The Ultimate Relationship... and the Earth Collective

The promised land

It’s been a roller-coaster of a time. I arrived in Portugal yesterday. I hope you are sitting comfortably, as this is going to be a bit of an epic.

The last month has rivalled the intensity, challenge and madness of the visa application process, which I wrote about previously. The first priority was to sell the 'mothership' and Merc. An intensive campaign followed, which generated very little interest. I explored all routes to find a buyer, including (reluctantly) setting up a FB account, so that I could target niche groups for my specialist rig. Having spent days researching groups and posting ads, I was banned from the platform three times - for posting caravan ads! It beggars belief.

Sugarloaf mountain, in the Brecon Beacons in Wales

I am probably on a list of ‘suspicious’ people who don’t use social media (like having a bad credit rating because you don’t use credit cards!), as I was also banned from Telegram twice, after reluctantly opening an account there to network with Portuguese groups. I managed to get back on the latter, but gave up on the former (which was utterly dysfunctional for my purposes, anyway) and a massive waste of time and effort. I suspect the poor response marked an end to the caravan buying frenzy of the last few years, now that holidaying abroad is on the cards again. Then, out of the blue, the mothership and Merc truck were sold in a matter of days, and things escalated to fever pitch.

Once a sale was agreed, a frenzy of activity followed to pack my worldly possessions into 20 large plastic boxes, and spring clean both vehicles inside and out, which involved hanging off on the top of a tall ladder in a gale to wash the mothership - not my idea of fun. I took a leap of faith that the deal would conclude, as I needed to find short term accommodation, in order to move out. It felt like an episode from ‘Challenge Anika’ (a very old British TV show). I used the tried and tested method of getting on my bike to scout the local area, knock on doors and accost a few unsuspecting dog walkers. I struck gold on the top of a Welsh hill in the Brecon Beacons. The road stopped there, literally, and the farm opened onto the moor behind, inhabited by a herd of cheeky, hairy Welsh ponies.

Wild and woolly Welsh ponies

Having summited the hill from hell (I must have looked like an apparition in my cycling gear which was mostly ex-equestrian wear), the farmer’s wife was dragged from lambing duties, wearing mud plastered overalls, to show me the cottage. She couldn’t have been kinder and was happy for me to move in immediately with all my boxes, and re-arrange the layout to suit. Heartfelt gratitude to Hazel and the furry residents who befriended me - Taffy the sheepdog who sat outside the window while I worked away on the computer, Poppy the perfect terrier who was a spitting image of my beloved Benjamin, and two regal felines, one of whom was a dead ringer for my cat Bryngwyn. Incredible! Four legged company brought back memories of my dearly loved and lost animal family.

Back at the campsite, I packed 5 boxes at a time (the maximum I could fit into the truck) and took four loads to the farm, vacating the mothership the night before the new owner arrived for a handover. Had he let me down, I would have been up 'shit creek'. But he was true to his word. An intensive day of instructions, explanations and demo’s followed, punctuated by a visit to the local town, so he could visit his bank and I could collect a rental car. It was a great relief to be unencumbered, and free - in a different way this time.

My temporary home in Portugal

On the sheep farm, surrounded by the sounds of bleating lambs, I engineered my exit. I had been considering buying a left hand drive, medium size van to take my boxes to Portugal, either by road via France and Spain, or by ferry from Plymouth to Santander, then driving through Spain to Portugal. Having looked inside several vans at the campsite though, I realised I wouldn’t get everything in, and anything bigger would not be suitable for tiny Portuguese lanes. Even a medium size van would struggle. Also, not owning a vehicle for more than 6 months would mean I would have to pay import tax in Portugal, and tackle yet more paperwork. Import duties would not apply, however, if I bought a vehicle in the EU.

Nothing about moving to Portugal has been simple. Bureaucracy on steroids would be an understatement every step of the way, and the final phase was no exception. Whilst contemplating the prospect of a two day trip to France or Ireland to buy new wheels, I stumbled across a firm in the UK that sold left hand drive EU registered vehicles. They had one Portuguese car in stock and it was suitable. It must have had my name on it. This meant I would be able to take my most treasured possessions in the car and get a transport company to carry the rest. What synchronicity! One of the affirmations I recite to myself every morning is ‘gratitude for the gifts that are coming that I do not know about’. This was a great example. Another affirmation I use regularly, is ‘dear spirit, tell me what I need to know, show me what I need to see, bring me what I need and want, or better’. It doesn’t mean things will be easy but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that everything is possible.

View of the Portuguese landscape from my window

In this case, making it happen was testing. Once I had done due diligence and agreed to purchase the car, I needed to arrange insurance with a Portuguese company, via a Portuguese broker. The broker didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Portuguese, so we used Google translate. In addition, the car needed to be re-registered into my name. Obviously, I didn’t understand any of the processes, so I had to follow the instructions I was given, as best I could understand them. The broker was performing both tasks, but information was lost in translation which added to the stress. Though she tried her best (emails flew back and fore at all times of the day and night), it felt like one blow after another, as I was continually asked to overcome yet another hurdle. The situation was complicated by the fact that both the previous owner and I were required to sign documents, neither of us had a printer, we were in different countries and I was liaising through the car dealer. Documents needed to be re-done in colour as black and white was deemed unacceptable, re-done again as one document, not separate pages, and so it went on. Poor Hazel, my landlady, printed and scanned 30 documents at least, over the course of several days.

Rolling landscape towards Ponte De Lima

I was up against a deadline, trying get the pieces of the jigsaw in place, not just to collect the car in the south of England, which involved returning the hire car, getting a taxi to the next town to catch a train, a three hour journey with two changes that were both late, completing the paperwork and driving three hours back to Wales with all the windows open, because something noxious had been sprayed on the upholstery in the name of cleaning. But I also had to find a delivery company at extremely short notice to do a one way trip to Portugal, book the ferry in order to capture the one window of calm waters in the foreseeable future, and arrive in Portugal by mid April, to meet a couple who are interested in my project.

Barefoot on the grass

At the last minute (namely, the day before I was due to collect the car), I was informed that the insurance cover would not cover the journey to Portugal. I reeled in shock. This had been an essential requirement from the start. I don’t think it was the broker's fault, I think she was misled by the company. So, I scrambled around looking for temporary cover to no avail. English companies require you to start and finish your journey in the UK. Eventually, I located a European broker who could cover me, for a not inconsiderable price. Meantime, I communicated to the Portuguese broker that the situation was unacceptable and asked her to refer it to the highest level. Poised with European cover on standby, I hung on until nearly close of business before an email arrived to let me know that the Portuguese company would cover the journey, after all. Sheer relief and gratitude to the divine helping hand. And a pat on the back for me, for holding my nerve. Actually, I think I whooped around the living room and probably scared a few sheep in the next door barn.

Mozaic in Ponte De Lima

As soon as I arrived back in Wales with my new motor, all 20 boxes had to be re-packed so I could list the contents for customs, as the collection was the following day. I wasn’t sure the transporter would find the farm, let alone get up the steep and narrow track that had no passing places for over a mile. But, with some skill, they made it. I then made final preparations for my own departure, by boat. Two days later, I loaded the car, put my bike on the back, said goodbye to Hazel and the animals, and headed to Plymouth.

I am allergic to boats (except ones with oars, having competed at international level rowing in my youth). So, I put out a ‘request’ for a miraculous calm crossing, and dosed myself up with homeopathy, as well. I was hopeful my request would be granted, as it had been when sailing to and from Ireland last year, in the stormy season. I was indeed blessed by a lull in the gales that followed me from Wales to the south coast. The ship set sail and all was fine. I was confident enough to eat the food I prepared for the journey. By mid evening, however, the situation had changed. No wind, but what I hadn’t considered was the strong swell in the Bay of Biscay. Oh dear!

On boarding, I had gone straight to reception and asked for sick bags, just in case. The attendant laughed, saying I wouldn’t need them as it was a calm crossing. Thank goodness I had the foresight to get some, as I only just managed to reach the deck in time, on several occasions during the night. I was grateful it was dark and no-one was around to see or hear me heaving. Back in my cabin, I sat bolt upright, fully clothed, all night. I couldn’t move an inch without feeling sick. The swell eventually subsided at dawn, and I got my head down on a pile of pillows for a few hours. I didn't chance food when I woke up but I re-hydrated myself and used various healing modalities to get my energy up for the long drive ahead. I was driving from Santander down the Spanish coast to an overnight stop, en route for Portugal.

The ancient bridge in Ponte De Lima

Negotiating foreign road layouts, signage and driving on the other side of the road, took all my focus. There were a few ‘what the f--k moments but, by and large, I managed pretty well, and arrived 6 hours later at a traditional farmhouse, to stay the night. I was astonished at how beautiful northern Spain is. Majestic mountains reached down to the sea, the scenery looked alpine and the buildings were a heady blend of Spanish-Alpine styles, well spaced with plenty of land in between, each hamlet looking a picture of harmony. How unusual and refreshing. This aligns perfectly with the concept of balance and harmony I have for my own project, the Earth Collective.

Soaking up the ambiance of the farmhouse was short lived. The garden was beautiful, full of orange and lemon trees and an intoxicating aroma of jasmine. But an early start the next morning was needed to complete the journey. A race was on to arrive before the delivery company, and being in regular contact with them, it was neck and neck. Plus the location was right up a mountain (again!) and the lanes were miniscule for a 3.5 ton lorry. So, I wanted to get there first to guide them in, if necessary.

A church in Ponte De Lima

The tolls provided some hilarious moments for anyone who might have been watching. It would have made a funny video - me trying to work out which lane to take, then present at the barrier for nothing to happen, reverse, try again, nothing. Reverse, change lane. Try to pay, fail. Hit the help button, communicate in sign language with the attendant. This is how I negotiated and paid for numerous tolls, though a mistake was made at the last one. I found myself heading into a re-paid lane, only to realise my error at the barrier, when a massive lorry was on my tail, so there was no choice but to continue. I will have to rectify this, to avoid paying a fine.

The race was down to the wire. In the end, I beat the truck by 20 minutes. Just enough time to meet my host, work out where to store my boxes, re-configure the very tight parking to allow the delivery van access and go to the loo, as I didn’t dare stop on the way. The lorry left – the wrong way! My host suggested they went in the opposite direction (both directions were treacherous with uber narrow lanes and tight bends). I watched from a distance as the driver attempted to negotiate a 90 degree turn, a few hundred yards away. He performed endless manoeuvres on a steep slope, with one wheel off the ground. Another comic scene, except I my heart went out to him. I have had plenty of sticky moments with the mothership and know how stressful it is.

It was cold on leaving Spain. Just a few degrees above zero. So, I arrived in Portugal wearing thermals. However, the temperature was in the mid 20s by then, so I stripped off to bare essentials. I felt the sun on my skin for the first time in ages. What a joy! Where I am staying is a rural idyll. The sounds of nature are omnipresent. Crickets, birds, and a cockrell, as I write, plus a gurgling brook. No machinery or road noise whatsoever (something I lived with for much of my time on wheels). I even passed a bow-legged woman yesterday, with a hoe on her shoulder, walking down the road. Tradition, along with community are alive and well in Portugal. I know I am going to love it here. I am staying at the current location for two months, free of charge, courtesy of a stranger who is also an ex-pat’. Then I will get a rental property while I look for land and make connections for my project.

Today, I went to Ponte De Lima, which I visited 6 years ago when I first considered living abroad. It was exactly as I remembered it because it's been etched on my memory ever since, as the 'promised land'. Transitions take time, often years. I had to sell my last business and my farm, re-home my animals and become a nomad for three years while the global madness played out around me. Then negotiate a tsunami of challenges to move countries. Hopefully, I will now be able to use my energy in a positive and creative way that is fulfilling and inspiring, to manifest the Earth Collective project. Challenges are less painful when they are part of a creative process. Finally, I am on the starting blocks of the new life I have imagined for so long.

***

Gratitude:

To Hazel, my super hostess in Wales
To Detlev, my super host in Portugal
To Carla, the Portuguese insurance broker who tried her best
To Colin, the ever helpful car dealer in the UK, who shares my love of cycling
To the divine helping hand
And to ‘Writer Pilgrim by So Elite’, for recommending my blogs on Substack.

Notes:

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4 comments on “The promised land”

  1. I am so happy for you that you made it to Portugal to open up the new chapter of Earth Collective project. 🥳🍾 Benji was such a lovely dog, I am glad Poppy reminded you of him. Enjoy your first month of the new adventure in Portugal. Warm regards, Alex Cybura

  2. All I can say after reading this is a rather large WELL DONE!
    And in perfect frankness… I pale at the thought of going through the same kinda shift. Time and tide will tell. For now, big congratulations sent your way.

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