Hands up how many of you back home were eating pancakes last Tuesday? It was Shrove Tuesday in the UK, but here in Portugal they celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of Lent with Carnaval – which is a pagan rather than religious festival. We were in Pampilhosa da Serra on the Thursday before when the local school took to the streets in a parade, with all the children dressed as superheroes and various teachers as Shrek characters!
I then returned to the town on Sunday for the main Carnaval parade. It was a curious mix of the traditional and the satirical, most of which I didn’t understand, but it was very entertaining all the same! For example, the parade was led by a traditional Bombas band, beating out a rhythm on huge drums, and a giant figure that looked like a man but was wearing a skirt. No idea who it was meant to be. The local bombeiros (firefighters) had a float; a group of kids were wearing clown costumes; and there was a castle with a bevy of princes and princesses. There was also a man in a suit (Businessman? Politician?) in a mobile prison cell; some women who, periodically, pulled out duvets and went to sleep in the middle of the road; and a float of pilots and air hostesses handing out boarding passes for the first flight from a new local airport scheduled for 2050!
However, the float that most caught my attention was Pampilhosa’s answer to the Gilets Jaunes – a big group of people of all ages wearing yellow high viz jackets, carrying placards and accompanied by policemen with plastic batons and comedy moustaches! They had flares and let off “tear gas” and shouted slogans and it was all very atmospheric. I had no idea what they were campaigning for, but translation of the placards later revealed it to include better education, more motorways, and a shoemaker! I had a close encounter when I tried to take a photo and one policia came over to me and pushed his baton in my stomach ….. Police brutality!
After the parade ended, I attempted to buy some farturas – donut-like cakes – for the friends I was with. They come in two varieties – sugar-coated and chocolate-filled – and we wanted the chocolate-filled ones, but despite asking for the right thing I was given a bag of about 7 sugared farturas. I tried again and the guy took the bag away and gave me one chocolate one instead, took my money and waved me away! We ended up leaving the queue, moaning, rejoining the queue and eventually getting our farturas – but by then the chocolate ones had all gone, so we ended up with the sugar ones after all! Mind you, other customers also seemed to be failing to get what they wanted, so maybe it was a problem with the vendor rather than my Portuguese…
School was out for a few days for the Carnival holiday, but from Tuesday to Thursday we had almost constant rain. I woke on Tuesday with the rain hammering down on my caravan roof, and on Wednesday the wind was so strong I thought I’d get blown away! OK, I admit I moaned about the weather A LOT last week, but as Andrea pointed out, it wasn’t actually that bad – in Portugal, the weather tends to go from one extreme to the other, but if I thought this was wet and windy, I hadn’t seen anything yet. And I have to remember that it is still only March! I had some proofreading work to do so was happy to stay inside, but there are still animals to care for, and the rain is no excuse. So I found myself standing around in the rain watching goats munch on grass, getting soaking wet feet while feeding the pigs and leading the sheep to bed in a torrential hailstorm – not helped by one of the dogs scaring the sheep and sending them in all directions. Oh my word, were my hands cold that day!!!
Friday the rain stopped, the sun came out, I resumed my outdoor yoga and all was good with the world. We had our regular Portuguese lesson and then went over to take a look at Andrea’s other house in Coelhosa. This is the one she bought back in 2005 when she first came to Portugal. In fact, she owns quite a few bits of houses, though only one that’s intact and habitable, and a fair amount of land. Sadly, fire swept through the village in 2017 – fortunately the house was untouched but much of the land was burned, including the entire olive grove behind the house. It was very sad to see the blackened trees, but also good to find saplings and signs of life as nature reclaims its place here.
The warmth of the last few weeks, followed by a few days of rain, meant the land has erupted in an explosion of colour. Parts of the terraces are covered with a carpet of white flowers like a layer of snow, the roads are lined yellow with mimosa blossom, and tiny flowers are popping up all over the place. It’s very pretty and I love finding flowers I’ve never seen before. I’ve even picked a few to press and keep in my journal!
On Saturday I saved a duck from potential death …. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but I did do a good deed. There are two white Muscovy ducks who can’t fly, so you have to make sure they are in the duck shed at night in case of predators. When I put the birds to bed one was missing, which was odd. I went down to feed the little pigs and spotted a duck in there that was so coated in mud that it took me a while to realise it was the white duck! She didn’t look very well at all, so I managed to get her out – getting covered in pig poo-infested mud in the process, ewww! I put the duck near some water so she could wash herself, but she seemed pretty traumatised, so I tried to wipe off some of the muck and put her in the duck shed, in a quiet area. When Andrea was on a break from work, I let her know, and we brought the duck into the house and tried to wash some of the mud from her. She had some damage to one of her eyes – it could be that the little pigs roughed her up a bit while she was in there. Anyway, she spent a couple of nights in a dog cage in the workshop, and despite laying an egg the next morning she didn’t look too good – very weak, and she didn’t seem to be able to see. She perked up yesterday and was preening, eating and drinking, and today we have put her outside. Although she hasn’t moved far, she seems happy enough, so fingers crossed she will be okay. If not, it’ll be duck soup for lunch! The reality of life on a working animal farm, I guess…
One more quick animal story for you before I end this post. Yesterday I was outside doing my yoga as the sun appeared over the top of the mountain. The sheep were out and wandered over to where I was sitting on my yoga mat, relaxing after the workout. The little lamb was very interested in my feet – he sniffed them, licked them and nibbled my toes! He then came over and let me stroke him, and started gently butting his face against my hand. I can imagine this won’t be such a lovely experience when he is a fully-grown ram, but right then it felt like a really special moment and certainly not something I’d ever have experienced in my old life back home.
Oh, and I also came very close to treading on a fire salamander! Perfectly harmless so long as you don’t lick it…!