Greetings from a small-ish village called Ventosa in Portugal. We are near Serra de Montejunto — a beautiful, hike-able, mountain in the district of Lisboa.
On our first day here, we were greeted by a stingy field full of weeds with thick spikes and didn’t quite know how to navigate after 24 hours of sleepless driving through the whole of Spain — from the port at Santander. Within the first hour, I had to run to poo underneath a large willow tree that I supposed was on our property, and four 40-foot shipping containers were delivered by lorry on our new land. The fellows spoke only Portuguese and spent an hour deciding how to go about driving them over our uneven plot; would they just plow down the land or somehow strategise to do things perfectly? Well, they decided to plow! Their best intentions paid off, because their lorries annhialated hundreds of spiky weeds so we could do a bit of walking without being bitten by our own field.
“What do we do, now?” we wondered.
Remember — you will not have an electricity, gas, or water connection when you arrive. You have to be creative and innovative, both with people and your imagination to get the job done.
So, how is it done?
1. Unload your van with all your belongings into a place isolated from the weather. In our case, we have shipping containers, but you might want to get a shed from a local merchant first, like Leroy Merlin or Agriloja. Think about scorching heat or lots of rain when you protect your things.
2. While you’re at the building and garden shops, invest in as many bins, barrels, and plastic containers with lids as possible! You will need them for washing dishes, doing laundry, taking baths, storing drinking water, storing rain water, storing food, and other imagineables. Lids are extremely important so you keep insects and small animals like mice out of your food and dishes!
Try to buy food as-you-go so it won’t rot in the sunshine. You might be eating cans of beans for a while until you get a gas cooker, connected to a bottle of gas for power. Or you can cook on an open fire, but know that if you come in the rainy season, those plans might not always work out — as we have discovered!
3. Build a compost toilet. You can do it with a bucket covered with leaves, grass, wood chips or other natural trimmings from your land. You will, of course, have the amazing job of emptying it into a “safe space” and cleaning it for a second round…
4. Now it’s time to invest in more materials. What’s important? Tools. If you didn’t bring your own, invest in rakes, shovels, handsaws, and anything you need to get your project started. These tools are not necessary to use electricity; if you need to use tools with a source of power for building, then buy or bring a generator.
Another handy material you will use a lot of is: tarp. Tarp, tarp, tarp. You will be covering deliveries left outdoors with tarp, laying it out on spaces you don’t want to get dirty, creating a rainwater-catching system, and much more. For catching rain for bathing, doing dishes, mixing concrete, etc — you can create a pyramid from wooden stakes, flowing into a 1,000 litre plastic container or a bucket which gets emptied into a larger barrel. Get innovative! The water will have to be filtered through mesh material, such as fabric or wire mesh, or you can use a real water filter. This keeps the bugs and loose dirt/leaves out and your fresh water in.
5. Don’t get irritated when plans don’t go your way because of situations out of your control, such as the rainy season. Have a list of many projects you can work on just in case: new inventions, meeting new people, creating a nicer camping area, focusing on your hobbies, creating a garden in your yard, or researching in general. Don’t forget to take your car on a road trip or two and give yourself a break!
6. Yes, speaking of your car… if you are coming from the UK, be prepared to either sell your car in Portugal and buy a new one or re-register it when you get here. Re-registering is roughly a 6-step process with multiple inspections, certificates, and a customs charge on top and may take weeks. If you are on temporary insurance, like we were, this will run out and you will have no way to insure your UK car in Portugal. Often, UK insurers don’t cover living abroad apart from small 30-day excursions, so you will be in a big catch-22.
7. Build. Start to build your home and love it! Enjoy the fresher air, mountain views, waking up without an alarm, being busy, creating new muscles, and creating a lighter version of reality so we can all live better.
In part 2, I will give another episode on the progress of our project with more advice and knowledge on how to build an eco-home. If you want to get in touch, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily answer your questions!