There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

North Korea, Executions, Human Rights and Our Visit

Three months ago Lynne and I spent a week in North Korea. The blog of that remains a work in progress [not any more. It was completed in late 2014], but it starts here.

The DPRK has been much in the news this week. Ten days ago Jang Sung Taek was vice-chairman of the National Defence Committee and the second most powerful man in the country. On the 8th of December he was dismissed from this and all his other posts and expelled from the Worker’s Party of Korea. His arrest at a Politburo meeting was shown on television and this was swiftly followed by his trial and execution.

Jang Sung Taek
(Copyright Yonhap News - I hope they don't mind)

What this tells us of the inner workings of the North Korean regime – other than that they are brutal – has been the subject of much speculation. South Korean news agencies were quick to link the death of Jang to the public executions of 80 petty criminals in November and of the execution of 11 members of the girl band Ponchobo Electronic Ensemble in August. ‘A new reign of terror,' they said, 'has started in North Korea.’

Oddly ‘pornography’ was alleged to be an issue in all three cases. The girl band had performed in a pornographic video, many of the petty criminals had been distributing pornography, while Jang had merely possessed pornographic photographs. I am unsure what this tells us about the North Korean psyche, but the thought crossed my mind that in a country where the most obscene act you can commit is to disrespect the leader, ‘pornography’ might not mean what we think it does.

Kim Jong Un
Is this 'pornography' in the DPRK?
Some of the reports of executions come from South Korean agencies whose reporting of the north has often been more sensational than accurate [see update at end]. That said, no one seriously doubts the execution of Jang Sung Taek. Writing in the Independent, John Everard, British ambassador to North Korea 2006-8, said: ‘North Koreans in the military will be particularly nervous. One of Jang’s alleged crimes was to plot a coup against Kim Jong-un, involving the military old guard…. I suspect that the complicity of such officers in the “plot” will now be investigated, and that some at least will be dismissed….or worse. I doubt that Jang will be the last person to die in this purge.’

On Sunday (15th Dec) North Korean Prison Camps provided the basis of an Amnesty International double page advertisement in The Observer (and, for all I know, other Sunday newspapers). I have been unable to find a copy of the full text to link to, so I have scanned a couple of paragraphs. They form part of one of half a dozen case studies and are representative of the rest of the advertisement.

Extract from Amnesty International advertisement
The Observer, 15/12/13

Is it all true? Unlike some campaigning groups, Amnesty tends not to exaggerate. They say 100 000 people are being held while other sources claim up to 300 000. The case studies come from former inmates (and one former guard) who have been released or escaped and subsequently made their way to South Korea. The North Koreans, as Amnesty admits, ‘say the defectors are lying and flatly deny the existence of any camps.’ Amnesty funds satellite photography of the relevant area and say that not only do they exist, but some are being expanded. The ‘defectors’ have an axe to grind, and there are many in South Korea and beyond who are eager to believe anybody who tells them what they want to hear. On the other hand if just a fraction of what Amnesty describe actually happened, the camps rank with the worst the world has seen. We have been to Auschwitz (and I blogged about it here) and are scheduled to visit the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’ in February [we did, you can read about it here]; I do not make these comparisons lightly.

Should we have gone to North Korea? We thought it through before we went, but the events of the past week have prompted a rethink.

We travel because we are curious, curious about the world and about the lives of our fellow human beings. North Korea is unique and thus uniquely attractive. ‘Terrible lies are told about our country,’ the guide told us just before we left. ‘You have seen the truth, now go home and tell people that truth.’ I think our guide really believed that, if we were fair-minded  and honest, we would go home and tell of the 'Worker’s Paradise’ that is the DPRK. But it is not a worker's paradise.

By not going we would have had no effect, so to justify our visit we need only to show that our selfish urge to satisfy our curiosity did not, on balance, strengthen the regime. If, in some small way, we improved the situation, then that is even better, though the effect of two people - or our whole group of 15 - can only be tiny.

We were certainly milked for hard currency, €20 for Museum entrance, €100 for the Airarang Games, €2 for a small cup of luke warm Nescafé (and Euros is the currency we were asked to pay in), so we helped finance the state. And against that….? There was little we could say to the guides, they seemed genuinely committed to a system which continually tells them it is the best there is. To convince them otherwise risks putting them in the prison camps whose existence they would deny, and I would not want that on my conscience. What we, and every other tourist, could do was show our open-mindedness and curiosity, qualities that are frowned on in the DPRK, and which, if they caught on, would inevitably undermine the regime. Travellers are the only contact relatively ordinary Koreans have with the outside world, the only access to another point of view. But was that enough? I do not know. From a selfish point of view I am glad I went (and equally glad I do not have to go again) and it would be hypocritical to urge others to make different choices, but I remain unsure as to whether we did more harm than good.

Update. The widely reported story that Kim had  Jang Sung Taek  torn apart by a pack of wild dogs originated from a satirical post on Weibo – China’s homegrown twitter service. It was picked up by a Hong Kong news agency and then went worldwide. It is extremely unlikely to have any basis in fact.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Cowpat Walks: 8 Morridge and Onecote

In March, I started the Crowdecote (Cowpat 6) post with a grumble – aimed at myself as much as anybody. ‘In the days when we all worked,’ I wrote, ‘it was easy to know where people were on a Saturday and it was usually possible to choose one when most were free. Now that the majority of potential participants have retired it has become harder to find a Saturday when everybody is in the same country, or even on the same continent, never mind available.

Cowpat 8, then, was a minor miracle; all six ‘regular’ participants walked – though not all at the same time. Francis, Alison and Brian were only available on the 23rd of November so formed the ‘Pioneer Group’, while Mike, Lee and I followed on the 30th. Both were days of bright (though not warm) November sunshine, though the intervening week featured grey skies and rain.

I asked the Pioneers for their comments. Alison’s can be paraphrased as ‘Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan, but overall it was a good experience.’ Alison is not normally so negative. I saw Brian and Francis on Friday evening. They offered some advice and then talked at length of mud, slurry and impending doom. Brian, in particular, seemed to relish our forthcoming discomfort.

We made an early start and parked on Mount Road, a lane running along a ridge just outside Leek, shortly after 9 o’clock.

Lee (left) and Mike, Mount Road, Leek
We set off eastwards with fine views north to the Ramshaw Rocks, Hen Cloud and the Roaches.

Ramshaw Rocks on the right, Hen Cloud in the middle and
the southern end of the Roaches just disappearing round the tree

The problem with starting on a ridge with the intention of climbing to a higher one is that first you must descend. We dropped into a valley with an apparently nameless brook at the bottom. The approach was muddy and dotted with molehills, but it is inappropriate to make a major issue out of these. The descent was tiresome; moderately steep, very slippery and made unnecessarily narrow by a barbed wire fence.

Lee descends to a nameless stream

Reaching the bottom, we crossed the footbridge and ascended the other side to Stile House Farm. We had climbed through a field which, though muddy and pockmarked by cattle, was still frozen so we skipped lightly over the top of the ground – insofar as I ever ‘skip lightly’. Beyond the farm we emerged into Norman Lamont’s fabled ‘sunlit uplands’, and Lee felt the need to shed some outer clothing.

The pockmarked frozen field below Stile House Farm
From here a swing left took us up to a barn, recently built and right across the path. New fences have been erected around it and an old stile led into an area from which there was no exit. The Pioneers had spent some time finding a way through, but we benefitted from their experience, following a farm track and climbing over a wooden fence.

There is no obvious path to Easing Farm....
Lee and Mike discuss the lack of obvious path to Easing Farm
.... but we had to cross another brook, and after descending by what felt like the natural route, we arrived at a footbridge – though it might have been hard to find behind summer foliage.
Lee finds the footbridge
We climbed the bank beyond. There are missing stiles in this area, while others are blocked off by strands of barbed wire. We were just outside the Peak District National Park, where walkers are more carefully looked after, but the footpaths were on the map, so they will be regularly walked. If farmers do not like it, it is in their best interests not to be obstructive but to ensure that paths are clearly signed and stiles properly maintained, otherwise walkers will wander all over their land and could damage fences by climbing over them.

Climbing the bank to Easing Farm
We turned right up Easing Lane, leaving it after 400 metres to follow a field path up to Morridge. The right of way passes through a hollow where the main stream is joined by two others rising on the hillside to the right. Brian’s advice was to ignore the official route (there is no actual path) and go round to the right staying as high as possible.

A very wet hollow below Blakelow Lane
 Good advice, but even so there were 100m where we could only proceed by hopping from tussock to tussock. The ground between was so soft it swallowed the bottom metre of my walking pole under its own weight. Had any of us had slipped off a tussock we might still be there.

We reached Blakelow Road and crossed it into the National Park. The rest of our climb was up a farm track, gently inclined but long enough to make arrival at the summit a relief.

We had intended to pause here for coffee, but the track, which ends in a muddy parking place beside a phone mast, was covered in litter - plastic bottles and cans crushed ready for recycling but unaccountably dumped here.

Turning south we continued along the broad, wet, grassy top of what is technically called the Mixon-Morridge Anticline. It was not a pretty place, the muddy sheep fields were scarred by tractor tracks and the summit was too broad and flat to give a good view into the Hamps Valley beyond.

Across the top of the Morridge-Mixon anticline
Here the temperature was several degrees lower and the breeze had a cutting edge. We eventually paused for coffee......

Pausing for coffee above Mixon
.... beside a frozen water trough..

Mike prefers his coffee on ice
We started to descend into the Hamps Valley, passing the dour old farmhouse at Mixon Grange. The path forks here, one branch descending sharply to an 18th century copper mine but we took the higher path continuing our gentle descent along the ridge.

Arriving at Mixon Grange
Views into the Hamps Valley began to open up and we could see the village of Onecote at the foot of the hill.
The Valley of the River Hamps

Approaching Onecote Grange we stuck to the footpath across the field. The Pioneer Group, however, did not. Francis wrote ‘we make no apologies for following a metalled farm road down to Onecote Grange. Here, Brian made the mistake of walking on what looked like a flat hard standing but sunk in nearly to his knees in something much more smelly’.

There is a lesson here: if you do not follow the official right-of-way you end up in a slurry pit.

We continued through Onecote to the Jervis Arms on the ‘main’ road (actually the B5053). The pub has a garden beside the River Hamps which is a pleasant spot to sup a pint in the summer months, if not November. Last week Brian crossed the garden to clean his gaiters in the river.
The Jervis Arms, Onecote

In the pub he washed his hands. Then he washed them again, but as he ate his sandwich the odour still lingered. On Friday evening he had been unsure if the slurry pit had been in Onecote or Mixon. Francis is sure it was Onecote, which is a shame as ‘Mixon’ is derived from the old English for ‘dung heap’.

The Jervis Arms, named after Admiral Jervis (a native of Stone and the victor at the Battle of Cape St Vincent - see Algarve (6) The West Coast) resembles many of the country pubs that have closed in recent years. It is, though, still open, probably because it offers well-kept, high quality beer and good food.  I can vouch for the beer but, in several visits, I have never gone beyond the sandwich menu. Today’s ham sandwich (eaten with clean and fragrant fingers) involved good bread and ham freshly cut into satisfying slabs. My grandmother’s unfailing reaction to thinly sliced meat was to give it a look of disgust and say, ‘you can still taste the knife on that.’ Two generations on, I have different attitudes to many things, but on this issue Granny knew best.

Leaving the pub we walked back through Onecote village. The name – meaning ‘remote cottage’ - was first recorded in 1199. The population peaked at almost 600 in 1821 but is now nearer 200. We turned left, back towards the southern end of the ridge, beside St Luke's Church, a handsome building dating from 1750. Had we progressed a couple of hundred metres further up the lane we would have reached Onecote Lane End. A bitter and protracted legal dispute between members of the Cook family of Onecote Lane End Farm in the 1840s came to the attention of Charles Dickens who used it as the basis of ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ in Bleak House.

St Luke's Church, Onecote
Despite the vagueness of the arrows and the missing field boundaries we safely navigated our way up onto the ridge at Hopping Head where we made the right hand turn the Pioneers missed. Francis explained that ‘the low angle [of the] sun straight at us made navigation tricky.’ After our early start we were over an hour ahead of them at this point and had no such problem.
Looking back into the Hamps Valley

We re-joined Bleaklow Lane where there were fine views over the Valley of the River Churnet, and beyond that the River Dane with the gritstone cap of the Cloud (Cowpat 4) clearly visible.
Looking across the valleys of the Churnet and Dane with the gritstone
cap of The Cloud centre picture.
We descended across the slope on well-marked paths with extant (though sometimes difficult) stiles….
Descending towards Stile House Farm
… approaching Stile House Farm from the southwest over ground thankfully much drier than we had encountered north of the farm.

Mike and Lee approach Stile House Farm

From here we retraced our morning route, down into the valley of the nameless brook and up onto the ridge on the far side, very much a sting in the tail.

Back down to that nameless brook, with the sting in the tail rising ahead
It had been a long walk, Brian had said, not in distance but in time, as every pace required the back foot to be wrestled from the mud’s grasp before it could be advanced. The Pioneers had finished in failing light. We started earlier, learned from their experiences and, by the sound of it, enjoyed a much pleasanter walk, finishing with almost an hour’s daylight left.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Algarve (6): The West Coast

The 130km of Portugal’s southern coast is a land of holiday villas and sun-kissed beaches where the season starts early and lingers long. October, far less crowded than July or August, can usually be relied upon for a succession of warm – occasionally hot - sunny days.

But the Algarve has a west coast too, 50km of it running northwards from Cape St Vincent. Mostly it is a nature reserve where the prevailing westerlies drive Atlantic breakers against the rocks. The beaches here are wilder and more remote, the haunt of seabirds and surfers - all the main beaches have their surf schools.

Surfers, Bordeira Beach, October 2013

We often spend a day on the west coast, this year in warm sunshine, but sometimes in biting wind. The information in this post is drawn from a number of trips, the first in 1982. The photographs, though, all come from the last eight years.

Cape St Vincent is usually referred to as Europe’s most southwesterly point. Most southerly or northerly are well defined, but southwesterly is not; if you head SW and keep going you end up at the South Pole. Nearby Sagres is further South, Lisbon is further west, but a glance at the map suggests it would be pedantic to dispute Cape St Vincent’s romantic if strictly unverifiable claim.
Cape St Vincent, October 2009

The cape is a high windswept promontory. There is little there except a car park, a food van boasting the ‘last burger before America’, a lighthouse and the remains of a Capuchin Monastery. Relics of the martyred St Vincent were brought here in the 8th century, but were removed to Lisbon in 1173.The monastery survived the loss of its relics, the vandalism of Sir Francis Drake in 1597 and the great earthquake of 1755, but was no match for the suppression of the monasteries that followed the Liberal Revolution of 1820.
Looking up the west coast from Cape St Vincent. October 2009

Nine naval encounters between 1337 and 1833 carry the name Battle of Cape St Vincent. The biggest, in 1797, was a British victory over a Spanish fleet in the French Revolutionary War. The British fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jervis who became the Earl of St Vincent for his troubles. Jervis (like this blog) was born near Stone in Staffordshire, where he is also buried.

The shelf-like promontory of Sagres, October 2009

 If Cape St Vincent is Portugal’s Land’s End, Sagres is The Lizard. Beyond the large village, which was established after the 1755 earthquake, is the Fortaleza. Cut off behind forbidding stone walls on a shelf-like promontory high above the Atlantic is the place where Henry the Navigator reputedly established his school of navigation. Vasco da Gama who pioneered the sea route to India (we met him in Cochin), Pedro Alvares Cabral who followed him to India, incidentally ‘discovering’ Brazil on the way – an eccentric piece of navigation - and Ferdinand Magellan, who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, all studied here. Despite his sobriquet, Henry never navigated anything anywhere, but he was, in his way, the originator of these great journeys. When he died in 1460 the centre of maritime studies moved to Lisbon and Sagres returned to obscurity.
The Fortaleza, Sagres, October 2005

In 1982 we simply parked on the coastal scrub and walked into the fort. Now there is an elaborate road system, a large car park and an entrance fee. What you get though, is much the same; an old church, a huge compass rose and a lot of atmosphere. You can even stand by a cannon and gaze across the bay to Cape St Vincent (or stand with your back to it, as I am in the picture.)

Cape St Vincent across the bay from Sagres, October 2005
8km North of Sagres is Vila do Bispo, the ancient capital of Portugal’s southwest corner and the place where the N-125 along the south coast meets the west coast N-268. When we first visited in 1982 the N-125 became smaller and bumper the further west you travelled and Vila do Bispo was an isolated oasis of civilization crouched on a rocky plateau and surrounded by dilapidated windmills. Now the N-125 is a major road and as former hamlets like Budens and Raposeira sprout holiday villas by the hundred and the tentacles of development creep ever closer, that air of isolation is fading. A 1990’s Rough Guide to Portugal described Vila do Bispo as ‘…a pretty little town with a lovely old church … [where] … nothing much happens.’ Despite the encroaching villas, that description remains largely accurate.
Vila do Bispo, October 2013

Dilapidated windmills can be found throughout the Algarve, though particularly in the windy west. Most are just stumps of brick and although a few still have their sails none, as far as I know, are in working order. Now, after a century or so of neglect, wind power has become important again and wind turbines dot the landscape, harvesting the energy of the prevailing westerlies.
Wind turbines near Vila do Bispo, October 2013

A line of windswept beaches Aguia, Castelejo, Cordama and others are accessible from Vila do Bispo on roads some of which are tarmacked. We have been to Castelejo, and maybe others, I remember photographing the surf school, but that was in the days before digital cameras and despite rummaging in the cupboards, I can find no photographic evidence.
Amado Beach, October 2005

Further north the beaches of Amado and Bordeira are also surfer’s beaches. They can be reached from the N-268 on sealed roads, but the road that connects them along the cliffs, despite its frequent viewpoints and boardwalks, has no tarmac.

Lynne and Bordeira Beach, October 2013
The village of Bordeira, as distinct from its beach, is several kilometres inland and on the other side of the N-268. Wrapped round the base of a low hill, Bordeira is a wonderfully unspoilt example of an Algarve village. There are no holiday villas here, just the old houses, well maintained and freshly whitewashed.

Bordeira, October 2013
This year we stopped for coffee in the village café where few concessions are made to tourists. Three or four locals had spread themselves and their Sunday papers (Portuguese tabloids are as lurid and fact-free as their British cousins) over the outside tables whilst the owner stood by the roadside skinning a rabbit. I am happy to report she carefully washed her hands before making our coffee.

Bordeira, October 2013
A little further on, a road running northwest from the end of the A-22 motorway joins the N-268. We often come to the west coast this way, winding through the low wind turbine crowned hills beneath the warm, fragrant pines, past eucalyptus and cork oaks, the bark stripped to head height.

The N-268 crosses the Ribeira da Cerca at Aljezur, the river splitting the town in two. According to the old Rough Guide I quoted earlier ‘… to the west of the river is the drab old Moorish town, straggling along the side of a hill below the ruins of a 10th century castle.’
Aljezur, October 2005
I have to take issue with the word ‘drab’. Making your way up through Aljezur’s charming old streets you reach the castle. There is not enough left of it to justify the effort, but the views over the old town....

Alzejur old town from the castle, October 2005
 across the countryside…
Countryside below Aljezur Castle, October 2005
…and to the sea beyond are ample reward.
A distant view of the sea from Aljezur Castle, October 2005

The ‘new’ town across the river was built 200 years ago as ‘the old site was an unhealthy, mosquito infected place.’ The mosquitoes are long gone, and the ‘new’ town is a bit dull by comparison.

Odeceixe is the last village in the Algarve. It sits below the road hunched under a hill topped with a dilapidated windmill. In the much restored village centre is a small coffee shop which sells a fine almond cake and what may be the definitive Portuguese apple cake, which may account for our repeated visits.
Odeceixe, September 2010

Keeping your nerve and driving through what appears to be a pedestrianised area but isn’t.......

The centre of Odeceixe - not really pedestrianized, October 2010 can follow a small road down the side of the valley of the little Ribeira da Odeceixe which for its last 20km forms the boundary between the Algarve and the Alentejo. At the end of the road is the hamlet of Praia de Odeceixe overlooking a large and often windswept beach.

Sometimes the sun shines, Praia de Odeceixe, September 2010

The river flows along the northern edge of the beach until it reaches the sea.

Sometime you need wrap up against the wind
Praia de Odeceixe, November 2008

Venturing into the Alentejo you reach Zambujeira do Mar, the only out-and-out holiday resort on this stretch of coast. We visited on a warm, sunny September day, but unlike on the south coast, the season was clearly over, the beach was almost deserted.....

Zambujeira Beach, September 2010

 and so was the town.
Zambujeira, September 2010
Here, having gone beyond the bounds of the Algarve, this post ends. The climate along the Algarve’s south coast is the most benign in Europe. The west coast can be warm, even in October, but the frequent wind means the climate here is ideal only for surfers.  Consequently the west receives far fewer visitors, but that does not mean it is not worth a trip.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Algarve (5): Mexilhoeira Grande and a Long Lost Cousin

This year’s Algarve trip (probably our 20th) involved an interesting and very pleasant new development.

Lynne is a keen genealogist and has traced the many branches of both our families back to at least the 18th century, some much further. Last November she was contacted by Ricky Cruz, another amateur genealogist, who had found names cropping up on her family tree which matched those on mine.

Ricky sent us family photographs of people she had been unable to identify, and we were surprised to see pictures of my mother as a child in the 1920s, my grandmother at various ages, her parents and grandparents.

John Lott was born in Llangyfelach, now part of Swansea, in 1799. He married a girl called Mary (surname so far unknown) from Llangadog in rural Carmarthenshire. They moved to the Merthyr area where they prospered, John becoming an agent for the ironworks and a tea dealer. They had three children, Hannah, born in 1826, John Jnr (1831) and Ann (1836). Hannah is my great-great-great grandmother, Ann is Ricky’s great-great grandmother, which, apparently, makes us 4th cousins once removed.

John Lott (1799-1872)
This is probably John L, but it might be someone else;
whoever it is I wouldn't cross him

Photographic evidence suggests our two branches of the family were in contact until well into the last century but then lost touch… until Ricky’s email.

We learned about each other in a series of emails. Although Ricky is technically a generation older than I am (hence the ‘once removed’) we are the same age. She was also a teacher (it is something of a family failing) and in the 1980s, when Lynne and I were broadening our horizons by teaching in the USA and Sudan, she did the same by taking a job in Portugal. I do not know if she had intended the move to be permanent, but once she had met and married Zeca the decision was made. Ricky and Zeca now live near Mexilhoeira Grande, which, as fate would have it, is not only in the Algarve, but less than 30 minutes from our regular Portuguese base in Carvoeiro. They kindly invited us for lunch.
Zeca, Ricky and 2 of their several dogs

Their house, which Zeca built himself, is a few kilometres north of the village, where the land starts to rise from the coastal plane into the Algarve’s gentle green hills. Their terrace commands a sweeping view over rich farmland to the seaside resort of Alvor, with the silver sea shimmering in the distance.

Zeca and Ricky's house, Mexilhoeira Grande
What John and Mary Lott would have made of this first meeting of two of their direct descendants is anybody’s guess. Sun-dappled terraces beside private swimming pools were something of a rarity in 19th century Dowlais – indeed they still are.

Me and my fourth cousin, once removed

I imagined them sitting beside us, him in a three piece suit with a high, tight collar, and her in shawl and bonnet, looking on with bemusement and complaining about the heat.

I am not sure what they would have made of our lunch, either. Carapau are small fish whose firm sweet flesh lifts easily from the bones; we ate them with an octopus salad. ‘Ych a fi, I wouldn’t put that in my mouth’ was the reaction* of my grandmother (and Hannah’s great-granddaughter) to the thought of eating octopus. There are times when even the Anglophone Welsh resort to their discarded native tongue.

John and Mary might have felt more at home with the chicken that followed, though Zeca’s home grown piri-piris might have left them gasping for air.

For those of us there in body rather than just spirit, it was an excellent lunch, and the wine flowed freely (though not for me, I had to drive).

We talked of our families, the Welsh, the Portuguese and the English and pointed out that Ricky (actually Erika) not only shared an unusual name (though not spelling) with my sister, but also a distinct physical similarity.  By the end I think old John and Mary would have thawed – difficult not to in the Algarve sun – and would be quite comfortable with, maybe even proud of their descendants.
Zeca picks us some piri-piri

Later we strolled through the land surrounding the house. In addition to at least three varieties of chilli (a selection of which are now (22/10/13) drying in our kitchen) Zeca has a vineyard, though he replanted** it last year so it is not currently producing.

Zeca's vineyard, Mexiloheira Grande

He showed me his winery and the remaining 200 litre barrel from the previous planting which he plans to broach at Christmas. ‘I make wine just like my grandfather did,’ he said, ‘so I know exactly what goes into it.’ I did notice, though, that he had an electric press to do the job his grandfather may well have done with his feet.
Zeca's winery

They have olive trees; the harvest starts next month and they will send their produce to the local olive oil cooperative.

Carob trees in the foreground, olives behind
Mexilhoeira Grande

The carob harvest is half complete. Despite the use of carob in many Portuguese desserts and its popularity as a chocolate substitute in the health food industry, the wholesale price is too low to make it worth employing pickers, so they are doing the job themselves, as and when they have the time and the inclination.

The carob harvest - so far

I had expected to have lunch and be driving home by 3, in the fact it was nearer 7 when we left. After a pleasant day in idyllic surroundings (oh, I know, even in paradise there are taxes to be paid, septic tanks to be emptied, etc, etc) we took our leave promising to keep in touch and meet again. I am sure we will, Ricky and Zeca are good people – of course they are, they are family.

John and Mary Lott may have struggled with the ideas of carobs and octopus, piri-piri and olive harvests - or maybe not. Perhaps we should not underestimate them just because he would be 214 and she 211. They may well have been as adaptable and open to new ideas as the brood they spawned.

*She said this in the early 1960s, 24 hours after eating octopus and saying how much she enjoyed it, and ten seconds before being told what she had had for lunch the previous day.

**Wine buff information. The vines are Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional - the usual Portuguese favourites