Going Local in the Portuguese countryside

22 Jun
Relaxing at the pool, euh, watertank

Relaxing at the pool, euh, watertank

Visiting my sister and family in Portugal is like going back in time: back to the countryside (where I grew up) but then in the Portuguese mountains instead of the Flemish lowlands. A typical visit there has become staying in a tent in the garden, living at the rhythm of the kids, enjoying nature (hardly anything else around) and some desperate attempts to stay in touch with the rest of the world via the one internet connection 10km away. But still I’m charmed by it and might move out of the city myself…
Bye bye Belgium

The village just before you reach the middle of nowhere

The village just before you reach the middle of nowhere

My oldest sister (cum husband and kids) went on holidays to Portugal 25 years ago… and never came back. They liked the laid back countryside up in the Portuguese mountains so much that they bought a little ruin there with lots of fields around it. They even had their own water source and a waterfall in the river curling through their fields. My brother-in-law who’s a carpenter gradually turned the ruin into a 5 star house, and my sister gets most of their food from her terraced garden, all organic of course. I guess my sis and her husband could be counted to the hippy generation, the ‘back-to-nature’ generation (quite some of those around here).

Favourite niece & kids

Favourite niece, kids & countryside

Their two daughters started going to school in Portugal and are now happily married with children – and Portuguese husbands. So if I want to visit my favourite niece and family in Portugal this involves a 2 hour flight to Oporto covering 2000km – plus a car journey of about 180 km that takes just as much time. From the Oporto airport there’s a 1 hour highway, then 40 minutes provincial road, 15 minutes local windy roads through the forests, followed by 1 km dirt track through the fields. Welcome to Portugal interior – the middle of nowhere.

Back to basics in the countryside

Their little house on the prairie

Their little house on the prairie

Say goodbye to the hustle and bustle of the city life. Here the noise of the traffic is replaced by the birds in the morning and the crickets in the evening. Forget about buses or trams, you either have a car or walk (read: stay at home). The smell of pollution is replaced by the smell of the pine woods or orchards. Bye bye fancy restaurants, hello burps & farts. And if you want to use your mobile phone you need to go outside and lift your handset up in the air, because that’s the only way to get connection in the mountains…

My only link to the world outside

My only link to the world outside

The only link to internet in many miles around is at the municipal internet space where access to websites about the regional Dao wine (we wanted to visit some wine-producers) is denied because they are categorized as ‘drugs’… (so 99% of people in Portugal must be ‘drugs’ addicts). Sites like ‘gayromeo.com’ are blocked cuz categorized as ‘sex’. So either there are no gays around (seems like it), or they have alternative hunting techniques? (surely not in the local gay bar, because there are none). So by now my blog is probably also on their black list because of the frequent use of the horrible unacceptable word composed of 3 letters: G, A, Y ;-)

My lodging for a month...

My lodging for a month...

I’m staying at my niece’s house – a nice little house ‘on the prairie’ (only fields, olive trees and vineyards around). I’m lodging in a tent – the alternative would be with the 2 daughters – including nightmares, night light and early wake-ups… So I was quite happy with at least a little bit of own space. The tent is set up in the garage because it wasn’t water proof anymore. But during a heavy thunder storm, it turns out that the garage is not water proof either! The rain was blown into the chimney by the gusts of wind and flooded the garage. The water nicely penetrated the bottom of the tent and was then nicely sucked up by mattress. Sleeping on a sponge is not all that cozy so we put a condom over the chimney…

The mobile generation (as good and as bad as I can)

Playing in the pool - euh - tank

Playing in the pool - euh - tank

Being stuck in the house is not my cup of tea either, even though there’s a huge garden, with an irrigation tank converted to swimming pool, and a swing and a slide (kid size, but still ;-) So I improvised some wheels – I managed to get only two though: an old bike, which fortunately had enough gears to go up and down the mountains. It took me 45 minutes and lots of sweat to get to the nearest town (and internet and shops) – 30 more minutes to visit my sister… And all this in the scorching sun – it’s like being in a turbo tanning tube, sauna and gym at the same time – and all this for free ;-)

Some might consider biking in Portugal dangerous and out-of-your-mind’ish because the Portuguese racing around the corners of the windy roads are all but used to bikes on the road… So only crazy foreigners bike around here. On top of that, going up the mountains is a quite wobbly affair, in 1st gear (pedaling like crazy to move a few inches forward, or should I say upward), and going down you reach speeds well above the hilly speed limits. Add to this that my bag got stuck in my back wheel – so all of a sudden my wheel blocked and I slid down the slope leaving a skid mark as normally only cars do… until I came to a standstill and had to operate on my entangled bag’n’bike composition.

Living life at the rhythm of kids, kitchen & cats

One of the 'external factors' hehe

One of the 'external factors' hehe

Life here is pretty much determined by external factors (way more than I’m used to). My niece has two lovely kids, and a whole deal of constraints with them:

  • they wake up, they make sure we wake up too
  • they get up, we better get our arses downstairs as well to see what they are up to
  • they are hungry, it avoids lots of wars to feed them immediately
  • etc
Local church, local village, un-local guy

Local church, local village, un-local guy

Shops are at 20 minutes by car, so if you want to eat, you need to plan. Or you adapt to what nature gives you. I was there at the end of cherry season, plum season in full speed and apricot season lurking around the corner. This means that every meal involved plums in some way or another: plum jam, plums for desert, yoghurt with plums, etc… Luckily my stomach was trained by 6 months Asia and I avoided the usual plum-overdose effects on the body.

And the cats? I invaded their territory – well, my niece actually put my tent in the middle of it… (they sleep & eat there) So it turns out that those animals like to go to bed late – purring their way around my tent to find a place to lay their heads – which for sure is across some noisy surfaces like scratching plastic, or the tin roof. (I thought the garage was invaded by mice the first time I heard them scurrying around!) In the morning the 2 cats love to dive into their bowl of crunchy (read noisy) cat food, smacking and chewing… Isn’t it great to be so much in touch with ‘nature’.

Countryside – here I come!

I wouldn't say no to this house & landscape

I wouldn't say no to this house & landscape

Still I think I’m ready for moving to the countryside myself. I always thought being in the city would make it easier to go to concerts & events, but in the 8 years I lived there I only went 2 or 3 times to a concert. So that’s not really worth putting up with all the noise, dirt, graffiti, crowds, etc. I wouldn’t say no to a garden, to more space, to peace and quite, to birds and crickets (like here).

Life under a pink umbrella - (im)possible?

Life under a pink umbrella - (im)possible?

What I miss in the city is ‘overview’ – knowing what is happening. Instead, the city mostly offers ‘overkill’ – too many things happening at the same time. Like here in the village, nothing happens, but if something does happen, it is THE thing that happens and everybody joins in. So no need for choosing – just go with the flow…

  • The only little concern… what if indeed there are not the usual 10% of us… (In other words: Is it possible to have a gay life in the countryside?  To be explored ;-)
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