Portugal: Vida Pura

| |

Train journey back from Porto to Lisbon with mum, repeatedly we accidentally sit in the wrong seats, each time getting asked to move, each time start laughing and can't stop. While mum is in the toilet a man who we'd earlier thought was the ticket inspector comes grinning into the carriage at the opposite end. He spots where we're sitting and marches down the aisle, ignoring the other passengers. He stops and plants fat kisses on my face, and with no more of an explanation than 'Obrigado!' (Thank you) he walks off. 

The rest of the day is with sad goodbyes to mum, getting in stupid dangerous situations at motorway/pigeon shit junction, sitting on my suitcase, lorry fumes and eating bran flakes for 3 hours, then catching a coach down the coast to Odeceixe (oh-de-say-eesh) as the sun sets. 

3 years ago two Dutch friends Robyn and Ole, along with their wives Bela and Valeria, bought a tiny ruined house in a valley and since then, with the help of a team of local builders and 15 workawayers at a time, working 7 hours, 4 days a week, they've created Vida Pura. The little house has been renovated to accommodate the volunteers, with a big kitchen and sitting room, and a massive pantry filled with every kind of food you could have a Sagres/hash fuelled urge for. There are also two yurts + 5 caravans on the land for workers. Ole & Bela and Robyn & Valeria are building a house each for themselves, on the hills either side of the valley. A HUGE vegetable garden run by lunar calendar, grows organic fruit and veggies for the two families and all of the volunteers. 

There's a compost toilet that is so OK you'd only know it wasn't a normal loo when instead of flushing it you put a handful of sawdust down the hole. AND it's used by at least 10 smelly workers. A combination of eco-energy sources from solar panels and wind-mills to black pipes running across the roof to provide hot water, allow them to be surviving entirely off-grid. The houses are built using the traditional Portugese method of clay-packing and straw bales, straw and wood can be found on the land, and clay in the soil, so houses can be made almost entirely from FREE STUFF. 

We start work at 8:30, and finish at 4, with a morning coffee break and lunch break. Lunch cooking is done on a rota, cooking for 16+ people on an old gas stove and a really crap gas oven is a fucking experience… But maybe you get used to it, and people are always around to help. Depending on the time of year, all sorts of work needs doing, from planting and weeding in the vegetable garden, helping with the construction of the houses, maintaining the land, looking after the rapidly breeding animal farm of chickens or 2 baby ducks or 2 huge dogs or 6 cats or 3 donkeys, or the giant cross-gender cockerel Rodney. 

In the afternoon we swim up the river that runs through the farm, there's waterfalls and a dam, and misty flood-planes that look like they belong in jurassic park. Or hitch-hike to the beach. The journey is an assault course of hilly fields, pot-hole dust tracks, and some rivers to drive through. Sometimes Ole gives us a lift and we all pile into the back of his pick-up truck, speed-freak and aiming for the dustiest pot-holes, howling laughing from the front seat, and emergency stopping for a little green parakeet in the road that he tries to catch in his hat. Ducking from the police on the bridge. When we arrive we're 8 shades more filthy. Evenings are bottles of Sagres, watching the sunset on the beach, listening to the musically-able improvise hilarious and beautiful concoctions of guitars, bongos, violins, harmonicas. Weekends are Odeceixe beach and surfing and fancy-dress parties. The river that runs through Vida Pura runs to Odeceixe beach, it's a really incredible little bay of clear blue river, white sand, forest cliffs and Atlantic Ocean.

In return for work the volunteers get food and accommodation, but the 'work' has a worthwhile and direct benefit to the life you're living, eating, enjoying. I haven't before met so many kind, accepting, and generous people in one place at one time, everyone weird, everyone crazy, and all by-passing the shitty capitalist system in a farm of fun.

At the moment we're a team of:

1x Portugese
2x Welshies
1x Scotsman
1x Latvian
2x Dutch
1x Frenchman
1x Aussie
2x Brazilians
and Dutch Robyn, Valeria & their two children, 
and Dutch Ole & Bela.

But then there's also,

Old German Paul the biker with a beaded wizard beard. He built himself a little cottage on the land somewhere that we find one evening when we're in a misty field following a big black horse into a forest. He feeds us a lot of Chinese wine and a lot of hash-pipe, and tells us how he built his house, and shows us photos of him in a German biker porno mag. Then sends us flying home, laughing in the pitch black, mind-blown by the incredible sky without light pollution. He is a hilarious, who turns up at the farm intermittently on his horse Jazoo, sneaking us bottles of cold Sagres and smokes behind the fence at the bottom of the garden.

And 50-something Tom the traveling carpenter from Cheltenham who lives here in his caravan, getting paid a low wage to do carpentry in the houses. When I asked him if he was planning to go back to the UK after he'd finished he laughs. Then he tells me about his life at the moment, traveling around to projects similar to Vida Pura, parking his little home on beautiful land for free, with Portugese weather, inspiring people around him, lunch cooked for him from organic veggies, and amazing beaches a 5 minute drive away.. I can understand why he's laughing.

He drives us to the beach in his surf van for the sunset, and we talk for a few hours about his life, the camps and communes that changed him, and laughing a lot about the ones that went very wrong. He teaches me basics about building your own hand-built house, books and materials and techniques. Will do it.

I have had so many inspiring conversations. People arrive at Vida Pura to help for a few weeks, 80% don't leave.

Muito Bonito Burro. 
Very Beautiful Donkey

Julian the Frenchman drinks too much red wine and drives his moped too fast. He flies past us on our walk home from pretending to watch/watching the football at the bar in Odeceixe. Dennis the Harley rider recognises the whizzing sound a bike's accelerator makes when someone falls off and is suddenly sprinting up the dark road and it's all very dramatic until we find Julian mounting his moped. Luckily all he has lost is most of the skin from his knee and a little bit of the skin from his elbow, and the alignment of his front wheel and his front bike light. He still wobbly zooms past us on the dusty track, one hand in the air 'BONJOUR!!'

There's a pirate party for Ami's 3rd birthday. Transform from dirty workers into dirty pirates. Screaming and cake and indoor fireworks and a spectacular treasure hunt for a real buried chest filled with gold, shots of Portugese nonsense spirit, flying an excited Ami around the decking for ever and ever and ever in our arms like a fairy.

Robyn tells me about his vision for a 'lounging lizard' in one of the bathrooms of the new houses, and asks me if I'd sculpt it for him, out of concrete. (concrete..!?). The house is beautiful and nearly finished, the bathroom surfaces and walls are smooth, finely-sanded clay with soft corners and edges… ahhhhh fuuuuuck..!! Not expecting a hugely welcoming response from the concrete-providing builders to the conctrete-sculpting artist, I arrive at building site and set about mixing the concrete like Robyn showed me, 3 parts sand, 1 part concrete, river water not tap water..  A few minutes and I'm aware of a something behind me, something is the Portugese builder staring over my shoulder at my mixing. Here begins our days of hilarious failed attempts at communication. He is incredibly helpful, explaining and teaching me, in Portugese, everything I could ever need to know about concrete and tools. Unfortunately I don't understand a word he is saying and to everything he says I respond with 'obridgada' or 'muita obrigada' or 'bom dia'. He laughs at my weak mixing and sighs at me trying to signal about whether the power drill has a reverse function, and looks totally exasperated at me trying to drag an extension lead across the building site and fucking the whole thing up.

He mixes the perfect mix of concrete for me, precise to the nearest droplet of water, untangles the knotted extension lead, shows me the correct setting for the power drill, pops his head around the corner giving me a nod of encouragement, and when I'm trying to get a smooth finish as if by magic he appears with a sponge that does the job perfectly.

He tries to explain to me that I need to wear gloves, grabbing my hand before I can dip it into the mix, comparing my palm to his palm, my palm to his palm. I shrug and smile that I don't really mind, he shakes his head and leaves me to sculpting my lizard in concrete. Concrete is so much fun to sculpt with. Later that evening my hands tighten and blister and over the next few days begin to shed a thick layer of skin. Concrete is toxic, stupid fucking Welsh girl.

Fancy dress party for Sean's 25th birthday. Pimps and Whores. 3-course meal, fake penises, whips and chains, a lot of Sagres, a lot of smokes, music from Ole who used to be a DJ at forest raves in Holland, more Portugese nonsense spirit that I get warned about every time I pour a shot of. There's purple sick in the garden. I'd heard about Robyn and cross-dressing, he arrives at the party as an entirely convincing woman. And tells the boys that if they intend upon living a life of good mental health they need to embrace their suppressed feminine desires. The Dutch are goooooooood.


The stream that pumps water for the garden irrigation system dries up and apparently it wont rain here again until October. = Water Emergency.
Males coordinate transporting the pump to the main river, adjusting valves and pipes and complicated pressure gradients. Thais and I lug 100 5L plastic bottles to the river to fill up with river water, get ourselves stuck in sinking mud and pull each other arse-first into the river, and we're chased away by huge birds with faces like manky cunts, cocking their heads and breathing fire.

Tom drove Brendan, Sean and I along the coast in his yellow camper for a sunset game of frisbee on a different, equally beautiful, equally deserted beach. I don't know who taught me to throw a frisbee but somehow I can do it, I'm a frickin expert..

I also don't know where all the people are or why this coast is so un-inhabited by humans, but it's brilliant.

Spent a hot afternoon fighting with a hundred metres of very heavy and thick hose piping upstairs watering the fruit trees on 'burger hill' (everyone everything fries like a big-mac). Unknown cunt puts it's venom in my thumb. More painful than tattoo, more painful than breaking my leg, I swear.

Continue lizard sculpting, the Portugese builders continue popping their heads around the door to check progress, encouraging nods and 'muito bonito's. 
They weren't checking up when I was experimenting with the best way to smash wine and beer bottles into tiny little mosaic pieces. Throw a hammer at a pile of bottles then duck behind a wall, a flying piece of glass beats me to it and hits me on the eyebrow. Give myself a talking to.

We have also: dug up evil deep-rooted carpet grass with blisters and a pick-axe, carrot seeds sewn, tomato plants tamed, the foundations of a new raised compost toilet begun, burger hill is strimmed, doors are built on the recycling bins to stop the feral demonics, relentless African Tea is pulled up from around the vegetable beds, raspberries and beans and peas and courgettes and cucumbers and strawberries and beetroot are harvested, baby ducks are introduced to their newly built floating mansion..

On the weekend a nearby town, San Miguel, has it's annual street festival. Ole tells us that if we want to go we should go along with him or we'll get beaten up. What he really means is that it's a festival organised by the locals for each other, everybody chips in so that food on the evening is free and medronho (a spirit made from berries grown in the valley) is cheap. He introduces us to some smiling faces and we're accepted into the party. Streets are decorated, singing accordion playing man, traditional dancing in pairs around a square. Pick up a plate and take it to the man gulping medronho and waving a meat-cleaver, who loads you up with raw meat for you take away to cook on one of the huge iron oil-drum fires. Feel sick at the mounds of MEAT but he's too happy to say no to. Follow the sound of whistling to a man grinning and dangling a cooked sausage in the air, waggling it at my face. I guess this means come here and eat this cooked sausage, so I do..

Moneys are exchanged for tokens that are exchanged for medronho shots. Un-labelled glass bottles are pulled out from cupboards under tables, apparently the alcohol content of home-made medronho exceeds the legal allowance. Laugh a lot, dancing with an old indian chief and a dog. Cross-country stumbling route home with a little flash-light, too many rivers to cross and too many right turns left turns, electric fences, paths through corn fields, pot-hole tracks to navigate, a 20 minute walk takes us almost 2 hours. WHERE IS LAMP-POST CORNER. Thais and Gustavo get left behind somewhere and have a 1am power-nap on the side of the road. Until they're woken by the sound of falling piss.

Kut met peren.

Cunt with pear. (Dutch).

Sean's musical improvising... and the return of a confused Frenchman.

Vida Pura, you see that castle? Don't go there... Never go there... A song about yellow t-shirt'ed Jack.

Team Brazil is split up as Gustavo mysteriously departs for Italy, leaving Thais, who speaks verrrrry little English, apart from when she suddenly comes out with 'Hollyyy I don't remember NUUUTTING and I wake up in morneeeng and my fuckeen arse hole it fucken HURRTS' and other things that make me die laughing. But communication works in strange ways, we laugh a lot. She is teaching me how to sing 'three little birds' by Bob Marley in Brazilian Portugese, and I'm teaching her how to say 'you stupid shitting boy cunt BOY crusty wan shaft tit bags I couldn't give a flying FUUUUUCK' in English, along with all other important phrases.

Sometimes in the evening we climb up the hill behind the farm, up the ladder to the platform on top of the white cube water tower. For yoga + sunset + the view + swallows + the bats.

Our last beachy weekend together, Jack has a bath in a cow trough, Thais and I consistently win at hitch-hiking, so many thanks to the kind people who save us the 4km walk, thrown around by 6ft waves, dreadlock from Brendan (sorry mum), Thais pisses on the sand, octopus salad and Sagres at the beach bar before a night in Odeceixe and a lot of crazy juice medronha. At some point everyone is lost and I'm having a dance-off with a huge Brazilian man who's favourite move is rubbing the top of his bald head on my stomach.

We have a new arrival, Daniel, WALES WOOOO. He asks how to say 'you have beautiful eyes' in Portugese and naturally (oblivious to him) we instead teach 'your cocks are really pretty'. He excitedly shouts it around the bar practicing his pronunciation.

Ai buseta velha.

Another one of Thais hilarious English speaking surprises… While her and I are walking along the beach to find her a piss spot because she refuses to go in the "TOO FUCKING COLD water"….
"oh, 'olly, i got question… what you say if boy, ask you, 'put your fingers in my bum'…..?"

Which results in, "If you like fingers, tell me… I cut my nails.."
Here is Thais and her English speaking.

On Sunday Ole and Bella take us inland to hidden rock pools. Miles cross-country in the back of the pick-up, Ole driving, hammering his hand on the horn a mili-second before charging through a pot-hole/ low-hanging branches. To a tranquil paradise, swimming upstream in the gauges, huge cliff-faces either side, waterfalls, water-lilies, lagoons and mer-people.

What was supposed to be Ole coming down to the workaway house for a couple of goodbye medronha shots turns a full medronha bottle into a big empty one, Robyn arriving with two bottles of champagne + hash, Thais rapping in Brazilian, weird musical improvising reaching it's weirdest peak, Robyn convinced he's having a vision, and us all dancing around and around and around the kitchen table until some hour.

Some photos from Daniel.

Goodbye tits&arse.

A month in Vida Pura / Pure Life, proper like.

Inclusive, selfless, happy, free people. And in a month I spent just 8 euros (on a crate of Sagres).
One of the hardest places I've ever had to leave.

Thank fuck our fambly home will be, in one sense or another, just around the corner, in the not-too-distant future.

Get a copy of this book.



Email *

Message *