A Portuguese standoff
And the opportunities for red-list laundering
The standoff involved a lot of shouting and a dice with death.
It began when the delivery man refused to take his truck any further down the hill.
It ended with me standing in front of the van protesting like an environmental campaigner, refusing to budge and blocking the truck as it lurched forward threatening to run me over.
The challenges of off-grid living in this part of Portugal extend to an essential service we all take for granted now – as much as power, water, (petrol anyone?) and good internet – door to door deliveries.
If Amazon can deliver to remote South American riverside villages (the clue’s in the title, right?) then surely they can manage a couple of kilometres of dirt road?
But it was third time lucky for an Amazon package this week after twice being cancelled and re-ordered because we “don’t exist.”
The success-rate of first-time parcel delivery to Vale das Estrelas is even lower than COVID vaccine take-up levels in the American Deep South.
It all depends on individual choice, and a lot of people here are delivery hesitant.
Obviously it’s a big-tech conspiracy as Google maps deliberately takes drivers the wrong way down the next valley and up an impassable hill…and so we’ve gone analogue.
I painted black stars on wooden boards and put one at every junction from the main road, but given the confusion among our many recent guests, perhaps I need to freshen up the paint a little.
Companies that trust their drivers with a phone (!) call us from the nearest petrol station and ask for directions, to be guided in, or they just leave the package there if it’s small enough.
But that wasn’t an option for the 150kg wrought iron fireplace strapped to a wooden pallet.
It was one of two salamandras we’d ordered for delivery this week – wood burning heaters with a built in water jacket to heat up the hot water tank while also heating the house.
And no, the driver was not going to just unload it in the middle of the road.
My Portuguese comprehension is better than my ability to express myself, so when I realised the driver was an anti-deliverer using the language barrier to refuse a drop off I established a physical barrier instead.
He lurched the van forward as a threat to run me down. I didn’t flinch.
It seems I haven’t lost the self-destructive “over my dead body” bloody-mindedness that for some strange reason didn’t get me killed in various African and Middle Eastern wars.
Like that time we were ambushed on three occasions in one day in South Sudan…
The government troops we had embedded with were scattering in a panic – running down the street to get away – and I refused to drive anywhere until they’d got out of and off our car.
It was bad enough being there, without making ourselves into a troop-carrying rebel army target. Ana hates this clip, but I think it’s worth a watch:
It’s fair to say negotiations had broken down by the time Ana (minha mulher) arrived to be…diplomatic.
My point was he had already driven up steeper and rockier sections of road and now he was giving up on the final straight…but the driver didn’t see it that way.
With some excuse about it being more than his job was worth, Ana agreed he should take it away and get the company to send a smaller van next time. My sit-in ended and I apologised for my poor Portuguese.
The other salamandra was delivered to the guesthouse, but the road is bad and getting worse, but thankfully there was good news from the freguesia (parish council) after Ana spoke to a very nice woman there about repairing our little piece of public road.
We had word from the freshly re-elected go-getter president Dário that it would be done as soon as the machine is fixed.
Let’s hope the machine makes a speedy recovery.
But one delivery that did arrive – being well suited to the terrain – was Carlos Dias’ mini-digger which he trundled into position ready for action this week.
It’s been a frustrating wait for all the paperwork to be finished and submitted to the town hall for the building permit application, so getting anything actually started is lovely.
The first phase of the landscaping is cleaning up and improving the lake and increasing its catchment area to hopefully solve our water issues.
By collecting more rainwater we can dilute the slightly salty borehole supply and solve the curious tourism project requirement of supplying drinking water to the showers.
We’re hoping to harvest all the rainfall roof runoff through pipes and I keep wondering if there’s a mini-hydroelectric system out there which we could use to generate some extra power when it’s raining?
Please let me know if you or anyone you know has any experience with micro-hydro systems which might work for us.
On that thought, sustainability was very much on our minds at a lunch in Lisbon this week, thanks to an invitation from Chris Barton from the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC).
The title: “Sustainable Development - are we taking it seriously enough or is it all just blah! blah! blah!?" was set even before Greta Thunberg’s comments at the Youth4Climate Summit stage in Milan this week.
It was a round-table get-together of developers, architects, designers and entrepreneurs, and for me the striking headline figure came from Pedro Clarke, a partner with A+ Architects.
“At least eight percent of global emissions caused by humans come from the cement industry alone,” he explained quoting a figure that featured in a recent report in Nature magazine.
It’s an eye-opening statistic when the aviation industry accounts for only 2.5% of emissions.
We’re glad to be building in taipa – the old Roman method of rammed earth using the soil from our own land – but we are finding the rules and regulations lag behind the big sustainability ideas.
I mean, do people really need drinking water in the shower?
None of our guests this week have been drinking from the showers (as far as we are aware) but they have been testing the water…and the power…and all the facilities.
Our four fabulous Swedish diplomat friends Ulrica, Louise, Marie and Lotti bridged our old lives in Bangkok and Nairobi and provided a full-house run-through to test our off-grid capabilities to the limits.
We took them to a different beach every day, hiked the valley, had the odd glass of wine and listened carefully to their thoughts, advice and probing questions about our project. We learned:
Marie’s need for a power-hungry hairdryer can be more than compensated for by going for a spin in topless Siouxsie the Suzuki.
Northern Europeans find the sea temperature for body surfing is practically tropical in October (with one exception, Lotti)
Even vertigo sufferers can make it to the secret beach with a lot of determination
And there’s nothing like a good game of Cards Against Humanity to provide a window into a person’s soul
And the wonderful Lauren has been staying with us, helping us out with the paint brush and “red-list laundering” herself en route to the UK after a trip to Zimbabwe.
Apparently this is now a thing among international influencers and journalists who bounce around the world for work.
“Why stay at the HMP Marriott for eleven days and £2,500 if I can launder myself in Portugal?” Lauren asked, not unreasonably.
Perhaps we have found a niche in the market.
Oh, and the salamandra delivery company sent the shipment back with a new truck and a new driver…but sadly it was the same sized van. We’re hoping for third time lucky!