I don’t think we’ve ever been anywhere as remote; not just the two of us, alone for miles.
Well, except for the five dogs, four chickens, three cats, and two horses we’re looking after.
We are housesitting a farm in the Spanish Alpujarras, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Andalucia. To get anywhere we first have to navigate the windy dirt track, with its treacherous hairpin turns, for about 15 minutes until we reach the smooth tarmac. The nearest shop is a 30 minute drive; for more choice it’s 40 minutes to Orgiva. Going anywhere is a hot, dusty, bumpy mission, and we only leave the farm once a week to stock up on supplies.
We don’t see anyone all week, except occasionally a shepherd slowly leading his herd up the steep mountain opposite us; the bells of the sheep jangling like dissonant panpipes.
The farm is on a hill and to get anywhere involves an up or downhill climb. The house is a simple Alpujarran dwelling, whitewashed and boxy. Upstairs the living area and kitchen lead on to the terrace where we eat our meals with views of the valley.
Below the house there’s a vegetable patch where we pluck sweet cherry tomatoes, giant courgettes, beans, and peppers. Next door are the chickens; we appreciate their eggs even if they only manage one a day.
Throughout the farm are fruit trees, tantalisingly out of season: olives, almonds, figs, prickly pears, grapes. The orange trees have enough fruit from last season to provide my breakfast juice. The yellow plums are in season though, and best of all, the mulberries.
Mulberry picking is quite a challenge. The trees are on the edge of a terrace, so I cling precariously to branches while trying to reach the fruit. It’s a messy business: I end up splattered purple, looking like I’ve been in a massacre. They are so sweet, and the hunt is addictive: I can’t stop pushing branches aside looking for another jewel. I have some competition though: the horses love the mulberries too.
Further down the hill is the stables where the two good-natured horses Sombra and Toro hang out. They are free to wander around the farm, but on these long summer days they prefer the shade of the stable, munching hay and swatting flies.
At the bottom of the valley is the river, and the track alongside it is the only vaguely flat place around here. This is where I run in the mornings (I’ve just started training for a half-marathon I hope to do in California in October), along with four bounding dogs. We run through streams, past bushes of pink oleander, with the sweet scent of wild mint.
Does it sound idyllic?
Well, it is, some of the time. But it also has its challenges, and is by far the most difficult housesit we’ve ever done.
The house is off the grid, so we’re responsible for our own water and electricity supply. Most of the time the solar panels cover our needs, but if the power goes out we have to sort it out. Our water comes from a mountain spring and is stored in tanks high above the house. If there’s a problem then Simon goes traipsing up the hill to investigate.
We get our drinking water direct from a spring down by the river. The house owners have stuck a pipe into a rock and out comes cool, pure spring water. Delicious, but an extra task to do, filling up bottles every day.
We’ve discovered it’s a lot of work to run a farm. Our routine begins at sunrise when we feed and water the cats, dogs, chickens, and horses: with 14 animals this takes a while. I also prepare the stable and clean up the horse droppings.
Three times a week we go horse riding up into the mountains; heading out just after sunrise before it gets too hot and the flies become ravenous. It’s a luxury to be able to ride such beautiful horses as often as we like. They are fast (they were banned from a local race as each year one of them would always win), and galloping on the mountain trails is an exhilarating experience.
The hot, languid afternoons are quiet; the house full of sleeping dogs and cats. The only sounds the rumbling of the river and the buzzing of flies, until the cicadas start their chainsaw roar. We attempt to get some work done before succumbing to an afternoon siesta, or a dip in the plunge pool. Amazingly, we have pretty good WiFi here.
Around 6 or 7pm when the sun begins to relent we’ll begin the evening routine—feeding the animals, watering the many terraces, mucking out the stables, and taking the dogs for a walk. Four of them are full of energy again by the evening, running off to chase wild boar and foxes, play fighting with each other. The fifth, Sierra, is an elderly husky with lung cancer. This walk is really for her, to get her out of the house. We walk at her slow pace, taking frequent stops to let her enjoy the cool river water and chase after frogs.
Lastly we put the chickens to bed, and finally sit down to dinner on the terrace.
But this is a normal day, if everything goes according to plan. Things go wrong here—a lot.
Electricity stops working; pipes burst; sprinklers explode; fridge gas runs out; dogs poop on rugs; cats vomit on doormats; horses break into hay barns; dogs need eye drops; dogs do everything possible to avoid eye drops.
And I’m not even going to go into how the jeep ended up stuck here…
It’s also the most memorable housesit we’ve ever done. It’s a privilege to have such a stunning, peaceful place all to ourselves. It’s rewarding to see the animals start to trust us, to come to us for affection. It’s liberating to ride alone up into the mountains. It’s a treat to have access to a well-equipped kitchen and I’ve taken advantage, baking cakes and homemade bread, and cooking up a decadent 15 dish meal for our 15th anniversary.
It took us a while to adjust to life here, to accept when things went wrong, let the frustration go, and focus on problem solving; to appreciate the beauty and tranquility, and ignore the heat and dust and flies. Ultimately, the most challenging experiences are the ones we remember the most, and I know we’ll miss it when we leave.
We’ve housesat multiple times in our 4+ years on the road, in Japan, Argentina, Florida, and San Francisco. We love it as a way to experience a place like a local, visit places we’d never otherwise visit, be temporary pet owners, and, of course, save on accommodation costs.
Here are our tips to get started housesitting:
- Join a Housesitting Website – We find our housesits on two sites: MindMyHouse and Trusted Housesitters. Both are good options, although Trusted Housesitters is growing fast and has more listings.
- Sign Up For Emails – Housesitting is competitive these days and you need to apply quickly when housesits are listed. The best way is to sign up for email alerts from the above sites and apply as soon as new housesitting assignments come in.
- Keep Trying – Don’t expect a response from every application—you’ll likely need to apply to multiple housesits before you’re successful.
- Get References – If you haven’t done any housesitting before, try asking friends and family if they know anyone who needs a sitter. Without experience you might still be able to get a housesit if you are flexible on location and dates—winter in Wisconsin is going to be easier to get than summer in Tuscany.
- Create a Detailed Profile – Make sure you have a detailed profile that lists your relevant experience, and that you send a personal application. The Globetrotter Girls’ ebook Break Free: The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting has a really helpful section on writing a winning profile and application, as well as personal anecdotes and a huge amount of information on all aspects of housesitting for both sitters and home owners. We highly recommend it if you’d like to get started housesitting.
- Know What You Are Getting Into – Housesitting isn’t just free accommodation; it’s a responsibility. As you can see from our housesit it can be a lot of work, so make sure you know what you are getting into and ask lots of questions before you commit.
The link to TrustedHousesitters is an affiliate link, so we receive a small commission if you sign up with them. We’ve been members ourselves for years and highly recommend them if you want to try housesitting. Thanks for supporting this site by using the link.
Are you planning your travels for 2018? See our Travel Resources page for our favourite tools and gear to help you plan the perfect trip.