The project continues

Spent another delightful week exploring Central Portugal, driving up mountains and down forestry roads looking for the perfect location to start a new kind of life.  The people I’ve met have been incredibly helpful, estate agents especially, taking me to some pretty off-grid locations and walking around in the thorns and rocks to get a good look at the locations.

I’ve eaten at some great restaurants, and stayed in a beautiful palace in Tomar (through airBnB – who would have thought) and at a fabulous guest house in Porto.

I’m slowly getting a few issues and requirements clear, but in the end, a piece of land is going to have to “speak to me” — which one little valley has done.   My latest find is this fabulous piece of secret garden, overpriced unfortunately and I’m not sure I can afford to fix the house as well as get electricity and water to it, never mind that there isn’t even a proper road.

Renovation Project near Ferreira do Zêzere

But it is beautiful….

Ferreira Do Zezere Secret Garden

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The Ancience of Trees

In Allouville-Bellefosse in Normady, stands a tree with character. 

It supports and is supported by a wonderful old norman church, the two looking like two old cronies sitting in the sun,  in the middle of the village square.  Traffic and shops circle these two venerable old gents, but neither pay any attention.  The tree, seemingly the oldest tree in France at between 800 and 1200 years of age, is called Chêne Chapelle. It is nearly wider than tall, at 15m high and nearly 16m wide.  When it was about 500 years old, lightening struck, and the resulting fire burned its heart out.  The local Abbot, Du Detroit,  and a village priest, Father Du Cerceau, made the claim that lightening striking the tree was a holy event, and devoted the tiny wooden chapel later built into the hollow trunk space, to the Virgin Mary.

A staircase which is still open to the public was added later too. The tree nearly got burned down to the ground even after all these miracles, during the French Revolution, when some thought it was an emblem of the old system of governance and tyranny (possibly due to the link with the wealthy church which aided and abetted the nobles.)

A furious mob intent on burning the tree to the ground were only stopped at the last moment by a local villager, whose name is now lost, who quick-thinking renamed the oak the “Temple of Reason”.  With such a great name, it automatically became a symbol of the revolution’s new ways of thinking and was spared.

The age of the tree means it now has some “medical support”: poles shore up the weight of some branches, and wooden shingles cover areas of the tree that have lost their bark, like a soft felt coat placed on a muchloved grandfather dog; but in spite of all the attention part of its trunk is already dead.

Twice a year, mass is celebrated in the tiny chapel in the centre of the oak. It is the site of a pilgrimage on August 15 (Assumption of Mary)

Chemin Du Verbosc

On Air bnb and Booking dot com. Totally worth a visit. Between La Havre and Paris, just off various key roads and motorways, close to villages and churches with important Normandie tourist attractions, but beautiful enough to just stay and visit with Michel Allard, the châtelain.

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!!).

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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

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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.
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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… :-)♡
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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)

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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

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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)

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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….

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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. 
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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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