Arriving at Vale Da Lama
It was gone 8pm by the time we had approached the town of Odiaxere, it was already dark and it was difficult to navigate our way down unlit country lanes to our next stop off point, Vale Da Lama, a Quinta which was previously a 42 ha farm that had been intensively farmed and is now an Eco resort which practices and teaches Permaculture. We would base ourselves here for a week as volunteers, where we would learn about Permaculture, regenerative food production and self sufficiency. I was looking forward to our stay at Vale Da Lama, usually volunteers would have to commit a minimum stay of 3 months in order to be able to stay here. However, after completing a rather lengthy application form, Olof had managed to secure us a one week placement, mainly due to the fact that it was harvest season and extra hands were welcomed. Prior to our arrival we had received a very detailed info kit about the resort and what to expect as volunteers. I liked the structure of the volunteering programme, it came across as very professional so I had a good feeling about this place, plus Maria whom we met at Varzea da Goncala had volunteered here before and had a good time, stating that the food was great.
After making a few wrong turns we eventually pulled up outside Lama Village, the base for the volunteers. We parked up at the side of a pick up truck where a tall slim man was doing push up’s. “Hi welcome” he puffed “I’m Mo”. Within minutes, Raquel another new recruit had arrived and Mo pointed us in the direction of the house then jumped inside his truck, it looked like this is where he had created his home, there was a makeshift bed in the back and lots of tools. We entered a room where the light was on to find a guy on his laptop, this must be the communal living room which had a couple of desks and a rocket stove mass heater in the corner. Introducing ourselves as the new volunteers he went to find a lady called Sandra who soon appeared to show us around. It was a brief tour. We were shown to our rooms which were separate male and female dorms. In the female dorms it looked like there were two other girls staying her and for the guys, even though it was somewhat messier, Olof would perhaps be sharing with one other. At the end of the dorms were the showers and toilets. Everything was pretty basic but it would be comfortable enough. Sandra provided us with flat sheets for the beds then gave us the grand tour of the kitchen, an industrial kitchen which seemed a little out of place for a volunteers house, but would perhaps be useful given we would be cooking for 14+ people. Off the kitchen was a dining hall which also seemed to double up for a social area and it was here we learned a little bit about how the days would be structured. At Val Da Lama volunteers are given Sunday and Monday as days off, so Lama Village seemed a little quiet, with only two other volunteers around. Olof and I decided an early night would be wise, given the early start tomorrow, we had a quick cup of tea and some homemade bread and got to learn a little about Raquel, who would be working at the resort for a month and also Mo who had been volunteering for a couple of weeks but was about to make his way back home to Switzerland. It seemed a little strange saying goodbye to Olof outside the dorms, but we’d give it one night in the dorms and if we didn’t like it we could set up camp tomorrow. Before 10pm we were both in our sleeping bags.
First day as a Lama Villager
I had a terrible nights sleep, a result of mosquito’s buzzing around my head and going in for the odd bite, combined with uncomfortable heat, as I was too scared to have any body parts outside my sleeping bag for fear of been bitten to death so had spent the night incubating. It was a little after 7am and I was the first one to wake, from the bathroom you could hear if any of the boys were up but the silence suggested not. In the kitchen however there was plenty of movement, fresh coffee, which had been sieved into a very large jug, had already been prepared and the home made bread was waiting to be carved up and toasted. Over breakfast I met another volunteer Renee, from the Netherlands who guided us to the meeting point. Our task for the morning was to conduct a quick harvest, Mirka, one of the active supporters, gave us a quick tour of the gardens which were teaming with fruits and vegetables, perhaps the most impressive were the banana tree’s that were not only growing but actually producing banana’s. We collected our baskets and set out to pick all the ripe tomatoes, the variety was extensive, big ones, small ones, green, orange, yellow and red ones. As soon as the tomatoes were harvested we then moved on to pulling the carrots. Gonçalo the resident gardener explained that they should only be pulled if the diameter of the shoulder was greater than 2cm and a little twist before pulling would break the roots to ensure a smooth removal. With my basket and straw hat I set to work and even though it was early morning I could start to feel the heat of the sun on my back. Less than two hours into our first day of volunteering and I realised how unfit and weak I had become after 6 years of sitting behind a desk every day. My legs were struggling to hold a squatting position and my arms had minimal pulling strength. I managed to fill my basket with carrots however before we were called to head back to Lama Village for the community meeting.
The community meeting took place every tuesday morning. A meeting where all the leaders and volunteers at Vale Da Lama gather to set the working, learning and sharing schedule for the week. The session started with a 1,2,3 count whilst rubbing hands and ending with a clap (something Permaculture king Goeff Lawton does to start a meeting and grab everyones attention), followed by introduction’s and a welcome to all the new volunteers. Then something quite out of the ordinary happened, dramatic music started to play and Mo appeared from behind the bushes wheeling something that can only be described as a rather large wooden phoenix, during his stay here, he had spent every evening working on a sculpture that he could leave behind as a memoir, made only from objects that he could find/source from nature he had managed to construct a very impressive work of art, which he accompanied with a very emotional speech about his departure, it was touching.
Back to the schedule, Gonçalo detailed the work that would be needed in the garden, the leaders of the resort explained the schedule for the community day at the end of the week and Jaya not only volunteered to be the morning alarm but also offered Yoga sessions every evening. The community meeting ended whereby everyone had to take the Oriental gong and say one thing they wanted to be/feel/achieve during the week!
Tuesdays also bring with them a cleaning attack, the day when everyone has to pick a room and give it a thorough clean, for some reason Olof and I chose the kitchen, perhaps the biggest task and not easy when lunch is being prepared in the same room and everyone else is coming into the kitchen for one thing or another, but we got there in the end just in time for lunch.
In exchange for volunteering and a 25€ pp weekly donation, Vale Da Lama provide accommodation and a Vegetarian diet, using mainly the fruit and vegetables from the Quinta. A volunteers day is broken down into 3 hours work in the morning, 8am – 11am, 3 hours work in the late afternoon 4pm – 7pm and a daily task which consisted of either cooking lunch, dinner, cleaning up after lunch/dinner or a house chore. For our daily task we teamed up with Luis, one of the local “perennials” and formed Group E!
Raquel and Ricardo had prepared a vegetable couscous lunch and for the first time in my life I seized the opportunity for afternoon siesta, setting my alarm for 3:30 I snoozed until 3:55, it was a great siesta and it most certainly had made up for the bad nights sleep. During the siesta Olof had set up camp and our new home looked pretty well equipped, hopefully I’d have a better nights sleep in the tent.
For the afternoon the girls were tasked with planting Leeks and Co-Rabi whilst the guys set out to collect beans. First of all, Renee and I, under the guidance of Mirka planted Leeks and Co-Rabi into the seedling trays in the shade by the green house. We chatted intensively, learning about each others background which is always very interesting, but the conversations soon became a little too spiritual for my liking, with talks about full moons and it’s effect on ones behaviour, I naturally became less vocal during these discussions, but did comment that I hadn’t noticed a change in my behaviour, perhaps I needed to get it touch a little more with my emotions? For now I preferred my more rational approach to life. We returned our seedling trays to the greenhouse for a good watering then took the already propagated Leeks and Co-Rabi down to the mandala beds for planting, ensuring that the new seedlings where positioned near to the water outlet holes that were approximately at 30cm intervals along the irrigation pipes. The three hours passed quickly and our mission was accomplished, however the boys were still hard at it harvesting the beans, so Mirka and I went over the help. Goncalo had recently been on holiday for a couple of weeks and it was evident that no-one had been paying attention to the beans, not only had they not been harvested but now they had already started to turn so we were picking them to dry and store. Buckets and buckets of beans had already been collected but there were still at least 5 rows that needed collecting and by now all the beans were at low level entwined with other crops, this work was hard on the back, but we got it done at the sacrifice of missing the Yoga class.
A quick warm shower and it was time for Dinner, group B had prepared a yummy carrot and tomato soup and trays and trays of home made garlic bread, I lost count of how many seconds of soup and the very addictive garlic bread I had had. Even with the Siesta I was ready for an early night, we had the task to clean up after dinner following which we headed back to the tent, hopeful for a good nights sleep. The tent we had, had been given to us by our good friends Pete and Celina, thinking we may have needed it at Várzea de Goncala, it became redundant when we traded it in for the Teepee, so tonight would be our first night in the tent. I climbed in first and positioned myself on the blow up mattress then Olof squeezed in next to me, but at 1m 89cm we were faced with the small problem that Olof was perhaps a little too long for the tent and as it turned out so was the blow up mattress, It took some time to force the tent zipper shut and despite a mosquito free and a nice cool nights sleep, perhaps we would revert back to the dorms tomorrow night.