‘I’m a wwoofer’ I said far too quickly to a startled looking young man who answered the door of the farm. I arrived in Castro Marim on the Algarve near the Spanish border, like a crazed bag lady in a cagoole, emerging from the pitch blackness, at 9pm on the Sunday night.  I was totally flustered after a 12 hour journey, with no response from the wwoof host since the previous day. The wwoofers weren’t expecting to find me knocking on the door and pressing my face against the glass panel, hoping for humankind to respond, they had no idea I was due to arrive!  Luckily Arthur and Luisa, my co-wwoofers, were brilliant, made me tea, offered me food, sorted me a bed and instantly I felt welcome. There was a wood burner heating up the living room, a shower, washing machine, dishwasher, dry bed, the place was paradise compared to the caravan of doom up in the mountains!!!!

The farm http://www.quinta-da-fornalha.com/ was beautiful, Arthur and Luisa gave me a tour the next morning and I loved it.  Arthur is 22 and Belgian, with brilliant English and a love of English classic comedy and good music. Luisa is 18, generous, sweet and funny with perfect English by the end of our time there she was far less German, ‘no-one died’ was the phrase we managed to instill in her when she was getting Germanic and worrying about precision!!! As is compulsory, Arthur and I threw in a few ‘don’t mention the war’ remarks, just to keep her in line, she was a good spirited young lady and took it all very well!!!  I was, yet again, shamed by my lack of language knowledge and skills, eeeekkk!

The farm was gloriously chaotic, with no apparent planning, schedule, ‘there is no order’ exclaimed poor Luisa one morning, struggling with the shambolicness of it all, for me it was perfect!!!

So, on my first morning I was shown around the farm, in the distance was a fishing lake that sadly I didn’t manage to get to, maybe next time. There were also orange groves, fig orchards (is that the correct term), a recently renovated old lime oven, used to bake the bricks for the houses, a big veggie patch, chickens, geese, random stray dogs and cats everywhere, all of whom were very nice, swimming pool, out buildings and various other houses that are rented out to tourists over the summer months, as well as an organic farm shop, which sold the produce harvested and made on the farm.  Towards the sea were salt ponds, where salt is harvested when in season, as it was out of season I didn’t learn much about this, but I’d like to go back and find out more.  It’s all harvested by hand, by an old Portuguese fella and no chemicals or anything are used, there are different qualities of salt depending on the level it lies in the salt ponds, I think, which determines the size of the crystals, and they sell it on it’s own and also mixed with herbs, in the organic farm shop, nice!

I had various tasks to do, made a couple of rather makeshift herb garden, to save a load of herbs that had just been abandoned in pots for a month or two, they seemed to take fine and started to thrive.  I’ve decided to transform my front garden into a beautiful herb garden when I get home, it will mean digging up the old Queen Elizabeth roses, but I’m going to guerilla garden them on the estate.  I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing for the tourist visits, making fig and almond truffles, pressing figs by hand to sell to fig loving Germans, a painful process, but we had music, and tea breaks, and it was fun!  One thing I really loved doing, was stripping bamboo cut from the farm, with a knife,ready for building use,  it’s so theraputic, how odd! PRIMAL!  I’m going to grow some when I get back as it’s so useful for gardening stuff!

One afternoon was spent in the kitchen with Jam George, a posh English ‘batchelor’, probably in his 50s, who was rather flamboyant, with a colourful array of well flicked scarves to match each outfit. Allegedly because of his asthma, they protected his throat, but I suspect more to do with his ego.  I really liked him, he was one of those poverty pleading posh types, in fact he actually told me he was so broke he was having to sell a 50cm chinese statue that he bought in the 80s for £2k, my heart bled.

He had however, been a wwoofer at the farm the previous year and come up with the brilliant idea of making marmalade from the small bitter oranges, that usually are left on the tree, fall and rot on the ground.  Apparently marmalade needs bitter oranges, I had no idea.  When he’d wwoofed he’s made 50 jars of organic marmalade which had sold, in the farm shop,  in a week or two.  So we spent the afternoon experimenting with different cooking times, temperatures, consistencies to get the sort of marmalade they’d like to sell, it was great and SO easy!  I have the recipes too, so will give it a go when I get home.  I just loved the idea of making use of something that normally goes to waste, and am going to think about some ideas for the UK!

Actually I have an idea, and it involves BOOZE, of course it does.  In Portugal, when people make wine, after they bottle it, they then Still the grapes to make aguadente, the local moonshine.  Everyone, it seems, has a home-made still, I love it here!!!  The Portuguese are mad for the stuff and make it out of anything they can get their hands on, in the Algarve they use madronia, which is like a tree strawberry, that doesn’t have much taste, but once stilled – wowza, I had 2 shots of it, with a load of old men in Aljezur and had to hold on to the table, mental stuff! They also use figs to make it, it’s so powerful, it’s used as a cleaning product too, we used it in the kitchen to sort of sterilise things, which broke my heart, what a waste!!!!! I think they also use almonds, will have to look into that one! So yeah, basically I’m going to make a Still when I get back, healthy!!!!  Also Vix and Wombat made wonderful boozy chocolates from the last batch of fruit removed from the vodka liquor I made from foraged fruit, another good use of stuff that would normally get chucked!  Save the boozy fruit folks.

Rosa, the wwoof host, had a hilarious dad, he was a great advocate of Aguadente, any time from 9.30am, daily.  I loved him.  He was bonkers, and just wandered around drunk all the time, trying to get people to join him in a toast, to what I know not.  He drove a little red postman pat van.  He lived in a farm up the road, but was also, not surprisingly an academic, some sort of expert on the history of the Algarve.  He had that mad professor look about him, wore a flat cap and a scarf and just staggered about drinking booze and laughing to himself.  He’s just written a book on the History of the Algarve, which I’d love to read!  It’s being translated into English by a local artist, Pedro, who was hilarious. Pedro would also appear randomly at the farm, walk around looking confused and then disappear again.  The farm was next to the tiny end of the line type train station and also had wi-fi so was a bit of a hangout for the local eccentrics, who’d leave their cars, or pop by to log on or drink booze, I could have happily stayed longer.

Arthur also told me a lovely tale about 2 donkeys and a sheep being moved from Rosa’s farm to her dad’s but they kept escaping and wandering back to their original home.  I love this story, it’s hilarious and a bit biblical, 2 donkeys and a sheep, heading out on an adventure, on the open road!

On my day off I visited Castro Marim, the local village, it was tiny and an hours walk away.  My day off was Saturday, which mean no buses to or from Castro Marim to the farm.  Oddly the station next to the farm was also Castro Marim, there were 3 random buses in the week but that was it. It would give the Great British integrated public transport system a run for it’s money!

Castro Marim is tiny, but it has rather a lovely castle, which I visited for the fee of 1 euro and really enjoyed it.  The views were stunning, salt ponds and views over to Spain, so close.  I was reading Baltasar and Blimundar at the time by Jose Saramago, set in 1700s Portugal, mainly Mafra and Lisbon.  The author and the book are highly critical of the church and monachy, obviously I was like a pig in revolutionary shit, reading it, and the timing was just right.  Much of the book was set within royal palaces and walled cities and this really brought the castle to life and I could absolutely imagine it as it was, a living city, full of people, filth, smells.  This is the author, the church hate him, that alone makes him worth a read I reckon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Saramago and he’s won the Nobel prize in literature. Also the book is fascinating and the ending was not at all what I expected, not the sort of book I ususally read, but loved it and want to read more of his work (how poncy that sounds), his books I mean!

In the afternoon I headed to Taveira, via the Castro Marim train station, that was nowhere near Castro Marim!  Taveira is a lovely, cobbled, pretty, little town, set along a river, with churches, convents, gardens and bars, nice.  It’s cutsie, windy roads with detailed balconies and I really liked it.  It’s also full of English, northerners, I heard the full array of Lancashire accents, Nury, Preston, Accrington, I’m bloody sure of it!  ‘Eeeh they don’t half wrap up these Portuguese’ said one fella possibly from Chorley as he strutted down the street in a t-shirt.  I watched the sun set over the river, drinking wine, outside a  little bar and got invited to a party starting in the bar. The Portuguese are so friendly.  Champagne corks popped, kids ran about, parents looked happy and I was tempted to stay, but there was a restaurant I wanted to check out for the razor clams, and they were bloody tasty!  I got the train back, heady with wine and high on life – oohh I’m living the dream indeed!

So I was in a wwoofing idyll, but all was not 100% perfect, there was one things that was really, really getting to me.  That thing was Captain Underpants (CU).  Captain Underpants is a horrific man, with no humour, warmth, consideration for anyone else, or manners!  We hated each other instantly.

Here are some examples of the horrors of Captain Underpants, oh by the way he was named Captain Underpants, by me, as before he went to bed he’d wander about in unreasonably short underpants, in a very Germanic way. I never looked, but I’m sure he was exposing himself. Captain Underpants, aka Roland, was in his mid-50s, meanly thin, frugal looking and had probably never had any physical contact with another human being.

Things that annoyed me about him.

  • His analysis of ‘12 Years a Slave’,  ‘it was too melodramatic’!!

  • After a tasty lunch, CU made himself a pot of coffee, as usual, not asking if anyone else would like a cup. Arthur, Luisa and I were having a post lunch relax, chat, just chilled out like normaly people. He had wandered off, unable to cope with human interaction.  We were rudely interrupted by CU. Shaking with rage and red in the fact, he slammed an empty toilet roll on the lunch table and demanded to know who had used it up and not replaced it, crime of all crimes.  I hope he’d had a dump and been caught short.  I think this was a ‘you had to be there’ thing, but it was outrageous!

  • CU gave me and Luisa a lecture on microwaving the dish cloth to prevent bacteria forming because WE didn’t leave it to dry properly.  If anyone washed anything up and put it to drain, he would remove it and put it in the dishwasher.  He hated anyone else putting the dishwasher on, he was losing control.  I put the dishwasher on whenever I could.

  • He didn’t help prepare or cook any meal but always had a complaint ‘these potatoes aren’t cooked’, ‘this is cold’ (yes that’s because you took it out of the oven and demanded we eat now as you were hungry you dick head), ‘what is this’, ‘what did you do to the ….’. The complaints were endless, the offers to cook were never there.

  • He STOLE the wwoof wine from the shopping run and hid it in his room, can you imagine!  I nearly caved his face in when I found this one out. He also had this amazing trick of being able to go into his room and refill his glass without anyone seeing him do it. I watched him like a hawk several nights and he got past me.  It was somehow vampirish, in fact there was something a bit dracula about him, he had no joy in his life whatsoever.

  • A very odd bunch of Germans arrived together, a couple, a single woman and a 9 month old baby.  I have never seen people eat as much, they would constantly skive off work to eat. They had no interest in looking after the kid, especially when it was in a potentially dangerous situation, near a table, glass door, sharp knife, unless it meant they could get out of chores.  The kid was freaky, the dad was freakier, who felt that ‘sparring’ Capoeira with his 9 month old equated to child care. Anyroad, when they rocked up, Luisa and I had to move rooms, because CU refused to share a room with anyone.  He had 2 bunks and a double bed in his room, and we ended up 4 people in a tiny room with 2 bunks, what a total, total shit.  I hate such selfish behaviour, it really is a good thing I left after 2 weeks – oohh, it would’ve been carnage!

But I survived and I hope Luisa and Arthur will visit when I get back to London Town and hopefully I’ll meet them in a wwoof place again soon!!!

Well I think that’s all I can manage for now, too much Sagres, next instalment, Porto with the Vixen!!!!!

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