Amarante: Our work (Part 3)

The last three days on the worksite have been pretty light. Habitat hadn’t really anticipated having a group at all during this time, so the planned work was low.


We did manage to finish the tiling, and as much of the painting as they would let us do. The exterior of the house is cemented and painted as well, and the roof is done except for a tiny patch that is being left open until the very end so that people can access all of the wiring.


We also managed to build up some small retaining walls along the exterior, and change the orientation of the entrance a little to allow for a stoop. This is where Sarah spent the better part of her time this week.


Under the cardboard is tile that matches the wall. These are two of the bedrooms and the edge of the kitchen. Below is the rest of the same room.


We will be the last Habitat group to work on the house before it is handed over to it’s new owner, Lourdes, and her family. As you can see, there is still plenty of work left to do. The rest of it will be finished off by private contractors, so that the final product looks as good as it possibly can. Habitat’s mission is to build cheap houses for people in need, but they also put a huge focus on making homes that people will be proud of.

To close off our time here, we bought a small housewarming gift for Lourdes, and a case of beer for the contractors that had been helping. I think the construction team was trying to hide their mid-afternoon beer breaks, but it wasn’t totally succesful. Finding the hidden cooler of beer was a good afternoon game for the group.

Amarante: The Chateau

Last night we had a nice surprise. One of the sponsors of Habitat Portugal invited us out for dinner at the “Chateau”, home to two Michelin star chefs.

For dinner, we had a three course meal with wine pairings. Our first course was giant prawns in orange froth, served over fruit salad and caviar. The main was a roasted pork dish, with a layer of dark meat, a layer of light meat, and a layer of cracklin’, served with courgette, mashed yams and roasted carrots. For dessert, we had a trio of orange ice cream, chocolate lava cake and fresh strawberries topped with meringue.

All evening, we also enjoyed bottomless glasses of wine from local vineyards. Our white was light, cold and bubbly, while the red was smooth and buttery, with a faint hint of the sweet taste of port.

Amarante: R&R (Part 2)

Our third day of rest was originally slated as a beach day; however, Miguel had other plans for us. We were invited to join his youth hostel for a trip to the mountains. But, before that, we would have a night on the town.

In small cities, it really helps to have a few connections. As it turns out, Alfredo’s (one of the hired assistants on site) brother owns the local pizza joint, and the best nightclub in town. He hooked us up with private access to the VIP lounge — a bean bag and couch laden balcony overlooking the ancient church and river — our own dance floor, and discounted drinks all evening. After three hours out, our total bar bill for Sarah and I was just 18 euro.

The bus to the mountains left at 9 the next morning. The total trip out there ran about an hour and included a generous hike/rock climb. Once at the final destination, there was a bar-b-q and home made bagaço waiting beside waterfall fed lagoons. The rest of the afternoon was to be spent eating, drinking, swimming and lounging in the sun.

At least, this is what I’m told. When the hotel woke Sarah and I up to deliver our towels, the clock read 13:47, and the mountain folk were already sleeping off their meat-coma. We had opted out so that we could try and make up a few of those lost hours of sleep that we had been accruing over the last month.

I have no regrets.

I also didn’t need towels that badly.

While our team was in the mountains, we spent the better part of the day in bed watching awful movies. Not wanting to miss all of the action though, we did eventually rouse ourselves for a trip downstream to swim in the river, and for a bit of a walk through the old town.

Our group was reunited again around seven, and we went out for another fabulous Portuguese feast to close off the day.

Amarante: Our work (Part 2)

Our second stint of work was short, only two days, but it felt more productive. In the last two days we have been priming, painting, tiling and grouting. All things that are more visibly rewarding than mixing barrels of cement.

The outside of the house has changed a lot since we first got here. We applied three coats of concrete to the original brick wall: one to seal the bricks, one to make the wall level, and one to smooth the wall out.

After the final layer, we primed and painted. This is the colour that the house will be in the end. The nice thing about working in this heat is that the paint dries really fast. We can get three coats in eight hours if we time it right.

Inside of the house things have been changing rapidly as well. We’ve had three teams in there rotating through all of the rooms in shifts. Between painting the roof, tiling the floors and walls, and doing the final grouting, things are starting to look finished.

I’m not sure what our last three days will bring. Hopefuly we will have a chance to do some cabinetry or install the toilet and shower.

Amarante: R&R (Part 1)

Part of the Habitat for Humanity Global Village experience is being able to go off the work site for some cultural exploration. During our trip this year, we will have four days of Rest and Relaxation to offset our nine labour days.

Our first R&R day was also our first day in Portugal. Our host for the day, Miguel, drove us out to a hidden swimming hole that’s really only known to locals. It sounds pretty, and it was, but what he forgot to tell us about was the hour long hike in and out. It was lacking a bit in Rest, but swimming in the shade with the fish and the frogs was definitely heavy in Relaxation.

In the evening, some of us took a paddleboat down the river that runs through the city.

Miguel concluded our evening with a walking tour of Amarante followed by drinks and music at the county fair.

Our second R&R day was today. The idea this time was to see some other portuguese cities. Our final destination, Braga, was the site that we visited in 2009. Before we arrived, we made a short stop in gumares: the birthplace of Portugal.

As the story goes, there was a prince who wanted to be king, but he wasn’t in order down the family line. So, he raised an army, and beat away the competition from the surrounding lands until a new kingdom was created around him. The center of this kingdom was the castle at gumares.

After the visit and a pastry, we drove the last few kilometers to Braga, and it’s famous church, the Bom Jesus.


If it looks small in the picture, keep in mind that it’s one km from the stairs to the front door.

The afternoon was “free time” in the big city. Some people went touristing, some people went shopping, me and the other two guys on our trip went and found a local watering hole, and exposed our young French companion to the Portuguese drink Bagaço. This spirit, made from the leftover grape product after making wine, tastes very much like kerosene mixed with boot leather and moonshine. Definitely a highlight not to be missed.

We took our chasers in a lounge down the way. This was definitely a fond memory from last year. The patio is unmarked, and almost totally hidden from the road. The atmosphere is very nice. Like someones backyard, but with sofas, a bartender, and soothing trance music. without a doubt, this is the best place for a beer and a siesta that I’ve found in western Europe.

To close the evening, the group met up again for dinner. The food that we’ve had in amarante has been gorgeous, but there are a few things that we could only get in a bigger city.

We split our group down the middle, between those that have been complaining that there was too much meat, and those complaining that there wasn’t enough.

For the meatatarians, we took a trip to a rib and bar-b-q restaurant; something that is a true rarity in western Europe. Our French worker, Niko, told me afterwards that this is the first time he had tried this kind of food.

The rest of us went to the only vegetarian restaurant in Braga, and the best veg restaurant that I can remember eating at. Vegetarian lasagna, soy stroganoff, and mushroom paella filled our plates and bellies, but left just enough room for spicy chocolate pie.

My evening capped off with a photo.

As we were walking back, a few of us spotted this old guy.

Somewhere amidst the reams of photos taken today is a picture of me, and one of our team mates riding high and ringing the bell.

Amarante: Our work (Part 1)

This year we are entering the project the equivalant of one week’s worth of work after when we left last year, so there is a nice sense of continuity for our team.

Most of the work is in the finishing of the house. It’s the kind of work that you might do on a more extreme home renovation. The floors and walls are all up, and about half of the shingles were in place when we arrived. Our work involves tiling the floor, insulating the roof, painting the interior, and installing some of the larger appliances and cabinetry if we have time.

We are high in the mountains this year, with an excellent view; but, it’s HOT!! Our first day of work was more than 35 degrees in the sun.


This is the front of the house on the first day. We are working on the middle (where the family lives) and top layers (the roof). The bottom layer will be turned into a root cellar after everything else is done.


And this is our view as we work.


Lunch is held at a campsite further up the mountain. For an extra twist, this year all of our lunch is catered vegetarian cuisine.

So far, I’ve been spending my mornings on the roof trying to fit large pieces of styrofoam insulation into awkward spaces.

After three days on site, the house already looks very different. We have finished the front and back sides with smooth cement, and tiled about 70% of the floor space. The insulation is done except for one small corner, and we will be filling any remaining gaps with foam on Friday.

Arriving in Amarante.

We managed to make it safely to our Habitat for Humanity build, albeit we had no shortage of bumps along the way.

Let me back track a bit and recount the craziness that was our trip planning process.

A Long time ago, our team took a vote to decide where we wanted to go for H4H 2010, the top choices being Ireland, Portugal and Hungary. As it turns out, Ireland is for US groups only, and the only spot in Portugal didn’t fit our team vision. So, we picked a build in Miskolc, Hungary, where we would be building a home for autistic adults.

About four weeks ago, which happens to coincide with the week before my vacation to Canada, I got an email letting us know that the Danube had flooded out the city of Miskolc, and the city would no longer be able to support a build. So, we scrambled to adjust the trip to the other build location in Hungary, Varpolada.

Well, Varpolada was looking good for a while too. It lacked the Unesco World Heritage site of Miskolc, but it did come with a giant inland lake, which means beach time! Unfortunately, roughly 10 days ago, smack in the middle of my vacation, I got another email from Hungary. This time to let us know that the homeless shelter in Varpolada had decided to see other people, and would be hiring a contractor to do their work.

Getting over the “it’s not you, it’s me” emails from H4H was pretty easy, as we didn’t have much time to organize our yet-to-be-determined Plan C. We managed to get lucky, and our friends in Portugal still had a spot for us. A few thousand euro in flight change fees later, and we had the makings of a new trip planned.

With a little extra money, we would be able to make the trip just fine. We hit a bit of a snag with our accountant and his four week vacation, but I can’t exactly complain as I’m taking five.

And so, Sarah and I left PG on the morning of the 15th, and arrived (two layovers, three late planes and a missed flight later) in Paris on the night of the 16th where I picked up a giant (7700 euro) wad of cash that would bankroll the trip. As long as I could hold onto it for 24 hours, we would be in the clear.

Did you know there are pickpockets in Paris?

On the way to the airport the following morning, a kerfuffle started up behind me that culminated in a slap fight and yelling match between two older women and a young man. While I didn’t catch most of the wording, I did get the idea when the woman pointed at my backpack. Once firmly shut, the outer pouch was now fully open, and the contents were displayed for all to see. Luckily, the thief opened the ‘tampon and kleenex’ part of my bag, and not the ‘camera, iPod and wad-o-bills’ compartment.

This little adventure was bad for my psyche, but was a good reminder about the dangers of putting all your bills in one basket.

After this, the rest of the trip was more or less uneventful. Weade our (delayed) flight OK with all participants, and checked in o our hotel in Amarante. The first 12 hours have been great. We had a delicous welcoming dinner for the group last night, including mixed grill, fried octopus, salt cod, wine, “duck fish”, baked jalepenos, and the best mushrooms that I’ve ever had. This morning involved sitting on a sunny terrace and sunbathing by the river.

Tomorrow, we begin our build. It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m sure glad we’ve finally arrived.