Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

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It was my final day in the Algarve. I would be leaving the next day for two weeks in England where the temperature is 14 degrees rather than 34 and where something called ‘rain’ is still occurring with frequency. So, what better excuse for a full day out on the bikes.

The 2nd Saturday of the month is Castro Marim market day, which is not vastly different to any other monthly market in the Algarve, but we particularly like Castro Marim; for its sleepiness, castles and the fabulous Medieval Days festival which take place each August. I am always astonished how such a small and sedate town can pull off such a brilliantly orchestrated event.

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We set off later than usual, as always full of good intentions and commitments to getting going before it gets too hot, but perpetually fail due to idleness, morning swims and lazy breakfasts on the terrace. It’s easy to slip into a slow pace of life when everything is just so damned good. We have recently taken to Instagram and so nowadays our every journey is punctuated by photo stops, where the ruined cottage is particularly picturesque and the flowers especially cascading. The usual route of choice is the Ecovia, a favourite place to cycle across saltpans and through quiet fields and trees, but today we are mavericks and took a turn off the N125 past Altura into the hinterland of Sao Bartholomeu towards Azinhal to sneak round the back, cut the corner of Vila Real and emerge in Castro Marim. It’s a lovely stretch of road for a bicycle – some undulation but nothing too painfully hilly. Whilst Keith loves the challenge of altitude with its steep climbs and death-defying downs, I prefer a more moderate terrain – too flat is dull and too much up and down is equally tedious. I’m not made for hills: I’m a plodder, a shire horse of the cycling world that can go on forever but not at great velocity.

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Due to our typically tardy departure, we fortunately arrived in Castro Marim in time for lunch, which in the market is restricted to the limited menu of olives, bread and chicken straight from the grill. Although we eat little meat at home because we don’t feel the need, we have yet to take the full plunge into the veganism we feel to be a better way to live. To be honest, the existence of grilled chicken is not helping. We make verbal justifications about ‘protein’ and ‘energy loss’ due to cycling and we sit back and tuck in. I think I love this place because it reminds me of Morocco, which I also adore and almost lived in. Whilst taking in the smells, sights, singing and general atmosphere, we talk about how maybe, just maybe, the Algarve really is the perfect place for us. It has all the best of Europe with a dash of Morocco. We ponder whether we really could make the move further north, as we sometimes threaten to do in search of more (affordable) land and rain to make the growing easier. That’s for another day. Today we are glad to be here.

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And then it is time for the beach on our meander home. The Eastern Algarve coastal stretch from Vila Real to Manta Rota really feels like a secret. I almost expect people to be whispering and tiptoeing around, just in case anyone else should get wind of the place. Today we stop at Altura and its beach, Algoa, but anywhere along here would serve us just as well. The sand, the sea, the long, long convivial lunches in the seafood restaurants; the mood is peaceful rather than hectic. Having transported our parasols in our panniers like masts this far, it’s time to set up camp on the sand for a snooze and a swim and to make some vague post-lunch plans about 2 month cycle rides around Portugal and lengthy trips to the Azores. Everything feels possible today.

Home beckons as I have to pack and the garden needs a watering, so off we pedal; a little sandy, a little sore and a lot tired. We have covered 60km in the heat, sometimes helped and hindered by a strong northerly wind. The final 10km are the hardest; the climb back up into the hills is too much for me at times. I send Keith off to make his way home at his own pace and I walk and freewheel my way back, enjoying it all in the isolation of the empty serra roads. It seems that today I may have enjoyed myself for too long because as I made my final approach to Casa Torta, I was met by Keith coming the other way in the car, having become worried about my extended absence, he having arrived home 15 minutes before. I don’t know what he was worrying about, I was getting there. Maybe he needs to chill out a bit.

Learning Portuguese

Learning Portuguese

We’ve been in Portugal part-time for a year now and for most of that time we’ve made learning the lingo a big priority, but it’s not easy. Keith, my beloved, isn’t the world’s greatest linguist, having sent our first teacher into despair with his incessant engineer/scientist need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. Our teacher said that one lesson with Keith was more exhausting that four lessons with other students. We, not feeling that this was a way to encourage a student, gave him the heave-ho and found someone with more patience (or Valium). I was doing a bit better and got to the advanced stage of being able to take a radiator back to the shop and tell them that it only had three wheels instead of the requisite four and negotiating a replacement. Our lack of any victims to practise on is out main problem. We live in a rural location and have no cause to speak to random strangers in public apart from at our local bar, and even then it’s difficult to strike up some small talk when the chance of me knowing what is said back to me is slim.

In a bid to get more exposure to listening to the language, I have been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely Chef’s Academy, which is the local equivalent of Master Chef. I can’t work out why it’s called Chef’s Academy and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a presumably celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and the  getting horrendously slated by the judges. What makes it useful as a learning tool is that it is very visual and relatively limited in communication with not much of a plot to follow. What makes it useless is that all I am learning is a wide vocabulary of cooking terminology. Well, it’s a start.

Weirdly, I feel more comfortable here than I do in the UK. It’s almost as though there is liberation in not knowing what the hell is going on, which, rather than get anxious about, makes me brave and fearless. I am undoubtedly more sociable and willing to speak to new people in Portuguese than I am in English. Poor buggers.

This past week, I have taken my efforts to have something useful to say to the friendly people at our bar rather than the bog standard greetings to a new level. I have been at the Cial Language School in Faro for a week studying Portuguese for 6 hours each day. I don’t recall ever being so uttlery exhausted, close to  tears, migraine and nausea. Don’t let any of that put you off – it’s been fantastic on all counts except those. The school operates a variety of options from group classes to individual lessons and I opted for a mix of both, hence the language overkill. Most people do a 3 hour group class in the morning as I did, but I added a 2 hour individual lesson in the afternoon, which with hindsight was a bit much.

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The school itself was a warm and positive experience with students from all over the world (me being the only British person there) and of all ages and levels each wanting to learn Portugues for different reasons – some just for the fun of it. I was the only person living in Portugal. I am told that in the summer the demongraphic is younger and groups are larger. I have spent the week with two Swiss people in my class, both older than me, both serious and committed learners but both happy to go out for lunch (still speaking Portuguese, which the youngsters appear not to to) and crack a joke or two.

I already had a basis in Portuguese from my Skype lessons with a tutor, but have found the opportunity to speak to a number of people in the group and the school has had an amazing effect on my ability. The lessons follow a course in the form of a book, exercises and discussion with opportunities for reading, speaking, writing and listening. All of the teachers I came into contact with were full of energy and interest. I can’t praise the place highly enough.

Next week I return home to inflict my new found grammatical abilities on an unsuspecting population out in the hills. I can start asking questions about growing vegetables. Now what is the word for aubergine…

Darling, Bring Me A Pan, It’s Raining In The Kitchen

Darling, Bring Me A Pan, It’s Raining In The Kitchen

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Well, it’s a bit different from last May (2015) when we were basking in 30+ degrees at this time of year. The rain has been incessant this past week. Heavy, prolonged and at times downright cantankerous: stopping and starting every time I go to put a welly on or take a welly off. We scoffed at how much use those wellies would get when we bought them last year and now we can’t leave the house without needing them as our path is 2 inches deep in water.

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Yes, yes, it’s good for the garden and given the drought in Portugal in 2015, it is certainly welcome and needed, but when exactly is enough? The tanks are full; the plants are happy – not all: the baby pumpkins have got rotten and shrivelled – and we are fed up of being indoors.

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We are partly fed up of being indoors because it is raining in here too. Our house is old and roofed only with some tiles, a waterproof membrane and some canes. The membrane has holes in places and therefore naturally fails to live up to its ‘waterproof’ status in those parts. It’s strange that if in England our flat were to have water dripping through the ceiling, we would panic, believe the roof be about to fall in and rush to find a person to rub his/her chin thoughtfully and charge us a considerable amount to fix it. Here: we just put some pans under the drips and make sure we don’t leave laptops or phones on the kitchen table. We eat meals to the sound of the drips and casually mop up any that fail to hit the saucepan target. Why do we react so differently here? Is it just that we know the sun will come and dry it all up any moment now, or that our possessions and life here are so much simpler and smaller (no carpet, for a start) that a few puddles here and there are really not a problem. Or is it that we have changed just by being here? I have noticed other inconsistencies between our UK and our Algarve life: we are happy to live with geckos, centipedes, and ants on occasion, where in England we would freak out at sharing the bathroom with another pair of eyes. These things are just part of the deal in a rural setting and more than just tolerate them; we welcome them. We say good morning to Colin the gecko who lives in the bathroom and watch for hours the ants with their astonishing weightlifting capabilities. It was only the Yellow Banded Centipede who moved into the kitchen cupboard who met with a sorry end (they can cause coma with a single nip).

This afternoon between showers we ventured out, Vitamin D depleted and bored, for a walk in the hills. Usually silent, the sound of gushing streams and even waterfalls assaulted our ears and we were halted in our progress by a typically bone dry riverbed which had flooded the road creating a torrent. One of Keith’s wellies has a split so we couldn’t go any further. What a difference a few days downpour makes.

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So, whilst we ponder on the rain from inside and out, it serves to remind us that a few drips in a pan aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things, and that maybe this carefree attitude to the small things is a good one to take on board for life in general. We still have a roof of sorts, some wellies of a sort and a beautiful place to live. That is, until you realise that you’ve left your sandals outside, again and that you’d like to cook some dinner but there are no saucepans left.

And breathe…

Age Defying Dreams

Age Defying Dreams

So, we went for a walk one morning and we started talking, as we do, somehow always finding something to talk about together after all these years and with almost every hour of every day spent in each other’s presence. We ended up on the subject of whether there is any one right time, or age, for moving to a new country, doing some serious travelling or making a big life change, and how age can have an impact on the experience.

 

The inspiration for this conversation came from the past few weeks where we’ve met a number of new people who are all here in Portugal for the short or long term and who are all from different decades in their lives. Travellers and residents from their 20s up into 60s and beyond all turn up on these shores and have crossed our paths. Obviously, age does not entirely determine how someone will behave: we all know risk-averse youngsters and wild, crazy elders, but from our experiences these would be exceptions. We pondered where we fit in the scheme of things.

 

In comparison to the other foreigners living immediately around our neighbourhood, who arrived here in retirement in their 60s and upwards, we are the youngsters, roughing it and foolishly cycling up hills in the midday sun. They lead a life of lunches, golf and quiet pursuits, often choosing fellow English speakers for pals and often grumbling about the natives who, they live in proximity to but in total isolation from. The bulk of their lives were spent in their home countries and this life is a welcome retreat funded by pensions and a life of hard work. They live in lovely villas and don’t want to garden or decorate: someone else can be paid to do that. Eventually, many of them will return home due to health, finance or sheer boredom. There is only so much the sun can entertain.

 

Last week we met two women travelling who were in their 20s. One of them had rolled into town alone on the Solstice and immediately hooked up with some other young folks who were organising a party and spent a few days with them. It sounded like this kind of thing happens to her almost every day. No big deal. That all stops when you get older: other 40 somethings just don’t invite you to hang out with them; they/we are all too busy/sensible/fearful of doing such a thing with strangers. These women are happy to share a dorm room and live with basic comforts, whereas although we live a simple life, we shudder at the idea of being kept awake by noisy strangers in a hostel. They have no plans or cares in the world about health, mortgages or how to survive; everything seems possible and it can wait until they’ve finished hanging out here for a while. What’s the hurry? They are low on resources but long on time.

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We belong in a different gang to either of these, which is perhaps less typical. Most of the world’s wanderers are either young and yet to be worn down by the world, or older and enjoying the fruits of their labours. We are still in our working years, requiring income, but wanting to spend our working life doing it our way. Our requirements also differ from those both younger and older. We want more than a hostel and less than a villa. We desire a slightly more luxurious than basic lifestyle; to run a car and to drink good coffee to name but a few. We are neither mobile nor static: we want to put down roots, but we might dig them up and replant them elsewhere in years to come. We don’t want to seek solely English speaking interactions, we want to learn a new language and feel somewhat brave and willing to engage with our community, however long and faltering the steps to do so might be. We want to grow food, create a home and appreciate many joyful sunsets over our hills. We don’t have the casual encounters that our new young friends are having nor seek the ex-pat pals of our older neighbours, but we do try to meet people through voluntary work exchanges where we work on their land and with their animals in exchange for meals and vegetables. Our relative youth and physicality enables us to forge these relationships with like-minded souls in a way that wouldn’t be available to us if we had less physical well-being. We visit our local bar with frequency in order to show our faces, support the place and find rare opportunities to inflict our Portuguese on the captive audience. We are somewhere in the middle in age, courage, energy and aspirations.

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The correlation between risk taking and age seems to be inversely proportionate. Speaking to people casually, I hear that their priorities change as their lives move on. Conversation topics involve concerns about health, safety and financial security which feature less when talking with the young. The older we are, we appear more cautious and fearful of new people and new experiences, despite life being no more or less dangerous than it is at any age. I would like to say that it’s all in the mind, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. I think it is partly in the body. Whilst, Keith and I feel young, able and reckless in comparison to some of our neighbours, we feel old, achy and sensible next to these much younger travellers. For us, approaching 50, mortality bites and our increasing physical limitations are apparent to us, if not debilitating. We already know people of our age who are debilitated. We become scared at the prospect. As our bodies begin to show signs of fatigue and fragility, we become naturally more physically cautious, and perhaps more mentally cautious by default. We increasingly say No to the world, instead of Yes. No creates certainty, predictability and safety, but can also foster fear, boredom and a closed mind. Yes brings risk, possibility and new encounters. Instead of our awareness of time being limited making us braver and intent on making the most of the time and health we have, we try to preserve and protect our minds and our bodies by wrapping them up in cotton wool. This, I feel, is a big mistake.

 

‘But what if something terrible happens?’ you may say. ‘But what if something amazing happens?’ I reply.

 

There is no right time to travel, move or explore, but we must be mindful that the longer we leave it; perhaps the less likely we are to take that leap; if we are even capable of leaping by that time. We need to keep both our bodies and our minds open to all possibilities and recognise that some of our objections, excuses and self-imposed negativity really is all in our minds.

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Of course, we should take care and know our physical limitations, but at the same time continue to stretch our mental limitations. Age should be no barrier to an open mind, regardless of physical health. And if any 20 something wants to invite me to an all night Solstice party, then I’d be delighted. As long as there’s a flushing toilet and comfy chair, I’m there.

 

Do you think that we limit ourselves as we age? And if so, why do you think this is?

Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

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We had a day off from pruning and shovelling a few days ago and took ourselves off to Olympia, home of the Olymipic Games (same name: spooky). Keith was up for it and I was a bit ‘rocked out’ from all the stuff in Athens, but we went all the same – and it was quite astonishing.

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I don’t really have access to the kind of clever descriptive words for this sort of thing and I’m not cultured enough to know much detail about history, but I read all the signs and walked all the way round, and even went to the museum, but then I got all ADHD kind of twitchy, overloaded with visually sensoryness and had to leave. But it was all quite incredible. It even made me come over all ‘Olympian’ (the camera is broken so we’ve only got Keith’s phone which is not great for zoom).

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In fact, I used to do athletics when I was young and wasn’t too bad at it; this was in the 1980s when 5’10” was considered exceptionally tall, unlike these days when loads of young women are that height it seems. More protein; less Crispy Pancakes. In the 1980s, being 5’10” just meant that I had longer legs than anyone else and therefore could cover more ground than the others. I’m not convinced I was actually faster. I won my Athletics badge at Brownies by simply stepping over the bar set at the required height. I think it was supposed to be more of a challenge. I got to some County Finals kind of thing with running, nothing special. I had discovered boys, alcohol and a desperate need to be liked at about the time that I might have progressed to be a decent athlete. I told my daughter, Jess, this when she was 5 years old. Unfortunately, she got the wrong of the stick and went to school and told her teacher that I’d been in the Olympics. Well, we did tell Jess that her elderly Scottish teacher rode a motorbike and was often to be seen falling out of a pub (lies) so I supposed her sense of reality was a bit askew. I’d love to have been in the Olympics, but this is as close as I’ll ever get – although if I ever get to the point of needing a new kidney, there is the Transplant Games to aim for. I thought I’d make the most of it and enter the main arena to the roar of the crowd.

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Not a soul. Not one. The tiny pinpoint at the end of the 218m track is me. At the other end, beyond Keith and the camera, is a slightly bemused and suspicious security guard wondering what the hell we were doing. You can’t even see me. It’s a tiny black dot in the centre of the photo at the very far end. Honest, I went all that way. It was a very evocative place, actually. You could imagine what it would be like with 45,000 in that arena.

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The site of Olympia itself is just huge and every structure in it is just huge. The site was a sanctuary for the pursuit of religious and sporting activities from around 8 BC until around 4AD when some fella called Theodorius (or something) decided to ban all pagan sites and knocked the whole lot down. The Greeks have been trying to put it back together ever since.

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All of the bronze statutes were melted and many of the marble frontages of the temples are gone, but a surprising amount remains and is in the museum in pretty good nick. It is incredible to imagine what it would have looked like with all the buildings intact and so very decorative and brightly coloured.

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Anyway, it was good.

We left our work exchange today a couple of day earlier than planned, mainly because I have trapped a nerve in my back and am henceforth both in pain and useless. We changed our flights and headed off back through the mountains. Keith and Rod spent a long day yesterday laying a concrete base for a swimming pool and being the Chuckle Brothers in their matching boiler suits. Keith has been so relaxed and almost (dare I say it) like a normal person. It’s been great to see.

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We really enjoyed our experience and were very fortunate to have hosts that we got on with and that were real genuinely nice people with an incredible interest in others and almost constant contact with their adult children back home. I have tried to contact my son, but his monosyllabic answers and bewilderment as to what I want, make these interactions largely painful for all concerned, so I just text him here and there to remind him I am still alive.

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We couldn’t get a flight home for another day so had to be tourists again and find a hotel for the night en route to Athens. We found the Dias Hotel in Nafplio (£28 for double room including breakfast), a beautiful little town on the coast a couple of hours out of Athens. It was populated by well-dressed Greeks on this Sunday afternoon and is full of shops selling upmarket woven linen, honey and crafts.

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There is a castle on the hill which we can see from our room and the place has a Venetian feel to it. I hobbled about in a pained and crooked fashion in the sunshine.

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It’s January and there were three people swimming in the sea in just their trunks. They didn’t look Greek because the Greeks were wearing their coats indoors like sensible people. I’m putting money on this one being German. He had that look about him. Whilst he was in the sea in January in his pants. That look.

Our hotel receptionist told us she is off to London for a 5 day visit in February and grilled us with lots of questions about the Tube, Buckingham Palace and other obvious tourist sights. We told her it would be cold and probably rainy because we are purveyors of absolute truth. She asked how often it would rain. I said maybe 4 times a week, which I thought was breaking it to her gently and was also frankly a potential lie. Her eyes almost popped from her head at the concept of such a place. She was equally visibly dismayed that the temperature was unlikely to rise beyond 10 degrees C. I felt terribly responsible for the British weather and wanted it not to be so. It will be grey, wet cold and miserable. That’s why we’re in bloody Greece, love. She’ll have a great time. I told her to go to Brighton.

My back is so painful and my ability to walk is so limited that for the first time ever in my life, I have requested Special Assistance at the airport for the flight home. My fear now is that I’ll wake up completely fine tomorrow and look like a right malingerer. I’ll have to put on a limp.

So if you happen to see me doing skids in a wheelchair round Gatwick in the early hours of Tuesday morning, please remember that I could have been an Olympian and have some respect. And if you are in Gatwick in the early hours of Tuesday morning for Keith’s sake give us a lift home because I can’t carry my rucksack and we’ve got to get the train back to Worthing in order to be home for precisely 30 hours before we head back to Portugal to open a bank account in order to buy our new house. This life is getting absolutely bloody stupid.

To finish off this trip’s blog post, here is a photo of me that looks like I have an enormous penis. Yasos.

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Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

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We departed Gythio on a beautiful morning and Keith’s birthday. This, of course, warranted Keith to sing ‘Because I’m 46’ repeatedly to the tune of the recent Pharrell Williams smash hit, “Happy”. Pharrell Williams features in our lives a lot these days. I bought Keith a fridge magnet of Gythio, a spoon made out of olive wood and some Greek cakes for his birthday. I didn’t bring them from England with me, although that would have been an amazing coincidence if I had. This is the ‘music’ advertised by the hotel. It doesn’t work. I wonder what would have come out of it if it did. Probably not Pharrell Williams.

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Our journey to our work exchange hosts took us across the Mani Peninsula and up the coast. It was absolutely beautiful. I did many wees in many glorious locations.

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We stopped at Stoupa for a banana and opened the car door to the smell of olive oil. This is a little proper holiday resort, but pretty low key. The fruit and veg stall lady was English and so were her customers. All of the restaurant menus didn’t even bother having Greek versions; just English. The place was deserted today but I imagine it being different in the summer with all those Greeks not being able to understand what to order for their dinner. Nightmare.

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I am generally fascinated by people’s stories and life choices and wonder how the hell you end up selling fruit and veg in a Greek village. I suppose there are worse places to sell fruit and veg, like at a Pharrell Williams gig, perhaps. I’m just guessing here; there might be quite a market for it.

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The landscape along this part of Greece is completely unexpected. I thought it would be flat, scrubby with a goat or two. Not so. Look at this.

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As it was Keith’s birthday, we really pushed the boat out and had a mountain top picnic of day old bread and cream cheese. We can’t believe our luck to be here doing this. Sorry, not ‘luck’: ‘meticulous planning’. Either way, it’s not a bad place to be 46. For 16 days each year Keith and I are the same age before I surge ahead a year and get to have a toyboy again while he gets a cougar. For the next 16 days, however we have to suffer being a weird sort of twins. Happens every year.

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Our home for the next 12 days is here, just outside the small fishing port of Kyparissia. There is blue sea on one side and high mountains behind. We’re staying with Rod and Bernadette, originally from the UK, who live here all year round. They rent out a cabin in their grounds to holiday guests and also take work exchange helpers like us to give them a hand with jobs around their home and land in exchange for accommodation and meals. These are organised through sites such as Workaway and HelpX where both hosts and helpers pay a subscription to belong to a database and find hosts/helpers all over the world. It is a brilliant system. Helpers review hosts (and vice versa) so it’s easy to see who is fair and good and who is a slave driver and makes you live on plastic cheese. Rod and Bernadette come with glowing reviews of terrible jokes (Rod) and fantastic cooking (Bernadette). It transpires that these reviews are entirely accurate in both cases.

This is not quite our first experience of this type of thing as we went WWOOFing a couple of years ago, but it is our first overseas adventure. Given our natural temperament (being highly intolerant of almost everyone on the planet), this is a stretch of our capabilities over a long period, but I figure it’s good for us to step out of our comfort zone and anyway, we need to learn some useful shit for our new house and land in Portugal.

The view from our room is not bad for a start. Sadly, with temperatures reaching – 3C, we’re not going anywhere near that pool this week.

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Our first job for the first few days is to prune around 40 olive trees. This task has more responsibility than I would usually welcome, given that Rod and Bernadette’s entire annual olive oil supply rests on these trees. Fortunately, their knowledge of olive tree care is marginally smaller than mine – I have pruned Keith’s trees once in the past (this is not a euphemism) and have flicked through a book on the subject, therefore rendering me the resident ‘expert’.

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This photo is not posed at all. This is the required facial expression for olive pruning. I read it in a book.

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Olive pruning may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but these days up trees have been completely fabulous. I am definitely a person not designed to be indoors – fake lighting, heating and screens (TV, computer) just make me feel ill. Outdoors is where I need to be: no headache, no backache, not even needing to wear my tinted lenses for tics and light sensitivity. Burning calories, warding off high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and dwindling kidneys. And we’re not even paying for the privilege (apart from the flight and a hire car), it’s costing us nothing: good food, amazing location and a lovely place to stay – and they let us piss about with their trees. What’s not to like?

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We have also been shovelling stones and mud and Keith has being more manly than at any other time in his life (this is not difficult as he’s been behind a computer and making tea for most of it). I am usually quite manly so not much change for me here. He is so happy. We’re so happy. It’s January and we’re outdoors all day in the (chilly) sunshine.

Bernadette stoking the fire burning all the olive prunings. This is properly ‘The Life’.

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So far so good with our work exchange. Extremely chuffed at our amazing ability to get on with people, even ones who tell terrible jokes. We’re quite the social butterflies you know: pretty and with a very short life-span? It seems that without all of the environmental stressors of normal life; there is enough capacity for the people stuff in the coffers.

Apparently, we live somewhere other than here, but we can’t quite remember where that is, or in fact, why.

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Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance

 

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 01

Now, I shall apologise in advance for the contents of this first part of this post: they are about weeing. This is important and useful medical knowledge which may come in handy at some point in your lives (bladders weaken with age, you know). Skip over at your peril.

As a consequence of my kidney disease, it is recommended that I drink 3 litres of water per day. The general recommendation for any person is 2 litres, which is hard enough, but 3 litres is something else. I fail at this task almost everyday. On a good day, I guzzle a litre at a time and then nothing to several hours, because I forget. This is pointless as the body cannot utilise large quantities of water in one go. Today, I introduced a new strategy by setting an alarm on my phone every hour on the hour and when it goes off I drink a cup of water. This is how I shall live my life from now on. If you ever meet me and this happens, please know that this is part of me maintaining the function of my kidneys and not being a freaky, routine-obsessed weirdo – in this instance.

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Today, we went for a walk, which turned out to be over 9 miles. Every hour on the hour, I drank a cup of water. In between every hour, I did at least one wee. I did seven al fresco wees in a five hour period, which works out as 14 wees in a full day. My alfresco wees were mostly next to olive trees. Next time you eat an olive, it may be from a tree that was irrigated by me. Think about that. No need to thank me. I was doing myself a favour.

Managing my fluid intake in this fashion is so much easier in the countryside. It is also cheaper; in major cities it can cost 30p for a wee: that’s £4.20 a day for 14 wees, £1533 per year. That’s the price of a decent holiday (everything in life should be measured in holidays). Taking care of your health is expensive, unless you’re willing to get arrested by squatting next to a hedge in a suburban street.

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Final serious note about water intake: drinking even the recommended two litres of water a day really does make a massive difference to well-being, brain clarity and mood. Give it a try. But make sure you have 30p handy.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 04

We walked south from Gythio around the coast and up and back in a circle. The sun was out and the temperature was the warmest we have had so far. What a difference a bit of blue sky makes. This coast is just fabulous, another discovery, as we’ve never been here before or even considered it.

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This is the beach at Mavrovouni, 4 km long of sand and, even on a January day, deep blue sea. Coincidentally (or was it?), the only two people we saw on the whole stretch (we walked the entire length), were having a wee. Maybe they too were on a kidney management system. Solidarity, brothers.

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At the back edge of the beach are a row of houses and a few rooms to rent along with the odd bar. This would be an amazing spot to find yourself for a holiday. I can’t imagine it ever gets really busy. The notice board on the beach said that it was a sea turtle nesting beach and that dolphins sometimes pop by. This is a real slice of unspoilt Greece.

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The beach overlooks the Mani Penisula, a wild, mountainous region with ridge-top villages and stunning scenery. That will have to wait until another time.

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The only thing to distract you from your lazy days would be the odd cat in an old, abandoned Mercedes.

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Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 11

Our walk passed by many prickly pears, ripe and ready to eat on their cactus plants. They are delicious, like a cross between a banana and an apple or pear (duh!). And they are free. Don’t try it though, please. In Morocco, street vendors sell them all smooth and prickle-free for 1 dirham (7p) a piece, so a few years ago on a holiday to Paxos, Greece, I thought that I could benefit from this free food source and pick my own. Despite the surface looking entirely smooth, they are covered in the tiniest spines, hundreds of them which get stuck in your skin and, being virtually invisible, are impossible to remove. I learned this through experience and got covered in them trying to be Ray Mears. It took days to get rid of the spines from my hands and arms.

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So… today, knowing all of this, I had another go. I know, it makes no sense, but I just really wanted one. And I thought these ones might be different. Or something. I don’t think the photograph adequately shows the multiple spines on my finger.

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Now, none of this would have happened if I’d have listened to Baloo. 1.21 in and he tells us exactly how to deal with a prickly pear. Just need to grow my fingernails longer.

We wandered home through miles of olive and orange trees. The olives were being harvested in great sheets on the ground. We later walked past the local press and smelled them all being processed. The trees were loaded with them. I don’t think I did a wee under this tree, although they do all look the same.

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We had a pathetic (by our exacting standards) picnic by the side of the road which comprised of two tiny pieces of French toast stolen from the hotel breakfast room along with some stolen peach jam, some Christmas chocolate (still going strong – the mince pies became extinct in Athens), some almonds from Morocco and some old crisps.

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Whilst sat by the road we talked about the Buddhist meditation book I read in Morocco – I have yet to actually meditate, but I’m thinking about it – and about how Zen the moment was as it felt as though, although we were sat on a deserted country roadside, all manor of life and change was happening around us: birds, crickets, moving leaves, chainsaws in the distance. There was no need to seek entertainment, possession or concern ourselves with the past or the future: now was all that mattered. And now felt perfect. We had a thought that we might never leave that spot and might sit there forever, just ‘being’. Perhaps people would eventually bring us food parcels, which might be an improvement on the French toast. We sat there for quite some time, but then the alarm on my phone went off and I knew that within ten minutes I would need another wee.

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Back to Gythio for a room dinner of Cup-A-Soup, bread and cheese for tea with a Greek yogurt and honey chaser. Off on the road again tomorrow to start to earn our keep.

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