Category Archives: Nature
Meet Antonio and Jose. Two great guys who spent four hours introducing us to Portugal’s cork forest. Antonio is a geometry teacher, wine maker and sculptor who studied art in Italy and now lives with his wife and two children in Redondo Portugal. Jose is an archeologist who grew up in a little village called Freixo and now lives in his wife’s grandparents’ home in Redondo. Jose will become a father in a couple of months. He is an accomplished accordion player.
Together these two intelligent, incredibly informative and talkative fellows give tours in the Aljento area of Portugal for Herdade da Maroteira Farms a fifth generation family business.
The farm was started in the 1800s by a British immigrant named Robert Reynolds. It has a huge cork forest, a vineyard, an olive orchard and raises sheep.
Tours have recently been added to their business model under a label called Cork Trekking.
Our tour started with coffee in the Herdade da Maroteira Farms office. The farm owns six dogs and Simba the beagle really liked Dave. Simba has one injured foot from when she was caught in a fox trap as a pup.
Our tour had just begun when our road was blocked by part of the farm’s sheep flock. We had to wait till the shepherd had herded them out-of-the-way. The cork trees all grow naturally. None were planted by the owner on the 900 acres of the farm’s cork forest. The forest has been here since the 1500s. The forest is separated into 10 sections and only one section has the cork stripped from the trees in any given year. A cork tree’s bark can be harvested only once every decade. Only the outer layer can be stripped off the tree. If the inner layer is damaged the tree will die. Here Jose’ shows Dave the outer layer of the tree that is stripped during a short period of time in spring when the temperature and humidity is exactly right. Cork stripping must be done expertly and people train for years to learn how to do it. It is a job that is physically and technically demanding but only can be done for a few weeks each year so cork strippers although paid well, need other employment to supplement their income. Trees are numbered after being stripped of their cork bark. This tree was harvested in 2014 so it won’t be stripped again till 2024.
Here are a few photos of the cork stripping process from Jose’s Facebook page.
I am beside a baby cork tree. Most of the trees in the cork forest are 150-200 years old and the cork is not stripped from a tree till it is between 35-50 years old. Although there are cork trees in other countries, Portugal is the number one producer of cork.
Jose and Antonio told us how good cork trees are for the environment. They remove far more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than other trees. There are no chemicals used in the growing of the trees. The bark is not even stripped with modern electric tools but simple axes and knives. Jose is a practicing archeologist so he ended the tour by showing us a series of monoliths, ancient burial sites from the neolithic period. These stone monolith structures could mark the spot of hundreds of buried bodies from a community. The bodies were buried in the fetal position and the structures looked like wombs with a passageway in front. This monolith may have provided shelter to hermit monks in the 14th and 15th century. It provided a nice reprieve from the wind and rain for us too. The day of our tour it was almost always drizzling and sometimes pouring. It was cold and so incredibly windy at times we were sure we’d be blown over. Yet we had a great adventure, not only because we learned about cork and monoliths but mostly because talking with Jose and Antonio who are widely read, thoughtful and great conversationalists….. about politics, history, culture, agriculture, immigration, education, family history, social dynamics and economics gave us a great window into life in Portugal.
Those bone dry winter months and mild temperatures are not what we have been experiencing here in Portugal. When we first arrived it was COLD!
We bundled up and went out adventuring anyway but…….. our house which is kept warm only by small space heaters was always on the ‘chilly’ side. It reminded us of the winter months in Hong Kong where none of the buildings were heated either.
Eventually it warmed up enough so we were able to go hiking and golfing in the sunshine. Then this week the rains came. The Algarve is experiencing unusual amounts of rain.
On Monday Dave and Rudy got pretty much soaked during their golf round. Tuesday night our power went out and we found our way around using the lights from our cell phones and computers as we got ready for bed. We found out later much of the community of Praia da Luz had been without power.
Wednesday morning when our friend Rudy left to go back to Canada it was pouring. After saying good-bye to him in the early morning hours we noticed there was a virtual lake covering half of our diningroom floor. Water had seeped in under the patio doors. We tried putting towels along the door frame but they were soon wringing wet. A repairman came later in the morning to fix the problem and the housekeeper came to mop up and bring us dry towels.
We went out for a little walk when the sun reappeared briefly. The ocean had big waves and it wasn’t long before thunder was cracking and it started to rain again.
Those are the chances you take when you travel and we have been traveling enough that we know we can still have a good time despite the weather. But the warm sunshine and bone dry conditions the travel guide brags about sure would be nice!
I was picking up some books at the Human Rights Museum Shop and saw this beautiful necklace. I decided to splurge and buy it for a late birthday gift to myself. I felt a little guilty about it. I really don’t need more jewelry. The cashier asked me if I would like a card that provided more information about the necklace.
The card said the necklace had been made from the tagua nut. It is the fruit of a kind of palm tree in northern South America. Each fruit has about four to nine seeds the size and shape of an egg. There is a liquid inside each seed and when it hardens it has the look and feel of real ivory. In the past tagua ivory was used primarily for making buttons. Now it is being used to make jewelry and carvings as well.
I read an interesting article about how tagua might help to save elephants because it can act as a substitute for real ivory. Only problem is the rainforests where the tagua nut trees grow are being threatened by slash and burn agriculture. If more people demand products made from tagua it may be profitable to leave those trees standing.
So now I am feeling a whole lot less guilty about buying my necklace. My purchase may have helped to save an elephant and some rainforest trees. Why buying that necklace was a positively saintly thing to do!
Last Sunday the sermon in my church was about creation. Our pastor talked about nature being a kind of book and when we are outside enjoying creation we are reading the pages of that book. It is good to read scripture but it is also important to read the book God has written with creation. That made me think about references to the created world in Scripture and so on this Sunday I am going to illustrate some passages with photos I’ve taken.
When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature- Genesis 9:15
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, – Song of Solomon 2:12
………..and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky. – Genesis 1:20
You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning- Psalm 90:5
God it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth- Psalm 135:7
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy- Psalm 96:12
You silence the roaring of the seas- Psalm 65:7
Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock-Numbers 24:21
We hiked up to the Myrdalsjokull glacier. The weather kept changing drastically during our hike. One minute it would be sunny and the next freezing and raining like in this photo with my sister. All along the way we saw these streams running down from the sides of the mountains. In some places there were so many they made a loud rushing sound. Of course Dave as usual was way ahead of the rest of us….. and was the first to reach the sign that said we shouldn’t proceed any further without proper ice hiking equipment. Since everyone else seemed to be ignoring the sign we did too and kept walking closer to the glacier. My intrepid brother-in-law Ken climbed a little further and higher than the rest of us.When we got up right close to the glacier the sun came out.And Ken and Dave hammed it up a bit for the photographer. This fellow hiker lived in Columbia for most of her life but now resides in Florida. Here she is telling Ken and Dave about the effects of the recent hurricane in her home city of Fort Lauderdale. She offered to take group photos of us. Myrdalsjokull is Iceland’s fourth largest glacier covering nearly 600 square kilometers. It is on top of the volcano Katla which erupts every 40-80 years. The last eruption was in 1918. Apparently at places the ice on this glacier is hundreds of metres thick. On our drive home from the glacier we stopped at another lookout point to see the iconic local landform nicknamed The Three Trolls. Can you see the faint rainbow off to the left?Although the constant switch of the weather from cold and rainy to sunny and warmer all day wasn’t convenient it did create many beautiful rainbowsand some lovely light effects over the ocean. We’ve only been in Iceland a couple days but I’m beginning to believe what writer Stephen Markley said is true……. “The problem with driving around in Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”
We spent time in the Florida Keys with our friends Rudy and Sue in 2014. As I have watched the news about Hurricane Irma I’ve been thinking about that trip and wondering what has happened to the places we visited. My friend Sue and I toured Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West and saw the more than fifty cats that make their home there, direct descendants of a feline that was a gift to Hemingway from a Florida sea-captain. Apparently during the hurricane a group of dedicated employees stayed behind to protect the Hemingway house and the cats even though authorities ordered them to evacuate and Hemingway’s granddaughter urged them to evacuate as well.
I’ve discovered that luckily both the museum staff and the cats survived the hurricane and Hemingway’s house was not damaged. In Marathon Florida we went for a sail on a boat our friends Ed and Millie had worked on during an earlier visit to the Keys. I have read that at one point Marathon was completely underwater and many marinas in the area look like giant shipwrecks. I wonder how our boat the Geni Green and its Captain Jay fared? Another thing we did in the Keys was take a drive down Alligator Alley. We saw literally hundreds of alligators. News reports say that thousands of these alligators have been displaced from their natural habitat because of the hurricane and some are wandering the streets of Florida’s cities and towns.
Having visited the Florida Keys the news I’m seeing about the devastation there seems just a little more personal. The Florida Keys was a terrific tourist destination. Hopefully it will be able to rebound from this tragedy and become a beautiful place to visit once again.