Off-grid and Ignorant in Portugal
Off-grid and Ignorant in Portugal
S2:Ep11 - Digging deep

S2:Ep11 - Digging deep

And adopting an orphan at Christmas (December 2022)

Finally digging for water in December 2022 - and getting a lot more from the sky than the ground (and a lot more cheaply)…but them’s the breaks.


It was months ago when Twitching Justino’s divining rods first dipped towards the ground and two crossed sticks X-marked the spot where he literally felt we would have the best hope of finding water.

Justino in August shining a light on our best chance for water

As I wrote in August: “the only control you have over a high-stakes gamble is which good luck charm to choose,” and we’d chosen him for a job which would cost thousands of euros.

After weeks of delays and of broken machinery, Justino’s rig finally rocked up in the valley with three boreholes to dig: one for our friend David, one for neighbour Daniel and one for us.

It was proper pioneer wild-west stuff, and his guys weren’t messing around.

The rumble of the massive diesel generator clocked them in each morning and the sudden silence checked them out each night, as the diamond-tipped drill bit gradually cut its way through our land three metres at a time.

That was the length of each drill section pulled from the truck and hauled vertical when the time was right and then added to the ever deepening hole.

Each time the drilling paused, a soil sample was taken and laid out in order to build up a profile of our geology.

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We would occasionally wander up to watch, willing water up to the surface, but then leave a little disappointed that it hadn’t already started spouting H2O like an oil strike in a movie.

There was nothing to do but wait and hope that somewhere down there – between 150 and 250m – there’d be something worth digging for at €50 a metre.

Samples from every 3m. Once they reached 80m it was grey schist all the way: with Ana, Daniel, Justino and Simon who’s digging skills don’t come close

The borehole investment is about future-proofing our tourism project for the decades to come, and as you’ll know we were becoming increasingly worried about water throughout the long dry summer.

But December’s rainfall has been breaking records – not just in Lisbon – and has returned in a volume not seen for 40 years.

Last year we were enjoying the beach and the sunshine at this time, but then we suffered with a shamefully low lake come the Spring.

But now the lake is already higher than we have ever seen it. Increasing the capacity and cutting swales in the hillside to extend its catchment area all seems to have worked (thanks Carlos!).

Streams flowing into our lake which has come up around 2m in the last few weeks…and still has room for more, if the heavens are forthcoming!

There’s been enough rain to soak the ground, so all the excess now freely flows into the dam with waterfalls forming and even a spring which trickles for days after a downpour.

But it’s muito complicado according to Senhor Manuel our builder, whose guys have been kept away by the weather: tiling one roof and finishing the form wood on the other between storms ahead of a concrete truck which can’t deliver because it’s still too wet.

Work is finished now for the holidays, and while we wish for more rain we also don’t want the work to fall too far behind schedule.

The tiled roof is just about finished now on our main building.

But we have a little work on our hands introducing the latest addition to the family – an abandoned young cat who we’ve adopted to help with our mouse issue.

It wasn’t a mouse problem as such – we have an indoor/outdoor room and it was a little awkward catching the guy that had somehow made it into our bedroom in the middle of the night, and given the lack of mousetraps here a cat seems a good solution.

I would have thought an old-school snapping trap would have been a humane option but none of the shops here sell them, leaving only poisons and something I’d never previously encountered: rat glue.

This terrible stuff seems much more like torture – sticking them to a bit of cardboard to die slowly if they’re not quickly dealt with on capture...we don’t want to be doing that.

Hence the idea of getting a cat – a kitten probably, given that Simon & Garfunkel would be more likely to accept a small furry ball than a clawing, hissing, growling cat.

But this wasn’t to be: it’s not kitten season for a couple of months, and while visiting one of our favourite clifftop restaurants to ask about their beautiful cats (to line ourselves up for a future kitten) they reported an abandoned youngster who wasn’t getting on with the locals.

Next thing we had a cat in the car and were buying a litter box – she’s probably only nine months old but friendly and used to people...and it was Oda’s turn to name her.

Introducing our new cat, Val Kilmer

Having scoffed at our decision (without consultation) to call the big dog Garfunkel, Oda promptly settled on “Val Kilmer” – not our immediate first choice.

But having thought it through, we decided “Valkyrie Kill-Mouse” was an acceptable option, given it could be suitably abbreviated.

Simon picked up a nose battering on day one and is currently trying to reimpose some kind of control (good luck with that)...and Garfie is showing perhaps a little too much interest.

Let’s see how things go over Christmas...

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Back to the borehole digging and Justino and the gang cut through schists until they hit bedrock at 205m – deeper than we expected – and sadly they didn’t find the magic underground reservoir we’d been dreaming about.

He estimates it will provide about 5,000 litres a day...not a huge amount, but along with our other water sources plenty for the 20 or so people we’d expect at full capacity when the lodge is open.

But we still have to install an underground pump, get power down to it and buy pipes to transport the new water to the current tanks...and until we do that we won’t have the chance to test the water quality.

Drinking water would be amazing, mineral-salt water like our current supply would be second best, but the worst of all worlds would be water that’s heavy in iron...that would require two different filtration systems that don’t come cheap.

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It was disappointing – it’s a big chunk of change for not a huge return – but we always knew it would be a gamble...and we chose our lucky charm.

Daniel got a little less than us, David got a little more, but this is a dry area and we should be glad for what we have…and long may it keep on flowing.

It’s good to be at home and together over the holidays after Ana’s dad sadly passed away a week ago aged only 75.

We are proudly remembering José Manuel Valadas Revez, a man who had a huge impact during his lifetime.

José Manuel Valadas Revez (1947-2022) was awarded the Grande Comendador Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique in 2006 for his accomplishments

He was a revolutionary student leader opposing Salazar in Portugal in the late 1960s and early 70s, and considered such a threat by the dictatorship regime that he had to flee and continue his operations with fellow courageous revolutionaries under political asylum in Sweden.

After the carnation revolution in 1974 he returned to Portugal, and worked as a civil servant in many capacities, greatly contributing to the rise of the new nation and notably its education system.

He held a special place in his heart for East Timor where he lived and worked for many years.

Zé was a beloved husband, father, brother and grandfather. He was also a popular friend and colleague. He is greatly missed.

Rest in Peace Zé. Our thoughts are with Filomena and Ana’s sisters Rita and Maria João and his sister Ana-Maria.

Zé with (clockwise) our daughter Oda, our nephew Diogo and niece Valpuri a few years ago.
Off-grid and Ignorant in Portugal
Off-grid and Ignorant in Portugal
From Our Own Correspondent-style despatches from a former BBC reporter who's now battling to live off the grid in the Alentejo countryside. Selected audio recordings of his weekly blog which began in 2020.
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Alastair Leithead