Exploring Dolmen da Orca, believed to be a tomb and one of the nine sites on the Azenha/Fiais Pre-Historical Route
Days before Easter, or Pascoa, we received a gift from a woman who has land near ours. She was the first person to speak to me when we first arrived in August. I was clearing the courtyard when I heard someone approaching. Thinking that it was Huw, I started talking before I saw her.
So, it was with her that I spoke some of my first Portuguese. I explained that we had come from England, or Inglaterra. I said that we were excited about buying the land and ruin.
On the Thursday before Easter, Huw and I passed her as she walked away from her land. In her arms was a huge bundle of greens. She turned around and followed us. She offered us the greens. She said that she did not need them because she had more. She realised that we had not grown any, and she offered them again. I accepted and said that they would be good in a soup. She said that they would be good with bacalhau, or dried cod.
I do not know how cod, which is fished in Norway, has become such a loved food in Portugal, Italy, other southern European countries, and some places in the Caribbean. It is always mentioned as the food to have for a holiday. There is a Portuguese saying that there are 365 recipes for bacalhau, one for every day of the year.
I feel welcome in our village. People wave at us, talk with us and they give us food for the holidays. Remember that we were given potatoes at Christmas.
On Easter morning, Caladon and I went to our village church, not really knowing what to expect there.
On Palm Sunday, or the previous Sunday, I had walked to church for the 10:30 Mass, only to find the door locked and no one waiting for someone with the key. Usually, the priest says Mass in nearby Ervedal da Beira and then comes to Fiais da Beira to say Mass here.
The first time we attended Mass was when we arrived in August. Caladon and I stood up in the back. People kept arriving and squeezing out a place for themselves. When Mass ended, I was shocked to find an outdoor audience, who had listened to the service via a loudspeaker. I could not understand why the church, which seems fairly new, could seat only 70. The pews never could accommodate that crowd. During Mass, one man had been taking photographs and making a film of the service.
We happened to arrive in Fiais da Beira during its village fete. There were twice as many cars in the village, most with plates from Luxembourg, Belgium and other European countries. Villagers, who were working and living away from home, had returned for the festivities.
I have never seen the church that crowded again.
On Easter, there were 28 worshippers, three times as many as usual. At the end, the priest called two men up to the altar. They looked at a crucifix strewn with flowers. Then, everyone applauded, including Caladon and I. After Mass, people took more time saying goodbye and wishing everyone a “Boa Pascoa”.
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I have found a wonderful Portuguese tutor!
We meet on Saturdays at my house for an intensive 30-minute lesson, which focuses on pronunciation. I pay him a reasonable 5 euros for each lesson.
Seven years ago before our first visit, I turned my attention to learning Portuguese. Huw and I were reading a now-defunct magazine for Brits interested in relocating to Portugal called “Portugal”. Huw bought several language courses. I began with “Instant Portuguese”, which consisted of a book and CD. I felt confident then. Now, I realise how wrongly I pronounced words because I did not hear the difference between Portuguese and Spanish, which I had studied years in school.
Last year before our first trip back, I began “Beginner’s Portuguese”, which was a well-thought out book and CD by the same person, Sue Tyson-Ward. It was an effective course that seems to be written for someone who plans to live or spend some time in Portugal just as her “Instant Portuguese” was designed for a holiday-maker. I also refer, at times, to Sue Tyson-Ward’s Essential Portuguese Grammar.
In Cornwall, I played the language CD while preparing breakfast. I looked at the book at other times. Caladon learned numbers and the days of the week in this way. We all heard the language, which is really important. Again, I felt confident when we arrived in August. Even before that, I sometimes spoke Portuguese to property owners when there was no recourse.
Since we moved here, Huw and I have been buying the Expresso newspaper every Saturday and reading it during the week. At the beginning, I read headlines and a few sentences. Now, I have no problem reading entire articles, although I still sometimes am confused by the meaning of sentences. Sometimes translating the words is not enough.
A fellow expatriate had mentioned a Portuguese class in Oliveira do Hospital offered by the Council. It was at night, which would have been awkward, but it did not matter. If it happened, I never found out about it.
In September, I translated Caladon’s textbooks, which increased my Portuguese vocabulary. I began to see that the difference between Spanish and Portuguese vocabulary was greater than I had led myself to believe. I thoroughly enjoyed this period from September through December, although it was hard work. I, especially, liked learning Portuguese history from hunters/gatherers to the Lusitanos, the Romans and the Muslims.
I asked Caladon’s English teacher whether she knew of a Portuguese tutor for all of us. She did not. I was disappointed.
In the meantime, Caladon asked me to translate his texts less and less. He understood his teachers more and more. Also, he began to criticise my pronunciation.
Caladon has the gift of trusting himself when it comes to learning Portuguese. By listening, he knows what should be said and how to say it. He does not necessarily know why. When I learn Portuguese, I am constantly looking for rules and reasons. He speaks almost effortlessly; I hesitate and think about what I want to say.
It is the difference between a child and an adult learning a foreign language. It is hard work for both, but the child has the advantage.
Caladon is as loquacious in Portuguese as he is in English. He does not stop to think of the correct verb ending, the proper way to address someone, the right noun. He just talks in a relaxed manner.
At EBI Cordinha school, Caladon has had a teacher sit with him in lessons to help with the translation. In some classes, the teachers themselves have taken time to translate for him. He has had extra lessons of Portuguese. He has had a load of homework in Portuguese, which, at one time, seemed insurmountable.
Carlos, who first registered Caladon and is one of the school officials, had told Huw and I that Caladon would be speaking Portuguese by Easter. He was right.
My Portuguese tutor is Caladon!
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When buying property in Portugal, the property developers, estate agents and expatriates will tell you that buying and building will take more time than you expect. It has been true for us thus far, but what has taken more time surprises me.
Council approval from Oliveira do Hospital came in good time. The architectural firm, Vilargus, submitted the plans in August. The council approved them in October. The ensuing technical plans were submitted in November and approved in December. This final approval came so quickly that no one was ready for it.
Steve, our project manager, emailed copies of the approved plans to three building firms before Christmas. We went to the United Kingdom for the holidays. When we returned, we expected to give the firms more time because of the Christmas break. The first week of January, we met with Steve. He said that he wanted to make certain that he was giving all the builders the same information so that they would all be quoting for the same thing. So, he got us thinking about radiators (how many), and windows and doors (wood).
In mid-January, we met with two builders at different times at our ruin. We walked round the property with the architectural plans. It seemed that more walls were coming down than we thought necessary. One firm seemed intent on following the plans, whether they made sense or not. The second, Scoplano of Mangualde, seemed more facile in making changes.
Steve met with Vilargus about the plans. In February and March, we met with Patricia, the engineer, of Scoplano several more times. In those meetings, we choose flooring and doors from samples. Finally, we began to get prices of materials. Some things that we had requested became ridiculously expensive and impractical. Wood was an example. Wood windows are 400 euros as compared with 160 euros for aluminium. We think that aluminium will wear better than wood in the harsh sun. Solid wood flooring is 60 euros per square meter compared with 26 euros for a quality laminate, 15 euros for a photo finish and 5 euros for a lesser product. We chose the quality laminate.
Cost notwithstanding, these were not easy decisions. I spent hours online searching for wood floors in the U.K. and researching transport costs. One drawback to buying elsewhere is that I would be stuck with my purchase while if I were in the U.K., I could return damaged or unacceptable goods much more easily. For transport, I found a local person with a lorry who charged 160 euros per square metre. I did email him and ask whether that was right but never received a response.
While we waited for quotes, Vilargus suggested that Steve get a quote from a particular builder. Then, we gave Steve the name of a local builder, who had been mentioned by Peter and Ute, and other people. Steve approached him for a quote. The third building firm that Steve originally had approached was trying to get Vilargus to lower its estimated building cost of 170,000 euros because it was not licensed to work on a project of that cost. That seemed unlikely.
In the meantime, we had rain, which showed us the need for drainage around the house. On the land itself, Caladon dug channels for rivulets. Huw cleaned out a trough that is a part of our elaborate water system. This year was an unusually wet year. We had storm after storm after storm. We should not be wanting for water this summer as some people were last year for the first time in years. Some wells went dry, which was unheard of. So, not only should we have water, we also saw rain at its most. Besides drainage, we asked about damp-proofing and built that into the quote.
There was an advantage in the building quotes taking three months. We knew better what we needed to have built into the house.
In March, we received quotes from four firms. They ranged from 205,000 euros at the high end to the low end of 125,000 euros, thus showing the importance of getting several quotes. We chose a middling estimate.
In March, after we chose Scoplano as our builder, we met again at the house. Huw and I had drawn up a list of items, including plug points and shutters. Patricia drew up a revised quote.
In mid-April, I signed the contract!
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Spring has sprung!
Suddenly, the rainstorms stopped last week, well, only several days ago, but it seems like long ago. Until then, we had a fire in the house every evening, not so much for cold but for the damp. This house was surrounded by rivulets, which Huw and Caladon had to make so that the water had a channel. Now, it is just damp in those places.
Birdsong and the sun wake us in the mornings. Then it is brisk but warms up to the 20sC. In the afternoon. Instead of waiting for it to warm up, Huw and I have had to start work early so that we can beat the heat. Yesterday, we burned the last fire of olive tree cuttings! It took us six weeks to finish that job, partly, because of the rain and, partly, because we are just three, mostly two.
We can move to turning over the earth for planting and putting in stakes for the grapevines. Everything takes more time than we think. We decided against putting in the fruit trees that we have bought and put into pots outside. Huw reasoned that this is not the time of year for them to establish roots easily. The rainy season is at its end; we would have to water them like mad and hope for the best. So, we will wait until the autumn. It is one thing off the list of things to do, which is good.
Another plan we had was to plant mimosas this year for firewood. Mimosas are fast-growing. In five years, they would be 12-foot high and 1.5 inches thick. It was too ambitious a project for this year. Until yesterday, we still had cut bramble, grapevines and apple tree cuttings on the lower terrace, where we plan to have the mimosa wood. We were not ready to plant there this year. It looks like another autumn project.
Today, Huw and I are taking the day off. It is Wednesday, which is Caladon’s half-day. He is bringing home a friend, Antonio, which is unusual here. Children go to school and, after school, they go directly home. Children might have their best friend to their house for their birthday. They play with their siblings and cousins.
Yesterday, a German boy began school at EBI Cordinha. Caladon and, Antonio helped guide him in English and German. Caladon’s English teacher also speaks German and asked for their help.
Next month, there is a school trip to Aveiro, a good drive away as we have not been there, for the four upper grades. It will be an all-day affair from 7:30 to 21:00. They will be visiting the Maritime Museum of Ilhavo, the Eco-museum of Salt , Navio (Boat) Museum “Santo Andre” and Museum Joana Princesa. Caladon and his colleagues, as they call their fellow students, also will walk near the harvesting of seaweed. The day cost 10 euros, which seems reasonable.
This will be Caladon’s second school trip. The first was in the autumn. Again, it was an all-day affair but to Lisbon, and they were transported by coaches. It included only the two classes of Year 5, or 30 students. Huw and I have not been to Lisboa, while Caladon has visited several museums and driven around the city.
EBI Cordinha seems to be intent on offering students the experience of seeing other parts of the country.
I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for us to sign a building contract before booking a flight to New York. I signed and booked last week.
Caladon and I are flying to New York to see my mother, brother, and a sister and her family. We also will see my other sister, Julie and her family, in Ohio. Before she saw my mother at Easter, the first time since her 14-year-old son, Max, died of an undetected heart defect in December, she said that she was dreading the tears but looking forward to the laughs. That is how I feel about seeing her and her husband, Darryl, and their 12-year-old daughter, Jazmyn.
We are going for longer than I planned because I was nervous booking the flight on-line and clicked on the wrong box. I have lost flights in the past when I have taken too long to make a choice. But it is fine. Huw will hold down the fort here, supervising the building and watering our crops. I am such a novice at this that I forgot that we would have to water plants in the summer.
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Yesterday was the 25th of April, the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, which marked the end of an authoritarian regime in 1974. The revolution began as a peaceful military coup but was soon bolstered by civil resistance to the Estado Novo, or New State. People took to the streets to celebrate the end of nearly five decades of dictatorship and the war in the African colonies, and they placed carnations into the muzzles of soldiers’ guns and on soldiers’ uniforms.
“There was real jubilation in the streets the first few weeks. It’s still known as the Revolution of the Carnations and is famous for its civility. I have a wonderful picture of my son, who was six years’ old, standing in between two young Portuguese soldiers. They’re holding rifles, each with a carnation in the barrel. They’re smiling. Steve is there holding a sign saying “Viva Portugal”.
(Robert S Pastorino. U.S. Embassy in Lisbon Commercial Attache, 1974-1977 from the website of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, an independent non-profit organisation based in the U.S. State Department’s training centre in Arlington, Virginia.)
The coup, in which almost no shots were fired, returned democracy to Portugal, ended the unpopular colonial war, and replaced the Estado Novo regime and its secret police, which repressed civil liberties and political freedom.
The slogan of the Expresso newspaper, which was founded in 1973, the year before the coup, is The Freedom to Think. Poignant for the times.
By the end of 1974, Portuguese troops had been withdrawn from the overseas Province of Guinea, which is, today, Guinea-Bissau. This action was followed by the independence of Cape Verde, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola in 1975.
The 25th of April is commemorated as Freedom Day. It is a national holiday.
This holiday, unlike the 5th of October, Caladon already had marked on our calendar based on the school calendar he received at the start of the year. We all saw and understood television and newspaper advertisements for specials about the Revolution. This shows progress in our understanding of the Portuguese language.
It was on a Thursday, and we had no plans. I went to the land in the morning and spent an hour shifting wood from the courtyard to the top terrace, where we are storing wood for the winter, maybe two winters.
Back home, around noon, we received a telephone call from Steve, who wanted me to sign Oliveira do Hospital Council building documents today. We arranged to meet his partner, Diane, at a café in Vila do Mato. Huw stopped puttering around the seedlings in pots outside. “Space Buddies” finished showing on television, so Caladon was ready to leave the house. And I had just showered and dressed after returning home.
So, out we went in our U.K.-registered Mazda Bongo simply because it was blocking the new Portuguese-registered Skoda Octavia, not knowing the importance of our choice in shaping the afternoon.
We met Diane and two of her three children. We all had a hot or cold drink. The adults talked about cultivating. Huw and I enjoyed listening to Diane’s advice about how to grow crops and where to grow them. She and Steve have had the benefit of 12 years of trial and error. Recently, they have begun to do forest planting, which means that they are putting crops in without digging. They are using the mulch and heather and broom that are already on the ground and placing all that over the seeds. Diane also said that asparagus and artichokes are perennials with which she has had good luck. She buys her seed from an organic seed company in the U.K. Huw talked about the seed company he has discovered, which is Italian, and specializes in the many varieties of vegetables that grow from the north of Italy to Sicily. They promised to exchange catalogues.
I signed my name on two documents and came away richer with knowledge about planting.
On our drive home, we came to a T-junction where you can turn to Andorinha. At it were two teenage girls on bicycles flagging us down. So, we stopped, and they asked us for a ride to Carregal do Sal. This is where the Bongo changed our day. We have a bicycle rack on the back that takes two bicycles. As Huw and I loaded them on the back, I asked why they were going to Carregal do Sal; they already had spent one hour cycling from Oliveira to that point.
One of the girls had a boyfriend who lived there. The other was her best friend, so she said that she was bound to accompany her. The road to Carregal seemed long, circuitous and hilly, by which I mean gradual and challenging hills. We drove 20 minutes to Carregal; I dread to imagine bicycling back to that point and, then, Oliveira, on a sunny spring day in the 20s C.
Why don’t you find a boyfriend who lives in Oliveira do Hospital, I asked, someone geographically desirable. There are not any suitable boys in Oliveira, they said.
Next time, I said, your boyfriend should come to see you. They laughed. The girlfriend said that her boyfriend said that she was crazy when she told him that she was bicycling to see him. They did not know where his house was, so we dropped them in the centre of town so that the boyfriend could meet them at a central place.
After our Good Samaritan deed, we headed home. Caladon spotted the brown tourist sign that reads Azenha/Fiais Pre-Historical Route. Could we drive it? All of us have seen the signs for this route, but we have always been on our way to somewhere else. This time, we had no plans. So, we followed the sign. Shortly after the turning, we came to a board that showed “Circuito Historico: Fiais/Azenha. Before, I always had thought that the “Fiais” on the brown sign referred to my Fiais, Fiais da Beira. Now, I realised that it did not. I had heard reference to another Fiais months ago in the village when two women were looking for their uncle. At first, the owner of the café thought that they were looking for a man who lived and died alone. No, no, they insisted. The uncle lived with many relatives. Finally, the café owner solved the mystery. They were in the wrong village. They needed to go to Fiais de Telha. The two visitors breathed a sigh of relief and headed back to their car.
I had never seen a sign pointing to this Fiais da Telha. Today, I saw that I had made a similar mistake as those two women, mistaking one Fiais for the other.
The board showed a sketchy map and listed nine ancient sites of dolmens, which are believed to be tombs, shelters, or abrigos, and stones with drawings that are believed to be the sites of sacred ceremonies. Because we were in the 4-wheel-drive Bongo, we did not hesitate to turn onto dirt roads.
We enjoyed a fantastic afternoon of driving and walking to these sites. At the first site, the Complexo Rupestre de Aneal, we walked by other visitors, who were arriving as we were leaving. On the huge granite slabs were crosses and other marks.
From there, we drove on to Orca 1 and Orca 2 do Aneal, which were burial stones from where we could see our house while amidst white wild orchids. From various points on this circuit, we could see the house across the River Mondego. It reminded me of spotting our cottage, Trimbles, from Kit Hill, a high point in Cornwall. It was not easy, but with time and patience, our house could be found.
Two of the nine sites stood out as outstanding: one was the Dolmen da Orca, which had a long tunnel leading into it and Orca da Palheira, whose dolmen had been incorporated into what looked like a stone house. The actual dolmen stones seemed to have been used as a fireplace. The dolmen was impressively large. It was surrounded by pine trees. We collected as many pine cones today as we had for last winter! Everyone here uses pine cones to start indoor fires. Also, there was a picnic table on site. It was a place to which we will take family and friends.
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I am not a bush cutter virgin any longer.
We have been busy here. With spring comes growth and work in cutting it back. I have to laugh when I think back on my plan to plant wildflowers in various places. There are wildflowers all over the place! Camomile blankets the third terrace in white and yellow. Unfortunately, we are having to cut many of them down along with the grass.
When we arrived here in August, we were faced with a forest of mangled blackberry. You need a rocadora, or bush cutter, everyone advised us. Other expats said that we would use the bush cutter, similar to a strimmer but longer and heavier, an awful lot.
Huw and I agonized over buying one and, then, deciding which one we would buy. We visited two DIY, or do-it-yourself, shops in Oliveira do Hospital, a motorcycle and garden shop in Nelas and a super DIY shop outside Viseu. My notebook is full of notes about bush-cutter makes and prices from our first autumn. Finally, we decided to buy one from a small, family-owned shop in Nelas.
By this time, however, our friends, Ute, Peter and Eddie, had cut away the worst of the blackberry brambles. Huw and I were pulling out dead bramble from trees and burning the bramble after them. We did not need the bush cutter for bramble.
I began to ask myself why we did need the bush cutter. Winter came and went. The rains came. The grass grew longer and longer. Now, in April, the grass is thigh-high in some places. The wildflowers are white and yellow and pink and blue; they also are tall. I feel as though I blinked, and the vegetation took over. I am intent on hacking out bramble roots with a hoe; I began doing that in February before the rains. Presently, I am pulling out fern roots by hand. Huw tells me that ferns are one of the fastest growing roots in Europe. He gets no argument from me. On one of the last terraces where we burned olive tree cuttings three weeks ago, I found myself in the beginnings of a fern grove. When we burned, there were no ferns. There are no spores as yet on the ferns, so I am relieved that I can rid the land of them without them spreading much.
The grass is another matter. On the second terrace, where we are going to plant, the grass was thigh-high and crowded with wildflowers of every hue. The terrace was beautiful. However, thinking about planting there seemed overwhelming. Now was the time to start up the rocadora.
I suited up in the gear – plastic knee and leg coverings, a vest to which the bush-cutter clips on the right side, and a helmet with a face guard. Huw had sorted out the correct combination of petrol and diesel for the 2-stroke engine. With the instruction manual in hand, written in English and many other languages, we began our relationship with the bush cutter. We have four different attachments for the machine. Because of the height of the vegetation, we chose the metal wheel. My anxiety about the bush cutter was starting it. Huw and I read how to do it and, then, he started it for me.
The bush cutter was not too heavy. It did reverberate, which gave my right hand pins and needles at the end of several hours. However, while I worked, I quickly forgot the juddering. On the borders, I took care not to cut grapevines. On the entire terrace, I hoped not to hit any stones, and I did not. We are lucky that we do not have many stones in our soil, just stones in the border walls. I only nicked the second of our two orange trees on that terrace, which is not bad for my first time.
At the end of the first session, I felt great that we, finally, had used the machine. The grass was many times shorter. However, it was, at least, two inches long. There were no brown spots of soil, which I have seen on land after bush cutting. The bush cutter seemed like a glorified lawnmower, but not a very good one.
What should we do? The machine worked, but we thought that we must not be using it correctly.
Huw replaced the wheel blade with the spool of nylon cord, which is found in many lawnmowers, including the one I used in Cornwall.
I cut much nearer to the ground. I even cut some brown spots. However, the machine stopped every few minutes because it had run out of nylon cord. The fourth time it stopped marked the end of the cord. I had cut one-tenth of the terrace, if that much.
We buy machines so infrequently that we forget that the included materials, often, are meagre. We had been given enough nylon cord to ascertain that the machine worked properly. I hate to leave jobs to go to shops, but we had to go to Oliveira and buy more nylon cord.
On a carrel of a DIY shop, we saw the 3 mm. cord that came with the machine. There also was 4.5 mm. cord that was so thick, not much would fit on the spool. We chose 3.5 mm. which had been cut angularly. The cord end looked like a square rather than the circle on the cord that we had used up so quickly.
Since we were in town, we tried to think of anything else that we would need for work. So, we also bought a second paintbrush for painting a disassembled shed. And we looked, unsuccessfully, for motor oil for the cultivator, or motoenxada, which was the next machine in line for first use. The DIY shop carried a 10/40 temperature band, not the 20/50 band that we had bought at the time we acquired the machine outside Viseu at a superstore.
Because the machine is new, we decided that it would be best to stick with the same brand and the same temperature band. We would be passing the brand’s petrol station, we thought, so we would stop there.
In Ervedal, we stopped at the station. Yes, he had motor oil, said the owner as he served someone petrol. When the customer drove off, we all traipsed into the station. Behind the counter was a wall of silver motor oil plastic containers. Our container was orange; I figured that it had been repackaged recently.
Did we want that oil, he asked. He pointed to the motorcycle on the container. Yes, it was recommended by the shop that sold us the cultivator. Are we sure, he asked. Back and forth, we went a few times. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say that it made no sense to him, but the customer is always right.
He searched on the shelves behind him. No, he did not have it there. Let me check on the cima, or summit, he said. He got on the telephone, I thought, to check with his warehouse. Then, he said that he would back in a few minutes. Off he went in his car. Then, we realised that he had gone to another petrol station. There were no customers before he returned in a few minutes. He carried several bottles of the right brand with a 20/40 temperature band. I pointed out the discrepancy to him.
Then, we learned why we had not seen this orange container at any local DIY shop. The petrol station owner said that it is sold only at superstores in Portugal. We bought the 20/40, which he had gone to so much trouble to obtain for us. We figured that it would be fine.
It was 1:30 in the afternoon when we drove into Fiais. Should we go home for lunch or go back to work? I was torn. After eating, I find it difficult to return to work. Nevertheless, we went home to quiet the rumblings in my belly. We ate and went back to our land.
Huw fitted the wider, square cord. Less than three hours later, the terrace was properly shorn of long grass. It was ready for the next step in preparation for cultivation.