It’s been a while since the last real update on what I’ve been upto and I’ve almost forgotten what to write about. I’ve had a little over three weeks on the farm here and it’s been incredible. I’ll give you a run down of a typical day…

I get up between seven and eight depending on what we’re going to be doing that day. We start off with a breakfast, which usually takes about half an hour, then we’ll work till between ten and eleven when we have another coffee/tea break. After the break we work for another couple of hours until twelve or one, depending on how hot it’s getting. Once the afternoon heat kicks in around that time, we stop for lunch. Lunch is almost entirely made of home grown stock (about ninety per cent of the stuff we eat is grown on the property). After lunch we take a siesta which can last for the rest of the day if there’s nothing else to do and it’s too hot (the highest temperature here so far has been forty degrees, but it’s usually about thirty six to thirty eight degrees Celsius). Siesta’s can last until dinner time in the evening (we usually eat at about nine when it’s a lot cooler, temperatures are still in the twenties at night). Sometimes if it cools down enough we do another hour of work before starting the evening meal. Occasionally we’ll have to go out to one of the local towns to get something in particular on the afternoon but even more frequently we’ll be invited to a social event. I’ve been told it’s usually only the summer months that Richard and Cathy are invited out so much, but in the last three weeks I’ve been to a ton of parties and gatherings of their friends.

I keep referring to this place as a farm, but a more accurate descriptor would be “smallholding”. Quite simply, Richard and Cathy bought a huge property (which is actually in a Natural Park, though that’s not the same as a National Park, there are restrictions on what you can do on the land) with ancient buildings on it and are renovating them while at the same time becoming more and more self sufficient. Richards main project at the moment is working on an old Portuguese mill (it could possibly be Roman or Moorish but no one knows for sure as the whole area contains a ton of ruins from both periods). Cathy mainly looks after all the crops and animals on the property. There are four Hens (for eggs), three chicks,(raised for meat), two Guinea Fowl (for eggs and eventually meat), three Geese (to mate and then for meat), two dogs and two cats. In the past they’ve also kept pigs, which were raised for meat and are planning on buying more piglets soon. Up until a week or so before I arrived they also had a donkey called Morris, unfortunately it fell and impaled itself on a spike and had to be put down.

As far as amenities go, there is everything you might expect. However, it’s slightly different here. The only electricity comes from some solar panels at the cottage which is at the top of the hill and quite a walk from where we currently work and eat. There is no electricity at the mill and once it starts getting dark we sit by candle light until bedtime. They have no internet, but do have a phone line down to the mill (which is currently broken for some unknown reason). The bathroom isn’t finished yet, so the shower and toilets are outside. There are two compost toilets on the property, which is literally a toilet seat set over a wooden box over a hole in the ground. Eventually, as it decomposes, this is used on the garden. The only shelter from the elements is a wooden structure set up for privacy. The shower is also outside, but since there is no electricity to heat water, it is a solar shower. Basically, there is a rather long black pipe which snakes it’s way around the property from the water tank (also used to water the garden and for washing up etc) which heats up during the day as the sun is on it. This may not sound effective but it definitely is. If you try and have a shower the sun is at its peak you will get scalded by the water. You have to wait until early evening when it’s cooled down a bit to safely take a shower.

The kitchen (again, currently unfinished, they’re looking for a wood fire stove before they can finish it off) is in a small room in the mill. It’s basically a larder with a gas cooker in which is used for most meals. However, outside there is also a permanent barbecue and an old style bread oven which is occasionally heated up for making bread, roasts, pizzas, stews etc. Every meal had been incredibly good so far, having home grown vegetables at every meal is amazing.

So far the work I’ve been involved in has been incredibly varied. While two other helpers were here (Tine and Conner, an engaged couple) we spent nearly two weeks working on restoring an ancient water channel to bring water from the river to the gardens. The channel is half a kilometre long and was full of holes, which needed filling and silt, which needed clearing before the water could be let in. The channel itself was originally Roman at the start, but was extended by the Portuguese later on to bring the water further than the mill it originally served. All up and down the river are ruins of mills which were originally Roman but were still used up until a hundred years or so ago. In fact, one mill on Richard and Cathy’s property was used as recently as about twenty years ago by the old owner’s grandfather. Unfortunately the roof caved in on it a couple of years ago and it’s currently inaccessible.

The rest of my work has been watering the crops using an old irrigation style where the water is made to flow along worked channels, oiling the frames of the windows in the mill, using a strimmer with a two stroke engine to clear areas of overgrown plants, digging out a wheelhouse (where the wheel of the mill would be) to turn into a compost toilet, moving an electric fence (powered by a solar panel) and geese enclosure, pruning olive trees and grape vines as well as other little things here and there.

The area of Portugal I’m in is so rural that it is reported to have one and a half people per square kilometre. The local town of Marvao holds the title of being the highest inhabited town in Portugal. On visiting the castle, which is slightly higher than the town, Richard took us up to the highest point of the highest inhabited town in Portugal. The view was amazing as you could see for miles around, as well as into Spain, which is only a few miles away.

The people here are also amazing. Most of the local Portuguese are of the older generation and they’re fantastic, nothing like the old people you find in England. There are seventy year old men who still walk a couple of miles to their gardens (which are rented, which is why they aren’t on their own property) and spend a few hours watering it all, before carrying sacks of produce home again. Then they repeat the whole thing again in the afternoon. These are hard working people who have spent their entire lives working this way and would be astounded at the kind of laziness exhibited by most English. The older women still go to the local washing place to wash all the clothes by hand and gossip with each other. There is an incredible air of community about these people that is sorely missing in Britain. Every greeting is effusive and heartfelt and goodbyes are long affairs with much kissing of the cheeks and hand shaking. It’s hard to adapt to after years of English stoicism. I’ve also been introduced to a lot of Richard and Cathy’s friends from the area who are a fantastic bunch of people. Some of whom are English, but there are a mix of nationalities in the area as it seems quite a popular place for ex pats of a number of countries.

If I’ve missed anything out that you want to know, leave a question in the comments and I’ll answer it when I can …

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