Raw Life Algarve Style
This is an edited version of an article that I wrote for Funky Raw magazine in 2012 about living raw in the Algarve
Having passed a good few months in various parts of mountainous Central and Southern Spain over the last few years, I now find myself in the Algarve region of Portugal. Mine is not a mission to bring raw to the Portuguese - yet - but simply a move around trying to find where I want to set some roots. I came to raw late in life but not too late to reap some unexpected benefits and enjoy some amazing experiences. 'Amazing' being qualified by the degree of cleansing I have so far accomplished!
Although I'm in the Algarve region it encompasses a large area, so I'm about 40 minutes drive from the sea, perched above a small but pretty town. Living away from the coast by even just a few miles, means organically grown foods that are not certified organic so are therefore not a horrific price. Normally the actual certification would quadruple the cost. The fresh food here is bountiful thus making it so easy to be raw. The warm weather conditions aid in this greatly too of course.
It is spectacularly beautiful at this time of year (as I commenced writing it is towards the end of January) with the almond trees frilling out daily, vaunting a mass display of snowy pink frothy flowers. Legend has it that an Arab king married a Scandinavian slave who became ill and was diagnosed to be suffering home sickness. The king planted hundreds of almond trees so that she could have her Northern snow, the petals falling are indeed like large swollen snow flakes.
Beneath these trees there lies a velvety lush green floor covering of wild grasses and clover punctuated by wild fennel, borage and my beloved nettles ( for juicing!) I have no idea of nettle season back in the UK but here it is roughly between January and April. The scent of orange blossom wafts across the fields which are planted with row upon row of these trees, currently heavy with fruit yet at the same time full of flowers, something I find quite confusing!
Eating seasonally here is extremely easy and varied. Fig season has ended now but during the 6 - 8 weeks that my 2 trees flourished, I were picking and eating 15 -20 figs a day. I tried freezing these instead of the typical Portuguese way of drying, the intention being to have them in the Winter months as a treat...they freeze and defrost beautifully, and yes I had already eaten my Winter supply well before Christmas ... no self control!!. My morning smoothie just does not taste the same without them. They are such a wonder food too! Highest fruit source of calcium and excellent for dissolving mucus (although this is thing of the past on a raw diet.)
No sooner do the figs end than the pomegranates start I do have to buy these as there are no trees to hand, but at 1 or 1.50 euros per kilo they are fantastically cheap and again so full of goodness. I'm currently living in a tiny house (a converted hen-house apparently, but they must have been happy as there is a good energy here!) surrounded by open countryside and myriad almond and olive trees with the aforementioned fig trees flung in for contrast ( most of the latter have not been tended over the years so are not very productive ).
On Saturdays the local market is boosted by little old couples who bring their goods, picked fresh that morning, and sit outside the indoor market area, taking ages to serve and add up the cost. They are however so cute in a gummy deeply wrinkled sort of way that I want to pat them all on the head. I do however solely restrict myself to cheek kissing. They have an undeniable charm and an affability - just possibly fuelled by the morning tradition of coffee and some kind of liqueur- that renders this a spirit lifting experience. They are a hugely generous people, smiling and happy, that just to watch them with each other makes me smile.
I am also rewarded for buying, by free fruits - often ones I have not bought as have no idea what they are, so thanks to this I have discovered I love diosporo - persimmons, and am shortly to try xu xu otherwise known as cayote (a vegetable) which can be eaten raw grated on salads.
I have recently tasted the most delicious squash, at less than 1 euro per kilo it gets hacked off by request...it is the moistest sweetest squash, just made for eating raw! Speaking of sweet, how about local honey at 2.50 a jar? Pollen for 3.50? It is enough to make one jig for joy ; )
Approximately a 45 min drive away is the town of Silves. This too has a bustling weekly market full of wonderfully fresh local produce. The joy of shopping here is to experience the sight of storks nesting high on the chimney tops and just sometimes catching them in flight. Fabulous!
Sadly, the nearest supermarket is frequented by many Portuguese which I find incredible as well as disturbing. By and large, the Portuguese in this area have been less infiltrated by fast food outlets and the like, but why they buy half dead veggies and fruit from a supermarket when the pulsing alive stuff is just 3 minutes walk away, puzzles me. ( My tenuous grasp of the language is not up to this detailed conversational type of questioning)
I have 3 raised vegetable beds, which to keep myself interested, I chose not to label what I planted with the result that I have been enormously surprised by lots of watermelons appearing as I do not recall planting any ...it is not the right time of year so, shall see what happens there, they are currently the size of golf or tennis balls. All last Summer I juiced bought ones, skin and all for the high silica content, and have fallen in love with this energising juice. My nails were also the best ever.
One neighbour knows much about gardening and manages to convey to me helpful tips.
I know she does not grasp the odd concept of raised beds in an area that has much open growing space, but I need to feel I have a controllable space.Too much would overpower me at this early stage of growing my own, plus I am sure I will be moving again before too long so I don't want to establish a permanent garden that it would break my heart to leave.
I have also tried hard to explain that I eat raw uncooked food but given that many who speak the same tongue as me do not grasp this concept, I am not able to get the point across and have had to make do with being understood to be vegetarian. This is met with great surprise - what no fish either?
Given the way the economy is going, the farming Portuguese are going to be even more essential than currently. Already the enlightened Portuguese are suggesting that people with land get together with others and grow as a communal project. There is also talk of a LETS type scheme, however because the rural hill mountain village areas are still very much rooted in the old ways, they at least have the capacity to cope with this austerity better than most.
For the specialist raw items I fancy from time to time (raw cacao powder, maca, spirulina), I order from the UK as they are largely unavailable here or are extortionately expensive. I did find a wonderful small raw and organic shop when in the mountains in Spain (Gaucin) which was such a delightful surprise but so far there is nothing similar here.
It is a joyous place and way to live, so much so that my constant desire to be waking up to the sea has almost but almost waned, as my love for the people here has developed. I long to be able to introduce them to the wonders of raw, but am stuck at the moment with explaining I juice my vegetables to make a drink that is good for the health. ( Tenho um machina de zumo e cada dia tenho aipo, cuentros, pepino, maca, e muito boa por saude : I have a machine for juice and each day have celery, coriander, cucumber, apple, it is very good for health )
For days that are spent in the ways of Slow ( the book ), time flashes by and I find myself completing this in March! The buds are erupting daily on the fig trees and grape vines. Living amongst nature this way and seeing the daily changes serves to remind that I am ALIVE and as full of potential as all the fruitful plants and trees around me..
Raw in any environment is a blessing in itself because of the enormous health benefits, and spiritual growth, here it is heart skippingly fabulous. If you ever get the chance to try it - jump in and do it.