Tuesday, August 30, 2016


10 years.  We, that is Kris and myself, arrived at the Várzea on the evening of 23rd August 2006.  We never intended to live in the Algarve, but chance, whatever that is, brought us here.  I might as well tell the story....

We'd spent a week on the south coast with  Kris's older children from previous marriage, which in August (bad enough at any time of the year, full of misplaced, mis-brained expat english) was our personal vision of perdition, and badly needed to get out.

So, after dropping them off at Faro airport, we headed up north again, where we'd been land-hunting already.  I wanted to show Kris the west coast, where I had come on my bicycle in the 80's, so we went via Cape St. Vincent up through Aljezur, where we stopped at an internet café, next to which was an estate agency, full of villas with swimming pools for sale, with one lonely-looking photo of a green jungle with old houses showing through. 

To me it was pretty-much love at first sight, or more like it, at first feeling, and we never went further.

We weren't the first non-Portuguese to come to this valley. In the 80's there was a big movement of German alternative-thinkers who arrived at a time when the demographic changes of the time was leading to the abandonment of many traditional smallholdings, and for holders of Deutchmarks, buying rustic cottages valued in Escudos, property was amazingly cheap.  German friends here now tell of the culture-divide which confused and amazed the local Portuguese - seeing these strange people, dressed in hippy clothing, which they considered as rags, arriving in Mercedes vans, buying land and houses like kids in a sweet-shop!  They also felt sorry for their ineptitude with life-skills, and were always supplying fruit and vegetables to help them...

Aljezur only got electricity in 1962, and this valley, 50 years ago, was almost totally self-contained, needing only a handful of items from the outside world, represented by Aljezur.

This we know from Dona Alzirez (on the left), in this picture with one of her 2 sisters, who were born and grew up at the Várzea from the early 40's to late 60's...

When we came in 2006 things had moved on again: the pioneer Germans are getting older and nearly all their children have moved on again.  When we arrived, there was not a single child under 12 years old in the valley.  

Now there is a new change afoot, which I believe will not be another false dawn.  Since we arrived,  people came to stay here, in exchange for help, who became good friends and neighbours, then more, and in our part of the valley others came and saw positive things happening, gardens started, lands cleared, a home-school group started, a social scene happening.  People had babies, others came with young children.  

Now, in our 2-kilometer section of this Cerca valley alone, live 15 children under 10! Some homeschool, some, like our daughter Megan, go to the regular school in Aljezur. The future is opening.

10 years.  A lot has happened, twists, turns, ups and downs, that at least at the personal level.  On the practical level, it's been a decade of learning and changing, on many levels.   I see Várzea da Gonçla  as a place which is just beginning to take on a form. 

The time so far has been a process of evolution of understanding, as well as of knowledge, and the process continues to be closer to an ecological succession than a planned or designed project.   

The connection to the nature is a slow steady process, it isn't something you get from a meditation retreat or an ayhuasca ceremony, it starts with things that you DO.  I'm certainly not saying these things are bad, only that if you are not doing things, you are not truly connecting. Or interacting.

Human life is by nature a creative learning process, and this represents flow and movement.  Without this, life easily stagnates, and things that stop degenerate.  This is true for whatever a person does.

I woke this morning to a bright flash as I looked up at the centre-hole in my yurt, went outside to a beautiful pre-dawn sky, yellow full moon just setting, Orion rising in the east, all quiet - strangeness.

All this past stuff....  All I really feel now is that THIS IS WHERE WE BEGIN!  The time so far - part of now, the present - is the accumulated sense of the place, which allows the future, which is also part of the now, to release itself.  This is a long-term project, and in 10 years' time...  this is the mysterious unknown part of the present - if we try to envisage it, it becomes this thing we call the future. which is entirely fictitious.   But if we are capable of wisdom and humility to interact constructively with nature, then things can progress well.

I was 61 this week!   A few days since the hotness which had been for a while relaxed, and it had signalled the end of a natural summer recess of pottering and watering.  Now I have started a daily routine of river-clearance - annual job, with some help from Chaym this year,   It addresses one of the 2 catastrophic threats to the land, destructive flooding. The other is, of course fire.  One for summer and one for winter.  

Many years ago, when our valley was a vibrant, living, social network, and fertile fields were cultivated along some 10km, linking with the Várzea Grande of Aljezur ("várzea" is the Portuguese word for the fertile river-plain), cleaning the river-course was one of the crucial communal tasks at the end of the summer.  Here are pics of work-in-progress...

and one section finished....

Without this work, the invasive cana (Arunda donax), the fast-growing bamboo-like plants that take over the river margins, descend each year into the river and choke it, diverting the course and ripping away the fertile topsoil.     It's happened all down the valley, as well as on our land in the years of neglect.   So that's what I'm doing mostly.   (I'll add a picture for this soon....)

Also great party night in Aljezur's old town last night - 28th August White Night - favourite was "Pouca Terra", a great local band.

(sorry this is my best photo, at least I didn't lose my camera)

Information is good, but only when it informs the awareness and understanding, and assists our honest intent to connect with the reality of world.  I knew a girl, years ago, who asked me what I meant by "reality". Maybe a fair question, it certainly got me thinking.  It's connection. To the living world which energises us.

We are born with it, it's what remains when we die. 

Between these events it's our guide, and in our present world it's pretty-well submerged by mental STUFF, things people are given to think are important.   

Television, conspiracies, brexit, blah,  In the words of TV Smith, of my favourite '77 punk band, The Adverts, "If there's life on earth, and it still thinks, better head for the hills and wait for daylight!"   Francesca; wonder if she found her reality.

Apologies for over-rambling,,  Soon, we hope, rain, and planting trees again!!!

PS  A warm welcome to my first ever Blog viewings from China...

PPS  I've hopefully made it easier to give feedback now, so please feel free to comment, hackle, or say whatever you feel....  thanks.

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