Gibaja with Mario, Isazkun and Maya

After saying bye to Richard and Suzanne until June, we headed east towards Bilbao. We were going to stay for one week with Mario, Izaskun and their two year old daughter Maya outside a little village called Gibaja near the Basque Country. The family met us in a bar in Gibaja, and after buying us a beer and everyone introducing themselves, we headed back to the homestead. It is a great place. They have taken an old agricultural building with five acres of hilly pasture and turned it into a really beautiful and comfortable family home with a big vegetable garden, a chicken shed, a greenhouse and the beginnings of a forest garden. There is loads of work still to do but Mario (who is there full time) has a lot of energy and the drive to get it done. We will be fascinated to see how it looks in ten years time! We were also excited to meet Marnie, the family’s huge Mastine. She is three years old, extremely playful and very much a bull in a china shop!

Anna with Marnie

Anna quickly doing some work while Marnie is distracted

02 Huerta

In the veg garden

01 Snail

Anna’s snail

During our stay along with two other volunteers, Joe and Monika, we developed a terrace for planting, weeded the forest garden (the trees are still very small) and helped to build a chicken tractor. This is a moveable chicken shed with open floors which can be placed on vegetable beds while they are fallow, allowing the chickens to fertilise the ground as well as scratch up pests and unwanted seeds. Everything Mario is doing is based on permaculture principles. He is capturing rainwater, introducing terraces to retain water and trying to set things up so that things run themselves wherever possible. It was really good to see someone just starting out who is really thinking about the long-term implications of the decisions he makes now, and hopefully saving himself a lot of work (and fertiliser) in the long run!

One of the things we really liked about Mario was that he is really enthusiastic and open minded about sustainable practices, but at the same time he is quite analytical and cynical – a rare combination! One evening we watched “A Farm for the Future”, which is a BBC documentary following a young Farmer as she discovers ways to make her family farm in Devon more sustainable and ready to compete in tomorrow’s market. It was great to watch with other interested people and discuss the ideas, theories and practices that we saw.

During our stay we were also invited to go to Mario and Isazkun’s city pad in Bilbao, where Isazkun still works part-time. They told us all the nice places to see, and we had a very pleasant time wandering the streets, taking pictures of the giant spider and puppy outside the Guggenheim Museum (we’ll have to wait til we’re rich again to actually go in!), and drinking delicious cold beer by the harbour wall. We like Spain!

We were only at Gibaja for one week, and the end came too soon for us! We said goodbye to everyone and headed off to our next stop, which was in Western Asturias. It’s called Mazo de Mon, and I will sign off here to let Anna work her descriptive magic.

– Dave

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