In a couple of hours I will be leaving the Quinta do Barranco da Estrada. As much as I look for forward to exploring Lisbon, my next stop, I am reluctant to leave. I sit on the little porch of my room overlooking the lake. I am surrounded by jasmine, sung to by bees drunk on the scent. Eight feet from my head a pair of goldfinches nest in a small tree. The only sounds are the hum of the bees and the calling of the many, many birds.
When I decided to go to Portugal I spent hours surfing the net, trying to narrow down a few locations to spend a leisurely 2 weeks. I don’t even know how I found this place. But I’m so glad I did. The Quinta runs on solar and is off-the-grid. The food is local and everyone sits together for meals with the whole family, or at least Frank and Daniela, the owners and gracious hosts. They call this place “Paradise in Portugal.” Until I arrived I thought they were exaggerating. To learn more about the Quinta, click here.
Frank is a passionate birdwatcher, and most of the guests come here for birdwatching. The Alentejo region of Portugal is a phenomenal place to see many species of birds, including the Great Bustards – the largest living flying animals. After over 25 years in the area, Frank is a knowledgable, and fun, guide. I’d never been birdwatching before, so I signed up for a tour. We got up before dawn so as to be in place near these large birds as the sun was rising.
I spent the day bouncing about the Alentejo hills and plains with eight other people, all avid birdwatchers. At first I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought the tour would be a great way to see another side of Portugal, and it definitely was. Frank loaned me a pair of binoculars and once I got the hang of how to look for and find the birds, I was hooked.
As we drove around the back roads, everyone kept an eye out. When someone would shout “Nine-o’clock! Raptor!” Frank would hit the brakes and all binoculars go up and swiveled to the left. Later it might be “Four o’clock! Something there!” And we’d all shift to the right. It was rather like a mad tea-party; it was fantastic! Occasionally we’d stop somewhere and all pile out, get out the scopes and see all sorts of beautiful birds. We’d linger until I forgot everything but the birds. Then pile in the van again, fun! We’re exploring more!
I’m unsure of how many birds I saw – I didn’t really keep track. But the highlights for me were the Great and Little Bustards, the Bee-eaters, the Hoopoes, the Storks, the Spanish Imperial Eagles, the Bonelli’s Eagles, the Lesser Kestrels, the Montagu’s Harriers, the Short-toed Eagles, swallows, and the Greenfinches and Goldfinches. I saw so many more, but I’m a bit muddled now as to what they all were.
It’s very hard to express in words the effect this interlude has had on me. When I first arrived, Frank would pause here and there and say, “You hear that, yeah? That’s the Goldfinch. And that other bit there? That’s the Spotlesss Starling.” I could be misquoting the bird names there, but the knowledge and the awareness impressed me. I have realized that there are worlds within worlds, and this visit has introduced me to a new one, permeating my old reality. Like taking the red pill in the Matrix, there is no going back. My eyes and ears have opened, and this world is a richer place.