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Building up

Back in the day!

Back in the day!

Through sheer force of geographics we’ve always been “eco” here, long before it became fashionable, and slowly, slowly we’re always working towards becoming better and reducing our carbon footprint; I doubt there are many “establishments” our size in Europe that are so totally reliant upon solar energy even nowadays. To begin with, more years ago than I care to remember actually, our sole source of light was candles and paraffin lamps like that above … then we managed to get hold of some small solar panels – from Wales if I remember correctly – and rigged up a second-hand car battery and 12 volt lights, then we doubled it all up and became 24 volt. The light was never enough though, and trying to run a business – even a tiny one like the Quinta was back then – on 24 volts was a right headache, so over the years we slowly expanded our solar arrays to become 240 volts like everyone else, but with a huge bank of batteries, and this process of expansion has continued ever since. This winter we took another huge leap forward with a whole new array and a new inverter.

This array was going to be BIG, and to start with we had to give it a solid foundation with an 8 cubic mt reinforced base,

The "Cage"

The “Cage”

four below ground and four above, (and it’s nice to have a post with two photos of Archie, some 25 years apart),

New Solar array base

New Solar array base

and now it’s all operational, pumping out megawatts!

The new Solar Array

The new Solar Array

We also built a birdwatching hide down in Santa Clara this winter, overlooking the slow-moving river, and have had all kinds of brilliant sightings from it – Water Rails, Bullfinches, Cirl Buntings, Rock Buntings, Cetti’s Warblers, Otters and even yesterday a trio of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. We built it not just for “Birding in Portugal” but for the community in general, but, as ever, we had to keep the costs as low as possible, so we built it more or less from scrap and old building materials we had left over from building projects at the Quinta.

Building the Water Rail Hide

Building the Water Rail Hide

Old pallets, shuttering boards, old floorboards and bits of roof, anything we could lay our hands on, and it’s turned out better than even we expected, (probably because we had the help of the SAS!), with wicked views over a water lilly covered pool with reeds to our left and right.

The view from the hide

The view from the hide

Our primary species here was Water Rails, and in that we haven’t been disappointed as there’s a pair nesting nearby and we regularly see them walking along the shore opposite oblivious to our presence – a fantastic opportunity for photographers as they’re a rareish and extremely shy species scarcely ever seen out in the open. We normally see them on their own, but occasionally they take a stroll together and I’ll close this post with a shot of the couple – to see two together like this is as rare as dragon poo in Oxford St!





Good News! Good News! And a Happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers!

The Week on Socrates

The Week on Socrates

I don’t enjoy crowing – but I am so fed up of living in a state where corruption on a truly massive scale is simply taken for granted, something that is so normal as to rarely warrant a mention in everyday life, that I am overjoyed to bring you the news that our last Prime Minister is now awaiting trial in Evora Prison on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

The article above is from The Week, (a newspaper that I endorse as being bias-free, enjoyable to read, interesting and informative, and a subscriber to which I have been ever since its inception), and it pretty much sums it up – apart from some lovely intercepted phone call quotes along the lines of, “I’m far too big a fish for them to catch – they wont have the balls to try to get me”. This is the man that until a few years ago was the leader of our country.

Following on from the latest bank failure where it was just the same, all buddies “loaning” each other cash that wasn’t theirs and truly believing that if they had all their own wealth in their family members’ names they could never get caught, it is a welcome piece of good news when a courageous judge goes for the very highest. We await the fall-out and hope against hope that it is the start of a new story for this beautiful land.

Another piece of good news – apart from the awards that we’ve been given this year by Tripadvisor that I’ve mentioned before – is last week’s article in The Telegraph where the Quinta is chosen to be one of the top 5 Activity Holidays in Portugal.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope we see more than our fair share of you this coming year!

We won 3rd prize for our stand at the British Birdwatching Fair!

Paradise blog-022

We took our usual place at the Birdfair last week – only we doubled the space and had a bigger stand. It was a huge amount of work to design and organize it all, but we wanted it to go well and to make a splash out of the expansion of our sister company, “Birding in Portugal” and our new website – and all the work paid off when we won 3rd prize out of the whole Fair for it! Well choughed!

We also ran our annual raffle for a week’s free accommodation here at the Quinta and the winner this year is Andy Davis.

Congratulations! we look forward to welcoming you here next year.

Salgados update – and an award!

My apologies for such an absence.
The Quinta’s been buzzing lately and time is always short during the Spring as our Nature activities here mean early morning starts.
Today however I have some news for anyone interested in our battle to save Salgados.
For those who don’t know, this is a wetland down in the Algarve and here at the Quinta we’ve been actively engaged for over ten years in trying to save it from an unwanted development.
There’s a full report over on my birding site, but in short we’ve discovered the largest colony in the world of a red-listed plant, Linaria algarviana, growing on the site to be developed, so we have hopes that this will put the kybosh on the destruction of the site. Nothing in the bag yet of course as there are some large players with deep pockets involved, but at least there is hope and the issue is beginning to be reported on by the local news channels.
What else? Oh yes, despite my rant back in January, we’re rather proud to have won the industry’s highest Guest-generated award!

Tripadvisor rip-off gets us hot under the collar.

It’s not often that I become this wound-up – well, not that I show publicly in any case – but right now I’m steaming. It’s all to do with Tripadvisor.

It’s a brilliant concept of course, (and we wish sometimes that we had the same sort of thing for some of our less welcome guests, but that’s another story!), but what a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not free. It looks free, sure, and of course it remains free to the general public and if you don’t want to “use” its marketing potential, but at this end of the equation we pay for our “Business Listing”, and for those of us who do promote our position in its rankings, for those of us who DO use it, it is an expensive tool, and this is especially so of places like the Quinta, i.e. small independent enterprises.

To date it has been worth the money – even if it was expensive – but I’m not so sure any more and the attitude shown towards us by this massive company has left such a sour taste in our mouths that we will be actively searching alternatives from now on.

Y’see, we’ve always told potential guests, “Check us out on Tripadvisor and see what other guests have said about us.” In other words we’ve increased their hits in our own tiny, tiny way, but there must be many others just like us around the world, and taken together we must be HUGE, and this is where their attitude and actions towards us have made me so upset.

They have just re-vamped their website – not that anything needed re-vamping as it worked fine just as it was – but with this unnecessary re-vamping has come a price increase. “So, what’s so bad about that?”, I hear you ask. Well, they’ve worked out their price rise via our Tripadvisor ranking and the number of rooms we have, that’s what.

In essence it means that the better we are the more we have to pay; if we’ve put a load of effort in over the years to be a wickedly good place to have a holiday and asked our guests to write reviews on their site, sent potential guests there and generally interacted positively with them, thus increasing their hits and securing excellent rankings on their site, WE ARE CHARGED MORE than someone who never sent anyone their way at all.

It’s not peanuts either; last year the cost was 350 euros – this year it has increased by 17.5%, (yes, that’s not a typo – in the worst recession in a century they’ve increased their charge to us overnight by 17.5%) to 446 euros.

You will understand why I am not putting a hyper-link to their site into this post … I will be researching this further starting here

Now, where’s that stiff drink?

Autumn Sunsets just blow you away!

November Sunset-2951, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

We’re not called “Paradise in Portugal” for nothing of course, but every now and again something happens to bring it home to us and right now it’s the sunsets we’re lucky enough to be experiencing every evening, and they just seem to get better and better!
This one was a few nights ago and I just had to share it.
Our Salgados fight goes on and the latest news is on our Birding site, Birding-in-Portugal.com so pop over there to read all about it – and forgive me for not writing it all out again!

Birdfair 2013

Birdfair 2013-1607, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

Another year, another Birdfair! Wonderful to have the chance to chat to so many old friends there and we’re looking forward to the next one already. However, let’s have a Salgados update before I dip my hand in the bag.
Your response to my request for comments on the EIA was humbling. So many of you wrote in and the government offices concerned have been swamped by well over 700 emails of disgust that this development should still be on the cards. I hope we’ll be able to swing them around.
They have a few of weeks left to read all your emails and then we’ll find out what they’ve decided. In the meantime we’re trying to talk to as many politicians as we can – there are fuller details on my Birding Blog about this, and I will post up there any news.
I must take this opportunity though to let it be known that I wrote twice to Dr. Artur Rego, the Algarve’s MP, to ask for his views on this matter. He never replied, which was upsetting but probably gives an idea of his thoughts about this. A point to bear in mind in the forthcoming elections!

On a more positive note, we have a very well known national politician holidaying here at the Quinta and I will be trying to get him on our side over the next week during dinner.
I’m also in touch with the Wetlands Manager for the World Wildlife Fund thanks to an introduction from an old friend. He in turn has raised Salgados with the Regional Advisor for the European Region at the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and they will be having a meeting later on this week where Salgados will be at the top of the agenda.
Now it’s just a waiting game …. but let’s not wait any more as regards the raffle, so who feels lucky?

:::::::::::::::::::: UPDATE 11.9.2013

We drew the Raffle once and only one of the lucky winners claimed their prize, (well done David Brooks), so we’ve drawn it again and the winners’ names are published on our Birding Blog.

Will a holiday in Portugal be the same without Salgados?

You remember that we started a petition last year to urge the Portuguese authorities to think again regarding their permission to allow the area surrounding the Lagoa dos Salgados near Armação de Pêra, Silves, be “developed” with the construction of three hotels, two tourist villages and yet another golf course – adding to the 40 or so golf courses already built in the Algarve.

To remind you, the area surrounding the lagoon is pretty well the last intact piece of countryside adjoining the central Algarve coastline, and any building nearby will be hugely detrimental to the wildlife that uses the lagoon itself and the natural area surrounding it. The lagoon is unique and used not only by thousands of birds on migration, but also as an over-wintering and nesting location, and there are various rare species that use it and that the Portuguese Government is under an obligation to preserve. This preservation will not happen if the go-ahead is given for the Finalgarve ‘Praia Grande’ development.

Thanks to your help and the almost incredible success of the online petition, which so far has gathered over 21,000 signatures, you helped persuade the government to insist that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out before any further action by the developer. This was a huge step forward in the campaign – but it is only one step along the way.

This EIA has now been published, but unfortunately it is in no way an independent one as it has been commissioned and paid for by the developer.

Of course this is an extraordinary situation, but that is how the game is played here.

We have until the 26th July to submit our ‘comments’.

The Portuguese wildlife and nature NGOs that have helped enormously in this fight are responding to the technical aspects of the EIA, but what is also needed are the comments of “everyday folk”, in other words everyone and anyone that has valued the area in the past and hopes to be able to enjoy it in the future, i.e. US!

However, the full document in Portuguese can only be seen as a hard copy in various places in Portugal, and nobody can leave comments unless they actually travel there in person.

The non-tecnical resumé of the EIA is on-line in Portuguese here for anyone who wants to take a look, but for those of us who either don’t speak or understand Portuguese too well there seems to be little that we can contribute at this stage … WRONG!

Please take a minute out of your day, (why not right now?), and write your thoughts as to why the Lagoa dos Salgados and the surrounding area should be preserved as a countryside and wildlife area and not be turned into another development. There are already far too many of these littering what used to be the Algarve’s pristine countryside; many of them are failed projects, and we really don’t need more when the area that will be “developed” is, quite literally, so importantly unique and the last one of its kind.

Once gone it will never come back. Think about it …

All emails should be addressed to “Exmo. Presidente CCDR”, sent to geral@ccdr-alg.pt and cc’d to gabinete.presidente@cm-silves.pt and geral@apambiente.pt with the subject line “EIA Praia Grande”.

The fight is not over and with your help enormous progress has already been made to preserve this wonderful area, much to the disappointment of the developer, which by its own admission lacks the funds necessary to build the development and which intends to sell the project on at the first opportunity.

Together we have the chance to make our voices heard and to save this very special place.

It will take you very little time to drop them an email and I feel deeply that is the responsibility of all of us to give a voice to those who cannot be heard – both the wildlife that uses the area now and our descendants who have yet to see and appreciate this unique Algarve habitat that we are still lucky enough to enjoy.

Thank you.