The beginning of a new adventure starts here. My first travel volunteer experience. Living on a farm, in a yurt, in the mountains of Portugal.
How everything started
The idea of traveling through volunteering came from my burning desire of traveling the world. I had to make this happen somehow even though I did not have the sufficient, or what I considered to be sufficient, finances to travel. Prior to taking this step I have been thinking what would be the best path for me. A path that allows me to travel while creating content without having to worry about food and accommodation. Knowing that I have the power at my fingertips I started looking online for volunteering opportunities that align with my vision. I found different sites, listed here, that are great for contacting with hosts.
At the time I was in Alicante, Spain and was looking for a warm place that I can spend the winter months. And I just had the idea of visiting Portugal. It’s a warm country, never been to it before and only heard good things about it. I posted a message in several Facebook groups and soon after, I found the place where I would spend the next 2 months. I, also, messaged lots of people on the sites mentioned above, but not everyone replies when you want them to. Everything takes time. Once I knew the day of my travel, I booked a BlaBlacar from Spain and there I was starting my first solo travel volunteering experience in Portugal.
Oh well, it just happens that I forgot a very simple detail, that winter is coming. While Portugal is extremely nice and great to explore, when it’s raining daily it’s kind of difficult to be outside. Although, in the south does not rain as much as in the north. In my mind, I still had imagined myself living by the sea in a warm climate during winter, just like while I was in Alicante. As a result, I mostly packed summer clothes ?. Before leaving Spain I bought a swimsuit instead of a winter jacket.
My first travel volunteer experience
I reached the city of Portimão in the south of Portugal in just 10h from Alicante. Using a car sharing ride is fast, cheap and more comfortable. I spent the night in the city in a very nice hostel, Alameda, located exactly in the center of the town. It’s a very clean and beautiful hostel with lovely staff. There are lots of vegan places around within walking distance. The next day I went to the beach, which is around 30 min walk. And to my surprise the water was freezing. Nobody warned me of this. The whole Portuguese coast is bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the water is cold all year round. The beaches are incredibly wide, wild, and clean with nice soft sand.
In the evening, my new host, João, came to pick me up from the hostel and we went to have dinner and talk. It was already night when we drove up in the mountains to my new home. I couldn’t see anything around, but we were going up in altitude. I could see some scattered light here and there. Once we left the national road onto the last bit that was taking us to the farm, the road started to be really bumpy.
When we finally reached and I got out of the car, the night view was spectacular. The city that I just left, Portimão, was beautifully shining its light from some 27 km away. The quietness of the mountains, the sound of the trees, the wind, the birds were all present and alive. I remember the air was a bit chilly, but not much compared to the city. At the beginning of September I was still in summer clothes. The night sky is so beautiful and full of stars. Something you don’t see in the city with all the lights.
We took my 2 small suitcases to the yurt and prepared my bed. It was my first time ever sleeping in a yurt and I was fully enjoying the moment. The first night I felt a bit cold because I did not put enough mattresses and sleeping bags. I solved this problem the next day and used all that was available to make a double soft and comfortable bed. Never felt cold after. The yurt was built with sustainable local materials. The floor was wood and cork. There was no electricity in the yurt, but I had a lamp that I was charging in the sun during the day and using at night.
I remember the first time that I made a fire in the yurt. Oh my! It was 2 AM. Yeah, I don’t know why I was still awake, but, regardless, decided to make a fire. What a disastrous moment. I filled up the yurt with smoke ? and had to stay out for like 20 minutes, maybe more, waiting for the smoke to go out. After the first fire, I never had a problem again with smoke. The problem was that the tube for the smoke to go out was closed. I realized that, but too late. You can see in this image the yurt where I slept for almost 2 months.
The next day when I woke up, I could see what the place actually looked like. I was in the heart of the mountains surrounded by eucalyptus trees and all kinds of small animals, lizards, snakes, flies, mosquitos, birds. You know, the usual ?. The place is absolutely beautiful.
Over the course of almost 2 months I did lots of things. The agreement was to work for 4 hours a day from Monday to Friday. And enjoy the rest of the time to explore, go to the beach, make new friends, learn new skills. While I was there I started first preparing the land to make a small garden that you can see in the picture below. I planted some salad, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, thyme, basil and eggplant. The kitty, though, was my number one assistant and helper. They are so funny and smart creatures. One of them started to dig a hole right next to the salad to pee then covered it ?
Living with 5 cats was super fun. Loved to play with them and observe them. Also, took so many pictures and videos. You can see some below.
There were volunteers from different places of the world that came to the farm. Places such as, Hawaii, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Portugal itself. It’s always exciting when meeting new people, cause everyone has an interesting story and things to learn from. I remember in the evenings we would gather in the kitchen, make a fire, yummy food, relax and talk about life. Every day was different.
On the weekends we would go with João to the beach, to surf, for those that know ?, not me though. I would be taking pictures, hike the rocks and sleep on the beach. My favorite thing to do ?. The ideal thing is to have a car to explore and get around every time you have the chance. Since the farm is located in the mountains you feel like you are isolated from civilization. Which is not something bad. It’s a great place to meditate, work on your self discovery, connect with nature and world travelers.
In the mountains of Monchique, the weather can be very different from the city. Once the autumn starts to set in there would be more rainy, windy and foggy days. It is difficult and tough to work in these conditions so the best way to volunteer in the mountains anywhere in Portugal has to be from spring to late autumn. This is the best time to enjoy the amazing weather.
The farm was on the way of becoming self sustainable. It was running entirely on solar panels. On the rainy days we would have to cook with gas, use candles in the evenings and of course no laptop or phone cause there was no energy to charge. I wrote this post about the many challenges that I faced while living off the grid. Luckily, there were not many days of rain while I was there and was able to enjoy the nature and the sun.
João was an incredible host and he provided us with everything that we needed. The food he was buying was 90% organic and we were cooking vegan food. We had an abundance of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds. The property has 2 yurts and a tipi that you can see in the night photography picture above, one big kitchen with a sitting area and the showers and dry composting toilets near.
Overall, my first travel volunteer experience has been amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better host and place. If you are looking to volunteer check these sites. There are tons of experiences to choose from. And I promise you that you learn something from every volunteer experience. Go out there. It’s not as scary as you might think. It’s actually fun and educative. This is practical life experience that is actually useful and most probably you will be using the skills that you learn, again and again.
What I learned from this travel volunteer experience
- That eucalyptus grows like crazy everywhere in Portugal. While it’s great to make essential oil, timber and honey production, it is highly flammable. From the north to the south, Portugal is invaded with eucalyptus.
- To really appreciate more what I have and the people in my life.
- This is something that I already know, but I thought it would be nice to mention it since I met people from the both sides recently. So, we are all vulnerable, sensitive and emotional beings. And that there are two types of people. The ones that have solved their emotional and trauma issues from the past and others that get triggered very easily due to their unresolved issues with themselves and past events which still control them in the present. Be kind and patient with everyone. We are all at different stages in our life journey.
Don’t let other people decide your life path. If you want to go out there and explore, now it’s the time. People are not bad, the world is not scary. Show love, care and smile often. And you will get in return tenfold. You can embark on your first travel volunteer experience right now if you take the action. The power is in your hands. What are you going to do with it?