The radio silence of the last month marked a period of intense contemplation, which resulted in a u-turn for the ‘mothership’ and me. As I write, I am in Wales. I arrived from Ireland yesterday.
I went to Emerald Isle to investigate building the Earth Collective there, a self-sufficient, community eco project. I fell in love with Ireland, in particular, the south-west. I found a tribe of like-minded souls, growing their own food, living mostly off-grid, spiritually aware and cognisant of what is really happening in the world. And we had some memorable times.
Having cycled most of West Cork looking for the right location for the project, I narrowed it down to one of three spectacular, unspoiled valleys within reach of the coast. I dropped flyers in letterboxes, knocked on doors and met many interesting characters (both indigenous and interlopers), proving once again that you should never make assumptions about anyone based on their appearance, or that of their house. Eventually, I located a parcel of land which seemed to fit the bill. Finding the owner was another matter. No-one knew, or maybe they just weren’t telling?!
A search at the Irish Land Registry provided a name and, by asking around, I discovered that the person had died a long time ago, though there had been no change to the title deeds. A distant family member was grazing sheep on the land, and he was not willing to sell. This is not uncommon in rural Ireland. There are often family complications (and feuds) associated with land ownership, coupled with an irrational reluctance to sell. I think the latter probably goes back to the famine, and also the fact that the Irish haven’t owned land for very long (only a hundred years), given British occupation before that. All very frustrating, and an extra challenge I hadn’t anticipated.
Another issue, in the last few months, has been the rain! Day and night, relentless, for what seemed like weeks at a time, pounding the roof of the mothership and flooding the local area, with few breaks to go cycling. I was beginning to wonder if I should re-assess the challenges of building an Earth-ship’esque community in such wet conditions. Coupled with this, was the planning challenge. I had gained an understanding of the issues from a lengthy trip down that particular rabbit hole and talking to many people who had been through the process. But the real kicker was the massive allergic reaction I experienced, on repeated occasions, to toxicity from spraying the skies above, as relentless as the rain, and exacerbated by it, as it was brought the poisons to the ground. The sneezing was so violent I thought I might break a bone. I couldn’t breathe at all through my nose (which made it difficult to swallow), and my nose ran like an open tap, for a day or two at a time, consuming several boxes of tissues in the process. In addition, my eyes were itchy beyond belief. In fact, during one sneezing episode, I ruptured something in my nose, and am still recovering.
This was a shock. I am in robust good health. I have been all of my life. It’s not by chance. I take good care of myself and always intend for wellness. But with such a toxic cocktail in the air and no way of avoiding breathing it in, my body was in crisis, doing its best to rapidly detoxify. It was clear I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. I had earned my freedom, so I could go anywhere. The question was where would it be least harmful to my health and suitable for the Earth Collective project?
I had to consciously detach from my love for Ireland, and step into a place of neutrality, to make the decision. The answer was clear. Portugal. This had been my Plan A, but I didn’t feel able to take on the extra challenge of a foreign language. I was entirely on my own, at the time, with just the seed of the idea. Things are different now. The project is more developed. I have made connections with people who can support it, and others who are interested in participating. And finding my feet in a new country, in a short period of time, has been a positive experience. While the Irish landscape is not dissimilar to the UK, the language is the same and they drive on the same side of the road, there are enough differences in other respects to prompt some significant readjustments. All in all, I am further down the track, so I am ready to take on a bigger cultural difference.
In fact, I went to look at the northern part of Portugal five years ago, when I first contemplated living outside the UK. But I was still immersed in my previous life, and the Earth Collective wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. I was thinking of moving on my own, when I sold my farm. I loved the countryside and the people, and felt I would be very happy there.
After making the decision to turn the ‘ship’ around, I had the daunting task of telling other parties who are interested in the project, who had visited Ireland to meet me and view the area. The worst scenario was that no-one would be keen to change tack. Thankfully, most support the move to a warmer climate. Then there were farewells. I was touched by the number of people who wanted to meet up before I left, so a busy social time ensued, in addition to planning the trip back.
Somehow, I manifested a calm, dry day to sail, in weeks of foul weather on both sides of the water, exactly as I had done when I came over. All went to plan, and I arrived within 2 minutes of the ETA I had given the campsite. But it wasn’t stress free. I started out in the dark at 7am, which involved hitching up the night before and working how to avoid putting weight on the truck overnight. I had to negotiate an obstacle course to leave the campsite. Even though I walked my exit lines several times the day before (using my show-jumping experience), nothing looked the same in the dark. And a warning light came on in the truck before I arrived at the ferry. It remained on all day and required me to think of contingency plans whilst driving, should the proverbial sh-t hit the fan!
Coming off the ferry at Fishguard, I planned to fill up with propane gas at a petrol station in the port (garages with pumps are few and far between). However, as I approached, I realised I wouldn’t be able to get close enough to the pump from the direction I was travelling in, so I had to drive on for a mile or so, until I could find somewhere to turn around and approach it the other way.
Then, I needed someone to stop the traffic for me while I reversed back into the main road. The only person I could find was sitting in a car nearby, drinking his coffee in peace and quiet. He had a disabled child on board, but managed to sneak out for a few minutes to help me. Gratitude! Getting out of Fishguard was also an ordeal. The road was tiny, with parked cars on both sides and oncoming traffic jostling for position with me. The road snaked up the side of the cliff (restricted to 20mph, the new Welsh speed limit in urban areas) before heading off up the coast. I thought I was done with white-knuckle rides after Ireland, but I was wrong!
Nonetheless the route was stunning and I felt a strange elation at returning to the land I had said a permanent goodbye to, a few months before. Actually, I don’t think it was so much about returning to the homeland (because, to me, home is where I am living at any time). It was probably more about completing the first leg of the journey to realising the Earth Collective vision. I wouldn’t be heading to Portugal, without the Irish experience - all I learned, the unsurpassed beauty of the land and the amazing people. Just the day before, I had been disoriented and a little disappointed. How quickly things change. Perhaps the catalyst was the awe of the infinity view from the ship’s deck and the shoal of dolphins that magically appeared alongside in a display of gymnastics.
In a few days time, the mothership returns to HQ for a service. Then I start the process of applying for a Portuguese residency visa. The excitement is building. Bring it on!