Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Most Memorable Trip: At a friend's grandparents' farm!!

I am sooooo lucky. One of my best friends in CIEE was a Portuguese-American girl with grandparents who still live in the north of Portugal. Not only that, but these grandparents are farmers, growing both grapes and olives. That is why during November (the time of the olive harvest), I was lucky enough to take a trip with my friend to see them and help them on their farm! They live in a small town outside of the small city of Viseu in northern Portugal. We left Friday afternoon to get there in around 3 hours later by bus, not leaving until around 4pm on Sunday. This was definitely the most memorable experience of my time in Portugal. We arrived later on Friday, so we didn't do much, but we planned to work a little the next morning. I obviously won't put up any pictures of the inside of their house, but despite it being a newer house (they had built it themselves in the 90s) it had a very traditional feeling on the inside. There were lots of religious pictures, pictures of family, china cabinets.. exactly what you would imagine a Portuguese grandparents' house to look like. The house was 3 floors, the top two floors had big kitchens with traditional looking fireplaces in the corner and a big table right in the center. The downstairs had 2 kitchens that opened into the yard with a big picnic bench outside the door and corrugated metal shelter over it. They used the front one the whole time I was there, which looked over the road to the house. They were in the mountains so you also had a view of the valley from that kitchen. Inside was an old fashioned, black, wood burning stove where they cooked everything. The driveway way covered with a grape arbor where they grew some grapes, and the house was on a small piece of land that was terraced and where they had vegetable gardens in some parts, and also areas with fruit trees like oranges, tangerines, persimmons, fig, peach, and also walnut trees. There was a big concrete water tank where they stored picked olives and which was covered with another arbor which was covered with a huge kiwi vine (That's right, kiwis grow on vines... I had no idea before then), and at the very back of the property they had a shed where they stored nuts and dried herbs, and a huge coop full of chickens and another enclosure where they kept a big rabbit and all her cute little babies. In the garage they kept huge vats of wine sealed with animal fat along with potatoes and onions and another water tank. Oh, also they had a concrete fireplace in the yard where they cooked some of the BEST bbq chicken I have ever had in my LIFE. When we arrived they were burning the olive branches from their harvest and it smelled wonderful.

A Persimmon tree... The leaves turn red like this and they leave the persimmons on the branches, only picking them when they are going to eat them.

View from the front of their house:

Random flowers in their yard:

Anyways, we woke up the next morning at around 7 (They had offered to let us start working at 5am which is when they start but we decided to sleep in). We drove to their land where the olive trees are by car (it's in a forest). 

Olive trees are on the left:

It was cool because right next to the olive grove I found a tree with this fruit on it: 


It's called Mendronho or Arbutus, or the "strawberry tree". I had seen the fruit in the health food store in Lisbon but I was excited to find them growing in the forest. "They can get you drunk" my friend's grandmother said. Apparently if you eat too many you can get tipsy, and they are also fermented and made into alcohol. I ate as many ripe ones as I could fine but I didn't feel anything...

Me picking them... there were a lot of thorny plants on the ground and I kept getting stabbed:

After eating a few of these we got down to business. The way in which the olives are harvested was unexpected to me. First, we laid down huge tarps under the trees we would be picking from. Then, we all took big sticks while the grandfather climbed up a ladder with a saw and cut down branches from the trees. I just have to mention, both grandparents are in their 80s and still doing this, so I guess there's something to say about how good this sort of lifestyle is for your body. Anyways, we would then take the branches that had just been cut down and wack them with our big sticks to get all of the olives off and onto the tarps. Now, I don't know if this is how they do it every single year. When I told my dad about it he kept asking how they could cut down so many branches during the harvest and still have anything left for next time. I am not really sure, but this is just how we did it when I was there. We kept doing this until around noon. We only got through about 6 trees but the grandparents told us that over the next week they had 15 trees left to go. At noon, we gathered up the tarps into bunches and then brought big plastic barrels over where we then lifted the tarps to pour the olives into the barrels. Then we hauled it all to the car. 

We took a lot of pictures:

I got some good calluses on my hand from this day:

Afterwards we went to eat lunch at a local restaurant. It seemed like the place to be because by 1pm it was absolutely filled with townspeople. My friend had told her grandparents that I liked olives so they ended up giving me tons of table olives and ordering more when we had finished the first batch. By the way, I did try a fresh olive off of the tree and trust me, it was not good. It's VERY bitter and a lot of reddish juice comes out.
For lunch I ate something called "chanfana" which is a traditional Portuguese goat or lamb stew. It was SO GOOD, and in fact the next day when we went out for lunch again, I ate MORE goat. So yes, I ate a lot of goat that weekend.

After lunch, the grandparents brought us to the local place where all the farmers bring their olives to be processed and turned into olive oil.  

The olives we picked waiting to be brought for processing:

I don't know if I know exactly how the whole process works, but first the olives are dumped into a pile in this back room, where they are brought up a conveyor belt which takes them into the front room:

Next, they are pitted:

Not really sure what the cylinders do:

Next, the olives are pressed to get the oil (?):

Finally, the oil is packed into these metal containers and shipped off: 

The waste from the whole process comes out of the roof on a conveyor belt and is put into a truck, where it is taken elsewhere to make something else (not sure what):

After seeing this I would have liked to work more that day, but my friend didn't want to so instead we explored the town while her grandparents went back to work. 

Goats! Lunch!

Random abandoned building:

Something else interesting was that that weekend the town was having a boar hunt. Earlier, while we were picking olives, we had heard a sudden canon shot and the barking of dogs off in the distance. The grandparents told us that they would be displaying what they killed in the town square at 4, and although my friend didn't want to see I dragged her along. By the way, boar in Portuguese is "Javali".

That night, the town apparently had a huge boar feast, although the grandparents were tired so we just ate one of their chickens, barbecued, at home. I don't even regret not going, that was seriously the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten. 

The next day, Sunday, we went to lunch at another local restaurant. This place was HUGE and it was PACKED. The restaurant looked like a banquet hall and was filled with over 100 people. A lot of people stared as we walked in... not the type of place where they usually see foreigners. The food took forever to come and the grandfather was getting really annoyed and sucking down wine the whole time we waited. Again, I got goat and it was delicious. We also tried this cookie cream dessert called, "bolacho". There were 2 things which I found very interesting about eating in small town restaurants in Portugal: 1) No food goes to waste. I saw many people, including my friend's grandparents, stuffing scraps into plastic bags at the end of their meal to take home to feed to their dogs, chickens, or other animals. In fact, the restaurant would give you plastic bags for this purpose. I think someone also said that the restaurant also saved scraps for their own animals.  Note; This may also be true in the USA, though I have never had this same experience in a small farming town there like I have in Portugal. On a side note, my friend's grandparents are very thrifty and wash and reuse both plastic bags and containers and hardly anything goes to waste in general. 2) And this one was *very* interesting to me, was that at the end of the meal, people order cups of coffee which come with small, skinny shot glasses of clear alcohol ("moonshine" made from the byproducts of grape production). They would then pour some of the moonshine into the coffee and drink it. My friend's grandmother was nice enough to spoon-feed me first a little bit of the moonshine alone (Woo! Strong!) and then some of the coffee mixture (actually pretty good. It's a strong flavor but the two go well together and it doesn't really taste like alcohol). It sounded funny at first, but apparently the grandparents and everyone else all brew their own moonshine as well and drink that throughout the year. 

After lunch we hung around before getting on the 4pm bus. No, my Portuguese was not very good so my friend was a translator a majority of the time since her grandparents didn't speak any English. It didn't stop me from having a conversation with the grandmother about climate change... how she had noticed that the cycle of planting and harvesting that farmers traditionally rely on was changing, and that the local trees and crops were being affected by changes as well. Of course farmers, some of the people closest to nature, would be the ones to really see these things. The weekend I was there was also the weekend of the Paris attacks, so it was interesting to hear what small town, conservative people thought of the whole thing (plot twist: they responded how you would have expected them to respond).      

Finally, we went home to Lisbon. The grandmother was very kind and let me pick huge volumes of oranges, persimmons, and kiwis to bring back, and also gave me a big bag of dried peaches and figs which they had grown and dried themselves. This was definitely something I will not forget and I am forever grateful to both my friend and her family for letting me see what Portuguese farm life is like, something many people (especially foreigners) probably rarely get to see. 


Ok, so I haven't posted anything in a while and the reason is that I got really busy right at the end of the program and also just got lazy. I am currently back in the USA for the holidays, but I am going back to Lisbon at the end of January to study Portuguese. I did not feel like the CIEE program gave enough language instruction, and that was the whole point in me going!! So I decided to rent out a dorm and sign up for a language school in Lisbon called "CIAL", where I will be taking intensive Portuguese lessons every week day for 4 hours for hopefully (assuming I get my visa) 5 months. It's probably going to be a really different experience than the first semester, as I will be completely on my own, but there are still some people from the CIEE program who I will be living close to who decided to stay on for the year program instead of the semester program, so I will have some friends. We'll see! I have high hopes and I believe if I try hard I can become good at Portuguese during part 2 of my stay in Portugal (fingers crossed)!!! For now I will finish posting about my last few months in Portugal so I can start afresh when I go back.