Friday, November 30, 2012

Yoga Retreats Portugal 2013

Thanks to the great team at Seegno for updating our Vale de Moses Yoga Retreat website ready for our 2013 season here in Portugal, including an online booking system. Top job guys. We really appreciate all the extra time you put in to make it work.

Cinco estrellas Seegno!

And thanks also goes out to the lovely Andi and Olly who have spent the last 3 weeks planting in half of the garden centre that we bought last month for our anniversary present. We'll show some pics of the grounds around the houses next week. It's lush.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Kitchen Garden, Road and River Pools

As promised here are a couple of update videos showing the progress of the new kitchen garden makeover (take a peak at what it used to look like here for comparison), meet Fanny and Felipe, and take a first glimpse of the new road leading to the river pools at the bottom of the valley.

Enjoy.  Memphis.

New kitchen terrace garden makeover

Introducing Felipe and Fanny

New road down to the rivers

Natural river swimming pools

Friday, November 2, 2012

We bought a Garden Centre!

Last week River and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. Felt proper grown up. Almost. We nipped over to Sertã for a little lunch and, as we normally do when we go there, popped by the lovely garden centre run by a Brazilian family. Only to sadly find that they had closed down. We drove round the back to find a charming young man, Luciano, who explained he was looking after the house and grounds while the owners were back in Brasil. They'd be back but not for a while.

We noticed a few plants still in the front and inquired if they were still for sale. How delighted were we to find that they still were, and at very low prices too, even for the mature palms, yukkas, cactii, succulents, roses, hedges, olives and trees. I looked at River. She at me. Then I asked the guy for a price to buy every plant they had left and some of that good soil and chicken poop round the back.

It was our anniversary. We felt a rush of blood to the head. A 'once in a lifetime' price offered and agreed, delivery date set, and lo and behold, just like that, we had bought the whole stock of this wonderful little Garden Centre. 900 plants plus soil. Love is such a crazy thing. A garden centre's worth of plants seemed so much more fitting to our 18 years of marriage than a ring or watch could ever be.

To give all these lovingly grown and cared for plants the very best of homes at Vale de Moses. What a thing. The plants will be together forever! As we hope we will be too. Now all we need to do is figure out where to plant them all!

On the drive home:

"Memphis, do you think we are ever going to start living a little more sensibly one day, a tad more sanely?"

"I hope not babe. We only get one shot at this life. Might as well make the absolute most of it, não é."

"Feared you might say that.", with that oh so cute smile of hers as wide as the ocean.

Drove all the way back to Amieira dreaming of the fecundity to come.

We're just finishing our last retreat of the year today. A wonderful week to end an incredible 2012 season. The lovely Paul and Sally celebrated their 20 years of marriage here along with the amazing Georg and Amy, Aussies from Saudi Arabia, the sweetest Rosie, florest from England and the enigmatic gardening astrologer Alea from California. Felipe from Brazil and his girlfriend Fanny from Sweden celebrated his 31st birthday Portuguese styley with cake and brigadeiro on the day our good friends Bill and Becky arrived on their travels round Portugal.

14 of us in total. Felt like a week of proverbial fireworks going off. Rounding off our retreat season with a marvelous bang topped indeed by being constantly surrounded by such beautiful plants in pots sitting in every available space around the farmhouse. Simply glorious. Thanks guys for making it such a special finale.

Tomorrow we head off to Gois for Eloise's second horse riding lesson at a stunning little family run riding school and holiday centre, followed by a hack through the forested valleys there for River, Felipe, Fanny and Rosie. Last weekend Eli and I drove the 90 minute road across the mountains with jaw droppingly stunning views to the stables run by Steve and Sandra with first class lessons given by their daughter Mella. They've been here in Portugal 18 years now, arrived about the same time River and I were getting married, and have created a charming riding holiday spot next to a river with 7 horses and a menagerie of dogs. "Too sweet" as the Bajans say.

It was an emotional day for Eli's first lesson. It had been a long long time since her last sit in the saddle at her 6th birthday party with her friends in London. We'd been looking for stables near us for the last few years and talked to the one or two people who own horses around here but nothing ever got going. Eventually, we looked further afield and decided the 90 minute drive over the mountain was worth it and booked in her lesson with Mella and a tall elegant mare called Puff.

To see my daughter trotting confidently, hands free round the sand school, with an ever constant beam of pure joy on her pretty face, actually brought a tear or two out of her proud old Dad's eyes. A sério.

She had waited patiently for 7 years to have another go on a horse. And there she was grooming Puff, tying on her saddle, becoming friends and learning to ride her. Too incredible for words. She'll be exploring the valleys and villages there in no time at all. "Awesomeness" in Eloise's inimitable own word.

There's more. 2 weeks ago our 15 year old Joshua arranged his first job. Check this out. Playing a baby grand piano in the lobby of the newly built 4 star Hotel Santa Margarida in our local town of Oleiros, while their guests dine on Friday and Saturday nights. A bit of pocket money for the lad plus a lush dinner prepared by a wonderfully talented chef and waitress served on his own table in the restaurant.

And there is nothing better to improve one's playing than live in front of an audience. Gives great inspiration to practice and learn more pieces. The sound a baby grand produces in that lobby is delicious. Music fills the hotel. Lifts the ambience to life. Keeps people a little longer, for just one more drink. We hope he gets to play there as often as possible. Maybe start a little band, who knows. What a first gig!

Will try to take a video this weekend of the new kitchen gardens. Lawn is sown and the grass is already 2 inches high. Beds are ready for the influx of new flowers and the smaller herb garden ready for seedlings through the winter. We've also cleared and built a new access path down to the river ready for restoring the little stone dams. That'll need a video too. It's magical along the river. Timeless.

And finally, our Vale de Moses yoga retreat website should be ready for making online bookings for the 2013 season in a week or so. You'll hear it here first.

Thanks for tuning in peeps.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn at Vale de Moses

Hey peeps. Finally the rains have come, and the forest has drunk deeply from the soaking. As have we. The water table is rising. The bore hole is refilling and the old Moorish water mine is once again overflowing. The mornings are crisp and misty and the evenings cold enough for us to light up the wood burning stoves in the houses. That long hot Portuguese Summer has passed and Autumn has arrived. Graças a Deus.

At the start of October we were most honoured to host a lovely group from Holland who came with their yoga teacher Mijke Linders. It was the first time we have had a Yoga teacher bring their students on retreat here and it is something we hope to do much more of in 2013. Mijke led the morning classes and a few afternoon workshops, I cooked and Vonetta massaged. Twas a truly wonderful week and we are particularly thankful to one of the group, Mirande Phernambucq, who took some stunning photos during her stay.

We have one more small retreat to run this year and then we will be hibernating as a family for winter (including Christmas with Von's family in Barbados - not been back for 7 years, way too long!). But before that, we are taking advantage of the still hot sunny afternoons to look after the land. Putting the kitchen gardens to bed for the winter, clearing more of the forest scrub around the houses, and attacking the jungle of brambles and shrubs on the terraces along the 2 rivers that run at the bottom of the valley.

To help us do this we have a beautiful young couple wwoofing until November, Fanny from Sweden and Felipe from Brasil,  who are with us for a few weeks on the start of a year long adventure. They are both avid photographers and we're enjoying their view of our home in the forest through the lenses of their cameras, through their eyes. Thanks guys.

We also said goodbye to Chris and Anette who after 3 months with us to deepen their practice of Suikido, have moved on to another forest wilderness retreat space, Inner Peace, further south in the Algarve. It was a privilege to have them here with us this summer and we wish them all the best in their journey here in Portugal. Força Suikido!

In between all the people coming and going, it's Vindima time in Amieira. Grape picking wine making fun with our neighbours Laurinda and José & Eugenia. It's a harvest festival season. Families and friends returning from all over the world to gather in the sweet abundance of the vines and ensure the rivers of juice that flow are preserved in the ancient art of making wine in Portuguese Adegas.

So glorious to be able to share this experience once again (was our fifth year of vindimas), especially as we won't be making wine from our own grapes this year (half the vines unfortunately were burnt in the August fires). But we will again one day.

One day I'll make another Adega here. One day I'll get round to grafting all the old vines with new ones. One day Vale de Moses will produce wine, not the 8000 litres a year they used to make here, but enough to share with friends, guests and visitors in the winters, springs and summers that will follow.

I'll leave you with a video below on our YouTube channel, a wee Autumn update showing the charred forest landscape and introducing just one of our jobs for this season - putting the kitchen garden to bed. Instead of veggies next year, we're going to lay a lawn! After 4 years of crop planting we're gonna have grass to lie on. Under the shade of fruit and olive trees. Plus some new big beds for flowers and keeping the smaller kitchen garden beds for salads, tomatoes and herbs. Exciting to move things around again. Constantly creating. Never stops.

The veggies are moving down to the river terraces where we'll be able to irrigate them better using the water collected by the açudes (little stone dams) that we'll be restoring over the next few weeks. The açudes also mean that in the soaring heat of next summer, we'll have some long cascading shady natural river pools for us, our guests and, of course, Moses to swim and cool down in. Delicious.

Thanks for tuning in.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Os Bombeiros de Oleiros são Heróis

Last Saturday, September 1st, fire came to Vale de Moses. It is the only natural disaster we fear, but comforting it is to now know that of all the elements, fire is the only one man can do something about. We can work together to put it out. You can't stop the winds from blowing in a hurricane. Nor the water from sweeping a home away in a flood or tsunami, nor the lava falling from a volcano, nor snow from an avalanche, nor the ground in an earthquake. But water kills fire.

We owe our lives here to the brave and outstanding service of more than 200 firemen, drivers and pilots, who with their trucks, helicopters and planes, battled tirelessly for 6 or 7 hours to put out the fire that if left unchecked, would have consumed everything in its wake.

A special thanks to our friends Barbara and Emma from the Mount of Oaks, who drove 2 hours to be by our side and also to our incredible guests this week, who arrived on the same Saturday. Franzisca from Berlin, Frida and Malin from Sweden, Sara from CercaSul in Portugal, Shilla from Austria and Jessie from Belgium. Even in the face of such violent destruction and fear, you chose to remain and stay the week with us, on yoga retreat, to relax with us as we found peace after the inferno.

Vonetta and Eloise were out in town at the time, but the quick response by Chris, Anette and Joshua (he was first to call the Bombeiros / Fire Brigade) and Frida, Malin and Franzisca (we had all just finished lunch) meant we were able to soak the land around the Monastic Adega and save it from destruction, before we were called away to the top of the valley for our safety by the police. I was only wearing flip flops and shorts while dowsing the 5 metre high flames as Chris held the hoses off the ground to prevent them melting. The others rapidly filled up buckets and soaked everything they could reach. If our Yoga Helpers hadn't cleared the scrub around the Adega in June, and TK hadn't cut back all the grass in the orchards along the river with me in May, it would have been a very different story.

After only a couple of hours though, once we could see the fires would be tamed, we almost immediately began giving thanks. That no-one was harmed. That none of the 4 houses we have restored were touched. That we have such an army of volunteers in our local town and from other Bombeiros in towns over an hour's drive away, had dropped everything they were doing that day, and came immediately to our aid. That they stayed with us with their trucks for the next 2 nights keeping vigil over the land. That I slept outside with 4 fireman on our veranda!

We are also, ironically, thankful that we are now a little safer here. The fire cleaned the forest of all the brittle, dry, resin filled bush or "mato" on our neighbours land around our valley. It will be years before it can grow into the danger that it was. Now, perhaps even this Spring coming, we will see the forest begin to burst forth with life. The small lavenders and gorses will have the sunshine and space to flower in abundance. And enough pot ash to create a spectacular colour explosion we won't have yet seen here. That's something to really look forward to.

Sadly we lost our apple and pear orchards. But we hope they too will grow back again. Our neighbour José Matteus said the trees might return if we cut them at the base just above the graft. We'll see. We can always plant more.

So this week, we stared our deepest fear straight in the face. And marveled at the way our heroes in the Bombeiros and our community gathered and acted to save us. We will never forget. Truly we are blessed beyond words.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.  Namasté.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Monastic Adega

Hey ho happy summer. While we've been running some lovely retreats this month, it's also been party time in this part of Portugal. Oleiros had its Feira do Pinhal 2012 extravaganza, where for 2 weeks 50,000 people come to our town of normally 4,000 to spend a few evenings with family and friends, shopping at the huge outdoor arts and crafts market, savouring the culinary delights of the local restaurants, listening to 2 stages of live music and watching the local firework company show off their world renowned displays.

And every village for miles also has its own 2 or 3 days of festas where the sounds of accordions resonate through the valleys into the wee hours of the mornings. It's a pity River and I have not been able to revel in this party season as much as the last few years, as we need good restorative sleep to look after, teach and massage our guests here.  Josh and Ellie spent the Feira do Pinhal sleeping over at friend's houses in town, so they were happy dancing til 6am and rising from the dead late in the afternoons.

In a few days all the annual kerfuffle will settle down and we'll return to the quieter rhythms of forest life. But I wanted to put this little season in context. Because at the same time we have also finally finished restoring the last of our stone houses, the Adega where one family in this valley used to make 4000 litrres of wine each year. It is now home to Chris and Anette from Denmark who will be living with us a while to deepen their practice of Suikido. They have worked really hard helping us turn the old Adega into a beautiful sublime monastic living space.

This tablet contains the 3 elements of Suikido. Sui meaning water, fluidity, formlessness. Ki - life force, vitality, spirit. Do - path, way, life practice. Chris found the stone nearby the Adega and painted the characters the other week. As you turn the corner and see the tablet at the base of the stone entrance steps, it looks like it could have always been there. For those who have visited Vale de Moses you'll know that the terraces down by the river and apple orchard have a timeless quality. The rest of the world feels a mighty long way away. The invitation to be still and reflect, resonates in a way that can only be described as "elemental", surrounded as you are by forest, water running over a small fall in the stream and hand carved out bedrock everywhere you look.

With water gravity fed and solar heated on its way from a very old Moorish water mine 200m above the valley, without electricity using only candles and olive oil burning lanterns, a small practice space in the cavernous bed rock basement and 2 futon bed platforms made with wood from the old wine vats.

A big thanks to all our lovely Yoga Helpers, Tammy, Evelyn, Rebecca and Xana who worked so hard in June clearing out the space ready for restoration, and to our neighbour João Antunes and his sons Jorge and Filipe for helping us lay the ochre pigment coloured practice floor and turn the old grape foot pressing tank into an outside shower that doubles as irrigation for the orchard.

So there we have it. After 4 years we have finally finished the restoration of all 4 houses at Vale de Moses. And somehow this last one hints towards the direction that life might be taking here. A little more monastic. Coincidentally (!), in September we hope to also be hosting for a few days 4 more "monks". Nick and Juliette from the UK and 2 Bangladeshi Buddhists on a study trip from a Sri Lankan orphanage where they work. It will be a pleasure to welcome them into our home in the forest.

"A monk (from Greek: μοναχός, monachos, "single, solitary"[1]) is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decided to dedicate his life to serve other living beings or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy." Wikipedia.

A few photos below from our guests here this month. More to be found on our Facebook page. Enjoy.