After moving to south west Portugal 10 years ago, Rudolf started a farm in order to become as self-sustainable as possible, coincidentally discovering something which he hadn’t even contemplated before….the appeal and potential of communal living. Creating
a respectful self-regulating community
whilst accommodating a constant flow of people is quite a challenge, but our host of the month has been able to achieve that and more besides!
It was the best adventure I've ever had. My stay began with a sign saying "welcome" and a message "come in and meet some people..." I will never forget how this labyrinth-like paradise amazed me...it changed my view on life itself...No one actually cares what do you wear and how do you behave, you just get a chance to be yourself no matter the circumstances and still - everyone cares for you.
Today we are very happy to find out a little more from the man himself.
Hello there Rudolf! Thank you for joining us today from a truly beautiful region of Monchique in the Algarve!
Happy to be here!
Could you tell us a little about how the community began?
Yes, well I arrived here about 10 years ago. I had decided that I wanted to live off-grid in nature, just as people did 200 years ago. But it was hard on my own, especially in the summer when there is no rain. I had to go out and find work to support myself. In the meantime the garden wasn’t really growing. Nothing was working. I needed help on the land and I began to look for volunteers to give me a hand. I realised that life was better with more people around, and not just to help in the garden, but in all areas. We began to make pizzas, and realised that people wanted to come here and eat them. I started hosting Workawayers and I found out that they are nice people with different qualities - who all contributed something. The pizza night gatherings grew and grew and evolved into a huge party event! This became a source of income for the community, a way to support and feed itself.
Then even more people started coming, we had to do build a kitchen and toilets in order to accommodate the people. Sometimes we even have up to 70 helpers at a time and it became more of a social thing, people started hanging around and playing music in the evenings. It transformed into a really nice atmosphere - a fun traveller vibe with people from all around the world. I didn’t plan it out but somehow it all just came together!
The freedom you get here is like nowhere else, you can choose between many types of jobs like gardening, taking care of animals, cleaning, construction work, cooking in the big and well equipped kitchen, designing the stages for parties and much more. You are mostly your own boss and can express your creativity in many ways.
So, what’s your favourite part of being a Workaway host?
Living and working with people together in a natural way is the perfect thing for me. Through Workaway, I’m able to bring people together from all over the world with all kinds of skills!
From the feedback many Workawayers describe their stay as an adventure and a unique social experience. Why do you think that is?
Yeah, well many of the people who come here are young at heart. In many ways being here gives the chance to experiment and try out a new way of being.
Some of them come with mental health issues and it is good for them to get up early and have things to do. Gardening is one of the best things you can do to combat it; it gives you a focus and the satisfaction of seeing the garden grow. Also, apart from the daily chores there is always something going on: yoga, jam sessions and as the bar opens every evening for residents we have quizzes, karaoke, poetry readings...whatever anyone feels like doing. Each volunteer brings with them different skills and experiences so there are a lot of opportunities for workshops and sharing knowledge.
...all the aspects of your daily life are within your reach to influence. It is a place you can visit and leave for the unique social experience or stay longer and shape the world you live in. It can offer an incredible opportunity for learning, as in there everybody can be anything if they're willing to give it a shot.
I know that one of your main aims is to become self-sustainable. Could you tell us more about this?
Yeah, it’s a hard process to be completely self-sustained and it's going to take a lot of years. At the moment we produce between 50-60% of our own veggies, the rest we buy from a local farmer’s market. I would like to be able to grow more, in fact we have the space, but the soil isn’t right to grow everything we need...potatoes for instance. We have planted olive trees and fruit trees, and we make our own jam and breads.
If the garden is built from the heart then you’ll have something special to take away - even if the growth takes time. So never give up, always continue. It's important work, caring and sharing your knowledge with people around you and putting your all into the project. And then it makes everything amazing, not only the garden but later on the community as well.
It is a (more or less) self contained miniverse ...an intense place socially, as it involves sometimes 50 people or more sharing a home, making everyday eventful and interesting. Life is very high paced, revolving around a weekly cycle of hosting a party on the weekend and "homemaking" the rest of the week. The place is the backdrop for thousands of stories taking or having taken place, involving love, conflict, intrigues, friendships, growth, and other elements that make good stories good.
What do you love most about having a constant flow of Workawayers to help out?
The fresh energy! The volunteers are full of enthusiasm and “good vibes”. They come ready to create and we just need to find them an outlet for them to express. Without Workaway, this place would not have become what it is now.
There are a lot of great moments we have every single day. It brings so much joy to work and live with so many people from all over the world. The volunteers learn a lot about each other and gain social management skills. Because of their teamwork and communication, they can learn to adjust and work together. I’m proud and thankful that people keep coming!
All kinds really. We get a lot of young people taking a gap year or on a holiday break, a lot of people in their 30s as well as older people too. We have a family who is living here in a mobile home. Families are very welcome as they bring a lot to a community. In fact, the plan is to set up an EcoVillage for families, artists and creative people.
There are 5 permanent residents, but there is a constant flux of people coming from between 3 weeks to 3 months. In winter there are usually 30 people, but in summer it can reach up to 60.
Do some people find it difficult to adapt to this way of life?
We have had one or two incidents of people leaving after a few days, but this is very rare. Not to say that we don’t ever have difficulties. Like I said, we live like a family and sometimes there are tensions which need to be resolved. In fact sometimes we’d also run meetings where we discuss separately any specific problems some people might be facing, or have observed within the community. These meetings are led by a woman who lives on-site in a tipi, she is like a mother figure and shaman and anyone who has any problem can go to her for guidance. She also organises therapeutic sweat lodges as well as health advice for those who want it.
The best thing about it is the bond you make with the people here. You see everyone at their best and at their worst. Everyone here is so real, and just themselves. Most people here are like minded and therefore accepting and warm.
What do people do in their free time?
The beaches of the west and south of Portugal are closeby. There are many pretty little villages in the area as well as mountains, rivers and streams. The land is 14 hectares, so there is a lot of potential.
In the evenings there's a fun relaxed atmosphere and we have things organised like movie nights, game nights, quiz nights etc. Once a week we have a welcoming party for new people with an open mic, poetry and jam session! Then there is our weekly pizza party, and everyone learns how to make pizza and we share it together. Saturday is a completely free day and Sunday is only for any necessary cleaning.
Be aware! Going there means risking getting such memories as swimming in the forbidden lake; walking up the mountain with the whole community just to see the sunset, while singing songs with a guitar; cuddling on the floor during movie nights; most hilarious pop-quizzes ever made and of course the best- pizza party with a lot of working and having fun at the same time!
Your evening events and pizzas seem to be quite popular. Would you say that it is an integral focus for your community?
Yes, everyone helps to prepare for it and make it as magical and fantastical as possible. We have DJs, music, drumming, dancing….so much going on, it is like a festival! We now also open on Wednesdays too, for Vegan Burger Night, but for a much smaller crowd. Volunteers who like the idea of performing live at the Friday event can try out their talent on Wednesday and if they are good enough to be part of the entertainment they can be included in the programme. With both artists and musicians working together there is so much creativity, sometimes I even cry when I see what they do, it is really beautiful!
Moreover, these events are essential as they are the only source of income we have to be able to provide for the community.
So, how did the restrictions imposed over the past year impact the community and are you now beginning to see a way out of it?
Last year I lost all my money. Volunteers who I had agreed to stay months earlier arrived in March, just before the lockdown. This meant that we had people to sustain but with the events cancelled, we had no income any more. It was a tough year. In the last few months we have been able to open up our doors again, but very slowly. We live in an area where there are a lot of people living in the mountains who the authorities see as hippies who don’t respect COVID restrictions. We have to be careful and make sure that people who come to our events have a negative COVID test and wear masks. This is not necessarily a welcomed move for some customers, but we have no choice as we do have to listen to different points of view and try to understand each other’s needs. Hopefully soon things will be running as they were before.
May the party culture return to centre stage again!
What’s the one thing you’d like every volunteer to take with them when they leave?
To respect each other, animals and nature. Learning to respect people, all kinds of people no matter their background or status. Learning to communicate. Workawayers also learn to be socially aware, to speak up for themselves and these are social skills they can take with them in life to become more socially competent. And that’s important for all of us. To be there for others and to be responsible.
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