Interesting times

The veg garden is going nicely. We have tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, beetroot, cucumbers and lots and lots of lettuce growing well! We have also sowed carrots, coriander, turnip greens and broccoli raab (Anna tells me these last two are to be eaten like salad, mmmm, turnip salad!), and some of these have germinated already. In addition, we have carrots, beetroot, melons, courgette, basil, more coriander and more pumpkin seedlings growing in pots on the balcony. Feeling very green-fingered!

Don’t like to dwell on the weather, but there have been some nice atmospheric phenomena!

We took a trip to Mario and Izaskun’s place last week to say Hi. Mark and Chelsea, our friends from Mazo de Mon were volunteering there so we all met up for lunch and had a good chat.   It was great to see everyone again, to hear plans (Mark and Chelsea are heading to the UK soon for a visit) and to see what has been going on at Mario and Izaskun’s project. Mark and Chelsea have been busy strimming and weeding; the veg garden looks much tidier and the fields have been tamed a little bit. One thing I have realised is that if you want a lot of land out here, you either need to get to love your strimmer, or get some livestock to keep the grass down!

At Mario's

Like 48.1% of the voting population of the UK we got a very nasty shock last Friday when we woke up to hear the UK has voted to leave the EU. We think this is a tragedy for many reasons, and of course it puts our own future here in Spain in some doubt. We are thinking to just get Spanish residency as soon as possible in the hope that it will stand us in good stead if we need to apply for citizenship in future. Just one more sad little result from an all round bad situation!

On a brighter note we went to look at some more land on Friday with our friendly local Estate Agents, they had managed to find us some good sized plots which could work pretty well. Now we just need to make sure we can afford it since our savings are only worth 90% of what they were on Thursday evening!

We finally made it out today for our second walk since arriving back at Olmares. We went for a three-peak challenge, climbing Peña Carazo (2012 m) then walking the ridgeline over El Carazuelo (2021 m) and El Castro (1995 m). It was a glorious day, sunny but quite cool up top, with some cloud to break up the UV! We found a colony of griffon vultures using the thermals generated by the ridge to soar over the landscape, occasionally dropping onto something dead and fighting each other for the tastiest cuts! Spectacular birds as always, and it was great to see them doing their job, clearing up the bodies, preventing disease and keeping the place tidy!

three peaks

Our three peaks – the sharp one on the left and the two in the middle

the way back

The walk out

picos on way home

Picos in the distance on the way home


– Dave

Settling in for the Summer

We waved goodbye to Jacquie and Neal and hit the road north.  It was a 14 hour drive, so we broke it up and spent two nights in the middle at a glamping site in eastern Portugal.  My sister had told me about Senses Camping last year but we couldn’t make it there on the cycle tour.  This time we weren’t going to miss it!  As well as looking forward to pitching up without being surrounded by motor homes, I was keen to talk to the owners about how it went setting up something that’s so unusual in Spain and Portugal.

Michel and Natasha welcomed us on Friday evening and we pitched up as the sun went down.  On Saturday we enjoyed exploring the area – a beautifully lush green valley scattered with pretty villages – before finding some time to chat to them in the afternoon. They gave us loads of great advice and couldn’t have been nicer!  Then we helped Michel in the vegetable garden in return for joining their BBQ dinner with their friends from up the lane.  We had a wonderful evening chatting and eating veggie burgers and salad freshly prepared from their garden produce.  Senses camping is a beautiful venue and a shining example of what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.  I hope we will be able to do something like that with our own vision.

Just before we departed on Sunday, the neighbour Olle showed us around his communal garden.  A group of 10 people live there and it’s his job to make sure they are all fed from the land – a task which he appears to have risen to!  We enjoyed a tour of the garden and interesting discussions about gardening techniques, then we had to get back on the road.

We drove some of the route we’d taken on our bikes last year, crossing the border into Spain, going past Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca, covering the distance of a two day ride in a few hours.  Then we headed north through endless boring, flat fields, trying not to fall asleep after last night’s party.  Just when we thought the monotony would never end, all of a sudden we were in the mountains!  Wide open valleys of lush forest gave way to steeper valleys, and we climbed over a pass through the clouds then descended towards our destination – the beautiful village of Basieda.  Red roofs nestled into the mountain side in a never ending forest.  We were back at Olmares.

This is where we were a month or so ago.  The owners of the Olmares holiday apartments are Richard and Suzanne, who offered us an apartment in return for some work over the summer.  It’s working out well so far – we work a little most days to cover our accommodation but still have plenty of time for planning, investigating, integrating, exploring and planting the veg garden!

Things are good, but it’s a strange existence at the moment – not quite on holiday but not quite working, trying to make stuff happen for the future when everything is pretty nebulous, including our plans.  Some days I feel all enthusiastic and productive, other days I don’t see the point in dragging myself out of my cosy bed, but Dave is always there to greet me with a smile and a hug regardless of my mood.

The language is still a barrier of course and I find it my most frustrating barrier.  Not only do I not know how stuff works here, it’s also hard to find out how stuff works when you can’t talk to people properly.  We are learning a little but it’s slower than I expected.  An immersion course may be required later in the year!

Happily we are getting stuff done, little by little.  Dave has prepared the vegetable garden with help from gardener Jose Pedro and a rotovator Jose borrowed from a friend.  I have planted loads of seeds and watched at least some of them sprout.  We have signed up to a hiking club and are going walking with them next month.  We went up a mountain on Friday (not even all the way to the top, but we still would have been towering above Ben Nevis).  It’s beautiful here and we are starting to feel a little settled.


Preparing the veggie patch (and the rocky mountain in the background is the one we went not all the way to the top of on Friday).

We have a whole stash of lists to work our way through over the coming weeks and months.  I know that this whole thing is going to take time and there will be plenty of frustrations along the way, but at least we have a fixed base for the next few months – a place to call home for the time being.


Dry heat and cold beers

We arrived in Alentejo in Southern Portugal to a landscape of huge grass pastures liberally sprinkled with cork oaks and wild flowers lighting up the journey with waves of colour. The sky was a rich blue and the temperature went past 30°C and kept on going. We were trying not to turn the air con on – our car is already an environmental disaster zone – but we couldn’t help ourselves, it was roasting!

We were in Alentejo visiting Jacquie and Neal who are friends of Anna’s parents. Eight years ago they created a project to protect nesting loggerhead turtles from hunters on the island of Sal in Cape Verde. After almost a decade of battling hunters, disinterested  Government officials and hostile residents, SOS Tartarugas lives on, but Jacquie and Neal have decided they need a break so have come to live the good life in Portugal. Sounds like a plan to us!

We arrived at the end of a very long and bumpy track to be greeted by Jacquie, Neal and four excited dogs, Pluto, Kuka, Monty and Mama. They are all dogs rescued from the streets, or hellish Midnight Express style dog pounds on Sal. They have gone from emaciated and terrified to well fed, energetic and boisterous – these dogs have won the lottery of life!

The property the guys have bought is big – 7 hectares of meadows and woodland, with two olive groves, an orchard and a big veg garden thrown in. There is a beautiful slow river with deep clear pools  running round three sides of the land. A couple of chickens were also part of the deal, more on those later! The lady who had the property before hadn’t done much to manage it over the last few years, so things have gone to seed a bit. We planned to help Jacquie and Neal get back on track!


Our main job was to re-locate the chicken range. Chickens weren’t envisaged in the plan, but the vendor insisted they either stayed at the property or be summarily executed, so the guys gave in and inherited them. The old run covered one of the best views from the house so we helped move it. This turned out to be quite a lot of work, removing rolls and rolls of rusty old wire, pulling out concreted fence posts and relocating everything, all the while keeping one eye on the chooks and the other on the dogs in case they got any ideas. Eventually we finished and were very proud of ourselves until we came out one lunchtime to find the rooster had hopped over the fence we’d just built and was hanging out in his favourite old haunt. It took quite a while to get him back through the gate, which was annoying having just found out he could hop the fence with ease! Having said that, the new vista looked good!

One of the cool things about the property is that there is a borehole (free water) which, apart from supplying the house, supplies a drip-irrigation ring going to the orchard and the veg garden. This means that trees and plants all over the property can be watered just by turning on one tap, and the drip system also saves a lot of water – Neal said a neighbour had recently installed a drip system and gone from using 10,000 L per day to 2,000 L – an 80% reduction! The problem was that everything was covered in waist high grass and we didn’t know how the system was laid out, or really whether it still worked. There were lots of bits of loose hose lying around – was a working irrigation ring just a pipe dream? The solution as it so often is, was a strimmer . After a day of petrol powered destruction I was able to dig out the whole orchard irrigation system. Once we’d found the main (satisfyingly large) tap we turned it on to the exciting sound of high pressure water rushing through the pipes. As we watched the orchard we started seeing jets of water spurting up all over the place – more of a large scale ornamental fountain than a drip system, but it works and with a few tweaks Neal will be able to water the orchard from his sun-lounger!

One hot afternoon we went to visit a family who are just starting out on their sustainable living dream. Mica and Sandra and their two kids have bought four hectares of land at the end of another very long track! The land is on a big slope so they had to get a bulldozer in to chew into the rock and create a plateau. On this they have built a small wooden cabin with outdoor toilet, shower and kitchen. Mica is now busy building a garden to feed them all. He said the plateau has actually come in handy. It is made of the rock fragments that the bulldozer chewed out of the hillside and is actually quite easy to dig. It is very infertile of course, so when he wants to plant something he digs a hole, fills it with topsoil from the bottom of the valley, then plants into that. Seems to be working so far, everything is coming up vigorously! We would love to come back and see how things are looking in five years’ time!

log house

We were with Jacquie and Neal for just under two weeks. It was an amazing time, characterised by work in the morning, long lunches, then afternoons spent chilling in the shade, going for a walk or a dip in the river. It was so hot when the sun was out – the first beer of the evening always went down a treat! The river around the property was a massive benefit. There was loads of wildlife to be spotted or speculated about. We saw mallard eggs and turtles as well as otter scat – an exciting prospect for Jacquie and Neal! A river has definitely been added to our wish list, which keeps getting bigger and bigger!

One clear night Neal set up the telescope out and we spent a fascinating couple of hours stargazing. First we focused on Jupiter, which was high in the sky, affording a good view relatively unobstructed by atmospheric interference. Once we’d found our planet we sharpened up the focus to see a small orb featuring a shaded stripe through the middle – the famous colour bands across the gaseous surface. We could also see three of Jupiter’s moons orbiting their planet as they have for billions of years. This view, first scientifically recorded by Galileo, allowed him to prove that celestial objects orbited things other than Earth, and was the first real scientific challenge to the theory that Earth was at the centre of the Universe.

After Jupiter we moved on to Saturn. Neal set up the focus and I looked through the eyepiece to see a bright white planet with an extremely distinct white band around it – the rings of Saturn just sitting there right in front of my face! I’ve never actually seen them before and it was a really awesome. I guess I always assumed they were there since I learned about them as a child, and I’ve seen plenty of satellite pictures and artists impressions, but I never imagined what they would look like from here. A weird, wonderful and VERY FAR AWAY neighbour! Thanks Neal for re-awakening our awareness of the Universe!

team photo

It seems like the guys have landed in their paradise, but we are still on the hunt for ours. After two wonderful weeks it was time to hit to road again and head North, back to the Picos de Europa. We had a little stop to make on the way though…

– Dave