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Last Updated: March 22, 2012
My Time in Agolada by Christine Crammer, march 2012
I have now been in Agolada for a week and a half, and I have to say I totally love being here. Agolada is an old farm belonging to Antonio's family (the land is now divided between his siblings, but it used to be a 600 acre farm which occupied the northern part of the town Coruche and employed many residents there). The land is currently not being farmed for anything, but they used to grow beets and rice, and I'm sure many other crops as well. Agolada consists of four long, one-story buildings which used to house the workers and families of workers on the farm and the main house, which is a gorgeous 3-story mansion, is set behind them. The buildings are all white, with a thick yellow border, green shutters and doors, and red clay-tiled roofs. In addition to these buildings is a small chappel set off to the side, where people can get married. It is really quite striking, and a lovely place to visit. Branca and Antonio have fixed up the buildings and have transformed Agolada into a nice place to host weddings, lodge guests, and host summer camps for kids
Bell Tower Entrance to Agolada
. They also have hunters come on the weekend to hunt birds in the woods. There is a small pond on the property, which is surrounded by these gorgeous trees with thousands of yellow flowers, and then a larger lake which is about a 15 minute bike ride down a dirt road. The land around is very sandy, but Antonio says that there is a clay layer underneath which keeps the water from running off right away. Regardless, it doesn't look like great agricultural soil to me. On the way to the lake, there are a bunch of small trees, cacti, hares which run across the road, all in the same direction (I dont know if they are running to or from something, but it looks bizarre), and a small canyon carved into the sandstone. It has not rained since I've been in Portugal, which is very odd because this is normally the rainy season. Everything is a bit dry and you can see some of the trees are suffering.
People who want to travel cheaply come to the farm, work for 5 hours a day 6 days a week, and get to stay and eat for free. It's not a bad gig at all - you have everything you need, you meet interesting people from all over, and you get to learn new skills (sometimes). This is how I've been living the past week and a half, and I have to say that I am really enjoying it. I've met a bunch of really interesting people, Ive worked hard, and I've never been so relaxed
The Main House, with Gorda in Front.
First we have Andy (he's the first one I met) - 32 years old, from Poland but had an English accent from living in the UK the past 5 years. He is tall and handsome - blonde mohawk which was a new feature as of that week (Branca hated it, she said "but you were so good looking before!"). He has been traveling since October, spent a few months in the Algarve, 3 weeks in Lisbon, and then had been in Agolada since December. Andy said that he was depressed in the UK, so he quit his job, sold all of his stuff and decided to do this. He says he has learned more about himself in the past five months than he had the previous five years. He recently decided that he wants to reformulate his own morals, not based on what society tells him is right and wrong, but based on experiences and deciding for himself whether things will enhance his life (without harming others, of course) or not. When you volunteer like this, you have a lot of time to think and to develop theories and ideas about everything. Andy left Agolada on Thursday to go work near Barcelona at a villa on the coast.
Greg - Andy's partner-in-crime so to speak - is a 31 year old Brit, tall, handsome, dark hair (but shaved close to the head), dark skin, big tattoo on chest and back. He is high energy but has patience for days. He is very musical and was our mobile entertainment system. Greg could (and did) play the guitar, drums, flute, keyboard, and dijiridoo (spelling?) AND he sang, whistled and made sounds that were somewhere in between. Greg also had fire batons and was great with balancing anything - he had these crystal balls that he could balance on his head (at the most, I could only balance it for 5 seconds, it's so difficult)
Greg has been traveling like this for over 4 years and has spent 2 of them in Australia, but has also been to Thailand and Nepal and I'm sure many other places. Just like Andy, he sold all of his stuff and left. Greg had spent four months in Agolada and was probably the reason Andy stayed here for as long as he did. Greg is just such a fun presence to be around and to listen to. Greg also left the farm on Friday to go to a place about an hour north of Lisbon on the coast.
Marc , "runs the operations and deals with volunteers"
- late 30s from Germany. Has been at Agolada for almost a year with his 5 year old son, Marcelo. Marc is pretty quiet and shy, but overall is nice and pleasant to talk to. He is the hardest worker around - he always starts work before everyone else (well, he wakes up at 4 or 5 every day) and finishes working afterwards, and he never really gets a day off because he has way more responsibility than a normal volunteer does.
It's nice having him here - he's sort of like the mother hen, making dinner for us and making sure we have groceries (Coruche is 5km down the road, but a difficult bike ride back if you had to get something - fortunately Marc can drive the truck). And he's a saint for volunteering like this with a child to take care of (what a cool experience for the kid, though)!
The Adjacent House to Ours
Marcelo ultimately runs the show here at Agolada. He has dark skin and dark hair, and has the original mohawk. 5 years old and fluent in 3 languages: German, Portuguese and English. We call him Monkey Boy, I think because his ears stick out a little, but maybe because of the way he acts. Most of the time I call him Cheeky Monkey, because he really has some sass. Marcelo is on the whole pretty good, but he is quite manipulative and he can normally get you to do what he wants. Mostly when I am working and he wants to play soccer, it's not very hard to convince me, but other times I find myself watching him play computer games or watching a German cartoon (it's interesting that I have spoken more German than Portuguese since I've been here, and even sometimes have had German thoughts) and wondering how is that I came to be doing that. Greg was by far his favorite (because Greg was patient and would discuss things with Marcelo like he would an adult), so he would interrupt Greg from work every 15 minutes with "Gweg! Help me! Gweg, you pwomised you'd help me!" and then Greg would explain calmly that he would help after lunch or that evening. Greg had been helping Marcelo play Lara Croft Tomb Raider, except that Marcelo wouldn't play - he just wanted Greg to play so that they could get past the levels. Unfortunately Greg told Marcelo that I would help when he left, so now Marcelo is on my case about Lawa Cwoft. I try to distract him with outside games - normally kicking the football (he's really quite good), but today we had an epic water fight which got me away from work for about 2 hours
Main House from the front
. It took Marcelo until yesterday (and Greg leaving) to learn my name (and he had to ask me twice) because he always calls me Crazy Girl (except it sounds like 'Cwazy Giwl') - not sure how that came about exactly, but I kind of like the sound of Monkey Boy and Crazy Girl. Marcelo's mother left him when he was young, so it is just him and his father, and he gets a very upset if he ever doesn't know where his father (or any of us) is. He is fairly independent - does his own thing or convinces someone to do what he wants - until he freaks out about where his father is and then you can hear him screaming all over Agolada "PAPA! Wo bist du?!" It's really sad to think how his mother's leaving has affected him, but hopefully living here, where people come and go frequently, will make it a little easier to accept. The kid is pretty smart and I think he is lucky to have had such a unique experience at his age. The interactions with other cultures and languages from early on in life can only serve to benefit him throughout his life.
Anna (30) and Johanna (25), sisters from Finland. Just here for a week while on break from school and work. Very quiet girls, mostly speak to each other, but nice and they don't want to leave tomorrow to go back to cold, dark Finland. It's been so nice to have hot sunny days (they both got pretty burned this week) and to be able to swim in March!
Simao Sleeping in Front of My Casa
Although not volunteers, there are two maids who work at the main house who I adore - Petya from Bulgaria and Kashmira from Ukraine. Neither speaks a lick of English, and normally our conversations are Petya speaking to me as if I understand and me shrugging or making exaggerated facial expressions and making her laugh. We are always dancing and miming things, and acting goofy. Every morning "Bom dia, Petya!" and she just goes off and starts chatting to me as if we're old friends and I understand nothing. Every evening before she leaves she comes over to my picnic table where I nap and shake my ponytail to wake me and say "Ciao" - I'm normally comfortably asleep at this point, so there's always drool on my face when I lift my head to say "Adeus." It's a beautiful thing.
So many dogs at the farm, but the important ones are Simao and Gorda, because they are actually Branca and Antonio's dogs. Simao is a Basset Hound with the most unbelievable face. He is almost unfortunate looking, with the skin around his eyes sagging so that it always looks red and you're not sure he ever sees anything, but his big ears which brush the ground as he walks are so sweet. Gorda (which means fatty) is an old yellow lab who is a mean tug-of-war player (I only win half the time)
Main House on a Clear Day
. However, Simao likes to interrupt our tugging wars by trying to "get romantic" (as Greg would say) with Gorda while she's tugging. Typical boy. Both of these dogs have the life, they pretty much sleep all day in between our house and the adjacent one. One sleeps in the sun, the other in the shade. When they get too hot or cold, they stand up, saunter all the way across the dirt road to the other wall (where it is now shady or sunny), collapse as if it was the most exhausting ordeal, and then resume sleeping. This is only interrupted if there is food around or someone comes to the farm, at which point it is crucial that Simao barks and barks and barks and barks. There is also Leon, a big black dog with golden eyes, who is quite striking to look at, but has this thing for biting my arm (gently) and trying to lie down with it. It's rather annoying. Lastly, I will mention Rat Dog, this ratty, reddish-blonde dog which was abandoned by a hunter and is so timid around people. Any sudden movement can send it running, even if you are trying to give it some food. Rat Dog wants to like us and trust us, but it's taking some time. Each day I think she gets a little bolder, especially because we've been feeding her the leftovers we don't want to eat.
So that is mostly everyone around me. In a typical day, I wake around 8:30, eat breakfast, then start working sometime around 9 or 9:30. Work can be anything from raking leaves to smashing broken tiles in the road to sanding rusty cots to clearing out thistles and vines and stuff from old overgrown buildings
Simao and Gorda Doing Their Thing
. It's normally hard work, a bit tiring, but we take breaks for water and an hour lunch break around 1. Work for the day usually ends around 3:30 or 4, but sometimes we work later, depending on how many breaks we took during the day and how much more work there is for a particular project. Last weekend, there was a camp for international kids at Agolada, so our work was all about washing the dishes after they ate. We worked for an hour in the morning, a couple of hours in the afternoon, and a couple more at night. Once we are done with work for the day, I like to lie down in the sun and take a nap or read a book (normally in a place where Monkey Boy can't find me). I play a little soccer before the sun goes down, but once it does (around 6:30) it gets cold quickly so we light a fire in the kitchen and then we stay pretty toasty. Marcelo then convinces someone to watch his computer games or cartoons while the others happily do their own thing. Greg makes music while we fail at balancing things, watching youtube videos of whatever comes to mind (childhood favorites, cirque du soleil, British comedies), chatting. Around 7:30 we make dinner, eat, and then Marcelo and Marc go to bed and the rest of us stay up a bit longer doing much of the same.
It's a very comfortable routine and it's neat that for a brief time I am living with these people, but will in all likelihood never see them again. The lifestyle of the volunteer traveler is all about being in love with the present. You focus on where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing - the past and the future are irrelevant. You embrace the people who enter and exit your life along the way and whether you keep in touch or not, they leave a part of themselves with you - memories of experiences you had together, lifestyle choices you would like to emulate, an idea that sticks with you, takes shape and makes sense in how you want to be. Unintentionally or not, the people you meet in passing have a way of altering your path and can enhance self-awareness and personal growth.