Not Following Portuguese Protocol

People stare.

Friends shake their heads in bewildered amusement.

And apparently busy Portuguese men in swank SUVs stop to ask “What problem?

All of the above are common  reactions to  my  frequent flouting of convention.

"Yer doin' what?!" photo - Mindy Gereke

“Yer doin’ what?!” photo – Mindy Gereke

In my wandering life, I’m fastidiously committed to my fitness.  In many places, evidently including the back roads of Portugal, said commitment makes me quite the odd duck.  While out on my morning run, I heard the thrum of tires approaching.  As usual, I stepped off the road for maximum  safety.  However, upon noticing me, the passing local driver  screeched to a halt, backed up, lowered his window, peered over his Ray Bans, and said something unintelligible to my foreign ears.  I informed him brightly that I do not speak Portuguese, to which he replied while gesturing wildly  with his hands, “Uhh… Uh…  What… uh… problem?  What… problem?

When I finally understood he thought I was under duress – for what other reason would I be out along the road without a vehicle?! – I dusted off my Spanish to inform  him I was exercising.  He looked at me as though I’d said, “I’m a magical fairy!”  Then he laughed and said “Okay, Okay” while motioning like a movie character asking the bad guys not to shoot.  Away he drove.  On I ran.

His was not the first befuddled glance I’d received in Europe’s California.  In the week leading up to my work exchange on a local farm,  I’d often been  eyed with mixture of naked curiosity and doubtful suspicion.

Who is this woman gallivanting about, and what is she wearing?

What the hell is a pedestrian doing on this road?

Did she really just walk away from her bag [at the otherwise deserted train station]?

Luckily, I eventually found myself in the company of fellow  eccentrics  via an awesome HelpX posting.  The rural property, recently purchased by a Dutch couple who’d originally arrived as caretakers, was full of folks willing to forego custom for the sake of authenticity.

A fire-twirling Russian immediately stole my heart with her simultaneous vehemence and easy-going manner.  Her serious Hungarian boyfriend adored  the owner’s Jack Russell terrier, named Gucci, and took  him along on every excursion.   The “better half” of the caretaker/owner couple regularly flew  back to the Netherlands to work as a massage therapist.  Her saavy and handsome partner in crime, a former negotiator turned farmer,  worked capably all day and generously shared red wine all night.

A fire twirler fire twirling seen by Half the Clothes Author Jema Patterson on her trip to Portugal

Excellent first night at the farm.

On a few mornings, the first sound I heard was Obama’s voice.  Not the U.S. President.  The grey tabby cat.  Who, by the way, got along famously with “the barking carpet” – a giant, geriatric lady-dog who’d come with the farm.

After a morning wander among the fascinating cork trees, I choose my daily farm tasks from the ready and endless supply.  The cooing hoots of doves lasted until the sun began to bake the ground.  I welcomed the cool, muddy splashes as  I repeatedly swung my hoe to clear out several hundred yards of irrigation ditches.

excited, woman with mud on face

I’m how dirty?!

I found the  teepee, where I’d slept on the first night, sorely lacking in the access department.  So, I cobbled together a set of stairs from the eucalyptus slabs  milled on the property.  In Portugal’s dry countryside, the Australian tree flourishes to the detriment  of native plants.  Land-owners are quick to clear the fast-growing, water-hogging timber.

I also  cleaned up prolific olive flowers, dug post holes, sorted  half a stack of lumber, built bridges, and  did anything  I could find that needed doing.  The orchard provided ready mid-morning snacks in the form of peaches and oranges.

brightly painted signs at a farm visited by Half the Clothes author Jema Patterson in Portugal

When the accommodation spaces are ready for guests, they’re in for a treat!

I learned from my hosts that, regardless of ownership, it’s illegal for any unlicensed person to harvest cork from the cork trees!  Absolutely true.  Why?  Economics.  Portugal produces half of the world’s cork, providing work for 16,000 people.  Supposedly the penalties for self-harvesting are tough enough to prevent most from trying to circumvent the system.

The trees at various stages of harvest made for a fascinating landscape.  Often I imagined a sylvan cocktail party where everyone had forgotten their pants.

cork trees bark stripped Portugal

Apparently Brick needs to extend these guys an invitation.

cork tree harvested bark Portugal

I’m told a cork tree is ready for harvest every 25 years.

cork tree with bark Portugal close up old tree thick bark

Bark thickness and squishy-ness – so delightful.

I capped off my farm  revelry with a hike up a nearby peak.  Everything was going swimmingly… until I tried to leave.   Stay tuned for the juicy details…  ♣

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