A pig, two donkeys and some guinea fowl.

The plan to write this daily as a diary come blog has gone somewhat awry this week, in part due to being busy experiencing things and having too much to write about. Last Wednesday we set off from the north Portugese coast in land to have a meal with an old friend of mine, Helen, and her, never before met, partner Richard. We had exchanged a few messages about their house, and I was told not to expect proper toilets, showers etc. Off grid living I was told.

The journey there, to virtually the eastern border with Spain, was long and involved experiencing the Portugese road toll system as well as rather nice service stations. It also featured  some rather bleak countryside ravished in places by forest fires and drought. We tried to visit the down of Guarda, which proved tricky due to being in a 5 ton van and stayed over night on the banks of a very low lake.

Richard had sent us very detailed instructions of how to find their house. We were within a kilometer when the toad narrowed and became increasingly bumpy. Si became increasingly distraught, the air turned blue as he tried to manoeuvre the van around a tricky corner when a man appeared. “Are you looking for Richard?” he asked. Si was nearly in tears. “Yes, will we make it?” “Probably” said the man (in English). Probably wasn’t the response he had been hoping for – however we persevered and finally found the place we were supposed to park. Then there were the detailed instructions about how to get from the van to the house. “Go down the hill, to the right and through the gate but make sure you shut it so the donkeys don’t get out”. Donkeys? Fortunately at this stage Helen and Richard appeared to guide us the rest of the way, with their lovely dog Bina.

The Mill which they live in is part of huge piece of land that has a number of off grid dwellings on it that can be rented. There is the Boar hide, the Goat House and the River Lodge. They are completely self suffucient, water coming from the river that runs through it, and in normal times, from the font (currently dried up because of the drought). Composting toilets and outside showers are in evidence around each dwelling (far enough apart from each other to not be overlooked in any way). Solar panels feed the lights and other electrical needs in the Mill but everything else is wood burners and candlelight.

Nothing goes to waste. Food left overs and olives from the olive trees feeds the enormous black pig, the donkeys keep the grass short and chickens and guinea fowl provide eggs.

The place is amazing. It’s like being on retreat (not that I’ve ever been on one) but for us we had the bonus of being with lovely friends. We actually ended up staying for two nights in their “summer” bedroom, a wonderful room with a proper bed, a woodburner to keep us cosy and nothing else. The first night we both slept badly as we battled to keep the dogs off the bed, but the darkness of being in the middle of nowhere meant that the second night’s sleep was blissful.

I followed Helen around most of the time we were there (not irritating or invasive at all!) and helped feed the pig and the poultry. I also fell in love with the donkeys despite their braying outside the bedroom at 5.30 in the morning and resultant dog barking. The dogs loved the place despite being a bit wary of the pig and very wary of the donkeys. We were fed and watered handsomely and had a wale of a time. So much so in fact that we’re going back to house sit for nearly two weeks when our  friends head for the UK in early December. What could possibly go wrong.

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