AT THE end of last month we left Paul and Martyn recovering from the forest fire that had spread across Monchique, leaving devastation in its wake.
Thursday August 12
Two weeks on from the immediate aftermath of the fire and things are looking less dire. Martyn has been back in the UK, so I am working hard here, trying to see things in a positive light. The goats are back in their old home now and are looking a little bit more like their former selves. I haven’t been letting them out – partly because I want to ensure they are fully recovered from their ordeal, but also because there is nothing green for them to eat and no fences to contain them. My time has been spent making bodge repair jobs of various animal houses and resuscitating the vegetable patch.
Amazingly, we had two or three days of quite steady rain, something unheard of in August. The rain has been an absolute godsend, bringing back a little vigour to the vegetable patch. The tomatoes, which looked dead two weeks ago, now have lots of new, lush, green growth – some new flowers are looking very promising.
Friday August 13
In true style, Friday 13 lived up to its reputation. At the 11th hour I noticed a poster urging people who lost trees in the fire to report this to the Câmara by 1pm that day. I bombed down there, filled in all the necessary forms and provided evidence of the land I own in the form of our escritura (deeds). It was during this time that my neighbour pointed out I should have a caderneta for my land and my house – a document which clearly declares ownership and comes with a little map of the land one owns.
Those familiar with bureaucracy in Portugal know the odd brush with red tape tends to have a habit of steadily escalating in confusion and intensity until it reaches the alarming point where it is spiralling uncontrollably towards a kind of personal madness. Undeterred by the whispering in my head ‘Do nothing, forget it’ off we went to the Registo to see what was registered in my name: “Nothing, but don’t panic,” assured the helpful man behind the computer screen. Once the violent shaking had eased off, he explained that all I needed to do was go to the Finançias, collect the relevant documents and bring them back to him for registration. ‘Stop now, while you still can, it will end in tears’, urged the voices!
Lunch time was spent blocking images of homeless ex-pats from Holiday Homes from Hell and as soon as I had eaten I was back at the Finanças. After a mere hour of queuing – with only one determined queue jumper in operation – I got to speak to another very helpful administrator who told me the caderneta for the house would be available for collection in a week. The documents detailing the land split, however had never arrived – there was a problem, so I would have to go to the Instituto Geographia in Portimão to see what had become of that. She assured me that I had nothing to worry about. I hardly heard her above the voices, now shrieking ‘told you so, told you so…you’re gonna lose your house!’
To contextualise things a little, I need to go back to 1988 when we began purchasing our house. Over ten years of confusion, land mix-ups, lost documents, holidaying officials, dodgy phone lines and grim faced bureaucrats left me with no faith in solicitors and a blind fear of officialdom and pieces of blue paper. It was about this time that the voices began. Despite all this, in 1998, our solicitor, smilingly – she had just got her cheque – assured me that the land and house were ours and handed us our escritura along with a lot of other blue paperwork. I took her at her word and shoved the whole lot in a file where it has remained ever since.
Tuesday August 17
Today and yesterday have been spent dashing back and forth to Portimão, tracing our land documents. An engineer finally greeted me with a map of our land, a bill for 230 euros and the good news that I had got in just at the time when he was resolving all these old cases. Not bad really, only took 16 years to sort out! I am now recovering from the trauma of it all and look forward to receiving the appropriate documents once they have visited Faro, returned to Portimão and then been sent up to Monchique. Now adept at looking for the positive experiences in all situations, I can report a new-found confidence in my spoken Portuguese and a respect for the people who work in these institutions. Every single person was extremely helpful and kind, which made a harrowing ordeal a little less traumatic. As for the solicitor who should have sorted all this out years ago, she returns from holiday at the beginning of September and will find me in her office putting the dampers on any holiday glow!
Wednesday August 25
All is going well on the farm now, and the bleakness of the fire seems a distant memory, despite the charred reminders all around. The goats seem back to their former selves, and the chickens, turkeys and geese are putting on weight nicely for the winter. The vegetables have recovered amazingly from the ravages of fire and are producing a bountiful harvest. We now have melons, tomatoes, beans and sweet corn to pick, along with some sacks of potatoes ready to give to the piglets we will be acquiring in early September. All of the fruit trees we planted earlier this year are growing new green shoots and we have a couple of kilos of peaches about a week away from picking. How’s that for positive?