The first 21 days of our Ecoquest adventure, in an over loaded hire car, took us from the sunny Algarve in southern Portugal to the remote northern border crossing into Spain via Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Having one of the largest Permaculture communities in the world, it’s no surprise that we started our quest on a Permaculture Farm, Varzea da Gonçala, just outside Aljezur. Staying in a Teepee we helped out on the farm for a few days (butchering our first chicken) before attending a three day medical herb workshop. Taking time to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches we then zipped down the coast to our second volunteering project, a week of fruit picking at Permaculture farm, Vale De Lama, near Lagos. We had planned to visit one of the most famous Permaculture farms in Portugal, Tamera, to see Sepp Holzers handy work of bringing back water to a previously very arid property plus Tameras own innovation, the flushing compost toilet. But Tameras philosophy on open relationships was a bit daunting for us and by this point Olof’s wisdom tooth had inflamed and needed extracting. So we decided, that before we really get stuck into our quest, we would invest in some leisure time and travelled through the Iberian peninsular. We took in the UNESCO sites at Sintra, lived like a king at Bussaco Palace, converged with friends in Coja, sampled the famous port of Porto, played in the gardens of Ponte De Lima and escaped into the forest of Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Click the interactive map to see the places we visited during our 21 days in Portugal
- The 3 day medicinal herb workshop at Varzea da Gonçala our first Permaculture farm stay.
- Vale De Lama’s compost toilets and learning their harvesting techniques.
- Staying in the amazing Bussaco Palace and exploring the forested grounds.
- Rocking out in the airbnb pad in Porto was pretty special.
- Experiencing Sintra’s magical gardens.
- Meeting our dear friend Hayley and her family in Coja.
- Olof’s wisdom tooth infection, extraction and post op tooth ache.
- Missing out on visiting Tamera and seeing Sepp Holzers handy work in action, and the amazing hippy free love of course 🙂
- Weeding at Vale De Lama
- Taking the toll roads and missing out on the scenic routes and having to pay for it.
- Witnessing the widespread of Eucalyptus plantations.
“Always remember to open your hearts”
Artur - Varzea da Gonçala
“They plant Eucalyptus during the day, I dig them back up and piss in their helmets at night.”
Ecoquest Learnings and Overview
Well I think we both agree that our Ecoquest got off to a pretty good start and we’ve managed to tick a few things off of our bucket list already. Visiting three very different Permaculture farms and witnessing lots of different systems functioning in the same climate has been a real eye opener and I think we can safely say we have taken many learnings at such an early stage. The medicinal herbs workshop was fantastic and this now gives us the thirst to learn more about the important properties of plants. Butchering our first chicken wasn’t easy but given we eat meat it’s something we need to get better at. We learnt many different things at Vale De Lama, it was a mix of both positive and negative experiences. To say that picking fruit and weeding is mundane work, is somewhat of an understatement. In the future we need to really get into the detail with the hosts to find out what kind of work is needed from volunteers on a day to day basis, especially if we are having to pay for being hosted in the first place, if the volunteering work isn’t in line with our own personal objectives then we must reassess where we will invest our time and energy. That said it was interesting to see how a large scale operation like Vale De Lama managed it’s Permaculture systems and we found the first compost toilet that we actually wanted to use. For us it was a real shame that we never got to meet the actual owners.
We dabbled a little bit into making fresh bread but need to learn more about getting the outdoor ovens to the right temperature, learn how to make our own cultures and practice making healthier dough mixes. Also we perhaps didn’t get the mix of our itinerary quiet right, we started off spending the first two weeks volunteering pretty solidly and then spent the latter two weeks being tourists both get a bit too mundane if done consecutively for too many days so we need to get a better balance between “work and leisure”.
Given that we were already pretty familiar with Portugal we perhaps didn’t give ourselves the time to learn more about the culture, but we did sample a lot of the local cuisine and learnt much more about the history of Portugal.
In addition to what seems to be a crumbling economy, there are also some environmental issues which we witnessed during our visit, this gave us great cause for concern. We learnt that Scandinavian paper corporations are just as ruthless as any other at mining the resources from other countries and not caring about the local impact. They have planted enormous plantations of Eucalyptus monoculture’s all over Portugal and it is sucking the landscape dry, creating a massive fire hazard and destroying the local ecology and habitat for the native plants and animal life. A loop hole in the law is been abused to acquire more land, it’s illegal to clear a native forest in Portugal to convert to plantations, but if the forest “burns down” then land owners are free to plant new “trees” that are not specifically native plants. As such the land is open for exploitation, forests are been burnt down and fast growing Eucalyptus trees are being planted in order to make a quick buck.
Managing the Budget
Been comfortable spending money when you are no longer earning takes some getting used to and perhaps as a result of this we were very cautious with our spending. After 21 days in Portugal we had spent on average £100 a day, a total daily saving to budget of £10. This expenditure included some costly and unexpected dental bills. The largest portion of our budget was spent on food, eating Organically when we could obviously made eating more expensive. Volunteering at Varzea da Gonçala and Vale De Lama helped to keep our food and accommodation costs down during our first two weeks in Portugal, as did staying with friends in Coja. However, whilst travelling through the middle and north of Portugal we did have some rather pricy dining experiences at Busacco Palace and in Porto.
Large expenses were also associated with travel this was as a result of the hire car, petrol and the toll roads, which we opted to avoid once we reached the north. Public transport simply wouldn’t have gotten us to many of the destinations we wanted to go easily.
Our entertainments were very low as we mainly sought activities that were either free or excellent value for money such as the Medicinal Herb Workshop.
Click the interactive map to see a detailed cost breakdown for our road travel.
NB when detailing the budget, this is the cost for two people.
Transport aside our first two weeks in Portugal were very Eco-concious, from staying on Permaculture farms, which grew their own food and used efficient energy systems to eating local and organically. The latter two weeks we continued to eat organically where possible but our choices of accommodation weren’t always Eco. Given that our car was full of all our belongings we weren’t even able to offer people lifts so we really need to focus on our mode of transport when we hand the hire car back in Spain. Our entertainment and learning was very eco focused, in addition to the Medicinal Herb workshop our other forms of entertainment was mainly entry fee’s into national parks and gardens.
Could Portugal be for us?
It’s too early to say, but with Spain just next door, I think we would still prefer Spain over Portugal.
On the upside whilst many people leave the countryside to find work in the cities a community of like minded folk are now moving to the countryside where land and property can be obtained at a decent price. The people moving out into the country really want to take care of and live off the land. The uprising of Permaculture in Portugal is a serious positive but economical decline hangs strangely in the air over Portugal and we simply don’t like the smell of it.
In the south the land is too dry and barren and the large scale Eucalyptus plantations give great cause for concern. That said there were some beautifully green areas in the mid and north of the country which do deserve further exploration. Never say never.
Top Tips for Portugal
Coming soon top tips and advice for travelling around Portugal the Eco way!