The potential for beauty

I love this space – I don’t know if its “the one”, settling in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language well, and quite far out in a rural area, is going to be hard work, so I’m taking my time chosing.  But this was one of the first places I saw, the soil looks absolutely glorious – rich dark and loamy, still full of moisture even though temperatures were around 40 degrees C.  I’d have to do quite a bit on the house, there are massive stone storage, barns, sheds and a long basement area, and a very wacky add-on with a suspended pink bathroom which probably sounds better than it looks.  Kitchen has an old fashioned (I’m talking medieval) fireplace, and the floor is solid beams with nothing underneath – so you can hear the animals, and they can warm the house a bit on winter days.

Back in Portugal again next week to take another look around at other similar but larger properties – this is only 3500 sqm so may be too small, as I’d like to teach Permaculture and we’d need a food forest space as well as a woodland to really get into it, but there’s a lot of rural land around in Portugal – and always the potential to just rent a bit for specific things.


Espiguieros in Soaju

Portugal my love

Why do I love Portugal?

Just spent a week with lovely friends touring Central and Northern Portugal, looking at rural properties ripe for renovation as I’ve decided its time to make my move to the countryside.

For the people

And the fact that there are relatively less of them, this is peak hour traffic at 8am (Portuguese, especially in Cascais, rise later, so actually there was a little traffic, but an hour later!!)

And the stone castles and walls

Hidden grottos to hide from the heat, and marvel at the beauty

Lizards and benches everywhere,

And the ingenuity – of building between two rocks, because why not?

And the ingenuity of an espiguiero – a stone carved corn store on mushroom leggies, that stays dry, and rat-free – for centuries

And the ingenuity of vineyards with ancient vines which are pinned up on stone pillars to shade sensitive vegetables from (this day) 42 degree C temperatures

And for getting the job done – sans ladder or any complicated expensive stuff like that, even though you probably will not get planning permission for anything that is done without a suitably qualified (And heavily insured) engineer present, even if he hangs out the window to do it!

And I love the Manueline style and all the other architectural styles, so much art and craft – all mixed beautifully together!

And new architecture everywhere – my friend Antonio’s new look Sao Tome apartments in Lisbon

Stunning red staircases, old stone ones,  and old and new wooden doors,

Smart cars with diamante (why not?) amoung the mercedes and the tractors

And wavy grey and white stone block paving

I love Portugal for their resilience – ancient waterwheels – this in Tomar

And modern use of solar power – a whole solar farm just outside newly refurbished town of Soaje

And wind power – with towering turbines on ridges absolutely all over the place

I love Portugal for being the western-most country on mainland Europe, only a tiny piece of Ireland is more westerly than this point

And for the ocean which is still pretty clean, cold and surfable for wild Dolphins (this is just off Cascais, near Lisbon!)

A country full of space – to dream while doing, places of beauty to see while the silence and the stillness of the land allows you to easily slip into “just being” mode,

a country full of history so deep it flows in the rivers, and art and creativity so new the artists don’t even know what will happen next!

Walking up the volcano

Took an extreme hike through Cero Chatto crater…. 1800m up – then down into the crater, back up to the edge, and down again. Ain’t never seen paths like this before.

And absolutely loved that swim in pea green cold water, and back up and out the other side. 12 kms, 7 hours.  and most of then travelling either vertically up or down.  Apparently  some totally insane people do it in the rain… we were covered in mud even though it was “dry”  today.

Anyway, not something to take on lightly? But the highlight is the  bathe after. In the hot river Arenal, near Tabacon, they drop you at a part of the river with a small weir under a bridge followed by a dam…. sounds arbitrary but you can easily get down under the bridge, then slide into the pool formed by the dam, and sit in 38degree water near the massaging effect of the weir.

For an hour.

The guides sit and smoke under the bridge and occasionally bring gin and tonic. This is after dark so they stick candles to the rocks so you have a pretty albeit vague picture of the place, and tonight we had moonlight. The crowd was pretty cool. At one stage there were about 40 people in a swimming pool sized area.
Definitely worth trying… and only 6 of the 40 did our big hike… so you don’t need to kill yourself on the 7 hour walk to get on the hot springs bonus..

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A view of Puerto Viejo and Caribe Sur

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Settling in and chilling out

I’ve reached that slowly steaming point, like a delicious bread during those last few minutes of browning in the perfectly warm oven,  where I am aware of comfort and peace most of the time. Have met a bunch of lovely people who live locally so have walking dates, and breakfast company,  and guidance on where to go (Everywhere) and what not to do (not much on That list… these guys really live… suck the marrow as they say… bit hardcore even for me, some of it!!).


My personal swimming pool. That's the reef just off the beach, and those are trespassers. They don't know there's more the same just round the trees.

Also enjoy that I’ve semi worked out the local logistics, like the amount of time the buses are usually behind the printed schedule (or, as in most of India and Africa, knowing which buses usually won’t arrive at all and how long to wait for those, before taking a taxi!)

I have local food in the fridge and cupboard – pinto beans and relatively cheap organic brown rice (after all it is cheaper to produce, weirdly enough), super-sweetened drinking yoghurt as no-one seems to make natural/greek/unsweetened yoghurts; completely pasteurised and homogenised milk which tastes disgusting but there are  ot many cows around so I guess milk is ‘imported’ from the central highlands; muesli and nuts and vegetarian stuff comparable to the best stuff we get in London and about the same price, gorgeous fruit and strangely enough, pretty expensive vegetables. Tons of coconut and bananas/plantain, as that grows in everyones garden and Alex and Ana drop fresh coconuts (sweet baby coconuts for the water .. agua de pipa) for me every now and then after a walk in their garden.  I always feel I save a bunch of money on my travels where others buy booze, although I do have a pretty steep coffee bill. Actually, come to think of it, beer is cheaper than water most places around here, local Imperial is 1000 colones, about 2 dollars US, 500ml water is the same or more with ice, and a coffee is more, 1200 colones.  I need to change my aaddiction


Can you see the hole in the cliff? No, really.....

I’ve taken a long cycle this week, along the local beach highway, actually a low way,  as it snakes in a perfectly tarred avenue of trees right alongside the coastal beaches and hotels/casas but only changes altitude twice (very unexpectedly and with hilarious results on a bicycle) in the 12kms between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.  That’s the furtherest point on the coast you can reach in Costa Rica… from where I believe you could walk to Panama although its quite a distance on foot, and serious old growth jungle all the way.  In my uninformed state I might have thought that hike could be good fun, for a blogpost story, as there is some gorgeous coastline to see, but there’s also still Serious Wild Life out there.

The locals were chastised by the expats last week for beating up on a Big crocodile that had wandered out the jungle into town, I was on my eco-friend high-horse about it till I found out it measured 12 feet. ( and no, they didn’t intend to or succesfully kill it, they chased it into a yard with a wall, and called the environmental agency people who came to take it away — I believe he now has a luxurious position at the local Jaguar Rescue Centre, where his war wounds are much admired by tourists, and they’ve never had a Jaguar to rescue, sadly, so he’s kind of the star attraction… :-)♡

I’ve walked the Cahuita trail, with my spanish professor’s german husband, Alex, why do germans walk so fast? It’s a 7km beachside path overhung with palm trees and almond trees in their autumnal glory, and I gasped at the unbelievable beauty of the coast, white coral beaches and offshore reef,  palm trees and tropical jungle.  Alex did admit that he comes here to meditate, he didn’t call it that but when he has pressing problems he walks here, apparently about 60 times a year.  That’s a lot of problems… (reminder, not to downplay the potential stress of crazy neighbours and he certainly has those,  -but this guy lives in 6 hectares of paradise. With birds, red squirrel,sloths, the most amazing tropical garden with some old growth trees.  I guess it could be the annoyance of tourists like me coming for spanish lessons with our horrendous dutch accents… hehe maybe he walks to spend the time laughing so he can keep a straight face when  doing conversation classes with us)


Ha. A trained monkey. DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE ANYWHERE ANYHOW. You change their behaviour. NOT GOOD

We watched a white faced monkey stealing biscuits out a closed rucksack (he must have seen the YouTube video on how to open the darn thing!! Certainly he knew what he was doing and nearly made off with the girl’s camera too, although she fought him on that one).  One of the park employees pointed out the scariest yellow snake leering down from the roof of a picnic area shelter which made me pretty uncomfortable as it was almost invisible, you’d never spot it unless it moved.  And that in your sandwich would raise some pretty serious adrenalin


Observing the observer... totally yogic. Love that suit

.  We also saw a family of racoony creatures on the beach scavenging, who totally ignored all of us, a bunch of lizards and other small reptiles (spot the mini-dinasaurous in the photo below… if you can… hint – he’s definitely looking at you, and he’s just behind the palm frond)


Can you see him?

and so many birds.  An incredibly beautiful walk, completely flat and mostly shaded, I give it 210/10.  Not to disapoint my avid fans however, who will be waiting for the but….


Cahuita - fallen trees

I have to mention that the whole trail is slowly falling into the sea. All along we saw huge chunks of coast which must have just dropped away, as the previously upstanding trees are now being slowly eroded away by the tides.  Alex mentioned one particukar area he had played frisbee a couple weeks before with his son, and that beach no longer exists, also the picnic shelter with snake has been moved about 10 metres from what is now sea.

So this is the Caribean coast of Costa Rica and does not look- to the ancient geography trained science graduate in me, like a sinking coastline as there are huge beaches all around this point… I thought when landmasses sunk into the sea the beach was the first thing to go, but I’m open to feedback on this one.  We conjectured about the dryness of some of the landscape, and a few areas which seemed particularly hard hit in terms of fallen trees where the jungle had seriously receded, all dessicated and sandy quite far back off the beach. Perhaps dead trees don’t hold their soil so well and the ever aggressive sea takes that piece of beach back. Apparently it’s been a couple years of quite drought-like dry (winter to us) season – try to imagine that, and picture 2-3 metres of annual rain as including any amount of dry.

I’ve also learned a ton of spanish, just don’t ask me to actually say anything yet, I’m just getting the pronombres sorted and I still get confused about reflexive and direct ones. That could take me a year or two.

Heh he and about any other tense than the present – who knew it was so easy to reach the enlightening position of living entirely in the present, by simply learning another language only in the one tense and then being forced to communicate like that,  I am having a good time, I am having coffee, I am washing and showering and swimming and sleeping and eating and studying – like a huge banana-split of language, its just all here and now in this one bowl because the only thing I know to say in past tense is “yo fui” – I travelled – which means I can indicate my previous arrival in the country but have no way to indicate I’m ever leaving. Brilliant, pure Zen. Hilarious!!!!!

Nature here is extraordinary, she’s right on the doorstop trying to get in, any garden that gets ‘weedeaten’ which is the most popular method of holding Her back, looks exactly the same after about 3 days. Alex laughed when I mentioned this, and pointed out what it would look like without the weedeating. The fridge was full of little scarily black speckles this morning so I swept them out the back door, as I did the little fruit flies who’d been caught in the fridge trying to steal a snack, came back to unfrozen life and flew off. 

A red squirrel, much cuter than the english greys, amuses us about the same time every afternoon, there used to be a hedge behind the patio (there’s a crazy neighbour story there….) and there’s now a narrow fence, this little guy has learned to traverse the fence sideways as it was far too narrow to walk along the top, its real circus entertainment. No photo as it always happens during class and I’m supposed to be studying…. There are sloths in the garden though I haven’t seen one yet, and fireflies all over at night. Not too many mosquitos, apparently the dry season is misleading on this as they practically carry you off when its monsoon time. We’ve had a solid 6 hours of rain one morning and a hour or two here and there to distribute all the humidity hanging in the air , didn’t help much, after walking or any activity the sweat literally pours off me, any physical yoga is a strictly evening or dawn affair. I have no idea what temperatures are, guessing they go up into the late 30s but never really drop below 20. Centigrade.

Its blissful and the average expression on people’s faces seems to include laughter. The expression of choice is “pura vida” which is used as a slogan for beer as well as a cheerful goodbye or hello and in answer to the question “how are you”. The Pure Life.

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Week 5&6 on the Caribbean coast

Have settled happily in a small casa (house) on the property of Ana Piedra, a justly-famous Spanish proferssor, and her fascinating German/Costa Rican husband Alex. It’s in a garden full of crotelaria bushes, trees and birds, an oasis to the surrounding crowded and over developed suburbia.

Strangely, while this is “rural” Costa Rica, we have all the services although like many places in CR the water is probably not good for my european-trained stomach (so bottled water only 4 me) and the sewage system doesn’t like paper which gets disposed of separately. And the neighbours mostly believe they are in a disco or deaf so the noise levels are unbelievable for anyone who hasn’t lived in a South Indian town where they have the same mind-set. Its not so much loud music all night although we’ve had some of that, as revving car engines for hours and very early morning metal cutting (try 6am) in some backyard home workshop 1 house down. I think as overall noise levels outhere with no freeway, trains or planes, are so low, its really noticeable.

The pollution issues are classic 3rd world – most local people still seem think its really ok to collect their own rubbish and plastics and then burn them behind their house, but if it’s not their family’s rubbish and at home, it’s quite ok to leave it – on the beach or in the bush between the tropical wildlife, orchids and ancient trees that the tourists come for.

There are a few erstwhile folk down at the beach who painfully and very publicly sweep up plastics and bottles dumped by their partying mates the night before, but a lot of that seems to be only in the presence of tourists, many of them are disabled so it seems to be a way to make money as a tip of some kind from me the tourist, for the effort, is pretty much expected (monetary of course, and they take dollars and beers). Kind of “you want to enjoy a clean beach, so pay for it – because our governing bodies certainly don’t”.

Much like my own country, ZA, around this beach at least, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of civic or national pride shown by locals, in their amazingly beautiful country.

The Espanol classes with Ana, and sometimes with Alex, are provi g really useful. Every afternoon for 3 hours on the porch of the large casa I share with Alex’ 15 year old son, Daniele. The casa is painted a wonderful tropical green and tiled and full of windows and fans and cool breezes, and spotlessly clean. A real delight. 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and half the house a long high-ceilinged open-plan living area with desk, handmade wooden chairs (v v comfortable!!) And kitchen – all the basics, and its enough.

The neighbours, however, are loco. On the day I arrived one cut down a small copse of banana trees and other flowering shrubs and bushes next to the fence, sadly on the outside. Apparently that space is nominally defined as a public thoroughfare- but as one side connects to a tough and aggressive neighbour so is now pretty much private property and inaccessible, and it doesn’t actually connect anything, clearing half seems incredibly pointless. The gorgeous plants that were hacked down with gay abandon and some malice methinks, hosted a number of large iguana, a black/red squirrel, and any number of birds, but in spite of cajoling and sensible arguements from my hosts, this nutter continued on his “civic duty” to make this space accessible. Now his kids who should be in school hare up and down there during classtime, smashing sticks against the fence. Neighbour problems but with some profound long term impact on the overall area.

Behind Alex’s 3 hectare property, and also a block away, closer to the main national road, similar manic destruction of treed areas is happening. The excuse of the landowners apparently being that the land is up for sale and new owners will want it cleared. My heart just breaks to see them hacking down really really tall trees – 20\30 metres, old growth, and then burning them to clear the ground, as they’ve not been felled for timber why do anything else with the wood? Its brainless savage destruction and there’s absolutely no policing or municipal regulations to prevent it. In rural areas along waterways (these two examples are neither rural nor on water) the trees may not legally be felled within 50m of a waterway to prevent erosion problems. There, you can report someone who clear trees, but it will usually be after the event in which case nothing can be done to save the trees, and according to the various horror stories I heard in Puriscal, near the farm, only a small fine is sometimes levied – depending on whether the landowner has “friends in high places” or pays bribes.

So while millions are being spent to protect trees in certain areas and to painfully, carefully, reforest other areas, wilful manic massive destruction of the country’s assets continues unashamedly and very very quickly. Its quite horrific to see an acre of forest disapear within a day and then see massive smoke plumes for the next few days as those divine trees are simply burned, releasing all that carbon and making the air poisonous, this aspect of Costa Rica is totally freaking me out ( as you may have realised…)

However, I simply watch it all. This is not my country and I don’t have any leverage to encourage change or a way to educate people in appreciating the intrinsic value of what they are destroying. Anyway, we aren’t doing any better in South Africa or the U.K., and much worse in India, three other countries I love, and know well.

Now just recently we see massive floods again in the UK, a seemingly annual occurrence now, within totally de-forested and untreed agricultural areas in the UK, and causing mass destruction of towns and homes. So a result we could learn from. However, rather than talk about giving land back to nature and keeping it covered in trees, which was its natural form in much of the U.K., all we seem prepared to do is blame the current (3 year old) government, and suggest massively destructive “solutions” like dredge rivers deeper so the rain can rush out to sea faster – along with all that english topsoil.

it is horrific, sitting here watching the process happen from a little earlier in the social development of a young country. First capitalistic greed takes hold, they apply the “rules” of the World Bank and US trade agreements, following religiously the “growth principle” and enforcing each landowning citizen’s total right to “property value increase” and viz a viz right to destroy that land – or whatever you want to call our current philosophy or economic principle, it’s certainly taking shape and gaining force in Costa Rica.

However, its a no-brainer to reach the conclusion that we in the so-called first world really have no value to bring or advice to give. We ourselves have no idea how to care for the planet or prevent our environments from becoming totally inhospitable. We are absolutely all in this together, wanting nice holiday hotels with big lawns but continued access to primary forest (!! ????), super cheap food at home from fields denuded of their organic matter and nutrients, easy access on wide straight roads and trainlines to absolutely anywhere we feel we want to go, there’s a long list. With a massive environmental charge we are simply not paying at the moment.

But we will. And so will the iguanas, the howler monkeys, the last few jaguars and macaws and dolphins, and the rest.

I’m not feeling very proud to be a human being at this time.

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Week 5 Puerto Viejo Carribean Coast

This is me at coffee shop “bread and chocolate” ( can’t go wrong, name like that) with new friends, Katy and Connery from the Verdenergia farm, who I just ran into on the other side of the country in a beach town called Puerto Viejo, where I’m doing Spanish lessons and they’re doing party party party ( and the occasional coffee and lunch with old friends like me)

Verdenergia ecofarm community visit lasted for 3 weeks. Completed a Permaculture certificate, while enjoying incredibly energising yet peaceful environment, fab food too! Amazing sustainable perspective infiltrates everything they do- farming like this is really complex and detailed, to keep the process sustainable and eco-friendly, most things are done by hand. Like sufar drom cane, flour from potatoes. Its very low key, for example they don’t own a vehicle and use Omar, who lives nearby and has a great little truck, for all the town trips (still need plumbing and electrical materials etc. Although they are working on hydro-electric…) so Omar does the realky heavy lifting in his truck, because the horse is for pleasure riding, and the cow, who’s great at making milk usually, doesn’t lift things as she’s making a calf right now… fertile place – Chopa the dog had 11 (ELEVEN) puppies during my visit (These going free to a good home…? Organically raised…. )

So actually only the chickens are part of the production side…. they get to peck and dig weeds while laying as many eggs as possible.

Loved that I got time to know the individuals, it’s a big community (49 full shareholding tribe members, 12 were visiting at different times while I was there, and about 10-15 volunteers who came and went) and such setups are always complex, the interactions between people from incredibly different backgrounds choosing to live together (that’s why they call it intentional community)… are interesting, boy people’s lives get complicated.

:-):-):-) Beautiful group of individuals tho, like-minded Souls. Feel i made a lot of new friends.

The Permaculture course was great, now have a firm grasp of what permaculture is (as opposed to organic farming, which it incorporates, but covers much much more). Blog posts being formulated on my discoveries and inspirations. More later.

My teacher is a gorgeous Dutch guy, called Douwe, (‘dove’), experienced in agro-forestey and Costa Rican fincas. (Farms). He owns another farm adjoining the national park, and is helping this Verdenergia tribe reforest the land. Deeply knowledgeable,Douwe has lived all over the world mostly working with agro-forestry,but knows permaculture backwards…. one of his heroes is an Austrian called Sebb Holzer…. the Austrian rebel farmer, another character! 😉

We watched inspiring movies, studied and read a very large textbook (the bible of permaculture by an ozzie forestry specialist Bill Mollison), dug swales and made gardens and took soil samples and made potting soil mix from the wormery and spoke to the devas abd the Spirit of Verdenergia, Findhorn style, and cooked with raw chocolate, homegrown pinto beans and picked salads to blow your mind with the incredible flavours.

Also had a fairly serious Permaculture design project, which I’ll tell you about one day as it was a funny story …. the permaculture design client from hell….

Finished course, presented design (sans client???!) and got our certificates alongside a talent show on Tuesday,then a whole bunch of us moved on from the farm Wednesday in a bus with Chico Mora. Another character.

Local police man and driver,knows and is known globally along the San Jose/Puriscal road (in effect if not literally) river-shrimp-catcher deluxe, does pushups after fixing tyres….so….he’s the Man.

Enjoyed a group trip with him, to ‘ the ark’ organic herb farm in the central valley, to get some trees for Verdenergia. Sweet parting from the gang, at my point of origon the Airport. Then I chilled at a city hotel for two days. Just to catch my breath and catch up on emails and Facebook….. which I almost have.

Had an absolutely amazing drive down the escarpment in the capable hands and minibus of Rafael – a local who worked in Boston, USA for 6 years then came home, and now drives tourist shuttles as Walmart closed his small school supply import company down…. nice company, those W people, pretty much universally evil then?

Much of the route from San Jose to Limon on the coast is covered (along the main highway pass, at least) in primary rainforest…. besides the suico (sp??) River which is an incredibly dirty yellow… naturally.

Now am staying at Ana’s place, in Hone Creek, 6kms from Puerto Viejo (and learning a lot about local buses as its far too hot/humid to walk), a gorgeous Caribbean surfer paradise on Caribbean coast of CR.

Will be here for a week or three. Intention is to get some basic Spanish into my multi-linguified brain, on top of my English, Afrikaans, German, Dodgy Portuguese, really dodgy Malayalam (from Kerala) abd snippets of French; we hope to interlay a new Spanish carpet. Ana and Alex, su esposo, are profesore de espanol. Super cool.

More later.

Profiles – a great blog post about Verdenergia


Permaculture Training with Douwe Wielstra at Verdenergia

Initial pictures – still need to add the detail of some of the great practical sessions we had, this selection currently is mostly images from a presentation we prepared for a “client” in relation to his property, a finca with coffee and sugarcane and cattle, which has the potential to be a permaculture paradise, if only a community could be formed – first step was planning the inital community house (with a natural swimming pool that flowed into a pond….)

Amanda prepared an absolutely beautiful diagrammatic map showing our suggested layout, and
Lauren prepared a huge planting list with great suggestions of what to plant, relevent to the area, erosion issues, reforestation requirrments and altitude, which I’ll add later too.

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Rancho Mastatal fieldtrip

Founded in 2001 by permaculture wunderkinders Robin Nunes and Tim O’Hara, this is a dreamfarm. We visited as part of the field-studies of the Verdenergia Permaculture course, #totallyworthit

I’ll let the pictures do the talking

Rancho Mastatal -somewhat down the road from San Jose, and Salitrales.

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