Posted by: noltrane | April 28, 2009

Survival Portugal, or How I Speared a Fish but Didn’t Learn to Surf (Yet)

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“Rebel Rebel” (in Portuguese) – Seu Jorge

“The world is turning. Hope it don’t turn away…Now I’m living here down on the beach. But those seagulls are still out of reach.” -Neil Young

I can see the Atlantic Ocean from my camp here in southern Portugal, due west in the form of a deep blue upside down triangle perfectly set in the white sand on its tip. I am in Tipi Valley, home of Surf Algarve, a surf and yoga retreat near Portugal’s spectacular western coast. The ocean is a beautiful sight for these landlocked eyes, and in the morning my ears are greeted with birdsong and the soft, steady roar of breaking waves.

Laurie Quirk, an Aussie, started this place four years ago as an alternative to the prevailing holiday retreat model. There is minimal impact on the land, no permanent structures and all the existing structures are built with simple, natural, recycled and reused materials. Solar power, solar showers, composting toilets and a beautiful setting to an escape for people to unplug, do yoga and surf. Or try to at least.

I am also proud and happy to report we put in a large vegetable garden this spring, complete with homegrown seeds from a greenhouse and a full irrigation system. Once summer hits the gardens should provide nearly all the guests meals with organic, onsite veggies and herbs. It’s a bit strange to be planting in the ground in March. Montana this is not.

The crew started out just Laurie, Joe (another Aussie), Victor (Romanian strongman), and myself. Oh, and Laurie’s princess of a pooch, Shisa. Now there are eight of us, setting the stage for Survival Portugal, Europe’s hot new reality-drama TV series. I’ve yet to start filming, but believe you me, it’s going to be gripping.

On the hunter-gatherer front, Joe and I canoed, literally, to the ocean via the Aljezur River near our camp. We fished, unsuccessfully, but on our way back we collected a slightly easier prey: mussels. Not just any mussels either, but easily the biggest most beautiful mussels I’ve ever seen or eaten (Am I swayed because it’s the first and only time I’ve ever harvested mussels? Maybe.). We pulleds them from rocks along the river and cooked them with garlic, parsley, butter and white wine. We downed a ridiculous amount of them in short order. Sooooo delicious, but the latent effects helped little the plight of two dudes alone in a secluded valley.

Along the canoe ride we also spotted schools of huge fish surfacing all over. So, being Montanan, of course vowed to bring one in on a fly rod. And so I set about fashioning a rod out of a cane pole. First try, was a failure. I had high hopes for the second one but when I completed it and tried my first trial cast it snapped at the top and the bottom. I used it anyway, trying bread and insects I found in cow patties, casting hopelessly into a strong wind. Nada. So I made another, complete with wire eyelits and duct tape reinforcement. Again, nada. They started calling me “Huckleberry Finn” and “A River Runs Through It.”

My pride at stake, Joe and I resorted to violence: we made a spear out of a piece of eucalyptus and a trident we found. We were about 0 for 20 when finally Joe nailed a really nice fish. Then I got one right through the head. We were four for four after Joe’s first hit at which point we called it quits and brought our catch proudly back to camp and cooked ’em up. They are ?????, ocean fish that come into the river at high tide. Huge chunks of flakey white flesh. Really tasty, probably even more so because they were so hard fought for. Now Laurie calls me “A Spear Ran Through It.” And, speaking of that, I reread my Granada entry and realized I used the word “haunt” in one form or the other one too many times. Sooooo Norman MacLaen. If I use it again, ever, please let me have it.

Not much else to report right now. I’m living a simple, healthy existence here. Life moves slowly and quietly in Portugal and I’m pleasantly along for the ride. The ocean really crushes your ego (speaking of, I haven’t successfully surfed yet but stay tuned) while filling you with a sense of absolute serenity and quiet power.

Portugal has a real jewel down here — lush, rolling hills that give way to huge cliffs and perfect cove beaches. It’s no secret anymore and this open coast is a fleeting entity in Europe. After seeing Costa del Sol’s concrete calamity and several poorly planned (and now stalled) developments here, I sincerely hope the Portuguese continue to protect this wonderful place while welcoming the world to come enjoy it responsibly. Laurie is helping to show them how here in this beautiful little valley.

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