Back on the road again…. .

So that’s it.  Our prolonged stopover in Portugal came to an end last weekend.  We’re back on the road.  We moved out of our rental house and back into the van almost a week ago.  It’s time to take stock methinks.  I wrote in the blog at the beginning of our stay that after nearly four years we felt we needed a break from travelling and van dwelling to relax, recharge, regroup, reset, reflect and reboot.  Over the last four years we’ve had breaks from the van of between three weeks and two months whilst we’ve been volunteering through Helpx where we’ve worked in exchange for accommodation and food.  The last four months, though, was the first time we’d a) stayed in one place for more than two months and b) done so on our own terms without any undue commitments.  One of the reasons we treated this period as an experiment was that we were curious to see how we would feel living in, what is effectively someone else’s house, for a significant chunk of time and whether it would be something we would be happy to do again (and again) in the future.

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The view from our window.

When we started our travels in April 2016 we considered three options when deciding what to do with our house in the UK: use it, sell it or rent it out.  We chose the latter as that made more financial sense to us.  Leaving the house empty for a large part of the year would cost us money in bills and if we sold we’d have to consider what to do with the cash.  There was also a bit of fear in there that if the house price train were to gather considerable momentum then we would have just fallen off the back of it and would maybe struggle to scramble back on to it if we wanted to buy again in the future.  So we rented it out.  And all has been well.

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Arrifana beach.

So getting back to my point we wanted to see whether, if we needed a break from travelling and vanlife, renting and living in a fully furnished holiday let would suit us.  We don’t have possessions now other than what is in the van so it’s not like we have been missing the creature comforts of our own home.  All the things we use on a daily or weekly basis (other than kitchen equipment) came with us into the house so we weren’t without anything that we constantly use.  There are other things to consider though.  Feeling at home isn’t just about the bricks and mortar you’re living in.  It’s also about where it is.  Community.  That sort of thing.  It’s one of the reasons why we chose Aljezur for an extended stay as we have connections there.

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Portugal is one of the biggest producers of cork.

Having spent some time in 2016 and 2018 helpxing at Donkey HQ we already had a few connections.  And, of course, the donkeys were a huge draw for me as I love spending time with them.  Tim was looking for some musical connections and was fortunately welcomed into the Aljezur Bombeiros band with open arms.  In the time leading up to Christmas he was extremely busy with not only the Bombeiros band but a choir and the occasional jam session.  Since the New Year things calmed down considerably as he felt the choir and the jam sessions weren’t really for him so he let those go.  He would have liked to start a small group, and did try to get something going, but it’s difficult for that sort of thing to gain momentum especially when you know you are only going to be spending four months somewhere before moving on again.  After the first two months, where he’d been busy with the band things became very quiet and he felt like he needed more to do.  He did a few jobs like fencing at Donkey HQ but would have really liked to get his teeth into a project that involved tools of some sort.

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A bike ride up to Monchique.

And that’s the rub really with this lifestyle.  Everything is a compromise. You can’t have it all.  It’s difficult to maintain strong relationships within a community if you aren’t there for much of the year.  We can’t have hobbies like growing our own vegetables or have animals or a man cave for whatever men do in man caves.  It depends on your interests really.  Our only transport is the van and our bikes.  It wasn’t a problem to drive the van off for an afternoon or two but there were times when we thought a car would have been great to have.  Tim would have maybe found some music further afield.  The bike isn’t ideal for transporting instruments and the accoutrements that go with them. I suppose we could have hired one but we decided not to.  Perhaps we will in the future.

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Views towards the Algarve.

Staying put for four months, however, allowed us to focus on our respective interests.  For me I focussed on my language learning whilst Tim spent a big chunk of time honing his skills on the electronic saxophone he bought last year.

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Monchique.

So, in the end, was our extended stay a success?  Apart from a couple of quiet weeks in January, four months for me was fine but it was a little too long for Tim. For me, if we rented somewhere without the donkeys and the dogs to occupy me then one or two months at a time would be just about right.  The idea of a bolthole is extremely attractive but I don’t think we are there yet in making a commitment to it.  We still like the freedom we have.  We still want to travel and experience new countries so even if we had somewhere to go back to we wouldn’t really be there very often.  Renting somewhere for a period of between a month and four months is the best compromise for us at the moment if we feel we need a break from travelling or the van.

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Off to donkey day care.

So all in all our experiment was a real success.  We also like change.  Change is good for us.  Change challenges us.  Gets us outside our comfort zones.  Four months ago we immediately settled into our little house on the hill.  Last weekend we immediately settled out of it and back in to our van. We’re happy to be back on the road and eager to see where life takes us next. 

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Adeus Aljezur……

Até a próxima!

       

Walking with donkeys…. .

So today was my last day of helping out at Donkey HQ.

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Donkeys relaxing at Donkey HQ.

Three mornings a week for the last four months I’ve been super lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time mucking out, feeding, grooming, walking and observing the donkeys.

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A cold early morning breakfastfor Xichito, Isabella, Falco, Emil and Filipa.

I think it’s fair to say that I have developed quite a passion for donkeys over the last three years since we first helped out at Donkey HQ for a couple of months in the winter of 2016.  I’d always had a soft spot for them for no apparent reason as, up until then, I’d never had any direct experience with donkeys other than the odd beach ride or ‘donkey derby’ whilst on holiday in the 1970’s.

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On holiday in the Isles of Scilly cerca 1984!

I do, however, find them endearing, intriguing, fun, exasperating, entertaining……the list goes on.  Nothing has changed in that respect but I am interested in learning more about how donkeys ‘think’ and learning more about being ‘in tune’ with them.  The more time I spend with them the more intrigued I am about them.

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Olivia quite regularly does this curious thig with her tongue!

Up until this year I hadn’t had an opportunity to do a multi day trek with them. However, my chance came a few weeks ago when Sofia suggested a trek from Donkey HQ to Carrapateira and back over four days.

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An afternoon trek taking eight donkeys to a new pasture 7 kms away.

She needed to transport one donkey to Carrapateira for a lady who was going to do a trek for a week so instead of arranging transport for the donkey she thought it would be a good opportunity to walk there and take two more of her younger donkeys to give them some experience.

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There are always going to be challenging obstacles for the donkeys to deal with. 

Some of her donkeys haven’t yet learnt the trekking ropes and need time out on the road so to speak to learn about what it is all about.  And so it was that we loaded up our three donkeys, Xichito, Jojo and Filipa with all we needed and set off.

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Preparing the saddlebags for our trek – they are weighed to keep the load balanced and to not overload the donkey. 
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Xichito, our experienced guide, all ready for the saddlebags.

One thing is for sure that when you do anything with a donkey you need to take your time.  You gain very little ground trying to rush the donkey.  They set the pace and even though you can’t let them have everything their own way (otherwise they’d spend the whole day eating) you do need to go at the rhythm of the donkey.  And that’s the point really.  The reason why people are drawn to trekking with a donkey is, I think, the slow pace out in the countryside with a long eared companion.

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On the road…. .

Three kilometres an hour is the time you need to allow when trekking with a donkey.  And that doesn’t include breaks.  A donkey needs to eat at least every two hours so grazing time needs to be factored in when deciding on how far you think you can go in a day.

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Time for a break and a coffee.

As does convincing them it’s a good idea to cross a river or walk through a narrow gap.

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Going up through the old town in Aljezur – a new experience for Jojo and Filipa.

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Filipa is not sure and needed to be given time to overcome her fears.

With an inexperienced donkey the pace can be slower still.  Nothing is straightforward.  The donkey doesn’t meekly follow you wherever it is led.  Compromises have to be made by both parties.

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on on up…..

For me it was both a lesson and a test.  3km an hour is oh so slow for me. I’m used to walking at, at least, a 5km an hour pace.  The round trip to Carrapateira and back over four days was about fifty kilometres.

img_20200210_130648824_hdrThe first day took us seven and a half hours.  An average speed of just over 1.5 kilometres an hour.  The donkeys weren’t being difficult.  Xichito is an experienced trekking donkey who’s seen and done it all before and nothing much fazes him but for Jojo and Filipa there were many challenges.

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A long stretch on the road towards Carrapateira.

Water crossings, roads, traffic, people, lamp posts, zebra crossings, beeping horns, narrow spaces, slippery surfaces, barking dogs………….so many barking dogs.  They needed time get over fears of some things that they’d rarely or never experienced before.  It all took time but was very rewarding.  Every hurdle crossed was a little milestone for them which became easier for them to overcome the next time it was encountered.

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Break time……….

We were in no rush and could spend time over lunch or a coffee whilst the donkeys had a bit of grazing time.   The weather was kind and even though it was mid February we had glorious sunshine for most of the time so frequent stops were really enjoyable.

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Time to relax and roll…..
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Time to cool off feet and a welcome break for coffee at a newly opened cafe come guesthouse.

I took the opportunity over the four days to disconnect myself from the internet.  Four days without the internet.  Imagine!  I had my phone with me but as Giffgaff cut me off a long time ago and we’ve had internet at the house I haven’t felt the need to buy a Portuguese sim.  I confess I didn’t quite manage four days as I was able to use the wifi of the guesthouse we stayed at on the second night but I only checked my emails.

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Pensão das Dunas in Carrapateira where we stayed on our second night.            
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A fabulous breakfast and fire to set us up for the return journey.

I don’t think I’ve been switched off from the internet for longer than a day for years.  I’m not a social media user but I do use the internet a lot.  I’ve learnt so much from it and the life we have now is a direct result of all that knowledge gained from the internet.  I wouldn’t be without it but it’s always there and always a distraction.

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Jojo enjoying his Carob at the end of the day.

Like most people I guess my usage of the internet has increased year on year so, as ridiculous as it may sound, it was a bit of a test for me to switch myself off.  I came to the Smartphone party late having only owned one for the past year but in that year my Smartphone has practically never left my side.

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The view towards the beach from Carrapateira old town.

I took my kindle with me and read instead.

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The donkeys spent their time happily eating the grass in the garden of a friend of Sofia’s on the first and third nights.

I was tired after a full day trekking even though we hadn’t really walked far.  It’s tiring negotiating with a donkey all day convincing them that it’s not time to eat yet or those barking dogs aren’t a threat or the water in the river is only four inches deep.

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The views from the trail.

When we got back after the four days I felt a bit drained but I was already feeling the benefits of having switched off from technology for a while.

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Lookng back towards Carrapateira.

In the week after the trek I noticed I had more energy and just felt a bit more content and I can only put that down to giving my brain a break from the constant bombardment of information it’s always getting from the internet.  So I have the donkeys to thank for that.

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The donkeys relaxed whilst we went to a cafe for some lunch.

Since getting back I’ve cut my usage of the internet by more than half.  It’s given me time to read more books. Reading is far and above my most favourite thing to do.  I would guess I read for several hours every day but mostly shorter articles via the internet.

In recent years my consumption of whole books has diminished considerably.

And that’s what I want to get back to.

Taking the time to read books.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an abundance of time.

I’ll see how it goes!

Até logo!

 

2020 begins…. .

Well, may I be the last person to wish you all a Happy New Year.  I had it in my head that I would get a blog post out soon after the New Year but, true to form, what happens in my head doesn’t actually happen in reality. So, there we are, late as usual.  Still, better late than never.  It’ll have to be Happy Friday then.

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A perfect day for a stoll on the beach at Monte Clerigo.

After all the rain we’d had the weather bucked up just before Christmas and we basked in sunshine throughout Christmas and the New Year period.  Christmas Day was spent on the beach with coffee and egg sandwiches!  We like to take our simple life to extremes sometimes.

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Christmas Day……….we know how to live!

As a bit of a change, we’d had a couple of trips down to Portimão before Christmas where we stumbled across a Waitrose/Iceland in one of the retail parks.  Alas, they’d run out of Ginster’s pasties but fortunately pork pies, mince pies, custard creams and bourbons weren’t in short supply.

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‘No taste of Cornwall’

On the way back, just as we were coming into Aljezur, we were stopped by the police for a document check.  We often see the GNR on roundabouts or at the side of the road pulling people over to check they’re all legal.  In Portugal and some other European countries you need to have the paper documents in the vehicle ready for inspection should you be asked.   Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem as all the documents for insurance and the like are in a folder in the van.  But, as we weren’t going to be using the van on a regular basis we’d decided to take them out of the van for safe keeping.  So, the one and only time we have ever been stopped in the nearly four years we have been travelling we didn’t have the documents in the van.  It hadn’t occurred to either one of us to take them with us on our little outing to Portimão.  After numerous apologies and fiddling and faffing Tim was able to come up with a PDF document of our insurance which the officer accepted.

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I’d already mentioned the custard creams and bourbons were really daylight robbery compared to the price you’d pay in England but if we’d had a hefty fine as well on top of that it might just have spoilt my Christmas.

img_20191230_145610739_hdrTime is marching on and we’re more than half way through our four month ‘staycation’ here in Portugal.  Following the frenzy of concerts and socials in the run up to Christmas it’s all been quiet for Tim on the band front and I think he’s starting to climb the walls.  I think he’s hankering after a shed where he can do, I don’t know, man stuff.  During our extended stay here we have had numerous conversations about what our ideal life would look like in the future and it turns out a shed cum workshop is high on the list of ‘must haves’ for Tim.  He likes to fix things and there haven’t been a whole lot of opportunities going on in the way of things to fix.  My bike could do with looking at as I think some bearings have gone somewhere on it as it’s started to make a clacking noise as I ride along. I’m sure, if we had a shed cum workshop, the back wheel would have been whipped off by now but, as we haven’t, I’m still clacking along.  Fortunately, there’s some fencing that needs doing at Donkey HQ so Tim will be busy with that for a few days at least.

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Donkey HQ

Several donkeys have been out on various excursions over the last couple of weeks so reinforcements are needed.  Like children, when they get bored they get themselves into trouble.  Over the winter period there’s not so much going on with treks, people coming and going and so on so the donkeys are at a bit of a loose end.

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Sunrise:)

From time to time, if a friend or neighbour offers some grazing land some of the donkeys get an opportunity for a holiday.  Just before Christmas we had a lovely trek of five or six kilometres to drop four of them to a friend’s for a three week holiday.

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Kiko, Flor, Luna and Olivia off on their holidays.

I’m sure they enjoy the change and the opportunity to have a bit of peace and quiet away from the main herd.

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Getting ready for a road trip.

Treks are thin on the ground at this time of year but there have been one or two.  We took seven donkeys out a couple of weeks ago and it was Isabella’s first trip.  She carried the luggage and took to it like a duck to water.  Having had a previous job in agriculture carrying the pack lunches can’t have been particularly arduous for her.

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Isabella carries the luggage.

We dropped the three older donkeys in at ‘donkey day care’ and then continued on into the hills for a two hour trek.

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The three oldies were left at ‘donkey daycare’ whilst the others carried on.

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Donkey parking.

Meanwhile back at ‘Dog HQ’ we’ve continued to take ‘our three’ out three times a week.

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Off to walk the dogs.

 

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Vicky, Barley and Ghee.

Alas there were a few new arrivals over the Christmas and New Year period.

I have my eye on one but Tim says NO!

Ah well there’s still a bit of time yet!

Até logo!

 

 

Boas Festas…. .

A week of rain.  A week.  Still, Portugal needs it after a very dry summer so we mustn’t grumble.  It was just a week.  Not too long.  Just a week.  Seven days.  Actually I lie.  It was really six days as there was one good day in amongst the seven wet ones.  So, six days then.  Not a week at all.

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Grey skies.
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The town car park was closed later in the day as the river kept rising.

 

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Flooded fields.

As we weren’t cooped up in the van it didn’t bother us.  The donkeys were miserable though.  They really don’t like the rain.  They are desert animals after all so who can blame them. They don’t have a double layer waterproof suit so they are susceptible to skin problems if they stay wet for long periods. Normally the older ones go to various different grazing spots during the day (I call it donkey day care) but when it’s wet they’re confined to barracks as that’s the only place where there is any shelter from the rain.  And they get bored.  Sooo bored.  It’s also tricky trying to feed twenty donkeys inside when it’s wet as there isn’t much room and hooves start flying as they jostle for the best positions. 

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Off to donkey day care before the period of rainy weather.
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Happy donkeys.

The donkeys weren’t the only ones who were bored.  When we took the dogs out on Friday they were all absolutely manic.  Not so many volunteers turned up so we went out with our usual three for an hour and then came back to get three more. 

img_20191220_103901172_hdrTrying to get three hyper dogs all booted and spurred ready to go out was no mean feat.  Tim just leaves me to it and waits for me to hand him a lead or two when they are ready.  No chance of him getting muddy. 

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Trying to get these three ready to go out was a trial.

But the monsoon season appears to be over now as we have had wall to wall sunshine for the last couple of days. 

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The first dry morning for several days.
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The warm weather brought visitors.

Meanwhile back at the band Tim has been busy with various rehearsals, functions and festivities.  Food seems to always feature at the various different functions he has played at. 

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Cake!
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Prawns.

A week or so ago they did a tour of four villages doing a short concert at each of them and food was provided at all but one of them.  I received several text messages throughout the day just keeping me abreast of what was going on:  1st concert and meal finished.  2nd finished, no food! 3rd one, on a roll, port and cake! They stopped after that but later he smugly told me that a three course dinner was laid on after the last concert. 

The final concert before the New Year was on Saturday where the band played at a Christmas meal for one of the local banks who had donated some money to buy some new instruments.  A new bass clarinet, timpani, euphonium and glockenspiel have now been added to the bands stable of instruments.

Marvellous. 

So with that I’ll wish all of you ‘Boas Festas’ whatever you are doing and thank you all for reading the blog this year.

Até a próxima!           

Life in the slow lane…. .

The eve of the local Christmas Market here in Aljezur has given me the nudge to remind me that it was about time I updated the blog.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for six weeks already.  It’s also quite hard to believe we are nearing the Festive Season as it’s much more low key here.  There are some lights up here and there around the town but if you’re like me and don’t go out much after dark then Christmas could pass you by which is exactly how I like it.  My former work colleagues would attest to the ‘bah-humbug’ I used to be (and still am) at this time of year.  Secret Santa?  No thanks.  Work Christmas do? Not for me.  But here I do like to go to a few of the local events so we’ll be heading on over to the Christmas Market later on today.

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The old town.

Aside from that we have established our routines here with our various interests.  The Banda Dos Bombeiros Volunários de Aljezur has welcomed Tim with open arms.  A seat was rustled up, music was printed off, a uniform sourced from the depths of the store cupboard, and voila, you’d never know he wasn’t Portuguese.  Principally the band is made up of young people between the ages of twelve and twenty six but they didn’t seem to mind or notice the age gap.  The band is bank rolled by the fundraising efforts of the Bombeiros (fire brigade) and seems to be very active within the local community.

img_20191116_152809951_hdrThey were joined by two other bands a couple of weeks ago for a Festival of bands where the three bands marched through different parts of the town followed by a concert.

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img_20191116_192603665December 8th was a procession in Monchique, twenty miles away, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with a coach laid on to get the musicians to and from the town.

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The Procession through Monchique.
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The price of living with less stuff………tatty walking boots instead of polished black shoes!

fb_img_1575883140800The film ‘Brassed Off’ came into my mind.  If you haven’t seen the film then I’d recommend it.

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After the concert waiting for the bus.

Then tonight there will be a concert at the church in Aljezur.  Starting at 9.30pm.  9.30pm?  Everything seems to start late here. Me, I’m normally getting ready for bed at that time but I’ll make an exception tonight and support it.

As for me the donkeys continue to keep me busy three mornings a week.

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A rainy day at Donkey HQ.
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They really don’t like the rain.

We had two new arrivals a couple of weeks ago.  Pasquale, an elderly donkey, was in need of a home and a chance at a comfortable retirement.  He worked in agriculture in his previous life so he can now enjoy a bit of down time in his later years.

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Pasquale looking forward to a retirement now.

Isabella came with him but she is much younger so will hopefully make a good trekking donkey with a bit of time and training.  She’s a big girl of some sort of Spanish origin and she’s bigger than nearly all the males.

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Isabella takes a roll AFTER I’ve just brushed her and made her look pretty!

They were both pretty nervous to start with but after a few days began to trust their new humans and I think they now enjoy the attention.

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Pasquale, Isabella, Romano, Margarida and Mocco off to the neighbours for a days grazing in one of their fields.

img_20191116_103903148As for the dogs? Well, there are about forty or so of them and they are reliant on the volunteers if they want to get out for a walk three days a week.

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Brody……..a big softie.
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Shanna.

Generally there are enough people but some days have been a bit thin on the ground so we’ll take two or three for an hour or so and then go back for two or three more.

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Lisa and Jackson.

As I knew would happen, one of them is going to break my heart.  I knew it as soon as I clapped eyes on him.  He’s a scruffy young Pedengo (Mediterranean hunting dog) and he has stolen my heart already.

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Vicki, Ghee and Barley.  Barley is the heart breaker!

He’s not ready for rehoming yet as he is still really nervous of people but we can see a change in him with us since we’ve been taking him out as he seems much more relaxed and content with us now.

img_20191115_112500482Tim keeps reminding me that three is a crowd.

I can safely say that I won’t be getting a scruffy Pedengo for Christmas then!

Até a próxima.

Settling in to routines…. .

Ok, so we felt we needed a break from vanlife to remain in one place for a while.  But what are we going to do during our static four months with so much time on our hands?  Certainly this lifestyle we have has given us the luxury of time.  Time to do as we please, live our life on our own terms and pick and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do.  I can’t deny it’s a super luxurious position to be in and it’s one we try not to take for granted.  Having so much time though also throws up a few challenges.  At least for me.  Tim is a much more laid back, live in the moment, don’t analyse it kind of person.  Me?  I can analyse something to the nth degree and then some!

I’m not talking about boredom here.  I’ve never been bored on our travels.  Yes, there have been times where I’ve felt flat, frustrated or cooped up during prolonged periods of rain but I wouldn’t say I’ve been bored.  I’ll always find something to do.  Pottering. It’s one of my favourite things to do but I’m not yet quite of an age where pottering about ALL day is fulfilling enough.  Maybe in a year or two;)  For me, the amount of time we have on our hands is more a question of purpose.  Throughout our travels I’ve always been plagued by the ‘P’ word.  Or maybe there’s a bit of guilt thrown in there too.  Drifting around from place to place with no end game in mind can, for me, feel a bit like I have no purpose.  I think I’m just the kind of person that needs a bit of structure and a ‘why’.  It was one of the reasons we had decided that as part of our travels we would do some volunteering.  We viewed it as a chance to meet new people, learn new skills, experience different lifestyles and ideas and generally make a difference to someone.  It was also a chance to have a focus for a while.

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Painting the railings of the village War Memorial whilst on a Helpx in France in 2016.

It can be difficult to have a focus when you’re moving from place to place for an extended period of time.  It can also be difficult to justify what we are doing.  Lots of people nowadays take a midlife gap year which is totally understandable. Take a year or so out, explore, recharge and then pick up from where you left off.  People can understand that.  But take off with no idea of how long you’ll be gone for or if you’ll ever go back to a conventional life is a bit harder for people to take in.  If we meet people and get into a discussion on our current lifestyle we have occasionally had the awkward question of ‘yes, but what do you do all day’? If I’m honest it’s not an easy one to answer without sounding a bit lame.  It generally goes something like this: ‘Oh well, you know, we walk a bit, maybe go for a cycle, plan where to go next, sort out emptying and refilling the van, read, erm, go to Lidl, volunteer a bit, erm, you know, erm, stuff like that’.  You see.  Wishy washy and lame.  You can see in people’s eyes they don’t really get it and are probably thinking we’re just a bit work shy.  I think it’s partly an age thing as if we were in our late sixties or seventies I don’t think anyone would question what we do with our time.  You’ve earnt your retirement so live it large and put your feet up.  Or maybe it’s just my own perception of things.  I don’t know but it’s not always easy to justify what we do with our time and where it all goes. But it goes.  And very quickly too.  Filling the time whilst on the road in the van is pretty easy though as you’re constantly stimulated by new sights, different landscapes, a changing set of neighbours, the odd challenge and hundreds of questions going through your head about this and that.  Filling the time in one place though is a bit different.

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Where does the time go?!

So, after nearly seven hundred words I’ve still not answered what we’ll be doing during our extended time here.  Well, for Tim one of the biggest sacrifices he made when taking on this lifestyle was leaving behind the music scene where we lived.  Music IS a huge part of his life.  HUGE.  He’s had to adapt to not being able to be a part of several bands.  He hardly played at all in our first year away but in the last two or so years he’s adjusted to playing solo.  In an ideal world he’d want to be playing in several bands but playing solo has been a compromise.  Over the last three weeks he’s been busy making contacts and putting out feelers to get into something here and/or start something new.

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The compromise…. .

For me I have the donkeys!  I’m spending a few mornings a week cleaning up after them and generally enjoying some donkey time.  Mucking out wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find it quite therapeutic and of course I love spending time with the donkeys.

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Sunrise over Donkey HQ after a wet night.

One of the things I wanted to do when travelling was to learn a new language or two.  I’d dabbled in French on and off since 2016, did a few months of learning German when we were in Germany and then promptly forgot it all again and ditto last year for Spanish.  Unfortunately, spending an extended period of time in a foreign country doesn’t mean to say you miraculously absorb the language.  Alas, it takes consistent time and effort.  Consistency had never been my strong point regarding languages.  Or anything else for that matter but this lifestyle has forced me into creating a few routines as I know I feel more content if I feel I have achieved something each day whether that be physical or mental.  At the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge to improve my French and I’m glad to say, even though I’m not yet where I want to be with it, I have made some mprovement.  So a consistent effort at continuing to improve the French and learning some Portuguese will be a feature of my day too.

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Time for a cup of tea and a French podcast.

Then we have some dog walking to do.  The AEZA refuge is a non-profit association taking in stray dogs and cats.  Three days a week volunteers are welcome to walk a dog or two.  Tim unwittingly gave me the idea when he said ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do the dog walking at the dog refuge’.  As a dog lover and having had four of our own dogs in the past he knows I have a weakness for them but when our last one went to the big kennel in the sky in 2013 we agreed we would have a period without the responsibility a dog brings. I’ve done pretty well in sticking to it.  It took all my resolve not to take home half a dozen strays from Greece a couple of years ago.  But, the dogs need walking and I have time on my hands so it was a fait accompli.

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I don’t normally do selfies but needs must………………Gwen enjoying her walk!

I just have to hope I don’t fall in love with one…………or two.

Até já!

And relax…. .

So, we’re currently on a break from ‘vanlife’.  We arrived in Aljezur in the south west of Portugal just over a week ago and we are intending to spend at least four months here.  So, why the extended break here?  We spent two months in this area in 2016/17 and then another two months here in 2018/19 doing some volunteering so got to know the area a little bit during those extended stays.  When we left here at the beginning of February this year to continue our travels we felt like we could have stayed longer but we were also ready to move on.  If that makes sense?  No, I thought not.  I’ll try to explain.

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View across to the new town of Aljezur.

During our two extended stays here we did some volunteering with Sofia who runs a donkey trekking business. It gave us time out of the van, a focus on something other than travel, enjoyable work and a chance to live like a local for a short while.  And of course, for me, spending time with all those donkeys was a super enriching experience.  However, after two months we were ready to live our independent life again but we would have liked to spend a bit longer in the area.  We really like the laid back slow pace of life here and it’s really the only place we have been to since starting our travels where we could see ourselves spending a chunk of time during the winter.  However, at the time we had already made our plans for our trip to Morocco.  We’d organised our Green Card for the insurance on the van in a non EU country and we were looking forward to exploring a new country.  But.  Had we not organised ourselves to go to Morocco we could have easily stayed another month or two in Aljezur either renting a house or staying at the campsite outside the town.  Tim had established a few connections with his music and I was happy to help with the donkeys.

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Cows grazing just at the edge of the town.

We decided, then, to look at the possibilities of renting somewhere in the area during the winter of 2019 to try out an extended stay here but one that was on our own terms where we weren’t volunteering in exchange for accommodation and food.  Going into our fourth year of continuous travel we were ready to stretch out a bit and stay put for a while.  Travelling fulltime can become tiring.  Not in the sense that you feel flaked out all the time but more in a sense of mentally dealing with a life on the move.  Planning where to go to next, taking in new sights and experiences daily, emptying and refilling the van, sorting out laundry every couple of weeks, living cheek by jowl with each other twenty four hours a day!

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In between the old town and new town.

When we embarked on our life change to give up our jobs and do something completely different we viewed it as a new chapter in our lives.  It wasn’t going to be a ‘gap year’ it was going to be more of a ‘gap decade’ to travel to different countries, experience different cultures, experience and learn new things and live in different ways to the norm.  There wasn’t any time limit on it.  We were just going to see how things unfolded and go with whatever felt right at the time.  This little sojourn in Portugal, then, is just a chapter within the chapter. It’s as much a time to recharge and give our brains a rest as it is an opportunity to experience living in another country for an extended period to try it on for size so to speak.

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Lunch in the sun:)

Our travels are far from over but we are ready for a break from them.

So we’ve hunkered down and settled in to our little house on a hill in the old town over the last ten days and we’re looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

Até logo!