I’ve been in Coelhosa nearly a fortnight now, and in Portugal nearly six months – how the time has flown! Considering I came here to “scratch an itch” and was almost certain I wouldn’t like living here once I’d tried it, it’s amazing how much I am enjoying life here. Mind you, I wasn’t feeling quite so happy earlier this week …
My first few days in the little house on Coelhosa were busy. Thursday was all about unpacking and making the place homely; Friday I went back to the farm to collect Pickle, and went out for lunch with my friends. Saturday I was busy in the garden, and meeting the neighbours, and Sunday I had a rather fruitless trip back over to the farm to have some minor repairs done to the car – fruitless as the mechanic didn’t show up – and spent the rest of the day playing with Pickle and sorting out my clothes into storage boxes.
Monday, start of a new week … and the doubts began to creep in. Pickle had kept me awake half the night crying at the bedroom door, it was cold and drizzly, and I really didn’t know whether or not I was enjoying this new life. As the day wore on, the voices in my head grew louder and louder … What the hell was I doing here, in the middle of nowhere, without internet or running water? How the hell was I going to clear the land on my own, never mind grow veg? How was I going to keep myself busy? And what was I doing with a dog? I’ve never been a dog person … I admit it – for the first time since I’ve been in Portugal, I was feeling homesick and lost and lonely. I’d been craving solitude all these months, and now I had it I didn’t like it!
I could feel myself slipping into a really dark fug, so despite the rain I dragged myself up, loaded Pickle in the car and headed to Pessegueiro, a larger village with a post office, bar/small shop and “swimming river” – these are very popular in this part of Portugal. The place was deserted, so we had a walk and I had a coffee, caught up on emails and then tried to buy some cigarettes (I know, I know …). Surprisingly, the bar didn’t sell them so I ended up driving in the other direction to a dead end in Foz de Alvares, a bar in Cha de Alvares and shop in Alvares, only to discover that Monday is closing day! I came home in an even worse mood and went to bed early, feeling very sorry for myself.
Tuesday was wet again, but my mood had lifted a little and I decided to do some writing (I’m attempting to write a book about writing books), before driving back to the rather pleasant-looking bar I’d spotted in Cha de Alvares where I had a beer, smiled at the old men and enjoyed watching a little girl playing with Pickle. (And I bought cigarettes …. Bad habit and I will stop!) I had a mini revelation that afternoon – after so many years being there doing things for other people, I was finding it very difficult to be there solely for me, and the voice in my head was constantly telling me what I SHOULD be doing – I should be clearing the land, I should be working, I should be doing something useful. But I realised that this is my life and I can do whatever the hell I want! So I started a new book and read the whole thing in an evening, totally guilt free.
Wednesday was drizzly again, and I could feel the fug descending around me once again. But then I had a very welcome surprise phone call from my best boss ever (hello Wayne!), which made my day. He told me how much he and his missus enjoy reading my blog posts, and how impressed they were with the way I’d embraced life over here … and that really spurred me on to make something of the day.Despite the drizzle I started clearing the land before the rain set in. The local camara (council) came to connect the water – it tastes disgusting, so I’ll still be filling bottles at the natural stream for drinking, but it’s more convenient for washing up etc. And I spent the afternoon doing Zentangle doodles, which was very relaxing.
Thursday I went into Pampilhosa da Serra, to use the internet and to visit the market, but I bumped into my friends and ended up missing the market altogether! It was a gorgeous day and I’d left Pickle at home for the first time, so I relaxed and had a beer, did some shopping, and came home hoping she wouldn’t have trashed the house. And she hadn’t. Good dog!
And then I met Fernando – my part time neighbour. He lives in Lisbon but has land and beehives here, so now and then he comes back to do maintenance etc.
Now Andrea had pre-warned me about Fernando – that he is very generous but decidedly weird. No offence to the guy – but it’s true! He came to my door clutching four oranges, which was a lovely gesture and I happily accepted. We had a chat – he speaks some English, and I’m having a go at a few words in Portuguese – and then he asked me if I liked cheese. “Sim, gosto de queijo,” I replied. “Come, come!” he said, and walked off towards his house. Now I know I shouldn’t go off with strangers, but Andrea had told me he was harmless, and I had Pickle to protect me (haha!!) so off I went. He offered me a seat and a beer (Superbock stout, I didn’t know such a thing existed), then cut a huge cheese in half and gave it to me, along with some crackers. And an apple. And a spoonful of honey, closely followed by a bottle of the stuff. And a bag of rice. And a torch, and an apple and a bar of chocolate. I was a bit taken aback, so I very kindly accepted everything with thanks. Then he took me on a tour of his land and beehives, before waving me back to my house.
An hour later there was a knock on the door. “Alison? You like walnuts?” And there he was with a big bag of walnuts, which he proceeded to pour into my hands. I thanked him, found something to put them in and settled down to watch the last episode of Line of Duty. Another knock at the door. “Alison? You have hammer?” No …. He disappeared and reappeared with a hammer. “For the nuts,” he said, with a beaming smile on his face. I really thought that would be that, but ten minutes later he was back again, this time with a lightbulb. “Your room is too dark,” he said, and promptly changed the bulb. Hmm, okay!
That was the last I saw of him that night, but he has carried on “gifting” me things ever since. I’ve managed to turn down lots of things – kitchen utensils, towels, use of his shower, his TV (seriously!) – but I have ended up with a lettuce, cherries, a bready cake thing, two bottles of alcohol, some potatoes, an orange squeezer, and a slice of bread for the dog. He also spoon-fed me pollen (bleurgh!) and gave me a glass of some honey rice flour milk drink (double bleurgh!) that he apparently swears by.
On Friday I popped back to the farm to do some washing and pick up a bed frame that Andrea had offered me, which another friend kindly brought over for me. Of course Fernando offered to help me build the bed, and then seemed very surprised the next morning when he asked again and I said I’d done it. On my own. People here seem astonished that I am not only capable of living on my own but actually enjoying it!
On Saturday Fernando told me about some of the local places to visit, including a café in Coelhal, which is the next village and probably walking distance. He suggested we go that afternoon, and I was a bit reluctant but also intrigued, as I didn’t know there was a café in Coelhal, so we went in my car and I had a really good time. It’s a “casa de convivio” rather than a café – a kind of community centre, run by the local people. There were only four people there – Maria and Manuel, who are in their 80s, another 80-something Maria, and her son Eldar. They were playing cards – a Portuguese game called Sueca – and I spent a long time watching and trying to work out the rules. Then I spotted a poster on the wall for last year’s festa and saw that it mentioned snooker – though the picture was of a pool table. I asked about it and soon found myself upstairs playing pool with Eldar for a couple of hours (with Fernando, who doesn’t play, giving me completely barmy ‘advice’ involving potting the black at every opportunity!). It was very enjoyable, and I got on well with Eldar, and will maybe go back again some time. He also lives in Lisbon …
So that’s pretty much how the first week or so has gone. I’ve cleared enough land for a small veg patch and am working my way up the garden, cutting down the long grass with a hand scythe. I have fun with Pickle and take her for a walk every evening when she gets a bit hyperactive (it’s true that all dogs have ADHD!). I read a lot, doodle, sit in the sun, listen to podcasts or Portuguese radio. Sometimes I have an afternoon nap. I can get enough 4G to use my phone for email and Facebook, but I can’t get it to work with my laptop, so today I’m going back into Pessegueiro (about 10 mins drive) to upload this post and do a bit of work. I’ve got my cossie and a towel in the car, so you never know, I might be tempted to have a swim. Or I might not. It’s entirely up to me. And I love it!
Oh, one more thing. Lots of people have asked for more details about the village, I think people find it hard to believe that it really is as deserted as I say. The photo at the top of this post shows the devastation caused by the fire – all those bits that should be full of lush green pines are bare (though there are plenty of eucalyptus trees now that have grown since the photo was taken). And below is a close up, showing where my house is. it’s easy to see the houses that survived and those that succumbed to the fire. And again, the photo is quite old … the garden is very overgrown at the moment, and not nearly as bare as it looks here!
The blue circle is around “my” house; the yellow is the compost loo; the green shows the boundary of the garden (there’s more land further down below the house, not in the photo); and the red marker is my crazy neighbour’s house! (The small building at top centre of the photo is a very elaborate shrine, I’ll add a photo of that some other time!)