We have moved away from the coast and headed inland. As beautiful as that Atlantic coastline is, it is also exhausting. The constant threat of GNR knocking at our door with a fine, or the hoards of campers all around us makes it hard to relax. The weather has turned wet and grey over the last few days, so our plan was to find a peaceful place where we could wait it out. We’ve found a wild camp about an hour from the ocean, in a place called Grandola. Off the bitumen road onto a dirt track leading up to an old forgotten church. There are hiking trails all around, leading in all sorts of directions. A pilgrimage path leads through here. There’s something very magical about this place. It feels forgotten about. There are remnants of human activity – old boondock buildings, overgrown dirt tracks, cork oaks with their 2-inch thick barks stripped off. But hardly anyone has come here. We are nestled in next to a tree, overlooking a forest of cork oaks. The city of Grandola is only a few km’s away, yet it feels so far from civilisation. The only sounds we hear are the birds talking to each other. Overnight it usually rains, and in the mornings it’s fresh, wet, and still. The distant sound of a woodpecker finding food or making a home in a tree. Finches perching right outside our sliding door, or looking for worms in the wet soil, with their blue feathered heads and tiny little bodies. There’s evidence of wild boars that were busy overnight, their hoof prints clear as day in the mud, ripping up the soil searching for food.

Things start to dry out as it gets warmer in the late afternoon. The air is still and humid, not a breath of wind to be felt. We go for a walk and follow one of the many dirt tracks leading to who knows where. There are splashes of yellow and white throughout the forest, light pinks, deep blues, and purples bursting through the ochre coloured mud. Spring has sprung. The path we follow takes us down to a sort of valley, and the air feels moist and dewy. It smells like fungi. The cork oaks look older here, their trunks are thick and their branches twist and turn in all directions. They look enchanted, mystical, eerie almost. Like they’ve been cursed by a witch, but that’s particularly why they’re so beautiful. Humans have figured out their spongy bark is useful to make wine bottle stoppers, cork flooring and cricket balls. So, we strip the bark with knives and axes, leaving only the top half untouched. We don’t harvest the same tree again for another 9 years, which is how long the oak takes to recover and re-grow its armour. There is a single number spray painted on the remaining under-bark, which turns a deep auburn, magenta, brown. This indicates the year the cork was harvested. A symbol of humans once again using nature as a commodity. The cork industry is dying – which means the future of these cork forests are uncertain. Soon enough, we'll probably find a new use for the land they grow on. Who knows how long these magnificent trees have left?

I love it here. This entire area is a wildlife haven for all sorts of animals. It feels rich and important. It’s not only cork oaks that grow here – huge eucalyptus trees are also scattered around. After a big rain, the air is filled with the scent of them. If I close my eyes and breathe in, I could be right back home in Australia. Portugal is so green and lush compared to neighbouring Spain; there’s grass everywhere, and its thick and healthy. Nature here gets a good drink from the all the rains coming in from the Atlantic.

In the evenings, the setting sun peeps out from behind the clouds and shows itself for only a few minutes – turning everything brilliantly golden. The place turns into a fairy garden. The sun goes behind the mountain in the horizon and the clouds turn into a swirling blend of purple, orange, blue, grey, and pink. My love is preparing a fire from the wood we collected and gets it going just as the skies light up. In that moment everything is perfect. It’s so quiet, just the sound of the fire crackling. As the sky grows darker, the sounds of the night come alive. The crickets are chirping, the frogs are croaking, the owl is hooting. I think about putting music on but decide against it, I want to hear the sounds of the night. We wrap potatoes in foil and pop them in the coals, and grill zucchini and eggplant over the red embers. We burn the first round and drop a few into the fire but cook it to perfection on the second. We drink delicious red wine and talk about all sorts of things. Climate change. Our friends. Things we want to do. Stefan writing again. Me starting a blog. Things we’ve read. What we’re thinking about.

We watch the fire until it dies out and the crisp cold air sends us inside and into our warm bed. We stink of fire and our throats and eyes burn, but I go to sleep feeling full and content. I wake in the early hours of the morning to the sound of soft rain falling on the roof, and the day starts all over again.

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