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More Than I Signed Up For…

By Dan Bowen

Óla! I guess the best way to start is to introduce myself… I´m Dan, the latest volunteer to swing by here… A 21 year old Welshman currently “volunteer travelling” around Europe, arriving from Bulgaria and shortly moving on to Spain.

So, by the time I set off again, I will have been here for just about a month; and this place has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of what I would experience in this little pocket of Central Portugal. The diet, the meditation, the environment, the people, animals, my own development, solar panels & compost loos; where to start…

I set off on this Workaway crusade of mine in order to expand my horizons and to get back in touch with what – I believe – the current, conditioned way of Western living has suppressed since my childhood. The goal was to get truly re-integrated back into nature, and to re-engage with the sophistication of the simple things in life. So being here has definitely assisted me in realising this objective with regard to the challenges & benefits of living off-the-grid, living in a yurt, learning the intricacies of the eco-cycles at work within the quinta, and working within the beautiful surroundings of waterfalls, woods & land terracing in the middle of Serra do Açor..

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And then there are the dietary adjustments I dived into! Just to set a premise; I have always been a meat-eater, and this is a raw-vegetarian joint. Yikes! Also, having been fed a standard issue, modern, omnivorous diet whilst at my previous host in Bulgaria for the previous month, I wasn´t able to prepare myself for this test in any way. So I really was going from one extreme to the other, with no bridge to fill the void. But – to my surprise – I did enjoy the new diet being served up, and as long as there was a cooked side-dish on offer every once in a while, my extensive appetite was happily fed!  Although, on two or three occasions, my detoxing stomach wasn´t quite as amused in adjusting itself to such changes!  But what I really appreciated was that I was able to see what was being served at meal-times whilst working in the garden, I was eating fresh produce rather than barcoded products, and I was participating in the whole cyclic process of the earth-to-mouth food chain. I also learnt so much about different foods from the Mizarela crew here, that I´m definitely walking away a more knowledgeable and will be a more ethically responsible eater.

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Hmm..wild greens beats burgers hands down!

Then, of course; if I´m eating here, I´m working here. That´s the deal, right? Whether I was digging ponds (the amphi-bian-theatre is worth a visit by itself), composting fruit trees, erecting a polytunnels, laying down new vegetable beds, collecting donkey poo, chopping wood, clearing land, or feeding the donkeys, I loved it. The work I was entrusted with ranged from the physical & methodical to the creative & technical, so I was always kept on my toes with what I was doing without getting bored. Plus, the physical side of it definitely saves you some Euros on gym costs; digging ponds & barrowing earth-tonnes in the Green Gym strips fat & gets you ripped! I also learned so much about the dynamics of a garden e.g. how the trees and grassland feed the donkeys, the donkeys then proceed to “feed” the vegetable patches, which ultimately feed us. And although you learn this kind of stuff in Biology whilst at school, being out here amongst it all beats theory hands down!

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Pond complete!

Pond complete!

Away from the work, a key factor which led me here was the fact that Pete and Cynthia engage in a lot of meditation & spirituality; which have I always been intrigued by, yet unable to explore at home without any real guidance. So I gave it a go. And in all honesty, I found meditation tough to begin with. I don´t think I have ever sat still for 45 minutes, let alone be at rest with my mind for that long, so it was a whole new experience for me. However, after a month of meditating every two or three days, I now feel very comfortable in meditating and have had some fascinating experiences/insights in the process.

What set me at ease was the way it was all explained to me – such as the principle of just being – in enabling me to grasp a better perspective to view the practice from. A lecturer once described how the thinking brain can be seen to resemble a set of structured blocks; so when you are really learning, these blocks are moving around to assume new positions, thus causing confusion that ultimately leads to more clarity in the shape of better arranged levels of understanding. So I think it´s safe to say that the little game of Tetris going on upstairs has had a thorough re-shuffle whilst I´ve been here!

Ultimately, I think I have gained so much from being here interacting with Pete, Cynthia, Billy, Mim, and the natural environment. They have all provided me with a strong support network that has helped me explore a range of issues I have always been interested in discussing and practicing. For example, they have all been a great help in holistically assisting my self-issued “slowing down” process, which has begun to eradicate the frantic thought and speech patterns that have troubled me for years. And in contrast, being entrusted with the carrying out of some unsupervised, technical work in the garden instilled a great deal of confidence within me that only mutually trusting relationships can generate. My own perspective on life has also shifted, veering away from a solely results-based outlook to one of appreciating and focusing more on the present “means” rather than just the “end”.

So even though I prospectively signed up for a sunny (slight mis-forecast on my part there!) month of gardening and living in a yurt in Portugal, it turned out to be a hugely rewarding experience of living off-the-grid in the company of some pretty cool, like-minded, liberal people…

Finally, a big Obrigado goes out to the whole crew here; Pete, Cynthia, Billy, Mim, and also Sam, Nina, Mingo, Nuno, Tux, Kuma, and Lucky for hosting me!

Paz e Amor,


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This one fellow wwoofer that Sammy will definitely miss!

One Comment

  1. […] been here, you will see that being here can be a really transformative experience for people. Olga, Dan, Joann, Dan2, Antonio, […]

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