..... and possibly our most unnerving travel experience thus far.
08.01.2009 - 12.01.2009 5 °C
With out budget taking a hammering on account of too much socialising, Glenn (the Minister for Finance and Built Environment ie. budgets and accommodation) suggested to Bec (the Minster for Tourism, Sustainability and Health ie sightseeing, food and mingfoot) that to rescue the budget we need to essentially live somewhere for free for two weeks. So Bec set about researching some work exchange programs with the idea of working on a farm in exchange for our food and accommodation. Good in theory........
After registering our interest on a few websites, we were approached by a woman in Portugal who ran an 'animal rescue charity' on her property. We'd pay 20 euro per night for all meals and accommodation and in return we'd look after some animals and some orange trees. Great, we thought. Nothing like a few weeks of wholesome work to cleanse the soul (and the liver). So we flew from Dublin to Lisbon and took two buses to the middle of nowhere, arriving by taxi to the property at about eight o'clock at night.
On arriving we were enthusiastically greeted by an AmeroEnglish couple of about our age who looked as though they'd not been in normal company for quite some time (they'd arrived three days before us). We met the British owner of the property, a British couple running the property and the Portuguese neighbour from down the road who spoke no English. There was a roast on the table and loads of wine.
The next morning we woke up to find very little food in the house and our new AmeroEnglish friends took us on a tour of the 'animal rescue charity'. We're not sure that the animals had been brought into a better situation. BellaDog was locked in a cage the size of a small car and was up to her ankles in her own faeces. Likewise Jack the horse, whose grumpy personality meant he was largely ignored. Darling JennyDonkey looked like she was about to have twins, but was most likely badly malnourished and riddled with worms. The Forgotten Seven horses in the back paddock were poorly shod and left to fend for themselves with not a scrap of food. Cash was clearly scarce and the animals not provided with their basic food or health needs. Most likely, the owner of the property went into it with good intentions but lacked the know-how, funds or motivation to be fair to the 'rescued' animals. An internet search of the owners name turns up pages exposing involvement in horse fraud in the UK.
Bec and Jack the Ass
The weather was abnormally cold and the house was freezing. Our days were spent in the orange orchard tidying up the trees and trying to gather firewood without an axe or a chainsaw ('We have no axe and you need a license to use a chainsaw in Portugal'). The owner was driving around on the spare space-saver tire on her car 'because there are no tires in Portugal' and we often ran out of gas for showers 'because there's a problem with gas bottles in Portugal'. The people running the place had no respect for each other, their volunteers or the culture in which they'd chosen to live (as evidenced by their backstabbing of each other, the theft of money and dishonest acquisition of money, and the zero intention they had of learning the Portuguese language. The Portuguese neighbour calls the owner 'la gorda' which she believes means 'the beautiful' but actually translates to 'the fat woman'). The final straw for us came one night in a display of drunken volatility with the inference of knives. The next morning we packed our bags and did a runner with the help of our AmeroEnglish friends who did a runner the next day. We'd paid 200 euros upfront for ten days and left after four. We like to think our money was used to buy food and health care for the animals but we suspect it became part of the wine and frozen french fry budget.
Portuguese orange grove
As a result of a negative review by our AmeroEnglish friends, we believe this listing has been removed from the exchange program website. In case it hasn't, please excuse these few key words. Animal charity/Portugal/Helpex/Viana. We hope to make this google-able so as to prevent other people ending up in our situation. Contact us through this website if you think you might end up at this place and we'll give you further details.
And so we ended up spending two nights in a lovely Portuguese town called Beja before heading to Seville in Spain.