Where can you live off-grid for a week like 21st century Thoreau? Where can you stand as the most Western person in continental Europe? Which rocky landscape holds one of the worlds most famous unconformities? And where can you literally walk in the 125 million year old footsteps of an Iguanodon? Everyday, people like you and I struggle with these burning questions. Fear no more for the answer is Portugal.
I started my journey WWOOFing on a small, self sufficient farm near Coimbra in Northern Portugal. Not quite barking, WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), established in 1970, is a network that allows people to volunteer at organic farms across the world. Being in the Portuguese wilderness, without signal and completely off-grid was something that I was concerned about before my trip, however, meeting my lovely hosts and fellow WWOOFers put me completely at ease. Volunteering for a week on the farm was one of the major components of my trip, I was fully immersed in the local Portuguese culture and it was fascinating meeting other families who had left urban living for this Walden-esque lifestyle. The work involved cutting and carrying timber uphill as well as developing a hydropower project.
During my time off I visited a local wind farm to investigate alternative types of renewable energy in the region, took the local Schist Walk and trekked to Fraga da Pena, a staggering example of geomorphology. Overall, my time at the farm was a really incredible experience learning about life in a self sufficient community.
My next stop was the wonderful city of Lisbon. I did not spend long here but during my time I visited the Museu Geologico, a fascinating museum with stunning crystallography exhibits, geological maps of the area and countless fossils. A small drive out of Lisbon, I also visited Cabo da Roca, described by the poet Camoes as ‘where the land ends and the sea begins…’, the furthest most Western point in Continental Europe with giant granite cliffs folds.
The last leg of my journey was spent in Lagos and the Algarve. During my time there I was lucky enough to travel to Cabo St Vincent – the rocky promenade was similar to, but no less as spectacular as, Cabo da Roca. While in Lagos, the Mesozoic Limestone cliffs provided unlimited sea caves and fossils to learn about.
The final days of my trip involved two separate trips to Praia de Telheiro and Praia de Salema. Praia de Telheiro contains a famous and magnificent unconformity of folded shales and greywackes from the Carboniferous overlain by red sandstones of the Triassic Age. This was extremely exciting as it was similar to Hutton’s Unconformity which I had previously studied.
The icing on the cake was my day of research at Praia de Salema where I walked the tracks that an Iguanodon would have left over 120million years ago while having a wander across a bed of limestone.
And of quartz, I want to thank the Principal’s Going Abroad Fund for this amazing experience, I have learned so much and its been so useful putting my textbook knowledge from lectures and labs into practice in the field/rocky beach!