“So you’re retired?” someone asked me recently.
We’ve given up our jobs, moved to the countryside, don’t have any income but are spending lots of money building things, so I suppose we could give that impression.
My alternative answer to “no of course not” is: “yes, in the sense that we get tired, we recover, and then get tired again...or re-tired you might say.”
Often it’s a 5am start and a 10pm finish, juggling finances, planning interiors, editing podcast audio, studying for wine qualifications and Ana’s driving license, or fretting about whether we will succeed...none of which sounds like my idea of retirement.
In truth, we came here to launch our second careers – to move on from the nomadic years when Ana was a Swedish diplomat and I was a foreign correspondent and we lived all over the world a few years at a time.
There are parallels: the level of diplomacy required to get things done here should not be underestimated.
Maintaining the ability to communicate with an energy certificate engineer who still hasn’t delivered a vital document after first coming to survey the buildings last April...without screaming at him...is not straightforward.
And a lot of what we’re doing is – and will be – based around storytelling.
But at the core of it is throwing all our savings in with a whacking great loan courtesy of Portugal’s tourism authority to try and build a fancy guest lodge with a marvellous view.
Regular readers will have seen our scraggy patch of eucalyptus forest cut down and dug out, and watched our new buildings slowly rise from the roots.
We’ve been battling to stay on budget despite inflation, but at least so far appear to be on track and this week have been getting down into the nitty gritty of phase two.
Phase one was everything up to but not including the windows, and we agreed a fixed price for that eight months ago.
Phase two is everything else up to a finished villa, row of suites and main building with a pool, a little restaurant and the hope of knowing enough about Portuguese wine by next Spring to introduce guests to a taste of Alentejo.
So we’ve been hurling ourselves headlong into spreadsheets, checking what we planned for, what we’ve added since and what we’ve taken away and what we need to create the perfect spot.
The various orçamento quotes are all downloaded through Google Translate or DeepL to unveil what’s included in the price (and what’s not), and we’ve been digging down into the detail of how it’s all going to look.
Of course we’ve not done anything like this before – never built anything, especially in a remote part of rural Portugal, nor made so many expensive decisions on things we can only imagine.
We’ve lost track of all the site meetings, factory visits and supplier discussions we’ve had about the various solutions and are constantly thankful to our engineer José Correia for helping bridge the gap between us and our septuagenarian builder.
The research rumbles on, but decisions have to be made:
Should the windows be wood, PVC or aluminium?
Can we afford polished concrete floors throughout?
Which heat pump is best for the underfloor heating?
Do we go with the carpenter or IKEA for the kitchen cabinets?
Do we install a solar pump or a regular pump for the new borehole?
And where on earth do we buy 600m of three phase electrical cable?
Those are just today’s questions, and only the first one seems to have been answered so far: PVC windows seem best, given the intense 300 days of sun baking down on the south-facing buildings every year.
Everyone has an opinion, and they are usually different, but every bit of advice helps us move towards a decision which might be wrong, but at least we own it...and have thought about it.
The colourful do-to list of our post-it note wall remains – each one its own world of work and decision making.
But a few have already been removed and triumphantly scrunched into the fire and there has been some structural rearrangement.
And with the arrival of a new Cat (Catarina, a volunteer who spent a few days with us), we started to focus in on a few planting things.
As a trained agronomist, Cat helped us make some plans, scatter some land-improving oats and peg out an olive orchard for 42 trees.
The temperature has dropped down to just two or three degrees Celsius overnight, so we’re waiting before putting the saplings in, but the layout looks good and the irrigation plan should work...in case we don’t get much more rain this year.
The lake will take a metre or more before it overflows, so although we’re delighted with what we’ve got, we would still love a little more...in case there are any Rain Gods reading.
Sadly Cat couldn’t stay longer, but we will soon have more cats arriving in the form of Val Kilmer’s kittens...which should be due any day now.
Having a volunteer stay with us who knew so much about how to do stuff was brilliant and we are still in the market for anyone with experience in landscaping and building to give us a hand.
Right now we need some muscle as we’re going to be doing a lot of digging and rock moving to get those trees planted. Please apply here...and forward this to anyone you know who might be interested in helping us out before March.
One of the differences between my old life and this new one is the lack of deadlines...I love a good deadline as it gives me that extra shove.
A dinner invitation and movie screening request from the local hunting club provided the incentive to prioritise a lower order post-it note and finally edit the video I filmed of their hunt.
I couldn’t believe it’s been almost a year since the Cow King took us to watch the ancient montaria style of hunting with dogs driving wild boar (wild boar) out of the undergrowth and into the sights of waiting associação de caça (hunting club) members.
You can read about that adventure here, but you can also watch the video...although if you’re not a fan of wild boar (wild boar) butchery, maybe give it a miss?
And thanks to another deadline I also did a turn on the ABC Australia radio show Late Night Live with the legendary broadcaster Phillip Adams.
The subject was all things cork and so I had to be up nice and early (Portugal time) to make sure I got my facts right.
It was my 51st birthday this week, and once again my wonderful wife nailed it with a surprise trip to Sagres and a picnic on the southwestern tip of mainland Europe at Cabo de San Vincente (Cape St Vincent) – the edge of the world – while Cat looked after the dogs.
Amazing sandwiches for lunch, a great beer on Sagres beach with our friends Richard & Pauline and dinner at an American/Mexican taco restaurant after a champagne sunset made for a wonderful day and stay in a clifftop pousada.
Ana introduced the idea of a “Birthday Boxing Day” and so we slowly meandered our way back up the coast stopping for Sunday lunch at one of our favourites: O Sacas.
We had a lovely weekend off...I guess that’s the kind of thing one does more often when one is retired (and not just tired, again).
But while everything we’re doing is tough and challenging and we juggle the post-it notes in a new order of importance, we must remember to remind ourselves how fun and adventurous it is to be working on our crazy project...in this beautiful part of the world.
Waaaw, big project! Congrats!
Ahlsells har säkert en kontakt i Portugal https://www.ahlsell.se/category/el-1/kabel/00-kraftkabel