[The Spanish word “corral” means a fenced-off place where animals are kept. I have retained it in this translation because there is no equivalent English word – “farmyard” is too grand, and “pen” implies something smaller.]
The Coracha was my favourite place. I would go up the Calle Galán Caballero y Atahona until I reached an old track leading through the corrales. From there I could see the whole town, the “Prao” [Prado] and the Lario. One day my father said to me: “I'm going to give you a piglet and a couple of rabbits to raise.” Now that I'm older I would get lost up there, it's changed so much and I wouldn't be able to remember where I'd had the corral. There was a sort of lane with shacks and corrales on both sides.
It was about 250 metres below the wall and tower of the castle. The coracha was a sort of wall, which protected the path between the water tank of the Beaterio and the fortress. Locally the whole area round there was also known as La Coracha. The wall ended at the Water Tower, which contained the Beaterio water tank and the fortress itself. At some time it must have had a crenellated walkway which joined both buildings, i.e. an authentic Arab construction. But the French, in the War of Independence, burnt the fortress and the structure disappeared.
On that side of the wall, people had made corrales to raise domestic animals. The owner of the corral was a friend of my father and agreed to let us use it The man told us that, with the household leftovers from ourselves and our neighbours, we would have enough to feed the piglet, but if we ran short, we would have to supplement its feed with bran or maize. The rabbits should be fed on some sort of leaves which we could find on the Coracha or the Prado.
It all started off well. My brother Pepe and I collected the scraps from the houses and carried two bucketfuls to the piglet every evening. We gathered a sackful of tender leaves and grasses from the Coracha for the rabbits. The piglet grew and the rabbits multiplied prodigiously. One day we saw coming out of the den a string of little grey and white bunnies. That was a true miracle, which made us realise the amazing power of animals to reproduce.
After six months the piglet had grown into a pig of significant size, and the rabbit colony numbered around thirty. We were still enthusiastic but we could no longer get enough scraps, and the greens from the Coracha had finished. My brother Pepe was distraught, and I didn't know what to do. I asked Manolo Mancilla for help and he came some evenings to lend me a hand. But one weekend, when we had been playing football on the Playa, we forgot to feed the animals.
When I went back on Monday afternoon I was a bit worried. The pig stuck its snout in the bucket of scraps and swallowed the lot before I could do anything. But when I turned round, I was devastated. There on the ground the rabbits lay slaughtered. I found a hole in the wall, and thought that either the pig had done it, or else a snake. I went home in tears.
My father consoled me and gave me a lesson: “Look son, animals which live together don't harm each other, not unless they are hungry or their young are in danger. The first thing you must do is not to let them go short of food; the second, make it secure so no vermin can get in and kill the young. Set a trap by the hole that it made, and wait and see what gets caught.”
I did so, and in a few days a strange creature, like a big rat with a long tail, was caught in the trap. A neighbour told me that it was a weasel and that it was very hard to breed rabbits because there were so many of them. That was the end of the rabbits and the pig. My father said he would give his friend back the corral, along with the pig and the remaining rabbits.
I breathed a sigh of relief, because the pig and the rabbits had become a responsibility which I couldn't carry on alone. My brother Pepe didn't want to carry on the work either and it was better to let them go. But that experience of raising animals served me well throughout my life. Plants and animals are beings which, like all living things, need food, care and respect. In exchange, they give us their company, their friendship and their produce. This requires that they are treated humanely and well cared for.
Translated by Claire Lloyd