Happy travels

After parting ways with Mark and Chelsea, the two of us stayed at the beach-side campsite another few nights to sort our things out, unwind and make a plan.  Our next stop is going to be in southern Portugal where family friends Jacquie and Neal have just bought a beautiful plot of land and have interesting plans for it.  But we took our time getting there and enjoyed some sightseeing on the way.

Our first stop was the last town in Spain before the border.  We organised a night of air bnb in Tui and turned up around 4pm in the hot sunshine.  Our room was in a lovely house in the suburbs – gardens and vegetable patches around each house and a river trickling between the rows of buildings.  Tui was very pretty and we enjoyed strolling around in the hot sun, stopping on a quiet street for the occasional beer and browsing the markets with the crowds.

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Stolling in the market in Tui

The next day we headed for a campsite by the river Douro and met a Quebecois cycle tourist called Erik who was keen for some company.  He’d been riding around Portugal alone for 6 weeks and had hardly met anyone!  So we shared food and beer and stories on plastic chairs by the river and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

1 with Eric

Hanging out with Erik and the bike he got when he was 19!

That part of Portugal appeared to be almost nothing but eucalyptus plantation.  The stuff grows very quickly in this climate and can be harvested every 8 years, so it’s all over the place.  And for at least two days, we saw pretty much nothing else!  So we were excited to do a boardwalk in the region called Passadicos do Paiva that had been recommended to us.  Even as we drove towards it, the eucalyptus monoculture continued, only giving way where it had been recently felled.  In fact, the car park for the walk was in a eucalyptus plantation!  This place must really be a wildlife island in a sea of barren forestry.

We got to the start of the walk by the lovely river and started to see a few patches of deciduous woodland.  Then we climbed up the wooden boardwalk steps past cork oak trees and gorse bushes, the land apparently regenerating after having been abandoned.  There were areas where you could make out old terraces with stone walls, so the land here was probably farmed in recent times and now it is starting to rewild itself in the absence of human activity.  All around the valley, the edges of plantations are visible, and there are even a few eucalyptus trees in the valley, but happily it seems to have escaped the worst of civilisation.  We had a lovely walk and stopped in the shade by the river at the far end for lunch before heading all the way back.

2 steps steps steps

The boardwalk at Passadicos do Paiva

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Enjoying a break in the shade

We continued south and eucalyptus gave way to agricultural land and sprawling villages.  The next stop on the way south was the medieval walled town of Obidos, recommended by Jacquie.  We found a lovely campsite nearby and drove into the town after lunch.  Obidos is a fabulous place – a gorgeous old town with a wonderfully restored wall that you can walk all the way around, pretending you’re looking out for attacking armies!  We spent all afternoon wandering around, enjoying the sights and having a drink in a courtyard under the shade of a lemon tree.  Sometimes it’s great to be a tourist!

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Patrolling the wall

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The town of Obidos

Today was our last day before we head to Jacquie and Neal’s tomorrow.  We passed Lisbon and enjoyed a change of scenery from farmland to cork oak forest.  The oaks have their outer layer of bark harvested from the trunk every 8 years for cork, but they still look grand and gnarly.  And between the trees the sandy soil is covered with grasses and wildflowers, buzzing with insects and singing with birds.  I think it’s the most beautiful industrial landscape I’ve ever seen.  Drink more wine!

We stopped off in a lovely little village for lunch where a crowd of people were having a BBQ.  It was a Dutch family who moved there 30 years ago and their Portuguese neighbours who welcomed us with beer and food, which was delightful.

Tomorrow we will arrive with Jacquie and Neal to share stories and knowledge and lend a helping hand.  I’m looking forward to it!

– Anna

Gibaja with Mario, Isazkun and Maya

After saying bye to Richard and Suzanne until June, we headed east towards Bilbao. We were going to stay for one week with Mario, Izaskun and their two year old daughter Maya outside a little village called Gibaja near the Basque Country. The family met us in a bar in Gibaja, and after buying us a beer and everyone introducing themselves, we headed back to the homestead. It is a great place. They have taken an old agricultural building with five acres of hilly pasture and turned it into a really beautiful and comfortable family home with a big vegetable garden, a chicken shed, a greenhouse and the beginnings of a forest garden. There is loads of work still to do but Mario (who is there full time) has a lot of energy and the drive to get it done. We will be fascinated to see how it looks in ten years time! We were also excited to meet Marnie, the family’s huge Mastine. She is three years old, extremely playful and very much a bull in a china shop!

Anna with Marnie

Anna quickly doing some work while Marnie is distracted

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In the veg garden

01 Snail

Anna’s snail

During our stay along with two other volunteers, Joe and Monika, we developed a terrace for planting, weeded the forest garden (the trees are still very small) and helped to build a chicken tractor. This is a moveable chicken shed with open floors which can be placed on vegetable beds while they are fallow, allowing the chickens to fertilise the ground as well as scratch up pests and unwanted seeds. Everything Mario is doing is based on permaculture principles. He is capturing rainwater, introducing terraces to retain water and trying to set things up so that things run themselves wherever possible. It was really good to see someone just starting out who is really thinking about the long-term implications of the decisions he makes now, and hopefully saving himself a lot of work (and fertiliser) in the long run!

One of the things we really liked about Mario was that he is really enthusiastic and open minded about sustainable practices, but at the same time he is quite analytical and cynical – a rare combination! One evening we watched “A Farm for the Future”, which is a BBC documentary following a young Farmer as she discovers ways to make her family farm in Devon more sustainable and ready to compete in tomorrow’s market. It was great to watch with other interested people and discuss the ideas, theories and practices that we saw.

During our stay we were also invited to go to Mario and Isazkun’s city pad in Bilbao, where Isazkun still works part-time. They told us all the nice places to see, and we had a very pleasant time wandering the streets, taking pictures of the giant spider and puppy outside the Guggenheim Museum (we’ll have to wait til we’re rich again to actually go in!), and drinking delicious cold beer by the harbour wall. We like Spain!

We were only at Gibaja for one week, and the end came too soon for us! We said goodbye to everyone and headed off to our next stop, which was in Western Asturias. It’s called Mazo de Mon, and I will sign off here to let Anna work her descriptive magic.

– Dave


We spent a lovely few days with Richard and Suzanne at Basieda. We helped to tidy up the weeds in an old ruin and cleaned up the garden in preparation for paying guests. In our free time we visited friends who are hoping to begin a sustainable community in the area, and met their friends who are full time beekeepers, which was a very interesting diversion. We also went to the local natural history museum with Pili, who helps Richard and Suzanne around the house. Pili took us back to her place for coffee and a delicious cake which Anna describes as a cheese-custard tart-flan thing. It tasted great anyway! We also met Pili’s teenage daughter and her 83-year old father, who was busy sharpening a scythe when we showed up ready for a relaxing afternoon cutting the grass.

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Giant (and sadly dead) sweet chestnut tree

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The river through Potes

We drove around the area visiting all the little villages we could find and seeing what kind of properties were for sale. We love the area, the question is, can we afford to live there?? Towards the end of our stay, Richard and Suzanne made us an offer; in return for three mornings a week plus chauffeuring them to town and back they are willing to let us stay in one of the apartments  from June till September. Of course we were delighted to accept, as this will let us spend more time exploring the area from a very plush home base!

01 Balcony view

View from the terrace

– Dave