Today I spent most of the afternoon picking medronha berries, which are used to make Portuguese moonshine of the same name. This was at my friend K’s house, on land her boyfriend’s family owns where the trees that have the berries grow wild and are indigenous to Portugal (unlike the also plentiful eucalyptus trees, which the Aussies brought to the country).
It was quite hard work and I have a new respect for berry pickers everywhere. We carried bags over our shoulders and these long wooden tools that had a hook on the end for pulling the branches of the trees closer to us so we could pick as many berries as possible. We had to climb up a rather steep hill of rocky, uncleared land through brambles and heather plants to get to the medrohna trees. We spent three hours picking and it went by so fast I was shocked when we got back to the house and I saw the time.
After that we drank wine to reward ourselves (and just because it’s what you do here in the Portuguese country side) and K cooked me a delicious chicken curry dinner, which included a taste of some of the homemade medronha. People here are quite good about the barter system, so you can always get a meal if you help out on a farm or otherwise provide a service to folks (which sometimes, at least in the case of Irma and her generosity with meals, is just being a good and friendly houseguest).
It was a really great day, and the dinner was a nice reward especially considering I was meant to go to dinner with my Portuguese friend tonight but, as usual, he canceled — or rather, postponed. I got a random text about switching out my surfboard for another one (I’d requested a change after a great day in the water yesterday; I wanted to try a different board) and when I sent a text back asking about dinner, he suggested next week instead. (If you remember, he called me earlier in the week to ask me to dinner for tonight.)
It was somewhat annoying and though I’m used to his flakiness by now, it’s still always a bit of a disappointment when he bails on me. But in the end, it all worked out, as K is great company and it was really lovely drinking wine, talking and eating a great dinner in her warm kitchen. She even agreed to cook a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with me if I want to on Thursday in honor of the holiday; I hadn’t given much thought to it but it might be nice to celebrate here even if it’s not a European holiday.
Other than picking medronha, I went for a swim this morning because the surf was too big. Yesterday, however, was a perfect beginners’ surfing day on Arrifana, and I spent two hours in the water with just a few other people catching wave after wave (not always standing up on them, mind you, as I’m beginning to drop in properly now, but I’m getting better).
Aldo, the helpful and friendly South African surf instructor who gave my friend Amy a lesson when she was here in April was in the water with a few of his students, and it was really great to watch him teach and surf; I learned a lot just being in the water with him (he’s one of those guys that makes surfing look ridiculously easy). He’s a really sweet guy and was bursting with pride to tell me that his wife had just given birth a few weeks ago to a son when I asked about his baby daughter, who’s now 18 months — she was not quite walking when I met her on the beach last time in April, and apparently now she is a very energetic toddler.
Now it’s off to bed with my slightly tipsy self; tomorrow is market day in Aljezur, and I told K I’d stop by to see her (she sells some of her peppers, lettuce and other herbs there). I’ll likely go with Irma, who goes there every week in lieu of buying the pesticide-laced produce at the supermarkets here.
I would have thought the Portuguese would be much more careful with the fruit and vegetables they grow — especially in this area, which is a natural park with laws for the natural habitat that don’t govern other parts of the country. Alas, Irma told me pesticide is used on most of the produce sold in the stores, and even some at the weekend markets; you have to specifically ask sellers not if they spray but when the last time they sprayed their plants was to find out who is selling organic produce.
Tomorrow night is dinner and drinks with another new friend, D, in Sagres, which I’m really looking forward to. I haven’t really been “out” out since I’ve been in Portugal, so it should be a good time to be out and about. Ate amanha…boa noite!