For various reasons (electricity management, wi-fi scarcity, my own time mismanagement and more) I’m running chronologically behind on this blog. The following actually happened a week ago:
I left the Algarve behind me and headed towards a Couchsurfing host in the Monchique mountains under rainclouds and cold winds. It wasn’t the weather I had hoped for when I chose Portugal as my starting point, but the area itself turned out to be so beautifully peaceful (and the weather forecast for the following week so foreboding) that I decided to see if there were any workaway hosts nearby looking for volunteers.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that most people haven’t bothered to read ‘The Plan’ on the menu above; basically workaway is a website where people in need to help (around the home/farm, with language learning, or anything really) advertise for it, in return for food and board. The generally accepted practice is ‘5 hours a day, 5 days per week’, which seems fair to me.
One person got back to me (a British ex-pat about 20 miles away) with an ankle injury that meant she struggles to walk her dogs, and some forthcoming holiday cottages in need of odd-jobs.
After meeting my host at a nearby bar, I followed her bashed-up Berlingo down a dirt path and past the omnipresent Portuguese guard-dogs of nearby houses to her own place. The area was fantastic – rolling hills like Devon and Cornwall, but miniaturised (maybe 30-50 metres tall; I’m bad at estimating heights) interspersed with ponds and roamed by cows and sheep.
On arrival I met my host’s husband and found they’re both from Bournemouth, so we had that in common. There was a Chinese woman (another workawayer) there too – she’d been there for over three weeks, which is longer than I planned to stay, but shows how comfortable the accommodations and situation were.
The following week was a welcome break, even if after only one week of cycling and couch surfing. It was luxurious to have my own room, with huge comfortable bed, and access to a kitchen stocked with a variety of fresh ingredients. My host keeps a bunch (flock? murder?) of chickens so I could indulge in my favourite breakfast of eggs done-whatever-way-I-see-fit and I can report that fresh (IE, still warm) ones do indeed make poaching much easier.
Work-wise, it was extremely relaxed. I’m a DIY-numpty but I was let loos slapping cement onto the walls of the cottages (shabby-chique they say) to cover electrical wires and I even managed to repair/construct a replacement pallet-gate. The latter was necessary to stop the bloody great big Great Dane (Enya) from escaping. I lovelier dog I haven’t met, but walking her proved to be my most stressful employment due to her pea-sized brain combined with 50kg bulk and even bigger motivation to run off in search of cats, birds, cows, sheep or whatever passed her eyes. I was given cheddar to lure her back, but this worked only occasionally.
The local dirt-roads turned out to be great for jogging (I intend to continue running, if only weekly or bi-weekly) in the mornings although the frogs and dogs necessitated earplugs at night. My ears are actually getting sore from having either earphones or earplugs in them most of the time…
After a few days, I found out my host is a Jehovah’s Witness. I’d never really spent any time with one before (and I’m a pretty strident atheist) but I found her to be 100% normal. Less sweary than us non-believers but that is as likely to be due to her age as it is to her religion. She was an excellent host and I feel like I enjoyed meeting her friends and going out for food (curry in Carvoiero) as much as I did watching ‘A Place in the Sun’ with her. Oh, she maintained an excellent wood-burner fire which was warmly (ha!) welcomed.
Despite the luxury, I got itchy feet after a few days (I’d only been on the road for a week before stopping) and left after my pre-arranged week. On the last day another workawayer arrived, a Nepalese guy of 28 who was desperate for paid work to satisfy his visa requirements and left the following day. I think he thought the area would have more work opportunities and he could use the house as a base to look for something that paid. Not for the first time, I felt guilty about the lazy comfort of my situation which allows me to drift around one of the more expensive continents in search of an even more comfortable future. Even after a few months grafting in fields (legally, in a country that seems to have a sizeable ‘off the books’ culture) he only had something like 80 Euros to his name.