As always, it has been a busy few weeks. In between work on the quinta harvesting table grapes, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, pears, figs and lots more, I’ve visited various friends to give them a helping hand and enjoyed the first couple of days of the Festa da Sobreria.
However, it has not all been fun as one of the recent forest fires got incredibly close to my land.
One of the benefits of living in rural Portugal is the peace and quiet. At the quinta, I can sit and listen to the birds singing, the chirping of crickets and other insects, the buzz from flies, and geckos rustling leaves as they scurry away.
In the mornings, there is the hum of farm machinery in the distance – a water pump, strimmer, or tractor. Cars passing the quinta are few and far between. Maybe two or three an hour at most. It’s peaceful, tranquil, and calming. Often just sitting and watching the world pass by, rather than working, is appealing.
A fortnight ago, the drone of emergency vehicles, heavy machinery and water planes brought home the reality of living in rural Portugal as more than 1,200 emergency personnel and more than 650 vehicles arrived in the area to fight one of the largest forest fires in Portugal has experienced this year.
When the fire broke out on Friday afternoon, I was helping friends in their garden when I glanced up and saw the first smoke cloud. It looked like the fire was quite a distance away and checking on Fogos, it was around 15km away.
For the next few hours, everything carried on as normal although the smoke cloud was rapidly growing as were the emergency personnel and vehicles.
Early evening, I was sitting outside one of the local tabernas having a drink and only had the occasional glance in the direction of the fire. I know that the fire was the topic of conversation between the villagers, although there was no evident concern.
But within an hour or so, there was a notable change in the locals’ conversation and the level of concern and anxiety was increasing as fast as the smoke cloud. Coupled with the ever-increasing noise of sirens heading towards the fire, and a steady stream of vehicles heading away from it.
Fast forward 72 hours and the fires were extinguished. The state of the fire had moved to inconclusion and there was confidence it was all under control. There was one fire that restarted a few days later but that was quickly extinguished. Since then, there has been ongoing vigilance and even now, two weeks later, there are still more than 60 service personnel monitoring the risk.
In that 72 hours, more than 7,000 hectares of land was burnt in an area covering 20,000 hectares. The circumference of the area covered was more than 60km. High winds meant the fire travelled more than 17 km in the first 12 hours meaning villages, including one of some friends, had to be evacuated.
I regularly monitored the proximity of the fires to my land as it was fast approaching and one of the closest villages was, at one point, surrounded by fire. By going to one of the highest points in the village, it was devastating to see smoke rising from a new place which was quickly followed by a flame, and then a trail of flames. The speed a fire travels is incredible.
On Saturday evening, I believed I would be waking up to my land being directly affected by the fire. However, as it happened, when I woke on Sunday, all the smoke had gone and while there were a couple of local fires that reignited, later that day, they were in conclusion.
Thanks to the Bomberios and all the other emergency services, I class myself, and my friends who have also been affected, incredibly lucky. It could’ve been so much worse.
Over the last week, I joined some friends for their grape harvest. Philip, Sabine and their children live at Quinta Beira do Lago [Lakeside Farm], a lovely property bordering the Barragem da Marateca where they are creating both their home and business. They have become good friends since we met on the olive pruning course earlier this year.
It was an enjoyable day helping them and it gave me an insight into their approach, the process, and I left with many learnings (and a few litres of juice). After harvesting, mashing, pressing, and pasteurising the grapes, they ended up with 125 litres of grape juice.
The grape juice is best served cold and is delicious. Really tasty and refreshingly good.
Festa da Sobreira
This weekend is the Festa da Sobreira. Four days of activities, music, festivities, food and fun. The Festa is organised by the Sport Clube Sobreirense although encompasses the whole community.
We are halfway through the Festa, and I need to catch up on sleep. I can’t remember the last time I got home from a night out at 3:30 am. Perhaps my age is catching up with me. Totally understand the afternoon siesta. However, the musical procession around the village commences at 3 pm so I’m not sure whether I will manage to get 40 winks.
Mind you, most people didn’t leave until 5 am on the first night (morning) and I have realised that I simply don’t have the stamina.
Last night I met some of my neighbours at the Festa. Their main residence is in Lisbon although they visit Sobreira periodically at weekends. While I’ve seen them before in passing, it was great to have a conversation. Fortunately, their English is better than my Portuguese. Indeed, their daughter’s English is better than my mother tongue.
It was great to meet them, and they kindly introduced me to several other villagers. After living in the village for nearly a year, there are a few people who I regularly talk with but there are lots of faces I recognise and through these introductions, a few more people where the estrangeiro is perhaps not quite so strange.
In Sobreira and the surrounding villages, there are around 1,700 residents. My guess is that everyone, and more, were at the Festa last night.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
Thank you, your continued support is much appreciated, and I am grateful for your interest in my adventure in Portugal!
Melhores cumprimentos. Até logo.