Monthly Archive: October 2016

Torrents

I asked for rain, and I got it. It thundered on the roof and danced on the fragrant earth. It was at its heaviest on Monday night, when lightning flash-lit the valley and we decided to light the fire to burn off the chill. We had friends visiting us over this wet period, whom I’d promised swims and sundowners. Luckily they had read the weather forecast and arrived clad as though for a weekend in the Lake District, which was appropriate.

By Tuesday the rain had caused tongues of red earth to slither down the hillsides on to the dirt road, but Rolie had no problems driving along. He’s still running like a dream. Don’t quite know how Costa’s Olhão-based mechanic worked the magic he did.

The rain came just in time. The water man hadn’t been able to deliver his water to the garden cisterna. He couldn’t negotiate the track up the hillside, nor did he have pipes long enough to reach from the dirt road. The garden tank had almost run dry; our external water supply was looking precarious. This primarily affected the swimming pool. Being in possession of a swimming pool is like looking after a rare and precious beast. It snores and rumbles. It requires regular inputs of water and salt. It swishes insects away with its skimmers. It likes having its sides brushed.

But then you get to swim, which is heavenly.

Now, with the rainfall, the citrus trees got saturated, droplets hanging off their yellow and green-orange fruit skins, and Eleuterio’s well started giving up water again. Perhaps the well had simply become too dry. Water is so precious.

A meeting about the future of fossil fuels in the Algarve was held in the Clube de Tavira. On the panel were the baby-faced town mayor, an admirable and precise lawyer and the writer (Lídia Jorge) whom I quoted a few weeks ago. All three were there to make the case against exploration and exploitation of oil and gas in the Algarve. Local government and local people remain lined up against central government and vested interests. Questions were sought from the audience after the panel had made their speeches. The silence that might fall over a British audience at this point, who would shrink in their seats and shuffle their feet until someone was brave enough to raise a hand, does not happen here. Instead, there is a clamour for the microphone. (A microphone!) Those who get the chance to speak will not merely stand up and introduce themselves, but quite often exit their seat in order to pace the aisle and be seen from different angles by the audience during their peroration. They might start off quietly, but as they limber up, their voice finds its rhythm and rather than ask an actual question of the panel they might be declaiming their point of view for ten whole minutes. Soon I lose my dim and hopeful grasp of Portuguese. The language ceases to be a collection of discrete words, some of which I understand, and returns to being the torrent of plosive pops, zhuzhes and rasps that it was when I first arrived here. Eventually those for whom this is the opportunity to read out an entire mission statement, which might run to several sides of A4, will get their turn at the mic. The moderator’s request for succinctness is ignored. Most of the audience, like the panel, were against the oil and gas plans, so this was not so much preaching to the converted as drilling them into the ground. The panel hardly got another word in. The wonderful passion of the people of the Algarve to protect their environment sometimes gets drowned in a sea of words.

But there are actions to come, and actions speak louder than words.

A young Common Toad squatting on our covered pool. Toads are emerging all over, enticed by the wetness; on the roads their eyes shine in the car headlights like cat’s eyes, which makes it easier to avoid squashing them

A young Common Toad squatting on our covered pool. Toads are emerging all over, enticed by the wetness; on the roads their eyes shine in the headlights like cat’s eyes, which makes it easy to spot them and so avoid squashing them

A road in Buckinghamshire announcing the post-Brexit world (seen in England last week)

A lane in Buckinghamshire announcing the post-Brexit world (seen in England last week)

Weather

I’m hoping for rain, not least because our garden watering system isn’t working and I’m clambering over the rocky ground with a heavy watering can sploshing against my leg. I’m concentrating on the citrus trees – lemons, oranges, grapefruit – because those are currently in fruit, and not being true natives they are intolerant of aridity. The water from Eleuterio’s riverside well, which usually fills our garden tank, isn’t reaching us. We’ve replaced bits of the pump, searched the hoses for kinks, put in new junction pieces, all without success. Eleuterio said he found an amphibian in the piping and thought that was the problem, but I guess it’s been removed and yet nothing has changed. The amphibian was identified by an Algarvian name which we couldn’t recognise, and by the way I now know the amphibians and reptiles of Portugal pretty damn well having attended two lectures on the subject in Sagres and made copious notes. (That weekend wasn’t just about birds.) Which also means that my recent claim to know nothing of reptilian reproduction is no longer valid. All the baby lizards and geckos around now are the product of a second breeding cycle – which only happens in advantageous years – and is thanks to a bounty of insects resulting from the rain in May. So there you go. But Eleuterio’s name for the beast-that-hadn’t-anyway-caused-the-blockage eluded us. And rain is eluding us too, though I had hoped the ferocious weather on the other side of the Atlantic might throw a drop or two our way.

What's left of the swimming area, and all that's left of the river hereabouts

What’s left of the swimming area, which is all that’s left of the river hereabouts. Look closely and you’ll see it is full of fish trying to hide in the shadows

 

Although the riverside wells have water, the river itself is almost totally dry. The swimming area is down to the size of a small bathtub, lively with fish. Since we cannot refill our garden tank from the riverside well, we’re going to have to buy in water. (The well on our own land, 150 metres higher than the river, provides enough water only for our household use, and that barely.) Today it’s being delivered. It won’t be any easy drop. The tractor and tanker will have to drive partway up a steep hillside path, park near the little round wooden house and hope the hose is long enough to reach the tank from there. The Algarvians are practical people who can get things done, so I hope it will be all right.

Costa, the ever-practical Renault 4 man, continues to be reachable only by extraordinary and unconventional means. Rolie has been choking and coughing lately, and I wanted to take him in for a service. I called Costa but had no luck in getting through. The next day, Husband and I were driving through Tavira at night in the jeep when we saw a car ahead of us with no lights on. Husband, in his dutiful, slightly overbearing way, beeped at the car a couple of times to alert them to their lack of illumination. The car pulled over instead – and out from the passenger seat leapt Costa. I jumped out too, and we shook hands and discussed arrangements for Rolie, while the two men in the driving seats nodded to each other and Husband politely suggested the other put his lights on. Yesterday I took Rolie to the garage in Olhão that Costa had arranged. Within twenty-four hours, some troublesome part had been replaced and Rolie is now rolling along as smooth as anything. My dear little old polluter. I’ll be very sad when I have to let him go.

No blog next week, because we will be in England for a wedding. Thereafter comes a heavy schedule of activism. I’d imagined a quieter autumn after the summer beach events, but there’s no let-up. More on that to come.

We've stocked up for the winter with a tonelada (metric tonne) of azinheiro (holm oak). It took the delivery man half an hour to unload and stack it

We’ve stocked up ready for the winter with a tonelada (metric tonne) of azinheiro (holm oak). It took the delivery man half an hour to unload and stack it. When it goes into the wood-burner, it will smell heavenly

A couple of details from Tavira: crown in the wall of a beautiful garden, which is the former cemetery of the church of St Francis (Convento de São Francisco)

A couple of details from Tavira: crown in the wall of a beautiful garden, the former cemetery of the church of St Francis (Convento de São Francisco)

Another detail from the same site: the gecko at the foot of a pillar in what appear to be gothic side chapels, open to the elements

Another detail from the same place: the gecko at the foot of a pillar in what appear to be two gothic side chapels, open to the elements

Sagres birdwatching festival

Yellow-browed Warbler, a surprise vagrant from Siberia. (Or, as Husband had it, his birthday present from Putin)

Yellow-browed Warbler, a surprise vagrant from Siberia. (Or, as Husband had it, his birthday present from Putin)

Whitethroat

Whitethroat

Female Blackcap (close)

Female Blackcap (close)

birds-in-bags

A row of small white cloth bags hung from hooks next to a VW camper van. The suspended bags shifted and wriggled a little. Inside each was a bird, caught in a net earlier that morning and about to be ringed. We were in Sagres for a weekend of birdwatching, timed to coincide with the peak period of southward migration, and the ringing session was a fascinating event. It enabled you to get close to birds you never normally see more than a fleeting glimpse of, and to learn about them. As many were on migration but hadn’t yet travelled far, they were nicely fat. The ornithologists blew on each bird’s belly to separate the feathers so we could see the white spots of fat dotting the red muscle where the bird had been successful in feeding itself up. The audience of observers had the opportunity to release the birds once they’d been examined, measured, weighed and ringed. Husband held a Sardinian Warbler with infinite care then gently let it free. (I’m typing this in the garden and there’s a Sardinian Warbler in a bush just a few metres away.) My bird, a Whitethroat, got the better of me and was off like a shot before I’d barely registered its few grams of weight in my palm. I must have been too tentative in my hold. Now that I know the technique – even if not yet mastered – I’d have made a better job of freeing that small bird from the grille of the Peugeot a few weeks back. Or at least, in holding the neck gently between two fingers, I would have been able to avoid being stabbed by its ungrateful beak.

We missed the planned release of two eagles, however. They were being kept back for the visit of the Minister for the Environment, a fairly useless fellow, it seems to me, and a waste of good eagles. He paid a visit to Tavira several weeks ago, and Husband and others were there to wave anti-oil flags in his face. When asked by a journalist what he had to say about the plans to turn the Algarve into an oil and gas producer, he said that, well, it didn’t have anything to do with him . . .

Sagres is in Vila do Bispo district, the Cornwall of Portugal. The light there is brilliant. I thought we were spoiled for sunlight here in the eastern Algarve, but there’s an extra quality to the light in the far south-western corner of the land. It’s still the Algarve, only one and a half hours’ away, but so different, with cliffs and surf and a wind that burnishes the skin.

We wore our protest T-shirts, of course. We also wore white wristbands as attendees of the birding event. The combination of matching T-shirts and white plastic wristbands made me wonder if we looked like we’d escaped from somewhere. We none the less got into a number of conversations with other visitors to the town, mostly Germans, who referred to facing similar threats from aggressive fossil-fuel extraction back at home. I don’t know why more British people don’t connect in the same way.

On the morning that we had left home to drive to Sagres, we saw our swallows leave their nest. They were down to three. (I will probably never know if the fourth’s early departure was for Africa or the great hereafter.) The third and last bird is one of life’s cautious types (I sympathise); it edged forward then back, forward then back, its big round eyes and small face framed by the mud of the narrow entrance it didn’t dare to leave. I had to turn my back on it in the end so it could fly off and catch up with the other two. We weren’t surprised when we returned home on the evening of the third day to find the nest silent and empty. We hope they fare well on their journey to West Africa.

Northern Wheatear. Photographed in Sagres but also seen on our own hill. It is passing through

Northern Wheatear. Photographed in Sagres but also seen on our own hill. It is passing through

Stopping in the small town of Vila do Bispo on the way home, and admiring all their protests

Stopping in the small town of Vila do Bispo on the way home and admiring their protest signs (and having so far forgotten to remove the wristband)

Fabulous protest artwork in Vila do Bispo

Fabulous protest artwork in Vila do Bispo, showing a percebes (shellfish) collector getting spattered by an oil-filled sea

 

%d bloggers like this: