Saturday, June 25, 2011

une vacance a holiday

(scroll down for english version)

Je suis parti de la maison en paille pour une vacance en Portugal avec quelle ques amies.

De Bagnere de Bigorre j’ai fait du stop a Barcelone. Une voyage sans plan, seulement que la depart avec Julien etait le vendredi matin a quatre heures du matin. Apres ca, une melange des voitures et voyages quelle ques longues, et quelle ques courts.

Le deuxieme voyage etait le plus difficile a trouvée, a cinque heures moins le quart il restait la nuit. Il n’y a pas beaucoup de voitures et, peut etre trop dangerous pour les gens d’arreter.

Un homme qui travaille a la usine d’ Airbus a Toulouse. Un professeur de l’ecole de St Giron, if fait le meme voyage de toulouse a St Girons chaque jour de la semaine!!! Plus de trois heures dans sa voiture chaque jour, il n’etait pas content. Le troisieme voiture conduit d’un homme avec son fils qui va au medecin a Foix. Toutes les voyages avant neuf heures du matin. J’etais content d’avance aussi vite que ca.

L’autre côte de Foix, une groupe qui allez randonnez dans les montagnes, une petite voyage juste d’entrée de l’autoroute. Un etudiant avec une vieille Renault 5, j’aime bien les voitures comme ca. Apres lui, un deuxieme proffesseur, plus content de la premiere, il travaille seulement quatre jours par semaine et il va cherchée les champignons avec deux de ses chiens.

Pendant le huitieme voyage nous avons arrivée a la douaine d’Andorre, la passée sans problem et arrivée dans la ville avant la pas de la Casa. J’ai achetée du tabac pour une amie et une bouteille de vodka pour la vacance et a continuée direction espagne. Une voyage tres court avec un homme qui travaille dans le station de ski, une autre avec quelle ques touristes polonais et apres eux, un père et son fils d’Andorre le deux avec l’accents impossibles!!

La route après la ville d’Andorre la Vella etait presque impossible pour faire du stop. Les voitures passez a grande vitesses et il n’y a pas beaucoup des possibilities pour les arreter, donc, j’ai continuée a pied vers une heure et demi.

En fin, une madamoiselle as arettée, une infermiere qui habite a l’espagne. Elle a decidée de me prendre a la prochaine ville ou j’ai trouvée la route de Barcelone. Encore une attente, beaucoup de voitures mais personne qui veut arreter. Un heure en plus au soleil, personne a arretée et j’ai commencée a penser que c’est impossible de faire du stop a l’espagne.

Une grande pause, sans voitures et ensuite une voiture de Mercedez Benz, en argent avec les sieges en cuivre blanche........ j’ai pensée <>

<> mais j’ai se levée mon pouse, comme toujours, et la voiture as ralentée, et á arretée. L’homme a fait beaucoup du stop quand il etait jeune et maintenant il arret pour toutes les gens qui voyage comme ca. Il va a Barcelone, la ville que j’ai besoin de visiter la soir pour un rendez vous avec une amie.

Apres 16 heures en route, j’arrive chez Donna. Elle est en train de sortir pour faire un soirée avec deux amies que je connais de l’année derniere. Je prend un douche, trouve les nouvelles vestements et sort pour un soirée a Barcelone.

Le Samedi, je me leve a midi, je passe le jour comme une touriste avec Donna, une fête romain, un musée, une marché, beaucoup à pied et le soir à côté de la fontaine magique ou nous avons mangées une picque-nique. A minuit j’ai parti pour la gare d’autobus. A une heure le matin mon voyage a recommencée direction Madrid.

J’ai dormi en route et nous sommes arrivée a Madrid le matin. Immediatement resorti la ville dans un autre bus vers Sevilla ou j’ai arrivée 16.30. aprecervoir Quatre heures comme une touriste, un bon repas, un lit moins cher dans une auberge de jeunesse, ca c’est le dimanche fini.

Le lundi, j’ai pris deux autobusses, un petit ferry d’arrivée en Portugal. Apres ca, deux voitures ‘du stop’ - un viel homme avec les mains qui s’egare... et apres un medicen espagnol qui travaille portugal, deux trains et finalement les dernieres deux voitures ’du stop’ - un jeune homme avec son chien malade, ils ont en train de visiter le vétérenaire et les deux dames, une a parlée anglais, l’autre francais, donc une conversation bizarre entre nous trois. J’ai arrivée a l’apartement ou je vacance avec mes amies deux heures avant les autres. Quelle voyage incroyable.

J’apprend la langue francais, donc si tu trouve les fautes graves, les m’explique SVP.

A holiday.

It’s not a direct translation but an expansion on the french version above.

I left Dominiques straw house at four in the morning with Julien and Théo, they were heading to Paris and I wanted to take advantage of an early lift. Slightly too early in fact but in the right direction. I was heading to southern Portugal to holiday with some english friends by the cheapest means possible within the time available.

An hour into the journey and I find myself at the entrance to an autoroute (motorway/freeway) in the middle of nowhere. Who in their right mind would pick up a hitch hiker there. A great guy did, he was returning from work as a security guard for Airbus and thankful for a chat though not for long. I found myself on the side of the raod again as he headed off in the wrong direction. A school teacher followed, he spent over three hours a day in his tiny car driving from Toulouse to St Girons, he wasn’t a happy bunny and had recently quit the job to get some of his life back and less time in his car.

A brisk walk through St Girons, a town I love, a pastry for breakfast and onwards with a circus worker who was taking his son to the doctors in Foix. He explained that there was a cheap train to Andorra from Foix, so I waited half an hour for the tourist office to open at 9.00am only to discover that it was in fact a bus and not that cheap at all. I profited from it being market day and stocked up on bread, cheese and fruit for my journey before heading off with some elderly french hikers in their minibus. Again a short journey but got me to a good spot to continue. A young french lad whose brother was hitching round Ireland took me a stretch further to Tarascon sur Ariege, more memories of my summer two years ago, he was fascinated by my explanation of helpX and was going to tell everyone about it.

Teacher number two was in a much better frame of mind, he worked four days a week and was heading to the mountains to gather mushrooms with two of his eight huskies, sled rides for the tourists in the winter and they always need exercise.....

Then a lucky break, a longer ride all the way into Andorra. My chauffeur, a motor cycle nut had driven the road all his life and we flew up that mountain pass as fast as the other traffic would allow, exhilarating as a passenger so I can only imagine what the drive was like. A great contact for work in the ski resort if ever I should need. Thanks Vincent.

Had to buy cheap booze in Andorra, a bottle of vodka for the holidays and some tobacco for Joy. A quick stop to enjoy the view whilst eating lunch and hoping all the time that there would be more traffic, the road had gone rather quiet. I walked a while before getting a ride with a resort worker, they spend the summer cleaning the mountains and doing maintenance, his winter job sounded much more thrilling, part of the team that dynamites the snow before avalanches occur, a dangerous and very important job that undoubtedly keeps many thousands of people safe whilst skiing in the mountains. I thanked him on behalf of skiers in general. He turned off soon after the col and left me on the long descent into Andorra town. A polish family took me a bit further but they were heading up a valley to hike for the afternoon. Father and son, andorran, took me through the old town and left me on the road to spain.

Absolute nightmare, traffic belted down the two lane highway towards the border at such a rate there was no way that anyone would be able to stop. There were safety barriers between the road and the pavement and for much of the way, minimal foreign cars that might be traveling afar and the sun was blazing in the sky.

I walked and I walked for what seemed an eternity but in fact probably an hour and a half. The traffic raced past and the road descended through the tiny principality on towards spain. At least I was definitely going in the right direction as there was only one road and it was down hill all the way. Finally another little town with a wide sweeping bend and plenty of chance for cars to pull in. I dumped my large bag and recommenced hitching with my sign. ESPAGNE. The cars continued to fly by, but eventually one stopped, driven by a nurse on her way home. She explained that she lived in Spain and would take me as far as the first town where the road to Barcelona was fast and more direct.

Late afternoon, probably the end of siesta time in ‘la Seu d’Urgell’ so very few people about. I plodded to the edge of town hoping that there would be a suitable hitching place. There were many so I chose one with a bit of shade to shelter in when there were no cars. It’s pointless standing in the shade when there is bright sunshine as the drivers find it too hard to see you, they don’t seem to like people wearing hats or sun glasses either, I have experimented with these possibilities in the past.

Cars passed, vans passed, busses passed lorries passed with very little acknowledgement, let alone a lift. My spirits flagged after a while so I reached for the comedy hitching method that I have seen used by others. It amused me and cheered me no end. The method involves giving a running commentary of all the vehicles that pass with suggestions and greetings for their occupants and reasons that they might want to give me a lift, be nice, smile, wave, tell cars traveling in the other direction how futile your efforts are and how busy every one taking my route and that someone will be along real soon. It probably looks a bit crazy, but it was great fun and got several waves and a cheer from a car packed with locals.

A big fat silver Mercedez Benz came round the corner. “Cars like that never stop” I told myself “ Posh folk don’t want grubby hikers spoiling their upholstery” and it’s usually true. Not this time, a smart business man welcomed me into his air conditioned motor with white leather seats and was rather pleased of the company. He did the journey to Barcelona twice a week and was happy to drop me at a metro station in the city. From Portugal, he had originally visited Andorra to work as a hotel receptionist six years ago and was now area manager for a smart hotel chain.

I arrived early evening and caught up with Donna, she knew that I was on my way but had no idea when I was to arrive. She invited me to stay and I caught the metro over. Quick change and right back out for an evening with friends. We drank at a rooftop bar and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the amazing city, it was almost as if I had never left. Just after midnight tiredness overwhelmed me and I headed back to the apartment to sleep.

I surfaced at noon, we had coffee and headed out like tourists, a roman theme street market, newly furbished museum, old cobbled streets with interesting shops and characters. A brief siesta, wonderful picnic dinner by the magic fountain and off to the bus station again.

Overnight to Madrid, arriving at nine something in the morning. A quick metro ride to the other bus station for a morning coach to Sevilla. I slept for most of the time on both legs of the journey, arrived just after four and found a hostel for the night. Not wanting to miss out I hit the streets until the light faded before grabbing a couple of beers and a bite to eat. What I saw was beautiful, intriguing and well worth a longer visit, I will return.

Had I not arrived on Sunday afternoon during siesta, I would have known to be at the bus station for the next stage of my journey at 7.30 am, I arrived after a leisurely, inclusive, breakfast in the hostel much later than that only to discover that the next direct bus to Faro with space was at midnight. I eventually headed to Huelva on a local bus, closer to Portugal but still a while away. Another two busses took me to the spanish border where a tiny ferry, just big enough for four cars crossed the estuary to Portugal on the other side.

A helpful kiosk attendant informed me that there was over a two hour wait for the next bus to Faro. I could get a train in an hour and a half, but I figured that it would be expensive so I decided to give hitching another go. I had just gained an hour and had till about nine thirty that evening to reach my destination before my friends. It was two in the afternoon.

An elderly gentleman with wandering hands picked me up. He suggested that it would be much better if I had a shower and some dinner and stayed with him overnight, it would be much easier to get a lift with the commuters the following morning. I knew his game even though he was only speaking Portuguese and he begrudgingly left me at a good place to continue. Not long afterwards I was whizzing down the motorway in a doctors’ car discussing european politics in french until he discovered that I was english then we switched languages. An hour or so later he dropped me at a convenient station and I caught up with an earlier train. It took me to Faro, I continued on another train to Estombar, a short distance from Lagoa, where I got a ride in the fastest time imaginable. I left the station put out my thumb, a young guy pulled up, en route to the vets with his giant dog in the back and deposited me, ten minutes later at the junction of the final leg of my journey.

The heat of the evening sun, the smell of the sea, a familiar road and the knowledge that I could walk all the way now and still reach my destination in good time. The pressure was off I had as good as made it. My steps were light even though my packs were heavy, I had thoroughly enjoyed my journey and was content to savour the remaining minutes however they turned out to be.

Two elderly ladies stopped before I had walked as far as the dilapidated windmill on the corner. One spoke french and the other one english, so for the last ride of my journey we had a strange and amusing conversation in three languages. I spoke to each of them in the tongue they understood and they in turn shared my phrases with each other in portuguese. Five minutes later they dropped me at the sea front in Carvoeiro and wished me a pleasant stay. I strode up the steep hill to the apartment, happy to have to have arrived back in a town with so many wonderful memories and excited at the thought of a holiday for the next couple of weeks.

the day the straw arrived (images)

the day the straw arrived

We started work at first light and didn’t finish `till it was nearly dark, stopping for breaks to eat heartily and rest when needed. An impressive team who learned on the job and exceeded all expectations, finishing what was originally thought of as a two day job before the day was through.

Everyone pulled their weight and more. Teams of builders, bale cutters and porters got to learn their roles fast and rotated jobs throughout the day.

Builders constructed the walls and measured the spaces that needed less than full bales to fill the gaps next to door and window frames.

Cutting teams divided bales into the required lengths using giant needles and lengths of twine. The spare sections were also retied and put to one side for use on later sections of wall.

Porters sorted through the mess of delivered bales, choosing the best shaped for direct use, slightly distorted ones for cutting and discarding damaged and damp bales that were unfit for use.

The building took shape incredibly fast, whole sections of wall finished even before the first break of the day. The straw bales stayed in place but were dreadfully unstable, especially the smaller sections. Giant wooden mallets were used to persuade the walls to take the required form, flat, horizontal and vertical with no inward or outward bulges, slopes or slants.

All sections of wall rose to the same height, spacers were inserted where necessary in preparation for later compression. Additional bales were piled up as steps making it easy to reach the higher levels, these steps were dismantled when finished with and used elsewhere or carted off and stored for later use.

As straw building neared completion, scaffolding was erected inside to help get the upper wooden framework into position. The combined teams were challenged to raise huge sections of framework and place them on top of the sections of wall. It had been prebuilt in sections and supposedly slotted together in a predetermined order. As with most things on such building sites it needed some minor adjustments. The walls continued to sway until the framework was joined together into a continuous band round the building. Only when it was all fixed together did the form become rigid and stable and safe to be left for any length of time.

As the light of the day faded, giant tarpaulins were used to cover the new structure and protect it from the rain. It is critical that the bales remain dry and with minimal humidity if they are going to last for centuries when the building is complete.

Finally the work was finished for the day, everything tidied away and there is time to celebrate a little. It has been a big goal and a massive day, but in the greater scheme of things only a tiny step in the makings of a house of straw. I am pleased to have waited for this day and thoroughly enjoyed working with such a great team of people on the project. Hopefully I will return to see the finished article one day, as now I am somewhere quite different.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

night in the mountains

Gerome? what are you doing? this is my photo

the refuge, at last

'a table'

the view was much better in the morning

in both directions

Luca, Julian, Téo, Julian, Gerome, Catarina and Jemana
(hope the spellings are good)

The plan had been in place for the last month at least, but for one reason or another it had never happened. Julian and I had been talking about a weekend trek in the mountains with an overnight stay in a refuge, some good food, a bottle of wine and some good clean mountain air.

A couple of weeks ago we found just the place, so this weekend a group of helpers from the two building sites returned and did just that.

We started the weekend with a bbq on Friday night, probably not the best idea as such gatherings usually end in drinking too much and a late finish, this was no exception. We sat chatting round the fire until a good three a.m. before deciding that we really should get an ‘early’ night before heading for the hills.

Saturday morning started slowly with a leisurely breakfast and a long discussion as to what was going to be needed for the excursion. Food, drink, dry wood, as it had been raining for at least a week and the refuge was high high above the tree line, sleeping bags, water, the list went on and on. The party of eight split into two, half back to their accommodation to gather the necessary and the other half to town to shop. Rendez vous in town for a bite to eat and a beer is always the done thing before such an adventure.

We managed to leave the cars and start walking just before four in the afternoon. Not bad as it is nearly mid summer and it only took us two and a half hours to reach the refuge last time. Six thirty should be fine to get settled in to the refuge, check out the lake and surroundings before settling down for a relaxing evening. It was cloudy but pleasant and everyone was in good spirits.

It took four and a half hours to reach the refuge for a multitude of reasons, much heavier back packs, less fit walkers, a different route and a thick fog that enveloped us two thirds of the way up. The fantastic views were non existent and everyone was either wet from the outside in by the fog or by sweat from the inside out. It was great to get a fire lit and a bit of warmth in the cabin.

Three sets of bunks for eight, not bad, apart from the fact that two beds were already reserved, a father and son who had arrived earlier. I was just thankful that it was only two and not another party of eight or more. Imagine.

Two slept on the floor and we pushed the remaining bunks together, three sharing each level, it was only for one night and after a good meal, a few beers and that climb, no one was in a position to complain. We got a glimpse of the mountains, lit by moonlight, as the clouds cleared and a fit of the giggles just before retiring for the night. Getting to sleep has never been so amusing, there was no language barrier, as no one said a word, it was just one of those amusing experiences. You probably had to be there to know.

Sunshine greeted us, we must have slept well as it was gone eight when we stirred. Another fire was lit for coffee, yes, we even took a percolator. Bread sausage and cheese breakfast and for a couple of hardy souls a dip in the lake. It was truly freezing just to wash in, so I have the utmost admiration for those that went further.

A leisurely Sunday ahead of us, most of the group headed further up the valley in search of another lake. We climbed for another hour and a half, much easier without carrying anything and found no additional water. Some late drifts of snow, an amazing array of wild flowers, it taxed my brain somewhat to find their names, but, as ever, fascinating to see plants that I have sold for so many years in pots in garden centres, outside in their wild and natural environment. Signs of Marmots and Isards, but not the real thing and expended enough energy to be hungry again.

We finished but all of the provisions we had hauled up the mountain for lunch before gathering our belongings and heading back off down the hill. There must have been a good twenty people picnicking by the lake when we left. Imagine how crowded that cabin might have been had it not been foggy the afternoon before. Lucky stars and all that......

The descent was beautiful, we profited from lightly clouded blue skies and views of lush high pasture, mountain slopes of scree, rock slides and occasional patches of forest. Lower down, the remains of ancient summer villages that the farmers used back in the day, more frequent hurds of sheep and cattle and the rushing, babbling stream hurrying all that melted snow quickly down the mountain to be used again. (If you need help with that one, google “water cycle”) Somewhere within the group a discussion started, and although almost everyone is leaving for pastures new during the coming week, it was decided that next time we will start on Friday evening and spend the whole weekend in the hills. But that is for next time....

the other house of straw

just foundations
frames for windows and doors
protected from the weather
after work

I haven’t really written about the other house, but as we construct the house of straw here, there is another project not that far away that is just starting to take shape. The two owners share their projects, help, expertise, knowledge, wwoofers, helpXers etc by working on each others properties for half of each week.

It all works really well and with a great group of helpers the days fly by, big communal meals at lunch time, the sharing of stories and plans of the future, (I already have some incredible neighbours for when I buy my plot of land here) great discussions and two pre decided teams for football, basket ball and all those other games that we play after close of play in the afternoons.

To date all the work there has been in preparation for the arrival of the straw. Completion of foundations, the wooden pre straw base, frames for windows and doors, the potager to keep everyone well fed and from time to time work on the lunch preparation team. Imagine the amount of grief I got from fourteen french people when they discovered that someone english was going to cook them lunch. Thankfully the meal that Téo and I delivered was a complete hit and is talked about till this day.

There is much excitement as, after weeks and weeks of delay due to the unpredictable weather, the straw arrives tomorrow. Six o’clock start there, so breakfast at five fifteen latest. It’s going to be an interesting one.

wonderful weekend

modeling pizza dough pants
hot off the press
pizza making implements and brand new oven
that's old, that one
potager revisited

Wonderful weekend with Vanessa and Lisa even though they were in mid flow preparing for a parental visit followed by their landlord and his mother, so as you can imagine it wasn’t as chilled as it often is in Charlas.

Never the less I had a great time, as I do helping friends out and enjoying getting things done. Waking Ziggy the dog morning and evening through fields of sunflowers and sweet corn. Fixing things. Communal weeding and a good chat with lots of tea breaks is as enjoyable for me as a weekend visiting museums and galleries. That coupled with lots of spicy ‘english’ food and a good bit of rubbish television was a real treat after two months of uber healthy living in the mountains.

The real treat was held back to my last day, as it had only just been built and needed a bit of time to dry out. Home made pizza cooked in a home made clay pizza oven. It was the best. I have to build one of these when I get settled as it was marvelous. When I arrived Lisa was removing the sand form that supports the clay dome during construction, so it was literally the first time that the oven had been used. How cool was that.