more mystifying to the linguistically and technically challenged. However we’re gradually making sense of it, having come to realise the basic fact that in midwinter there isn’t enough sunlight and we do need to use the generator regularly to keep our batteries happy.

That was one saga, there are plenty others, every little thing takes time, effort and knowledge. I find it interesting that it is the more technical, modern, convenient side of things that I find more troublesome. Woodstoves and candles are so simple (we haven’t actually been reduced to candles very often, but I prefer them in my room) We’re about to get a washing machine, which we’ll be able to run while the sun is shining. But I feel a sort of regret, yes it’ll be easier, but it’s another thing to break down – and do washing machine repair men come out this far? In helicoptors?

And then there’s the cold, so far down to minus 5 some mornings. We have a good wood burning stove, and central heating as a back up, run from gas bottles. The house holds the warmth, unheated it stays around 12 degrees inside. I am acclimatizing to a cooler way of life, although I don’t wash as often.

There are two sides to the work now, the legal/planning side for the retreat centre and the building/ maintenance side on the community house, . We are well into both – plans have been presented to the ayuntamiento (local council) and this week we meet with Luis, our architect, and Jose and Manolo, our builders, to try to firm up the details for a contract, with a view to the work on the retreat centre beginning in Spring. Vajradevi and I are involved in these discussions, and Bianca mostly stays working in the house. Whenever we can all three work together on the building.

So for me there are two main types of working day. There is the type when we drive into AlcaƱiz for shopping, going to offices, logging on in the internet cafe, picking up fuel for the generator, propane bottles for the heating and recently taking vehicles for their MOT’s, and follow ups etc etc. I find that kind of day needs a lot of concentration. But is satisfying to learn more and find our way around how things work out here.

Then there is the type of day when we work together on the house – mixing mortar, building up stonework, sawing wood, chopping kindling. For me time expands on those days, the quietness of the hills sinks into me. It’s hard work but I feel happy.

The evenings are long at this time of year. After supper we sit around the estufa (stove) reading, writing. Some nights we watch a DVD of The West Wing on my computer. Bianca often meditates. We go to bed early – it’s very dark and very quiet and I usually sleep well. In the morning Vajradevi and I have begun to meditate together in a room we’ve set up with another estufa for warmth.

The sun rises late here, it’ s not usually getting light till past 8am, and the sunlight doesn’t hit the solar panels till nearly 10am. If the sun shines, we can turn the fridge on, and run the pump from the well, filling our water tank. If the sun doesn’t shine, we run the generator to keep our batteries happy and well. And another day begins, fire burning pinewood in the estufa, water from the ground, rocks to build the walls, clothes drying in the wind, and often the blue blue sky above.

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