January 21, 2012

Portugal Part 1

After a great time in Paris, we left for our next workstay in southern Portugal, heading for a small town called Bensafrim. We had several stops and the journey took us two days, but we were ready for this aspect of the trip and train travel has been agreeable thus far. Though long, the trip to Portugal continued that trend. We stopped at several locations; Irun in northern Spain where we were thrilled to speak the language with ease, Lisbon in central Portugal where we got our first taste of Portugeese culture, and finally a small town called Tunes in southern Portugal where we got our first instructions in Portugeese language ("don't say 'gracias'" a cafe bartender told us when we stopped for a drink between trains. "You're in Portugal, do not speak Spanish." We nodded, sipping. We've since picked up the basics and otherwise fudge the rest by adopting Christina's mother's technique of speaking spanish with a mixture of French and Italian accents).

We arrived in Lagos and were greeted by our host 'father' Willem, a big Dutchman with a mop of curly blond hair and a coarse voice. He and Soledad are the married couple who run things at our Portugal workstay, and they are a charming and friendly duo. At an extensive property just outside of the nearby town of Bensafrim, they grow food on the land and are currently building up several living spaces on their property to be used ultimately as rentals for when the tourist season kicks up during the summer. The space is beautiful during the winter, so we can only imagine what it is like in the summer. If anyone is interested, you can see their website here and I'd certainly encourage their spaces if you are going to the Lagos area. 

They set us up in great accommodations. We have our own cabin and they provide us with all the food we would ever need. During the weeks we work on the various garden plots that are scattered about the property, and our early work has been characterized by lots of hoeing, weeding, and some harvesting of the fruitful carob trees. It has been a welcome return to a working routine and we often retire at the end of the day well-fed and very exhausted. We've taken several bike rides into the nearby town of Bensafrim and have become quite familiar with the Super Mercado and the town's major cafe/bar, called The Barbaro. We have enjoyed several afternoons sipping a drink and watching as the locals come streaming in. Few actually purchase anything more than a coffee or a single wine, but the place is almost always packed. As Willem has told us, that is a cultural focal point here in rural Portugal, the attendance at the local cafe and the exchange of daily gossip and happenings. These community cafe check-ins are maintained even in what is clearly a depressed local economy. In every Portugeese town center we pass through there are large crowds of middle-aged and older men lounging around and watching the passing world. We do not have enough of a frame of reference to know how much this is a consistent cultural phenomenon or whether it is a function of the seasonal nature of the tourist industry here and it's current lull, but it is certainly noticeable. We do our best to blend in, nodding at the crowds of men and then picking out our own corner of the terrace to sip our beverage and squint into the passing sun and scenery. 

In the next week we will continue our farming work as well as helping out with some of the building tasks in the newest rental construction on the property. We are enjoying our cooking (often with the local, delicious chorizo) and spending much of our downtime reading and writing. It's hard to believe we're nearing our final month, but this stay has already been a welcome chance to slow things down a bit. Enjoy the pics!

En route from Paris at a town in the very top of Spain called Irun. This was a two-day journey, one of the longest of the trip. We had several stops when we tried to be as productive as possible, all while keeping an eye on our bags.

We've settled into the final two months of our trip and - according to plan - are now utilizing our Eurorail Pass. After buying individual train tickets throughout Germany, Switzerland and the other earlier countries, we realize in hindsight that it would have been far better (read cheaper) to just spring for the Eurorail unlimited Global Pass. As it is, we've got seven full days of travel to use over the next two months, spanning the four countries of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. We'd forgotten that in our earlier booking of Eurorail we opted for First Class, unheard of at this point in the trip. Here, Dave relishing the elite status. Surely the grungiest duo in first class, but whatever - our money is as good as anybody's! Smell my privileged feet!

Christina on an early bike ride exploring the nearby town of Bensafrim. Cobblestone, one-lane streets tested her newfound bicycle skills and she passed with flying colors, or at least without any wrecks.

The countryside around Bensafrim.

The site of our early work here on the farm. Tilling the dry, clayey soil has proven back-breaking but it's great to be back in a work rhythm. Shown are the early stages of a raised bed frame that we built.

The finished product. 

We've worked a lot with the carob tree in our early time here. Enormous pods fall off the trees, which can then be ground into a fine powder and used as a nutritious substitute for cocoa. It has kind of a smokey, chocolatey raisin flavor. 

An experiment we tried with our host Willem, roasting the carob seeds in the hopes of utilizing the highly-nutritious seeds. 

The surrounding Portugees countryside. We are in the southern area known as the Algarve region, where olive trees and extensive citrus farms are dominant and where tourists apparently flock in the summers. The climate is almost desert-like; extremely dry, very warm and beautiful during the day, then rapidly cooling and downright freezing at night. 

Willem and Soledad (our host) own a good stretch of property and are working to develop the land for food provision. They are also sprucing up a few spaces on the property to offer as tourist rentals. 

Christina enjoying a petite beer on the front terrace of the local watering hole, called the Barbaro ('the barbarian'). Unlike some places we've been previously (Paris, Switzerland, Finland, even Germany) Portugal is relatively cheap. A round at happy hour runs us 1.60 (Euro). Clearly Germany (and especially Munich) had an effect on Christina, who never liked that beer bite before this trip.

Many people (thanks ma!) gave us socks for Christmas gifts and boy did we need them. Most of the pairs we left with had holes by Estonia. Here Dave with a woolen offering. 

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