Like many people I know and work with, I’m looking for where I can help, the most, in our current situation. I make good use of my time – volunteering in online organisations doing important work like Deep Adaptation, building a local economy slowly and with joy in the neighbourhood where I live, spending as much time as I can with my family. Other stuff too, like gardening and growing food and helping others with seeds, and advice, collecting seeds, preserving food.

Staying in place, but growing and learning.

My garden view

Around me there’s constant change as our complex society tries to keep the road to infinite profits, open.

On a hillside I can see, the new tollroad (12 years young) is falling off a clay slope optimistically cut in half to keep the road slope level – to save energy long term I guess, building it must have been hellish expensive. Engineers and huge lorries full of rocks and cement products have been working day and night, for over 7 months now, to force it to stay up – literally glueing car civilisation on the landscape where it won’t stick.

My garden on the other hand, is full of young trees that grow every day, Spring leaves emphasise how much larger they are. A little irrigation, some compost as mulch was all I’ve added. Free sunshine and rain with love from Mother Nature. They are well embedded in the landscape and are changing this area – an orchard of mulberries, peaches and apples, cherries, almonds, and quince. Indigenous chestnut, oak, cork, and pine trees forming a solid and ancient frame. The wild birds and I will compete for the fruit, and they will win as there are increasing numbers of them on this piece of land. The pollinator insects are still in a feeding frenzy among the blossoms. Vegetables, herbs, flowers and weeds enjoy the shade. The soil around them is moist through the year, and the winter frosts are lessened by their increasing presence.

There is a sense of certainty and goodwill in the growing trees, while the noisy dusty roadworks ongoing in the background imbue a frantic and annoying sense of loss and frustration. They are spending millions of euros trying to ensure that road stays level, I hardly spent anything creating the space for these beautiful trees.

A road is a temporary pathway from one space, to another. A few roman roads still run straight through villages and rural areas here in Portugal. But thousands of old cork oaks, and ancient olive trees, continue to support many other species, holding their places beautifully in the landscape here, attesting the fortitude of Nature – gardened, or not.

Plant trees.

Experiencing some turbulence…

However, in the end I did move into Rua do Agua (the road of water… ha ha very appropriate) before it got electrified. Unpacked the van into the cave-like living room, then dashed around town organising gas bottles for the hot water system and the stove, a new gas heater, a gaslamp and some spare batteries for my torch.

Planning to sleep there just the one night as I was staying with my portuguese family, (sorry Mike – your family who I’ve adopted!) over christmas so just planned to try sort power out later. Candles are good and they give off heat. Having hot water is a complete blessing, but no internet is a bit of a killer.

Anyway, having dumped stuff on the floor I only realised later that setting up a bed was not a good idea till I did a little cleaning – the cottage is a refurbished building, its been truly beautifully done, deep stone walls and a new, very well-insulated tile roof, but all the plaster work is still bare and the house was full of concrete dust. So not wanting to breathe it all in, I cleaned. Filling bucket after bucket with hot water, I mopped the tiled floor which was easily done, and dumped the muddy water on the cobbled road outside where it might do less damage than to a closed sewage system. After the second or third bucket of water, leaning on the mop admiring the almost full moon the day before Christmas, I heard the front door snick closed.

I felt a kind of empty hollowness as I heard that. They say your life flashes before your eyes – well, the house full of candles and a gas heater going full blast, every double glazed brand new window extremely tightly closed, and my keys, telephones (both of them), car keys, in fact most of my life, all flashed in front of me. Through the bloody kitchen window. The closed window.

Its funny, because I was in a strange space of complete awareness when this happened (this is obviously from the moment JUST AFTER I locked the door from the outside. A little mindfulness before that would have been just dandy.) I didn’t feel fear, although it occurred to me that I was at least 4 miles from the nearest town with a policeman or fireman or access to a lockpicker.

I didn’t feel cold although it was a chilly night, the sky had cleared and I was wearing quite a lot of clothes because the inside of the house was so cold. I wasn’t in the dark as the quiet tiny road I live on, has a couple of huge street lights at useful intervals. And the moon was almost full. I’d just had some hot tea.

Basically, as per the teachings, most things in my life were perfect if you looked at things a certain way – and just blanked out the bit about being locked out, in a foreign rural village at 11pm with all your neighbours lights off, who don’t speak english anyway.

OK OK I can hear the clamouring – break a window and go back inside. Well, the very strange thing, is that this simply did not occur to me. I wanted a person with lock skills, to open a door. Its not my house, and I didn’t even think of breaking anything to get my rapidly cooling body back inside. Is that a feminine thought pattern or just me?

Anyway, I’m not the brightest breaker-in, but I am pretty good at communicating. First I tried the house up the road with lights on – I could even see a huge TV screen with a tv game going on – but scream and shout, dancing all about, driving the guys 3 dogs absolutely insane with rage, could I get the guy to come check what was going on? No. That’s when I felt a bit better about security around here. Obviously terrorism and suchlike is absolutely no threat around here where a neighbour does not come out to see what his dogs were trying to kill because its obviously a boar or a deer or something.

So starting to get really worried about all the candles burning and the gas fire in the same room, I ran the other way, and while its a reasonable village, with quite a few houses, all of them were in total darkness. Most with shutters completely closed, and while that can just be portuguese winter night closing up the house, there were very few cars.

Then on a hill nearby I saw some lights and what was obviously a tv playing, a very distinct light pattern even at some distance! Madly running through my limited vocabulary, I knocked on the door at about 12 midnight. Vitor answered after a startled pause ( I guess no-one ever knocked on their door after 10pm before) and I just drank in the sight of a human being INSIDE a house. Using my most ready vocab, I asked if he possibly, just possibly spoke a little english – obviously not expecting a survey at this time of night, he actually smiled as he agreed that he did, just a little. I had actually rehearsed explaining my situation in POrtuguese – its amazing what the brain recalls under stress, but I didn’t need it thank goodness.

And from these small things are miracles born – I was able to explain my predicament, he laughed because apparently he did the same thing 2 weeks before, spoke briefly to his wife, got some tools from his open garage (there is NO security issue in this area), offered me a lift in his car (parked with the key in the ignition… I start to know how to solve my problems myself, if I do this again and Vitor is not home!), came to the cottage, broke through the small bathroom window which I being the yoga person then climbed through, and – how lovely – the warm kitchen with candles all politely glowing, the gas fire completely under control, the keys in the backdoor.

I had a big bottle of port ready for a christmas gift, so I grabbed that and gave it to him as he made a hasty retreat back to his warm house, and he was really surprised. If it happened to him, he expected me to help, and so it wasn’t a matter for thanks he said. Good people in this community.

So the story doesn’t actually end there – and I’ll tell it because I’ve found from other adventures that Vitor, while a hero for sure, is not unique. The next day I went off to spend Christmas with Manuela and Isabelina, and the rest of Mike’s family here in POrtugal, and only came back 4 days later. The broken window I left taped up with cardboard as security really doesn’t seem to be an issue around here.

Vitor popped in to check how I was doing, just after I got back. He told me again about a double glazing specialist he’d given me the number for who I hadn’t tried to call yet, and drove off. An hour later he came back with some tools and a bit of wood. We were taking the broken window in for repairs, apparently. The piece of wood didn’t fit (the windows are inset in the 50cm stone walls, any covering for the missing window would have to be cut to fit into the opening) so off Vitor went again. 20 minutes later he was back, with a clever setup to bolt the wood in place, removed the broken window, covered up the hole, and led me to his car (after checking I had my keys…!)

We drove to the glazing specialist, fairly close by, dropped the window, had a coffee, and were back in an hour. A small action on his part, but it truly made my month. Not only would I not have thought to break a window to get in, but I could have searched for weeks for a local glazier to fix the broken window, and not been able to communicate when I did!

A few days later he texted to ask if I was home. Sure I was – and next thing, he arrived – with some tools and the repaired window, which he kindly refitted. A real good samaritan. I even had to insist he told me how much it was, so I could repay the small sum of €20.

I don’t know how something like this would pan out in London – I’d probably knock on my neighbours house and they’d call the police or possibly a locksmith if they knew one. I don’t think anyone I know in London except really close friends, would dream of smashing a window to help me get back into my house, with every intention of making it good afterwards.

The reason I moved to Portugal and want to start a new life here, is that these kind of people exist everywhere, but in smaller villages and towns in POrtugal there are more of them, I know because I’ve experienced kindness and generosity here in huge quantities before. And this town is certainly not letting me down this time around!

Getting there…

Had a wonderful journey across the south of France, and Spain.

Slept in a town on the Santiago de Compostela route, called Cuidad Rodrigo – I arrived in the dark, so the layout was all a little medieval with small cobbled roads and three story townhouses. I parked outside a shop in the main road, having learned my lesson long ago, to not drive willy-nilly into the old part of towns like this, just because another car does, unless you know for sure you know a route back out. Which your car, and your driving abolities, can handle!

Wandering around, I found an absolutely charming hotel, which had an available room and even offered free parking. I signed up and went to get the van, carefully investigating all the one-ways and super-narrow roads on the way back but then realising that the hotel was actually only a block from a main road in another direction.

Cheerfully driving up to the hotel, I turned where the receptionist indicated, seeing no driveway but ever hopeful – and saw this cornered precipice. No lies. Anyway, she seemed to think it was a perfectly normal place to park a van, so I drove down, the roof touched as I entered the truly tiny garage beneath, directly facing a wall, so a 3 point turn to actually get into the parking spaces deeper inside. I was sweating by the time I got my backpack to the lift. Not so much from getting in, as the thought of doing that in reverse – up a 40 degree slope, on a corner. It didn’t really bear thinking about. My spanish is a little better than my portuguese, so I went to reception to whine about the parking. The receptionist, a sturdy looking woman my age, seemed to think it was absolutely no problem at all, and made vrooming acceleration noises very enthusiastically. Horrors.

Anyway, not one to worry about things like my van with all my most valuable personal belongings being buried under a small hotel in central Spain for the rest of the century, I went off exploring. What a brilliant place! The hotel was in the grid of small streets I assumed was the medieval town, but actually those older areas of towns like this are usually not so squared off. So I should have seen the surprise coming, following a happy-sounding family up the hill towards what looked like the hilltop cathedral. I was hoping to see the inside of the church it being Sunday evening and time for mass, when the family suddenly disapeared in front of me – crime-series style – cue da doom da doom style music.

I crept closer, and there was a longish uphill tunnel in the huge stone wall we’d been walking alongside. All beautifully lit, and christmas lights visible on the far side. I entered and it was a Harry Potter moment – the old village, probably more of a large walled hillfort, is behind a 5 metre stone wall in the centre of town, and (as I observed in the light, next day) on a fairly substantial hill on the middle of a large plain. Its a maze of tiny interleading cobbled roads, cute little shops and restuarants, squares and gardens, at least two large churches both holding mass, noisy bars and busy cafes, and a lot of brightly lit townhouses. So strange to look into a truly ancient stone house, and see a really funky scandi-looking light fitting shining out.

As it was truly dark and I’d been driving all day, I ducked into a really local looking place, a largish cafe with loads of oldies sitting around chatting and drinking wines and coffee. I asked for a coffee at the counter and went to sit down, but when I asked about a menu the waiter looked horrified. It was only 7:00. They only start taking dinner orders at 8:30. Welcome to rural spain, I think its even later in Madrid and at the coast. So funny. His manager was a lot more tourism-orientated, and offered me the English menu, I think planning to just take the order and let me sit with my coffee till the kitchen opened. Why not! It was a very pleasant meal in any case, you could say they practise slow food. And the oldies (8-10 to a table, about 5 tables) kept the place hopping till well after I left, as well as producing a good amount of body heat – it was one of the warmest restuarants I’ve eaten in so far!

As with the ferry, you know I made it out the hotel parking as I’m writing this from POrtugal a few days later… actually, the receptionist was dead right. I manoevered into starting position, aimed for the top which I couln’t see at all, gave thanks for my extremely expensive international car insurance in advance for the potential repairwork, put my foot down, and literally flew up without any scrapes or embarrassing backsliding.

In fact I bounced out just behind some painters I’d seen pull up in a large van early in the morning, and I think knowing they were there was a part of my confidence. I often attack problems by offering myself outrageous solutions if the one I’m trying doesn’t work. And in this case, the alternative solution was to ask the driver of the painter’s van, to drive my van out the parking. How exactly I was going to explain that to him in Spanish, was all part of the magic I like to attract, but in the end it wasn’t needed. They did hop out the way when I came charging out, as I may have slightly overdone the revs, but the van was loaded to the gills and I really didn’t think she’d fly up easily as she did. One of the many learning moments I’ve had this trip. 🙂

Cuidade Rodrigo is quite close to the POrtuguese border, but I only left midmorning, with plenty of time to kill as my new cottage home was at that time still without an electricity connection. Driving across the border was an adventure even on the wide roads, with mist and a deep thick fog. There was a particularly magical moment just after the first portuguese language signs, where a rainbow formed in the light mist alongside the road, and as the light shifted and I drove, it followed me. Must have been a trick of the angle of sunlight, but there seemed to be a column of rainbow coloured light teasing me from the side of the road, for some time.

I explored some of the northeastern towns and villages, that part of Portugal is ancient and very beautiful. The countryside is full of tiny plots mainly full of olive trees, each area separated by ancient weathered rock walls, grey and green with moss and lichens. Its a very wet area, in places there is water just running along ditches and along the side of the road, houses have steeply pitched rooves and big gutters. Apparently there is a lot of permaculture work happening around there, I didn’t see any obvious signage but will definitely go back and visit again.

One town had a fireman’s festival going on so I sat outside in the winter sun, at a small cafe and drank some milky coffee (galao) while watching the men. Portuguese bombeiros are volunteers, but its a serious job in most towns in the central and northern regions, as massive interleading pine and eucalyptus plantations have created an ever increasing fire hazard. Mid summer rarely passes in this region without a bad fire. They wear the most fabulous red sweatshirts, and are mostly tall and husky, I’m on the lookout for an available one who speaks a bit of english and does carpentry in his spare time 🙂

Calling ahead, I found out there was still no electricity at my cottage. So I drove through to nearby Coimbra and looked for a hotel. After driving around the main streets for about an hour and seeing just two hotels signposted but absolutely no place to park nearby, I realised I was just being old-fashioned.

Stopping in a quiet suburban road, I logged into the internet on my smartphone, connected to (sorry for the ad – there are other sites, but I used this one in Costa Rica and it was just as effective), found a list of Coimbra hotels with secure parking by price and locality, and chose one with loads of stars, close to the freeway and to where I’d parked. What a fabulous find. The Hotel Dom Luis sits on a hillside site on its own, overlooking one of those four-leaf-clover intersections on the main national freeway, high enough that the noise is a subtle wave-crashing sound in the distance, but also overlooking the Coimbra river and the old part of town on the other side, which is beautifully lit at night. Stayed a couple nights in the end, trying to avoid moving into a cold damp stone house in midwinter, without the support of electricity….




Travelling Times

Saturday 19 December

Such an effective way to travel when you’re a non-mechanical woman driver with a small van chock-a-block full of all your personal, valuable stuff. Just take the car off the road and go on a cross-channel ferry from Portsmouth in England, to La Havre in France – you can sleep through the night,get proper coffee in the morning with a very decent french croissant, and take about 600kms off the road trip!!

Ferries are amazing – if you’ve not been on one yet, the one I travelled on is the size of a small shopping centre, the whole side opens so it can take on board a number of petrol tankers, some Massive diesel trucks, a few busses, and then hundreds of cars and vans.

The original road trip I’d carefully planned, never happened – first of all I heard about the job of my dreams – which I applied for, never thinking it would come to anything – but then got an interview opportunity … which was 1 day before I’d arranged to hand over my keys, get all my personal things out my apartment, and get on the ferry. Guessing an interview would prevent final packing being done in time, I postponed the ferry by 3 days, then…

Having gotten myself into the Van with all my boxes, at the absolute last moment I could leave London to get there on time, with telephone and computer chargers, passports, bank details, boxes of books and everything I needed to complete my studying, candles and matches(more about THAT later) and loads of warm clothes … plus plates and pots, as the house I’m going to is completely unfurnished… I left home, turned out of my road feeling quite proud of my packing and timing, got onto the local main road quite easily, and then just got stuck – in the most unbelievable traffic jam I’ve ever experienced in London. Specially organised for me.

In the end, I turned back and just slept one more night in the empty apartment, the traffic had me sitting for 80 minutes during which I moved a mere 2 miles from home…

Sooooo I booked a third “cheap” non-refundable ticket, they were getting relatively expensive at that stage – for the following night. Which gave me a chance to go for one last coffee with friends at my favourite local london coffee shop, NAturalis, check all my lists, catch up on emails, tidy up a little more before leaving, so this journey seemed pretty auspicious.

Actually, these kinds of changes of plan really don’t bother me – I half expect them to happen. While I came up with a plan and the concept of going to live in POrtugal for the winter, to learn portuguese and investigate properties in the area I’d like to farm, I knew it would happen the way Life flowed. Its so much easier to let things happen the way they want, not spend a lot of energy worrying or trying to change too much, if my initial plans don’t work or even fireworks blown right through them (i.e. we’re on a different page of the calendar not just set-back a few minutes!)

In my experience, it never works to force a situation back into the picture I originally had of it. This is just playing with mental awareness – Firstly, the world really doesn’t look the way we think it does, so plans are just ideas and concepts, not solid things. If we keep that in mind, when a new plan comes along, or a reason we can’t continue with the old one, its just easier to rename the new situation as “reality” and make any personal emotional or mental adjustments I need, for it to work. Mostly these are around mindful observance of my annoyance or fear when things change – I thought the situation would look like “X” and when it looks like “Y” I am not controlling it, its controlling me. But since I’ve realised that mostly, I’m not controlling anything – not the people around me, the traffic, my health, politics and economics, most stuff – I feel a lot more relaxed. There’s a great saying that works for me in this situation – True happiness does not lie in getting what you want, but in wanting (or deciding to want) what you actually get.

I’m sure there will be times when that philosophy is not going to work, but its keeping me pretty happy so far. So this is how it was with the multiple ferry rides – although the changes cost a fortune, and I don’t recommend booking tickets until you’re quite sure you’re travelling the next day as they’re usually available, I am sure it was meant to happen the way it did. And it was perfect.

So nearly a week later than planned, I finally drove out of London at 4pm on a Friday, on route to the Ferry, France and Spain, and finally to Portugal.

First though, my GPS tested me, taking me the longest possible route to get through London that I could imagine. It was a good thing as knowing London, I recognised it was a very sideways and upside down way to go, so checked all my settings on the gadget, before giving it control of my route in Europe where I wouldn’t have known I was going the wrong way. Turned out I had something called “eco-friendly” switched on, my advice – never use it. I have no idea what criteria it uses to decide if a road is “eco-friendly” but in London it took me way off the main, direct route, and down a lot of unlit narrow suburban side roads with major speedbumps. I think its punishment for eco-warriors, perhaps the idea is to make us pay in pain (head or bum ache from all those bumps) for the kilometres we’re driving.

Getting on the ferry was exciting and a little tense for me – I’ve never done it before, and there’s not much information given out about what to expect or what to do. And then you get there, and everyone else looks like they know exactly what they’re doing – driving into specific lanes, switching their cars on and off at odd times, just hanging out and chatting to their partners. I didn’t see anyone else travelling alone, except for the Big truck drivers, all male. So no-one to easily share the moment with.

Its a bit of a strange feeling, knowing its just me who has to make all the choices and decisions and there is literally no-one to check things with. But I’m getting better at this “diving into change” – the main thing to keep in mind always is that obviously, we can all do most things other people can. So while everyone has a first time on a ferry, first time to drive through Europe, etc., these things are not rocket science, slow and steady and a careful look at what other people do, and I should be ok.

So I edged closer carefully, not wanting to drive into the sea by mistake for a start, or stall my little van in front of a row of petrol tankers queueing at the door. Silly things to worry about I know – but I think we all do this in a completely new situation like a class or new job or even taking a new train to work – even if mechanical or simple to perform, we wonder if there are any secret tricks other’s know, or skills we don’t have which are required. So waiting to get on the ferry I found challenging. And that was only the very beginning of my journey!

Anyway, turns out you can relax, listen to music, and a nice chap in a yellow reflective vest will make absolutely sure you stop where you need to, and go when you need. And its a great idea to put on the European “headlight adjusters” on your car, while you wait, so you don’t risk forgetting on the other side, highly illegal – and anyway you have at least an hour to kill waiting for all the other trucks and cars to load.

They must have seen my eye-rolling during the wait, as my van was – wait for this – the absolutely LAST vehicle on the french ferry that friday night. Is that beginners luck? At least 40 truck drivers waiting to go up the internal lift, had the great opportunity to watch me carefully reverse park into the tiny spot left at the door. After a bit of nifty pedalwork, I was a bit disapointed they didn’t chain my car down, as I saw their petrol tankers were chained, seems to me the lighter vehicles are more likely to move around – but I guess they do less damage if they do.

I’m guess a couple hundred vehicles get on, so its quite funny that being so concerned about the whole process, I then had to watch absolutely everyone else do it first. But getting on last is a bonus… as you’re then first off onthe other side. And quite impossible to organise. They go by vehicle size in loading up, and in spite of being really early, and totally midsized, my van somehow ended up being the perfect “final straw” for them to load. So no matter what planning and worrying I did, it all turned out more perfect than I could imagine. As things do so often – which I only notice when I stop and think about the past and my life process, and realise just how grateful I am for all the easy things, the skillful things, the beautiful things that just happened.

As I am writing this a few weeks later, you already know the outcome – a completely painless and straightforward crossing, nowt wrong.

On the weight of feedback in internet reviews I read, I booked a large luxury cabin, the biggest cabin as it was the only one left by the time I booked. The other option didn’t sound good – trying to sleep in a reclining chair, in a large public wooden-floored lounge, with 200 other people, all shuffling about trying to stay warm and get some sleep, with double doors opening out onto the freezing cold deck and equally wide doors going into the bar.

When I got to my cabin, the door wouldn’t open, and I was about to go back down to reception to get a new key. But I had a little moment – this incredibly hunky sailor-type, in a tight black t-shirt with amazing tattoos, stopped and asked me in french if I was ok. Seeing that the door wouldn’t unlock, he simply typed in some secret code, and bobs my auntie the door popped open. I looked at him a little weirdly, thinking “oops – the whole crew knows how to get into my cabin” and he read my mind. He winked, and pointed to his chest. Some kind of insignia. “I’m the captain” he laughed, and walked off – the crew’s quarters are just next to the two larger cabins on the upper deck. I was probably sleeping in his 🙂

So I thoroughly enjoyed my privacy (?!), the warmth, the little porthole through which I could see part of the deck, the disapearing port lights, and the waves off to each side. I loved the sweet built in wooden bunks and neat shelves and lots of places to put bottles and cups so they didn’t fall in the night, I had to unpack my little bag just to put things on all the shelves and in all the nooks and corners. There were pristine white warm cotton duvets ready for me – it looked just like the first class trains in India!

I fell asleep amazingly easily for such a strange new bed, listening to the creaks and noises of the waves moving the ship. The whole thing moved much more than I thought something so big would… but the ocean is just that much bigger I guess. There were some pretty impressive movements, the ferry goes up and down with the waves as it moves forward, but there’s also (sorry, for those who know all about ocean travel – kind of my first experience!!!) a funky sideways roll going on (swell?) so you can almost feel the ships timbers bending slightly as the front goes up (or down) while it simultaneously rolls from side to side. Please don’t let me put you off though – its all quite manageable, but not like being on land.

Half expected to find my car cuddled up to a petrol tanker in the morning when we docked, but the van was almost exactly as I left it. Had a bit of performance anxiety, having rushed to unlock and get the van started, and be in the right place before about 200 other vehicles needed to go around me, as I was literally parked right across the door. Luckily, car started and I didn’t fall off the ramp, just got off absolutely first – which was pretty cool!

Customs was hilarious – they stop everyone and want to look at what you’re carrying in some detail. Now you have to picture my van packed to the roof behind the front seats, with all sorts of boxes and bags, and blankets (and a spade) tucked into the remaining airspaces. It was quite tricky just opening a side door to get an overview. Thinking this might take all morning, I nonchalantly caught Retha’s olive tree in its little green pot which she’d given me to bring to Portugal, as it dropped off the top of the pile. The customs policewoman looked at it (there were some olives on it) and grinned, and that was it. Women importing olive trees in small pots along with about a ton of stuff in boxes and hidden by blankets, do not, apparently, constitute any threat to the French state.

Drove through a very pink sunrise at La Havre, carefully staying to the right sides of roads, and aiming immediately for the toll road. There was no hurry to reach Portugal, but rather than wander down all the gorgeous side roads, I decided to minimise the complexity of driving through Europe my first time, in a fairly old car, on my own, on the “wrong” side of the road, trying to follow roadsigns in a foreign language to places I didn’t know – by staying on the freeways this trip. There’s always next time to take the side roads and the by-ways.

France is simply a beautiful country. Incredibly industrialised – hardly a spot appears to be “wild” – if its “natural” looking, its been gardened that way. This extends to all the farmland I passed through, realistically the land on either side of a major international motorway is going to be more developed than elsewhere in the country, but it is noticeable how built-up and trimmed the french countryside looks. The roads are incredibly good, expensive, tolls cost me as much as diesel for the trip, but there are rest stops every 10 kilometres, and petrol stations with hotels, restuarants and shops, about every 20 kilometres. I have two useful electrical outlets on my dash (let’s hear it for the fiat doblo) so can plug in the gps and a phone or mp3 player at the same time, so I had great communications and music all the way. And after deleting the eco-warrior punishment mode, the gps gadget was quite good about keeping me on the right roads – its got funky 3D visuals for intersections which really help when you’re driving on a different side of the road.

Again, this was a new experience for me. I’ve driven in a portuguese car in Portugal, but this was an english car in France – so I was on the wrong side, for the roads I was on. Trusted friends had advised that its not hard to do – only toll booths are a mission (you’re on the wrong side of the car to take tickets or put coins in a slot – especially without a passenger to do it for you) and sharp slanted intersections are a problem as you’re on the far side of the direction other drivers will come from, so don’t see them easily. I just took it slow, and felt protected by the sheer bulk of the little van – normal cars would be unlikely to drive into me by mistake, even if I was in the wrong, as long as I drove slowly, and I have generally found truck drivers to be the most aware and considerate drivers around. At least, that is still my theory, and its worked so far!

France is all neat fields and postcard villages, they even have roadsigns with the postcard on for you to take photo’s in case you don’t visit the village. And mile upon mile of vineyards: Bordeaux and Cognac regions, have to go back and do those much more slowly (and with a stop-over so I can do some tasting!)

On the first day I was so relaxed by the easy driving on the toll roads, and the good nights rest on the ferry, that I did nearly a ton of mileage – 900kms. It may also have been all that AMAZING french coffee I grabbed everytime I stop to pee….

Its standard practise for me to go with the flow and see where the road or “fate” leads, so I hadn’t booked a place to sleep. I wasn’t even sure whether I’d stop, or whether I’d just pull over into one of the truck stops, and grab 30 winks like the truck drivers do. But having been chatted up by 4 different interesting but not very sensitive looking truckers, on the ferry, while just getting water and a coffee in the morning, I wasn’t that keen to take a chance on being the sole female in a french truck stop.

So I found an amazingly organised motel just off the freeway in Biarritz, kind of smokey french roadside motel movie style. Booked in with a minimum of effort – its interesting how these transactions require very little language skill. You need a room, for 1 night, for 1 person. Almost all this can be indicated by pointing at the pricelist, and gesticulating at my car (parking?) and the ashtray (slashing hand across throat – NO SMOKING room please). Anyway, the lady seemed to get it, and the room was fine.

It even came with a tubby shirtless dude next door who obviously fancied himself as the Star of the “french motel movie” – walking round the balcony (it is winter here, by the way) half-naked, smoking, and shouting on his phone in French, I’m guessing making very impressive deals like in the mafia movies but as I’m english… and the people the other side were spanish, sadly his show was a little wasted.

Luckily for everyone he quietened down by the time I came back from the buffet, and had stopped smoking outside my window. I’m a pretty easy going traveller, and I try not to stand-out or attract any unecessary attention. But smoking near my bed – especially considering the EU has great regulations on this – is just seriously going to cheese me off! He must have recognised the look of a rabid anti-smoking crusader, as he was gone.

Morning brought more amusement though. He came to breakfast – this is a cheap but conservative little family motel – full of kids, young couples, couples taking gran somewhere – in his leopard print DRESSING GOWN, and matching fuzzy slippers. Fairly certainly naked underneath, you have to imagine a chunky looking chap of about 35, deeply tanned, heavy gold chain, seriously weird mohawk type haircut and an expression of pure delight on his face, watching everyone else watching him. When I see people behave like that, I often wonder – are they a total narcissist and can’t see any problem with their actions, or is this a buddha – provoking us all to react and respond, giving us an opportunity to be mindful?

The receptionist got really cross, (he was obviously not her type) and told him to go change so they had a long and very verbose arguement which I wished I could understand, as lots of people kept smiling, I think the argument got quite personal. His friend looked slightly embarrassed but kept tucking into the croissants from the buffet, much to the receptionist’s further annoyance as its strictly one each, but she was so distracted by dressing gown man, his friend kept finding moments to nick another bun. I think the two of them were even travelling in a big red sportscar parked sideways across two spaces, perhaps he was actually a porno star – the French riviera must be a good place to make those kinds of movies? not sure about his weird haircut, maybe it was a punk movie. But he was pretty tanned. All over by the look of it. Who knows. Certainly kept me chuckling through breakfast.

Week 4 – now for some Spanish

Just completed the Permaculture certificate course with Douwe Wielstra at Verdenergia in Lanas, near San Jose, yesterday evening.

  Such great people on the course, Lauren with all her plant knowledge and Amanda with her incredible design skills and strong grap of all the principles of how to make a farm Permacultured.  I’ve learned so much, and confirmed very solidly some of the wonderful things i learned in findhorn, and with frank and anna-kari e at moinhos in portugal, and swamiji and ram at Mandala Ashram in Wales.

I’ve really been blessed to find all these amazing places and meet all myincredible friendsand teachers, Verdenergia is oneof the most amazing places, with lots of interesting things going on.

Am seriously looking at becoming a formal member of their tribe, will be returning before  I leave Costa Rica.

Travelled to Alajuela, near the airport in San Jose, along with half the people staying at the farm this morning (4am start…. 13 sardines in Chico Mora’s bus, Lauren is going to support a group doing a festival, Amanda is travelling with some of the Verde volunteers and tribe members, and I am attending a couple weeks of Spanish Language training.

We made an extremely brief visit to the Finca las Arcos, an organic herb farm in the area,
and then saw Ari Lapa, a great b&b where the plants we bought at the Finca for Verdenergia, are visiting, until transport can be arranged home to the farm. Use of taxis and hiring cars is much more carefully thought through than in London, all trips are coordinated to cover as many needs as possible.

Am staying at the same hotel as my first night in Cr again, Hotel Robledal, which seems much more expensive now that I’ve been staying in the rural areas – but they don’t remember me here, stuck me in one of those tacked-on single rooms where the couple next doors aircon and shower noise are definitely going to drive me nuts, so rather than hang out and explore locally for the rest of the week (butterfly farm, volcano etc.) I’m probably taking off to Porto Viejo tomorrow, start my beginner’s Spanish class a few days early.

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Profiles – a great blog post about Verdenergia


Week 2 – into the jungle step 2

Flew back to San Jose, the capital, Saturday afternoon – very sad to say goodbye to my new friends – team Yoga, as Jen said, ” like being on a honeymoon with 11 strangers….”

Same tiny lightweight Sansa Air plane as before, 2 pilots but this time about 10 people were flying, a huge pile of bags, so funny seeing it all being packed under the tiny body of the plane into luggage space similar to a bus, with similar Very simple hatch covers (do these ever unexpectedly popoff in midflight and distribute luggage to needy rural areas on the flightpath?!). 

Guess this is how flight used to be …. straightforward, you’re on the plane and taxiing out 10 minutes after it arrives, and when you land the pilot drops you at the entrance  door of the terminal and your bags are waiting within seconds.. felt very luxurious.

Was collected at the San Jose airport by the chatty Francisco,  a close friend of Joshua who is the Verdenergia tribe leader.  Frnacisco already befriended all the staff at the Sansa Airport by the time I arrived,  both a bus driver and policeman so every person we passed, on our 1hour drive to Puriscal, whether that personwas driving a bus, car or pedestrian, greeted him! We had a great chat – my yoga friend Sheila imtroduced us,  warning him about me with my 1% spanish but we managed well, Francisco with his 4% English, and a ton of signlanguage and gesticulating inbetween.

We stopped enroute after an hour, in Puriscal  to pick up some of the Tribe Verdenergia, including the very charismatic Joshua Peaceseeker – who were shopping for groceries, peanuts, beer and chocolate in whatis the nearest town. To prepare for my entry into the jungle, I was directed to an authentic old hardware store with a bunch of super helpful clerks and a separate Cashier window ( like fabric shops in India) to get botes de hule- rubber boots – as these help to keep your feet from the ants on the farm.

The farm itself is an hour from Puriscal, 3 hours driving from the coast, down a simple track that is not terribly steep in the dry and quite well graded, but in places is missing half the road which has fallen down the mountain.  The winding route involved plenty up and down, until we turned into a simple farm gate at a half wood/half concrete farmhouse.  The main building is an old farmhouse which has been redeveloped, there are 3 bedrooms here, 1 of which is a small box with 2 huge mostly paneless windows looking out over the jungle, and a half wall. That’s my room!

There is a huge eat-in kitchen dining area,  lovely strangely modern looking natural spring water swimming pool with benches and a fountain, a beautiful yoga/dance hall,  further 4 dorm rooms and anarray of other rooms behind and above, scattered around the property. On the next hillside (there are two creeks and a river, the land is pretty undulating) they are building 4 houses for some of the core tribe members, and grow some of the food and flowers, the rest of the gardens are scattered in dells and glades all over. Permaculture is also about beauty, so the finca is very beautiful.

We get up before 5:30 and the breakfast team serve fruit and coffee.

Tasks are assigned and teams selected, and the workers go off to build, dig, plant or clean. 

As I am doing the Permaculture course with Douwe, Lauren and Amanda, I get to do my blog for an hour and class starts at 7.  At 8:30 the breakfast brigade serve the real breakfast (yesterday amazing organic dosa – pancakes – made with yukka rice and bean flower slightly fermented- and something delicious with cheeze and various veg on top – I recognised cabbage but it was incredibly tasty).

All the food is made from scratch – flour is ground from carefully grated and dried yukka, after the starch is  collected from soaking it, yoghurt is made from scratch, turmuric spice is grown here but needs to be grated, dried and ground, chocolate is from the cacao bean, ginger from a root – everything as far as possible is seed to soil to sink to table….

And then there’s the compost loo, so I guess even from the table there’s another level of procesing… they compost human waste for non-edible plants (they’re re-treeing the estate with local trees as it used to be a pig farm and the soil was heavily eroded and nutrient  degraded when Josh bought it.)

Lunch at 12:30 is the end of my morning classes and dinner is at 5:30 – its pretty  stifling hot during the afternoon so most people chill out next to the fresh water pool,  play games in the house, or hang out in their room. I think some building work goes on in the afternoon, if people can work under roof.  They make absolutely  everything they can, by hand, so the work on two houses under construction right now is all about sanding raw trunks and planing wood for the floor, long and arduous tasks we’ve all forgotten how to do, as we just buy finished wood (or the whole house!!!!)

Its amazingly back to nature and back to original tools and ways of doing things. 

We are in the middle of mapping one of the new buildings surrounds, in fact that of our teacher Douwe, a dutch guy with an amazing history in permaculture, worked in honduras, kenya, here in costa rica. I’ll put up more photos next time!!  Of everything including the compost loo with the amazing view.

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Spirals within Spirals

Since my last blog post there’s been so much movement among the #occupy or the 99% movement as they sometimes call themselves

– I like to think of the protesters graphically as hordes of Alan Moores masked V figures from the movie V for Vendetta ( a great movie, although I believe the original graphic novel is loads better!!).

The Occupy Mask

Time will tell what comes of it all – I feel like we are living through a renaissance – none of us will be able to see it clearly for what it is – in centuries to come, our children’s children will tell tales of the bits they remember of videos and books they have access to – but no-one person will really know where all the change that is coming, came from originally – although many will claim ownership!!

I am pretty sure the #occupy movement will be remembered as one of the drivers.  It doesn’t need to achieve any one particular thing.  If its got you to read a little about ethics and greed and what democracy, sharing and equal rights – or just “rights” actually means, if you’re doing a little reading as to where money comes from, or trying to find out a little more about how our economies actually work (well, how they don’t actually currently work is more accurate) – and what might be affecting them, then #occupy, by my reading of their manifesto and meeting some of the team, is doing what they intended.

Think.  After all, its what makes you human.  Don’t waste those 3.5 million years of evolution to sit back and be a vegetable when you can be so much more. No, its not that comfortable to take responsibility for your choices, your vote, your acceptance of the tripe fed us daily in the media.  But that’s what being a real grown-up means.  Not living in cloud cuckoo land, or a fairy tale world where your employer or spouse carries all the responsibility.  Because that’s not going to last very well in the new structures that are coming down the line… we’re all going to have to carry some of the pain of breaking up this stranglehold of vested interests, that no longer serve the “common man” – you or me.


I am fascinated by the #OccupyWallStreet process that is going on – its just expanding and flourishing.

I found an offical looking blog that hosts the #OccupyWallStreet New York Manifesto
– whether its the official one or not, the manifesto is good, and what’s even better is there is a LOT of sensible commentary.

I wanted to ask them to allow reposting/Like/sharing options, but got distracted suggesting how people can take the process to heart and move the Change forward. This is my post in that blog:

This is great !!
– People seem frustrated by the discussion being open and not answered “officially” (hey – besides the originators of the #occupywallstreet group, who’s going to take on a role as an “official” ? Its about all of us people – you are the 99% and you are also the ONE. Make it happen, make your own choices, make a noise locally, change your life, change your families life, change your local politicians (completely – or at least their views!!) – make a difference in your own community. The big issue here is all of us have stopped voting as nothing seems to change, and we wait for someone “Official” to do the right thing.

WE ARE THE “DEMOCRACY” we keep asking for.
WE ARE THE 99% who want change.


Its not an easy viewpoint to hold, but think about it. If you don’t want that guy to run that corporation that way, why aren’t you telling him so? Why aren’t you offering your ideas, and your assistance?

I believe the current process for this “99% movement ” is about talking through ideas, lets all put our concepts and suggestions out there – on every blog and youtube speech and comment area you can find. Sell your ideas if you believe in them. Don’t wait for someone on this forum to tick your gold star box and tell you “Good Girl – you got it Right” — I don’t think there’s an easy “Right”

We have got to keep talking and as media starts to pay attention and corporates start to feel the anger and frustration – by you NOT buying things, and telling them you’re not happy – there’s going to be some clear and obvious choices of what actions to move on next. This is not going to stop. We have a world view to overturn – an economic structure and vast corporate network that encompasses everything we know, it all has to be untied and re-structured – that will take time, and needs gentle coaxing. We’re not at war, there’s urgency, but we have time. Let’s do it right. Get all these Brilliant ideas out there, and I have to say some of you are so eloquent and focussed it brings tears to my eyes – why aren’t you guys standing for government?

oh yeah – right – we can’t be in the government, we don’t agree with the corporates…. ok, so where are you all going to stand to make a REAL difference and implement some of your FANTASTIC ideas then?

The occupation of Wall Street has focussed a LOT of attention within the average man on the street who’s heard about it – both tax-paying working ones, AND non-working-would-be-earning ones; its bringing out everyone’s creative energy. That’s the benefit of keeping it a non-violent protest – let’s stay focussed on the change, and not get distracted by violence and arrests and pain. No one needs to suffer to keep this going – everyone is coming up with absolutely FANTASTIC ideas of how things can change.

And so much is wrong, it can’t all be resolved with a sweep of one person’s hand – we don’t need another dictator, benign and wise or otherwise. We need to each take responsibility and make our voice heard locally. I’m in London, and our political and economic issues are different and complex in their own way, to what you’re facing in the States.
But Anti-greed ethics (we have a surfeit of fat bankers and stock-brokers here!!) and “99% for the 99%” concept apply here as much as anywhere else in the world.

I’d love to see an option to post particular comments on this page, and on other sites which are documenting and holding ideas for #OccupyWallstreet (there are now 1000’s of associated sites which have started, or since linked themselves – amazing!!!) so I can share the ideas I subscribe to, with friends and my contact group – on FAcebook, Twitter and other social media.

That’s how the GREAT ideas’ will be pushed forward and come into construction – lets vote with our “Like” buttons.

So my question – can owners of blogs and #occupy and #99% websites look at implementing sharing options ?

– most blogging software has it as an option that just needs to be turned on?

Thanks everyone – let’s go change the world we live in. Why not?

Change – the nature of a beast

Returned to London – right into the centre, the hub of the “civilized world” – and wow, has it been a profound culture shock and a huge jolt to my peace of mind!

Life before was slow, manageable and controlled, parts of what was happening, were uncomfortable,  but generally life was a no-brainer.

Well, its only been a week but I’ve been very conscious of a rush – a spike of energy, a hellish wind, from the world moving past my door – literally,  as the apartment I live in is on a busy road and has a lot of pedestrian traffic along the back. Even the news seems faster and more controversial here, fashions more edgy and faces more profound, words seem to carry more weight.

As I am watching myself experience this change, strange fears raised familiar faces in my emotions – fear of the unknown (what now?) and fear of the known (can I once more live in this place I left 10 years ago?), fear of the future (what should I be doing?) and fear of things undone in the past (why am I here?).


All the usual culprits.


My friends and family shared concerns about me moving away from them, work and a community I’d become part of, into a state of flux and change. So I was partially prepared – for complexity, issues and new experiences –  but hadn’t realized my old self would react to newness with such fear and dread.


Its been a sadly recurring theme of my life to move into total change more often than others – sad, because a lot is usually lost in the process, friends, comfort levels, possessions, modes of thinking and valued concepts – but that seems to be the unforgiving and exploitative nature of Change and there is also no way of avoiding it!


I think being truly alone is a strong place to stand.  It tests me in ways I am weak.  Stepping outside of community, away from family, especially for me who loves and actually needs to be part of a group, supporting and supported.

And out of nature – that is SOO hard!! Not only did the the grass seem really greener before, but even my route to work was a gorgeous treed lane with overhanging branches that held the sunlight – so opposite to the grimy pavement outside here!


But its only been a week.  A lot of fears arise because once again, I am not sure what my purpose now is and what my next role will be.  And that takes time to resolve.  A couple of work opportunities are pending, as I’ve taken a step back from my role as a fulltime yoga instructor and dropped the comfortable unchallenging role I played as an administrator in a small company, to open to whatever will appear next.


To face down fear, I’ve been going into the throng,  walking the streets of the city, touching that riverine current of energy that pours through all great cities but so strongly in London.


As I give myself time to relinquish the comfortable life I was living, it becomes clear that the rumblings of discomfort I have been feeling before moving, were the itchy mental rash caused by squashed and limiting thinking, which was  ultimately not comfortable at all and simply had to be dealt with!

I know that now, new concepts will arise, as they have before —  there is now space for incredibly creativity in what I can become, in this void I’ve created  – a wonderful benefit of change I have experienced before!


Already ideas present themselves, from reading and online research, conversations with friends, and spontaneously in the Silence.


Something will arise.


In the meantime, I find old friends and familiar books a wonderful kind of support.  As I open to the new, the parts of my existing self become transportable, an umbrella  to shield myself in inclement situations, but they can also be folded into a corner of my heart to allow the bright clear new sunshine in!