A hint of summer
And a sudden spurt of work
Summer arrived on a fabulously Good Friday, bringing our first afternoon on the beach and a reminder there’s stuff to be done and there’s no excuse anymore.
After a confusing winterspring of unseasonable warmth, late cold spells and rain in the wrong places, everything in the valley sort of decided the time had come to get colourful, active and busy – as a burning sun will soon be with us for the summer.
After weeks of “should I, shouldn’t I” the insects started buzzing into action, and the cascades of wild flowers finally burst through to add their individual colourful contributions to the natural pointillism painting that is Alentejo April.
And summer just happened to start the day our old friend Richard Sargent rocked up in Vale das Estrelas for a proper catch up many years on from our Bangkok days together.
With oysters to shuck and fish to braai we took Rich through the story of some of our recent wine discoveries with practical examples.
Sadly his mum Penny and stepfather Nick – the “discoverers of Garfunkel” who introduced us to our marvellous white horse/dog – had finally succumbed to COVID, and although on the up couldn’t travel.
Like us, Rich planned his Big Life Change before the pandemic pushed others to take a similar plunge.
He swapped journalism for teaching and Burma for Bristol – and it’s probably even more of a shock to go from Myanmar back to Britain than it was for us to head to remote and rural off-grid Portugal from Nairobi via California.
Us weirdos who have spent our lives bouncing around the world as journalists, diplomats or aid workers get a bit dislocated from “home” and often find we don’t fit in any more.
Bristol was new to Rich – a new home in the UK – and we’re glad to hear it’s treating him well.
It was a fleeting visit and the following day Ana and I decided the best way to shake off the after-effects of too many practical examples was to shun the sofa and hit the secret beach.
It’s been so long since we were last there, that even Garfie was a little hesitant heading down the rough rocky trail to our favourite beach.
We weathered the usual dangers of a slippy steep track and the threat of encountering German sausage (remote beaches are popular with nudists...and a disproportionate number of nudists here are German).
We squeezed ourselves onto the narrow strip of beach a full two hours before high tide.
Foolish you might think, but we come here a lot in the summer and so know the lay of the sand.
The water was bracing – not North Sea bracing, but head-clearingly brilliantly bracing.
But something wasn’t right: looking at the height of the rocks we realised about a metre of sand was missing.
Sand has a tendency to come and go season by season, bay by bay, and the fact it had gone was brought home to us when our entire sunbathing set up was inundated by the first surging wave.
The iPad survived and the beers had (obviously) been more cautiously located, but after trying to snooze on rocks and stones I decided to risk it on what beach remained.
Luckily the sun and the beach gods were both shining down on us: the only dry sand left as the tide turned two hours later was our 2m square.
Our old Bangkok life must have been in the air, as we also welcomed old friends Lilian and Stefan and their wonderful kids Leopold and Louisa to Vale das Estrelas.
Despite the (welcome) rain, they packed a lot into a few days enjoying the facilities of dog petting, horse riding and immersing themselves in the valley in full flower.
The Easter weekend turned out to be a hint of summer – a nod to what will come – followed by the return of April showers which have been helping our lake level considerably.
In the last few days the new swale/paths have been guiding water down the hillsides and “level rock” on the lake-side has reached full submersion (woohoo).
While the combination of rain and podcast recording trips to inner Alentejo may not have helped counter my DIY procrastination, Ian has.
You’d have thought (I’d have thought), that by now I’d be getting a lot handier nearly two years into our off-grid adventure.
Car not starting? No worries, I’ll just pop the hood, have a fiddle and hey presto...the rev of an engine, a smug little nod to myself and away we go.
Those little jobs that have been waiting a while? No problem, I’ll rattle them out – bish, bosh – and be finished in time for tea and medals.
Absolutely not. A general lack of ability and the fading enthusiasm which comes with lingering incompetence has hindered progress.
When it’s all going badly the tendency is to do something else and put off the DIY.
But the arrival of Ian, who helped us out with some concreting late last year, has given a new lease of life to work.
Things are actually being crossed off the to-do list, and the ta-da list is lengthening.
The biggie was taking out the gas stoves and replacing them with electric induction hobs to comply with tourism building regulations.
That involved granite cutting in Odemira to create a hole, a bit of woodwork, tile removal, painting and grouting. Bish bosh. Thanks Ian.
With this conversion away from gas and a new energy certificate, we are hopefully a little bit closer to a final inspection and approval.
(So we can start making some money rather than just spending it all the time!)
Inspired by this progress we called a borehole expert who – after years of us pondering what might be wrong – replaced the electrical panel and gave us a second working borehole! Yay.
Siouxsie the Suzuki had not been starting despite her recent service and after days of despondent efforts, Ian stepped in.
Next thing he was firing compressed air into the diesel tank and away we went.
“Try not to run out of fuel next time – it’s quite tricky to get the air out,” was his advice. I blame a dodgy fuel gauge.
While we toured a Carthusian monastery in Évora where rare Portuguese wine ages below their lake, and were sampling Tinta Miúda grapes straight from a barrel, Ian was connecting the reverse osmosis system, fitting pipes in muddy pools in his swimming trunks (don’t ask) and power-washing the house ahead of our big paint.
By the way, please sign up to read more about our wine adventures in a new blog which I’m writing while we produce our podcast - the first post comes out this week.
The Big Paint starts today, we are making slow but steady progress towards choosing a builder (hopefully before the prices inflate to the point of explosion), and that ta-da list is growing.
And the combination of humidity and moisture means we are now, absolutely going to find those chantarelle mushrooms that have been evading us for weeks. Bring them on.
Thoroughly entertaining, interesting as ever and can’t wait to be back again soon!!
Such a good read, fascinating to hear how everything is going!