A Wake-up Call

What do you do when somebody shouts up at your bedroom window at six-thirty in the morning the word:

‘FOGO!’?

… when you race out of the front gates and are faced with a wall of fire?

You don’t panic, that’s what.  You work.  Either you help to fight the fire with all your might or you drench everything around your house that your hose pipe will reach.

And you pray.  Man, you pray.

(Photographs curtesy of neighbour Leticia Sobral, whose father Illidio allerted us):

Views from Leticia’s house first thing in the morning.

I frantically remove all flammable clutter from the courtyard – mats, furniture, you name it.  I begin to soak the rooves and surrounding parched land until mains water peters out.

More fires taking hold in the trees sparked by jumping flames and flying burning debris

(Photographs curtesy of Martin Vickers):

View from gates as you step out into the road. Next-door neighbour also running and pulling on his trousers at the same time like me.

Fire fighters from further and further afield arrive throughout the morning.

Water pressure is suddenly really high but it’s dirty water.  We must have been connected up to some kind of hydrant.  I recommence soaking the place but it’s so dry and hot it’s almost pointless.  All roads in and out have apparently been closed.

View from our balcony as helicopters work to drag and drop water from the lake up on the hill until they’re called away to the other side of the fire that has reached the next village. After an hour of their absence fire fighters on the ground can no longer contain it and fire comes back with a vengeance.

The car is reluctantly got out and parked outside ready for evacuation.  Over 250 firefighters are now engaged in this, the biggest fire in the country currently listed online.

View from our garden as another fire takes a hold down the bottom of the village. Helicopters return, joined by a foam-squirting helicopter and two amphibious planes bringing water from nearby reservoir. Fire is calmed once again and airborne intervention disappears.

News arrives that another village on the other side is now on fire.  We are now surrounded on three sides.  There is only one side left and wind is threatening to take the worst outbreak that way.  One no longer knows which way to pray for the wind to go.

More black smoke stacks once again signal rapid decline by late afternoon as vortexes throw large burning particles far and wide. Having been classified as ‘Dominated’ the fire now reappears back online on the Portuguese Firefighters website as ‘Reignited’.

And so it went on through the evening until it appeared to have been properly calmed by dusk, just in the nick of time.  Nobody knew if we would be provided with ‘Vigilancia’ throughout the night as things sizzled and smouldered in the woods.

All the men from the village and their tractors with trailors laden with water tanks, hoses and pumps went out driving around the woods until late into the evening.

I slept in just a T shirt with my jeans and shoes next to the bed.  I slept better than I thought I would.  I didn’t wake until 3.45am.  As I opened the window I immediately smelt that the air was cleaner out than in.  As I leant out and looked up I saw stars and my heart jumped for joy.

There were no orange glimmers in the darkness as far as I could see.  A pickup truck with fire-fighting equipment free-wheeled silently down through the village.  I went back to bed with a feeling of relief.  A little trepidation still, but mainly relief.

By the grace of God nobody was hurt and there wasn’t even any house damage.  Just forest.

I’m reticent about putting this last photo on.  But then this whole blog is called Life On Portuguese Soil, hey?:

Also Curtesy of Leticia:

Little boys. Great, aren’t they?!

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Posted in Culture, Forest, Forest fires, house, Life, Portugal, Village | 2 Comments

The Story So Far

Want to relocate to Portugal?

Don’t know how to do it? 

Read a book:

The ever-expanding box set on how to relocate to Portugal

Ok, the last book doesn’t really count yet – but we can dream, can’t we?!

Posted in Emigrating, House Renovation, Life, Portugal | 1 Comment

REAL Toad-in-the-Hole

Now THAT’S a Toad in a Hole!

Down the bottom of the garden in the sunflowers and sweetcorn lives a toad in a hole.

When he hears the hose pipe in the mornings he comes out and puts his face up to the falling rain until his hole is all washed in around him and he’s completely drowned in swampy mud.

Real Toad-in-the-Hole

 Every morning his hole has been refashioned and he’s there awaiting the approach of the hosepipe once again and our early-morning game.

Posted in Animals, Gardening, Life, Portugal, Toads, Wildlife | Tagged , ,

Now THAT’S a Potato Harvest!

Harvest begins 6.30am sharp. Antonio’s already spotted my camera.

MORNING SESSION: Antonio & Ermelinda’s Field (yield: 36 sacks of potatoes each weighing 30-40 kilos); Breakfast; Our field (yield: 18 sacks); two trips on top of trailor full of potatoes to unload as respective houses; eat, drink & be merry at theirs as Ermalina effortlessly magics up a three course meal; go home and sleep it off.

The first run of the first field completed. And Antonio doing wheel spins for the camera not realising the loss of effect in a still.

The Breakfast Trailor: Bread, sardines, cheeses, sausage, fried fishy pastries, olives, salad and beer.

After learning that the photos were to go onto the internet (which he has become acquainted with himself this year) Antonio requests this picture to be posted. It’s what he wanted. (Don’t ask me!)

AFTERNOON SESSION: This was a team of thirteen and tremendous fun, if not extremely hot.  Sadly, I didn’t take my camera!

As ever it was a fun-packed day, filled with laughter, food, alcohol, tractor rides, sweltering physical work – and then you have to carry the sacks of potatoes up at least two flights of stairs!  Back-breaking! I still don’t see how they can get through more than eighteen sacks of potatoes though!

Posted in Culture, Food, Growing, Harvest, Homegrown Produce, Life, Portugal, Potatoes, Village

My Little Pony

For my 40th birthday I wanted to do something I’ve always wanted to do.

I wanted to go horse riding.

I collect manure from a nearby alternative equestrian centre/holiday retreat run by Leisje and Joao.

Ever envious of the comings and goings of the visitors and riders there and inspired by all that Leisje and Joao have created, I’m always just shoveling poo, steamy and ripe, to take home in the back of the car as quickly as possible without wretching.

For my birthday I wanted it to be me galloping off into the mountains on a great white stallion in the morning mist, like Leisje in the picture.

I too wanted to ride like the wind with my hair flowing behind me.

But alas!

Note the stark contrast in ambience and effect of the two photos here.

An inexperienced rider gets the silly hat and the podgy pony with the short legs.

And it is neither cool nor romantic being led along on a rope.

I felt (and strangely, looked) about eight years old.

With the rest of my birthday money from my family I am taking riding lessons.  I can already stand up with my arms in the air and my eyes shut whilst trotting, to

find balance and oneness with the horse‘.

This doesn’t look that cool either but then it’s a means to an end!

Posted in Animals, Culture, Horses, Leisure, Life, Portugal | Tagged , , ,

Worth Every Minute

THE STORY OF ESTRELA THE DOG

How cute the little puppy stray

we brought into our home that day

For warmth and comfort, food and play,

that poorly little puppy stray.

But not alone in life was she

and brought companions one, two, three;

Of tapeworm, tick and lice and flea.

Alarming armies ambushed me.

Well actually,  she also had mange.  Grimly complicated by an ensuing systemic staph infection.

The puppy was found by another expat at a road incident.  Its mother had run off into the woods with a live chicken in her mouth.  The puppy had been taken back to their house but they could not keep it.  They’d tried to track down the owners in the nearest village but to no avail.

We did want a dog at some point but not yet.  I’d reluctantly agreed to go look at it.

She’d spent all night behind the washing machine.  She came out for us.  It was love at first sight.  She clung tightly to my neck, nestling into my hair.  She stayed up my jumper for the remainder of the visit and the journey home (as far as the vets).  That’s where the cuddly-cuddly stuff ended.  For the next couple of months, at least.

She was given Ivermectin injections for mange.  I believe this to be a pretty toxic assault on the system but then it’s very awkward to turn up at the vets for their help and then refuse it.  And despite homeopathic treatment too, she just got worse.

The entire room and bedding had to be disinfected every day.

As the skin infection took a hold the scabs multiplied quicker than I could remove them.  An entire month dragged on as I fought a losing battle trying to soften and remove the scabs under which the bacteria multiply, as directed by our Brazilian vets.

Her energy was becoming less and less until the only thing that would perk her up was the approach of ‘Ting Tong’ (one of the cats) or the mention of his name.

Friends would not pop round for tea

And people were avoiding me.

If someone ventured in to see,

Then Leper-Dog would make them flee.

Before head treatment

The scabs, the spots, the scaly red

Offensive matter in her bed;

The pustules made her scratch her head

Til half her ear flew off instead…

Finally I gave in and took her back to the vets.  I had not been able to work on her head and a thick crust had formed over her entire scalp.  We would pay them to do it in surgery under anaesthetic.

It turned out they didn’t have the facilities.  It was down to me.  They were horrified at the state of her thickly encrusted head.  Bluntly, they told me what my two options were.  It was do or die, in essence.  ‘Can you do it or not?’ was the question. ‘Otherwise…’  (And there’d be no charge).

I do not cry easily.  On that day I cried.  And then I gritted my teeth, looked to the sky and asked for strength.

I went home and I took off the puppy’s scalp right down to the bone.

After head treatment

There was no heating and it was a bitter December.  It was she who got the oil-filled radiator.  Her recovery was swift.  Her lively character bounced back in no time.

She became the most adorable little puppy and all the more loved for what she’d been through, although in great need of the month of education she’d missed out on!

Estrela growing up, learning how to love cats (gently)

She is full of life, nutty, confident, unfortunately rather barky but healthy and robust.  She has a full life, friends and family, daily woodland walks, trips out in the car and her very own dog-friend Daisy.

ESTRELA NOW

She’s lucky.  She got the English.

Not bad for a Portuguese dog from the gutter, hey?!

Posted in Animals, Diseases, Dogs, Life, Poems, Portugal, Puppies, Rescue Animals | Tagged ,

And You Are From?

This spring has seen frosts, flooding, scorching sun and drought over just an eight-week period.

The unfortunate ‘early crop’ potato plants have been frozen, rotted, burnt and suffocated all in their short little lives.

I look forward with trepidation to the big communal ‘Main Crop’ harvest (next Saturday 6.30am start).

MY EMERGING ‘EARLY’ POTATOES:

(IS IT ANY WONDER…)

BORN OF UNEARTHLY WEATHER CONDITIONS

“Greetings Spudlings”

We’ve been expecting you.

Posted in Food, Gardening, Growing, Homegrown Produce, Vegetables