One family’s attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way
|• Residential courses||• Accommodation|
|• Volunteering||• Travelling to the quinta|
|• Visiting||• Clearing up some confusion|
The catastrophic wildfires which swept through a vast area - over 2,000 square kilometers - of Central and Northern Portugal on October 15-16 2017 cut off these valleys and burnt everything in sight, including the quinta. In these valleys alone, 22 families and individuals lost their homes. Fortunately nobody lost their lives. We were lucky enough not to lose the main building and yurt, but the wee house, geodome greenhouse and the volunteer accommodation and facilities were destroyed.
What this means is ...
WE CANNOT HOST ANY VOLUNTEERS AT THE MOMENT WHO DON'T HAVE THEIR OWN ACCOMMODATION AND COOKING FACILITIES
- ie. you need a camper van. In summer, we can host people who can bring tents and hopefully by then we'll have some cooking facilities sorted out. At the moment, I'm also not in a position to provide food.
The community here is still struggling to get back on its feet and come to terms with our losses. It's a bit like a war zone here. As we go forward into summer, there is every likelihood of severe water shortages. Nevertheless, good things are happening. Lots of community self-help initiatives and people coming together to help and support each other and the devastated environment. Volunteering here at this time is certainly not your usual type of volunteering, but you will have the opportunity to be part of something quite special.
I've left this page pretty much as it was before the fires since it still provides a flavour of what volunteering at Quinta do Vale is all about, but please note until we've rebuilt the volunteer accommodation and facilities, a lot of what follows no longer applies.
If you feel moved to help us get our facilites back together again, please see the Support our project page.
Quinta do Vale is listed on HelpX, but until I did that, I only accepted occasional volunteers through direct application, so if you've come across a Quinta do Vale on sites like WWOOF Portugal and Workaway, it's not this one. There are a lot of Quinta do Vales in Portugal – see Clearing up some confusion for more details – so please make sure you're applying to the Quinta do Vale you intended to!
In what follows I've tried to be as clear as possible about what I'm looking for in volunteers and what I provide for you in return. It's been mostly informed by the occasions which didn't work out quite so well, so I have to say right away the majority of volunteers here have been wonderful and we've achieved a lot, learned a lot from each other and had a lot of fun (thank you all of you! – you know who you are). Many have stayed longer than they originally intended and many have gone on to become friends. Please bear that in mind as you read on ...
Please read this right to the end before you even think of applying. Yes, there's a lot to read and I appreciate not everyone finds reading easy especially if English isn't your first language, but this is the only way I have to communicate with you at this stage and time spent reading now can save a lot of problems and misunderstandings further down the line. It also shows me you can follow instructions to the letter and respect the need for them. Be aware a surprising majority of applicants for volunteer positions here haven't successfully completed this first and very simple task.
First off, if any of this feels the slightest bit uncomfortable, then don't apply!
This is all about making sure we're a good fit for each other. I love this place and working on the land and buildings here and, while it would be unrealistic to say I enjoy every moment of it, the enjoyment massively eclipses the occasional grief, stress and frustration. I love to share this enjoyment and I'd like nothing more than for you to enjoy your time here too. It's simple: if it's not a good experience for you to be here, then neither is it enjoyable for me to have you here.
At the same time, an acceptance to volunteer here is an invitation into my home and my world. Please respect that.
One other point before we get into the detail ... just because volunteering involves a moneyless exchange doesn't mean any part of the deal is 'free' – I don't get 'free labour' and you don't get 'free food and accommodation' – and I don't think it helps to think of it in those terms because it devalues the exchange. There's a cost to me in time and effort in having you here and a cost to you in time and effort to stay here. The target is a fair and worthwhile exchange at the very least. Preferably a fun and rewarding one as well.
Work is likely to involve any combination of digging, hauling, clearing land, pruning, weeding, watering, sowing, planting, harvesting, cooking, preserving, laundry, cleaning, emptying the compost toilets, caring for the poultry, planting trees, felling trees, cutting and chopping firewood, construction and building work, and helping out with the courses here.
There's minimal use of machinery – it's impossible to get anything seriously useful onto most of the land – so all earthworks are dug by hand and all building materials moved around the site by hand. Petrol strimmers/brushcutters, chippers and chainsaws are used and it's an advantage if you're an experienced user of any or all.
There's no rigidly set working day. We work as weather, project progress, materials, machines, power availability, inspiration, flow and necessity dictate, and we frequently work on several projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as conditions suggest. Days can range from a full-on, intense, 12-hour stretch at one extreme to a what-the-hell-let's-go-to-the-river-beach at the other.
While the days aren't rigidly defined, getting an early start in the morning is essential in summer. It works best to get most of the day's work done by lunch time, leaving the hot afternoons freer to slow the pace or go cool off in the river.
You need to be fit. I can't emphasise this enough. Work on the land, especially in heat if you're not used to it, is physically demanding and so is this steep terrain. As noted, we can also put in some very long days on occasion.
Life here goes with the flow, so an easy-going, flexible, humorous attitude will go a long way towards preserving everyone's sanity, as will the ability to work independently if circumstances and other workload demands.
This is the place to come if you're the sort of person who ...
This is NOT the place to come if you're the sort of person who ...
I have accommodation in a small building (one or two people) or a 4-berth caravan (up to four people). There's a park-up for one camper van as well. I don't have facilities for young children, groups or companion animals. I may occasionally take volunteers in the winter, but it's the exception rather than the rule and is dependent on prevailing weather conditions. Generally the volunteering season here is April to end-September.
I provide ...
Within the overall requirement to get the day's jobs done between us, if you particularly enjoy things like cooking, preserving and cleaning, then you can opt to do more of that than the land or building work. Or vice versa.
If you're a couple wanting to come here and only one person wants to work, the other will need to pay their way.
I can just about get by in Portuguese and French, but I'm a long way from being fluent in either, so a good understanding of English is imperative.
All accommodation and buildings here are no-smoking zones (as well as no outdoor footwear zones). Smokers MUST be acutely conscious of fire risk, which is extreme here in summer, and responsible for cleaning up after themselves at all times.
I have no objection to smoking and drinking, etc, provided it's in moderation (eg. socialising/unwinding at the end of the day or the occasional party), doesn't compromise your ability to function or operate machinery on a daily basis, and isn't of the level of dependency that's required to even get you out of bed of a morning.
There is parking and turning space with a park-up for one average-sized camper van.
While our track is perfectly negotiable (with care) by anything between an ordinary car and a large wood lorry, underpowered vehicles with low ground clearance may struggle with some sections.
This part of Portugal gets just as much rain as the UK and the rest of Europe's Atlantic coastline, except it usually all falls in the winter months, often in large amounts. Camping in a tent through these seasons can be pretty miserable and isn't recommended.
Portugal has a lot of devastating wildfires in summer and campfires are not permitted between May and November.
Benfeita village shop, which stocks a reasonable range of basics, is 500m away down the hill from the quinta. There's also a post office (mornings only) and café, and a craftworkers' cooperative with a workshop and shop. The butcher's is open on Wednesdays. There's a number of van deliveries: two daily bread vans, weekly fish and vegetables, and monthly frozen food, though catching any of them is mostly a matter of luck or ESP.
There are also two village shops/cafés in the village of Luadas, 100m above the quinta and around 2-3 times the walking distance.
Being right above the village of Benfeita, we're reminded of the time every half hour between the hours of 7am and 10pm by the village church bells. If you're staying in the Wee House, caravans, or camping around that side of the quinta, it can be intrusive if this sort of thing bothers you. People do find they tend to get used to it very quickly though.
Mobile phone signal here is good to reasonable, depending on your network. Portugal Telecom's MEO network has the best coverage. Vodafone is patchy to poor. If your network doesn't work here, you'll get a signal in Luadas.
In summer, the outdoor café in Benfeita has free wifi. The café/restaurant in Pardieiros, the next village along from Benfeita, has free wifi year round. My own internet connection is wireless, has patchy reception and a limited data allowance, so is not available for volunteers' use except in emergencies.
If you don't have your own laptop/tablet/smartphone, free computers with internet access are available for use at Côja library 8km away. I can give you a lift if I'm going that way, you can shout out for a lift on the Benfeita Car Pool Facebook page via my connection, there's a bus (infrequent), or it's a good walk.
There are great walks to take in your free time in the surrounding hills and valleys. Summers here are liberally punctuated by these, visits to mountain swimming spots, local markets, festas and restaurants. Life here isn't all hard work ...
We generally eat the main meal of the day in the evening and eat communally, taking turns to cook. Course participants (if there are any) can join in the cooking if they'd like to – cooking on wood stoves and wood fired ovens is a treat – but it's optional for them.
The 'default' diet here is mostly vegetarian with as much food sourced from the quinta as possible. I eat animal protein (dairy and eggs) and some occasional meat as I find it necessary to maintain the power, stamina and strength for working on the land. I've absolutely nothing against anyone's dietary choices, but vegans are not encouraged to apply to volunteer here as it's been my consistent experience (also the case for other volunteer hosts in the area) that you're unlikely to have the physical condition necessary to do the work. If you're certain you're an exception to that, you're as welcome as any non-vegan.
The occasional meat eaten here is mostly from local butchers who tend to source local, traditionally-raised meat. That's no guarantee of humane treatment or organic status, but it's much less likely to have been intensively reared. You won't be asked to cook meat if you've strong objections to it and it's not on the menu when everyone staying here is vegetarian.
I ask you to respect my dietary choices in the same way I respect yours. I believe food is at its most nutritious and delicious when it's cooked and prepared with love and respect. A kitchen turned into an ideological battleground isn't conducive to that.
If I haven't succeeded in putting you off applying to volunteer here by the time you get this far, then let's talk. Please email in the first instance. I get a lot of volunteer applications, so tell me something about yourself, when you want to come here, why you want to come here, any other volunteering experiences you've had, the skills you're offering, the aspects of quinta life you're most interested in and anything else you think I'd like to know about you. If you have a social media presence, and/or testimonials from previous hosts on any of the volunteering sites, then I'd appreciate a link to them. If you don't do social media or your social media doesn't include publically available photos of you, please send one.
If you want to check me out, then you'll maybe get a reasonable enough idea from the video on the Support us page, though I don't like being in front of a camera and am putting on my 'telephone voice'.
Lastly, please mouse over/tap this link text, then copy the words that appear below this paragraph into your email to confirm you've read this page in its entirety and you accept my terms. If you don't include it, then my reply will simply refer you back to this page again. Bonus points if you know what it is, and even more if you can make it.