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The last wisps of mist mystically swirl over the meadows around Alaró. Only the two giant rocks, which tower above the small town in Majorca’s hinterland, can be seen from a distance: the Puig d’Alaró with the old castle ruins on the summit and the Puig de s’Alcadena, colloquially referred to as ‘Witch Mountain’. They were already here during the Iron Age, at the time of the hut dwellers, saw the Romans come and go and were witnesses to the Moorish conquest at the beginning of the 10th century. The Arabs did not stay for long either, however they left clear marks on the cultural landscape: countless dry stone walls and terraced fields traverse the Serra de Tramentura. These made it easier to irrigate the hard ground and the yields increased.

 

 

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               Mallorca – Balearic Islands

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My father always says that work is a constant maturing process.

Elisabet Rotger

For centuries, owners of large estates took advantage of these achievements and produced copious amounts of oranges, figs, almonds and olives. The resulting wealth was particularly visible in their manor houses, the fincas. Enormous estates were built that not only housed the family, but also the numerous workers. Like on the Finca Son Berga, which has stood right behind Alaró for nearly 450 years. “Up to one hundred people used to work here,” explains Elisabet Rotger, known to everyone as Eli. Nowadays there are normally three: Eli herself and her parents, both aged over 70, share the finca – and all of the tasks.

Twelve hours of hard work a day is common, realistically it’s closer to fifteen. “My father always says that work is a constant maturing process,” she says with a smile. Every morning starts in the same way: sweep up the leaves, water the plants, feed the animals. Added to that are the extras: “Earlier today, the vet was here to take blood from all of the sheep and to vaccinate them against bluetongue disease. That was a bit more stressful than usual.”

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EXCHANGING ORANGES FOR DIESEL

The family owns 150 sheep and lambs. Plus several donkeys, which live more or less wild in the sprawling fields. “They are the best vacuum cleaners in the world and keep our land clean,” Eli says, adjusting her glasses and wiping her clean hands on her jeans. In addition, Eli and her parents also cultivate many hectares of arable land with citrus fruits, almonds, olives and carob beans. Nowadays however, the wholesalers only pay around 60 cents for a kilo of oranges. That neither covers the maintenance for the finca nor does it allow Eli to take on seasonal workers. As a matter of principle, Eli therefore sells her fruit at the local petrol station – and in return can fill up her tractor every now and then. Why do you do this to yourself? “For me, this is a jewel,” she says and looks out over the estate. “We want to preserve our heritage – and if possible, in the way it has always been.” Lots of Majorcans have abandoned their fincas. The majority of them were sold to rich foreigners as holiday homes, others fell into disrepair. At Eli’s, you could eat off the floor. There are no leaves on the patio and paths; the buildings are immaculate. Above all else, this is down to her tireless drive: for example, as soon as she sees her many potted plants, she becomes restless. Her hands twitch slightly, her eyes constantly flit to a dry leaf here and there. Weeding serves as a release.

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15 hours of hard work
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The old tractor is Elisabet’s pride and joy.

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Eli worked in the capital, Palma, for ten years – in an event management agency. It was here that she had the idea of how they could rescue the finca: by hiring it out for weddings and events. First of all, and most importantly, she had to win over her father. It then took ten years for final approval to be granted. As Alaró is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, every change requires patience. In 2000, with great dedication, they had finally converted the former sheep barn into an events hall. Since then the animals have been kept outside – just like in the old days. Meanwhile, in summer, the finca is fully booked almost every weekend. Up to 200 guests can be accommodated within the old walls and in the elegant courtyard with the working fountain.

That is for the steep slopes and my father thinks that this is too dangerous for me to do.

Elisabet Rotger
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ŠKODA KODIAQ

Wedding ceremonies take place under the olive trees. Eli and her parents take on the organisation of the events – although with the support of a caterer. Her sister helps with the paperwork. She has no interest in farming, but works as a lawyer in Palma. The city versus the ‘campo’. Suits versus boots. “We’re like oil and water,” says Eli, putting on her straw hat and lovingly running her hand along her tractor which is some 70 years old. The glass in the headlights is cracked, the light only glows dimly. “But it’s my pride and joy.” She was not allowed to take the other tractor next to it anyway. “That is for the steep slopes and my father thinks that this is too dangerous for me to do.” However, if the ‘General’ – as she lovingly and respectfully calls him – isn’t at home, she does of course secretly drive it.

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INHERITED STUBBORNNESS

“The most beautiful thing for me is the sense of community,” says Eli. “We help each other out when someone is sick or with sheep shearing.” The farmers also swap rams in order to bring fresh blood into the herd without changing the old breed. The smell of diesel mixes with scent of the bougainvillea as she drives towards Witch Mountain. The name arose from the legend that witches used to live here. When there is a full moon, it still looks as if a band of cloud is joining the two peaks together. “If you don’t behave, the witches will come to get you; that is what parents used to tell their children,” Eli recalls. Records show that in the Middle Ages, Alaró was the seat of the Spanish Inquisition. Witch burning was not uncommon. “Workers from the finca used to camp up there in huts in order to mine coal but also stone for the buildings and dry stone walls.” Nowadays no one mines anything here. Eli has to quickly check the fences and ancient dry stone walls. Just recently one collapsed due to heavy rainfall. “There is only one man in Alaró who still knows how to repair them. He is 70 and has a bad back.” His son works in Palma and will not continue the tradition.

The most beautiful thing for me is the sense of community, says Eli. We help each other out when someone is sick or with sheep shearing.

Elisabet Rotger

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Abandoned fincas

At her neighbour’s house a column of smoke climbs into the sky. You’re only allowed to prune trees and burn branches in winter. “Ah, we still have to do that,” mumbles Eli. And, wearing her white trainers, she once again climbs a ladder in the middle of her orange trees. She meticulously examines individual fruit, weeding out some. “It’s going to be a good crop this year.” Meaning that she will soon be able to fill her tractor up again.