Okay so I went east, to Portugal, volunteering for six weeks at a horse riding school/farm. I’m writing this on day four though it feels I’ve been here much longer, simply because the days are so full. But before I take you to the farm, read this boring bit first…
Even though it’s only 2.25hours on the plane, it was a bit of an effort getting to my hostel in Faro. The eve before leaving I noticed one of the suitcase wheels had lost half of itself which slowed me down considerably. The coach was late in picking us up from Victoria and staff said that the traffic was terrible. This fact did not speed up their process one iota however and I’d be surprised if everyone made their flight in time. The self serving luggage check in told me my bag was a kilo over the limit and wanted £10 from me. No chance. This did mean I had to get out my floor length caped rain coat to take as hand luggage which is more fitting of going to South Wales than to Portugal.
Getting onto my EasyJet plane I was quite excited to see I had a window seat, which never bloody happens, only to see a mother and her little boy slip into that same row and into my seat. She obviously thought no one would ask her child to move. Well she was wrong. Move kid that’s my seat. When she told him (in Portugese) that it was my seat and needed to vacate, he stuck out his bottom lip and looked at me like I was one of Roald Dahl’s Witches. Pffft, what a rooky. I sat and asked if he could still see to which he shook his head without looking and cried into his mothers lap. I moved to the aisle seat, admittedly grudgingly. Please note I am not usually mean to children, but on this day I was already annoyed at the fact I had gotten ill just before my trip and at this point felt quite sick. Looking out over the clouds was the only thing that was going to bring me joy that day. The boy stayed awake for the first five minutes of take off, and slept for the rest of the journey. The brat. Karma for having mean/selfish thoughts and acting on them means waiting an hour for bus into Faro which when it shows up is already full to bursting.
After ignoring my own prodigious map reading skills and asking a few people for directions I found my hostel. Two lovely ladies who spoke no English walked me half the way. My instinct was correct, it was up the dark alley. As is the European way, I and a nice Portuguese man on holiday had to wait a while for anyone to come to the ’24 hour’ reception. It was a lovely friendly place with a piano, a guitar, books, and had the swankiest hostel bathroom I’d ever seen. All for £10. After a shower, some stretching and a nice conversation with a Canadian man I felt better, but couldn’t tell if my tummy felt queasy due to sickness or hunger. The sight of a snickers in the vending machine quickly answered this question.
A short gander around the town in the morning told me this place had nothing to offer and went on my list of places not to live any time soon. It did have surprisingly and very welcome street art and a nice harbour. I do like boats and stopped to watch a couple of fisherman preparing for their day. Carrying and dragging my suitcase along the old cobbled streets to the train station made me question taking said case to Cuba and made a mental note to ask cousin Rosa. Arriving off the train in Lagos, I spotted the woman in jodhpurs and yard boots and made a beeline. Tiffany is kind, straight forward with a wicked sense of humour and reminded me of my old riding instructor so much I wondered if they were distant relatives. I have noticed that all riding instructors have an air of authority and are a little scary. Other horse riders I’ve spoken to have confirmed this.
I had brief introductions before going to the casota and meeting Erica, the only other volunteer here at the moment, from Brazil. Ironically she just spent three months learning English in Liverpool and misses my home town dearly. She found the girls with their hair in rollers a strange sight and her favourite coat was stolen on the first day but we don’t talk about that. Over the next day everything is explained extremely quickly, poor Erica was exhausted from having to process so much English in a short time. Her goal for improving her English will definitely be met here and I being an avid corrector am confident she’ll never want to speak English again after her month is up. The farm hosts 25 horses, 2 pigs, chickens, a turkey and 10 dogs. The horses need feeding three times per day and get different amounts so learning their names was paramount. I’ve only just got to grips with them all and its now a whole week since I arrived.
The casota is scruffy and dark ( it used to be a cow shed), but I’ve grown very fond of it and the peacefulness that comes with it. Cooking on the fire and eating outside is a very nice way to live. The eco toilet is not. It smells like a festival and not a fancy one. Leeds festival famous for being rancid is more accurate. Today, my fifth day, Tiffany gave us a new compostable bag to change the toilet. Wrapping up and carrying the shit of previous volunteers was the most horrible task I think I’ve ever done and I’ve had pet snakes. You can imagine my unpleasant surprise when a load of brown liquid cascades out around the sides of the bucket, covering the handles whilst the poo bag is still stuck in the bucket and flies buzz around the existing rotting composting excrement below. I felt well and truly contaminated and my first shower in five days was one of the best, despite the wind chill (its an outdoor bucket shower).
The week has been a combination of feeding the animals, scraping mud off the horses, tacking up, mucking out, helping with children’s rides, taking tourists out exploring the terrain on horseback, trying to remember the route whilst taking tourists out exploring the terrain, taking a wrong turn whilst taking tourists out and righting it whilst panicking slightly on the inside, moving hay bails, cursing the spikey plants in every hay bail, re plotting the electric fences, getting a couple of little jolts from the electric fences, pulling bucket upon bucket of water out of the well, peeing outside to avoid the eco toilet and nearly getting caught by the neighbour passing in his van, schooling young ponies so they’re safe for children to ride, trying to correct horses habits of going fast at certain points along the trail (this led to blisters on the very first day and I now wear gloves for that horse in particular), catching an escaped pig named Maddy, being nearly taken out by a tree because I was going too fast around a sharp bend, lazing by the pool in the sun, jumping in the pool which housed two massive spiders, stroking the 4month old foal Val, thinking of my family and friends and thinking those poor buggers, reading My Family and Other Animals and really enjoying it, picking vegetables out the garden for our dinner, going to the quaint village of Burgoa, swimming in the sea, being seemingly the only person on the beach blasted by the sand and cowering, drinking cold beer, cycling back from Burgoa and having to fix Erica’s bike after 15seconds, going to a bar in the local village of Almadéna and meeting the owner who went to my primary school in Liverpool (long before me) and seeing a chicken eat a mouse which was quite disturbing as I’ve always found them to be very cute. That chicken has now tainted the reputation of its entire species.
Today is my first day off and I’ve walked the 7kilometers into Lagos to explore and upload this blog. I didn’t see one other person walking on my way here, even in the small village of Espiche. Everyone seems to drive. Except the lizards, they still walk. When you get into the small back streets of Lagos its beautiful. The dilapidated buildings just add to the charm and its right by the harbour. I forced my weary feet to keep going before returning to the first street I went down to try the food in Shaliman which served the traditional Portuguese cuisine, of curry. It was the worst I’ve ever had. Maybe I’m not such a mediocre cook after all. The glass of red was almost as bad. I should have guessed from the lack of customers. Oh well, I’ve got five weeks left to try the seafood and famous salty fish. I’ll let you know how it goes and what else I learn this week. Photos and videos to follow!
Amor de, Sarah