Nerja resident Daniel Kruyer goes olive picking in Granada Province

You don’t have to be mad to pick olives….. No, that’s it. You really don’t have to be mad to pick olives. You do need to be reasonably fit and, depending at what altitude above sea level the olives you are picking happen to be, you may need to don some warm undies. Oh and the one thing I would strongly recommend, and this may say more about me than the task itself, is some form of protective covering for one’s finger nails. After examining the thumbnail of my right hand my pedicurist could only gaze sympathetically into my eyes, shake her head and sigh. It was like a scene from Doctors but without the melodrama. I may have a terminal nail condition but the satisfaction of having done four days of solid hard graft somehow makes it worth it.

The advantage of being a ‘guest picker’ is that you can down tools and head off home when you’ve had enough. It’s a bit like being the tree’s grandparent. After you’ve had the pleasure of them for a day or two, you just give them a hug and return them back to their parents. Of course it is very different when the trees belong to you and the responsibility of their upkeep is your own; this is the case with two dear friends of mine.

Don’t underestimate the responsibility in the eyes of others. If you don’t ‘bring’ in the harvest every year, then while you may not incur the displeasure of the gods, the chances are you will be on the lower end of your neighbour’s nose when, as you walk into your local for a swift cana, he points it in your direction and looks down it. To allow the crop to rot on the tree is sinful. Of course for him it’s a bit different. When the harvesting season arrives he solicits the help of his whole family. Their harvesting season becomes yet another excuse for a fiesta and a good time is shared by all. But if you are a small holder, with 90 trees and no immediate family living local enough to man the pumps, then the job is considerably more difficult and altogether more daunting. A grove of 90 trees, suddenly can stretch as far as the eye can see.

olive picking nerjaHaving made the journey from Nerja to their home in Granada Province, I arrived, raring to go. They had already spent a week or so in the grove ‘Tree Bashing’ and so welcomed I think the opportunity of a break and catch up over a cuppa. The tea drunk and the car unpacked it was back to the age-old and hitherto un- bettered method of procurement. It involves spreading a fine mesh net over as large an area as possible around the base of a tree and then with a long piece of wood, quite literally bashing the bejeezus out of it until its fruit rains down on top of you and or into the net. Of course more than a few are likely to miss the net all together and as they role away down embankments and into ditches seemingly in an effort to escape the (olive) press, it is impossible to resist the urge to chase, find and retrieve them as if each and every one were as valuable as an emerald. It is a feeling that defies logic but seems to be the shared experience of anyone who has been through it. Of course you realise, as you scramble around on all fours inflicting more damage on your kneecaps than any ‘gangland punishment’ squad could ever hope to achieve, the time spent in the attempt to ‘rescue’ the itinerant runaways, would be put to better use just gathering up those that have given themselves up gracefully to the net, before moving onto the next tree. But no! Something in you is screaming. Every last one that the tree has yielded to your shoulder dislocating efforts must end up in your bucket with the rest of them.

Then there are the ‘Ghost’ olives that are not visible to the naked eye until after you have consigned their fallen comrades to the bucket and begun rolling up the net prior to moving along the line. The ones who just appear dangling in great multitudinous bunches from the branches high in the tree like roosting vampire bats eyeing up their prey before swooping down and divesting it of its life’s blood…. But I digress a bit. Those whose quantities don’t quite justify the replacement of the net but exist in just too great a number to leave for the birds. It is at this point that the chain saw is brought from the shed. A worrying sight as a middle aged man who hasn’t climbed a tree since he was thirteen and whose only experience of a chain saw is having seen the movie, ascends the tree ever mindful of the close proximity of the neck of the individual who has volunteered to place his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder. The branch falls to the ground, and turning your hand into the shape of a claw, you run it down the length of its smaller branches. The olives fall with a gratifying clunk, clunk, clunk into your bucket. The bucket, the black, rubbery kind that you buy from the Viveros hold something in the region of 7.5 Kgs. Worth knowing if you ever find your self at the village fete and they have a ‘guess how many olives in the bucket competition’. Only now does it occur to me that perhaps I should have counted how many olives there are to the kilo.

The sun lowers and the birds tweet around us as we trim the branches of the leaves and twigs, leaving them in piles to dry before being used as kindle to light the living room stove.

A slight ‘twinge’ in the shoulder? Nothing to worry about. More a permission to go into the house and take a hot shower. The day makes me feel totally justified in looking forward to that cold beer that awaits me in the fridge which, sometimes dear reader, I have to say after a hard day on the sun bed isn’t always the case. A hot home cooked dinner, the calorie content of which I won’t even give a thought to and then, by Nerjan standards, a relatively early night. Something tells me I won’t need to read tonight in order to get off to sleep.

I kick off my muddy shoes as I enter the house; take a quick look back across the tree tops as the sun is swallowed up by the Sierra Nevadas. I can’t promise to be up in the morning in time to see it reappear, but I’ll try not to be far behind it. After all there are still an awful lot of olives out there.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Kruyer. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without written permission.

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