On our second stop on the ‘Tour des Ecovillages’ we visit Sybe Smit, a father of two who completely switched his life 180 degrees around; from being one of Netherlands’ best poker players, to living a peaceful and quiet life in the remote hills of Portugal. The desire to ‘unplug from the Matrix’ is a common thread among many inhabitants of Portugal’s ecovillages. This begs the question: to what extent is this really possible?
A small life is a happy life
At A Quinta Da Lage, there is plenty of space. The roaming hills are sparsely populated with small groups of people living in their campervan, yurt, or self-built house. Basic amenities such as water and food are provided locally, yet electricity has to be self-generated using solar panels and stored in batteries. Though lacking in many of the default world’s luxuries, the people living here claim to have most of what they need to live a comfortable life. Shared lunches provide a sense of community, while bi-weekly men circles help to build connection and trust among its members. Everyone we met seemed relaxed and content.
Battling drought and desertification
Each year the droughts and wildfires in the mainland of Portugal seem to get worse and worse. A combination of climate change and the rise of invasive species such as the eucalyptus tree are responsible for this. The solution is to regenerate the land by planting nitrogen-fixating vegetation combined with trees that are naturally fire retardant. In addition, landscaping the land in such a way that water retention is improved helps with the restoration of the local ecosystem. Regenerative communities such as A Quinta are therefore crucial in combating the desertification of Portugal’s inland territories.
Freedom from capitalist forces?
Life at A Quinta is slow and peaceful. The people here consciously choose for a life more disconnected from the tug and pull of modern society. Instead, they choose to live close to the land. Growing their own fruits, herbs and vegetables gives them the freedom to live a life unconstrained by external forces. For the most part, that is. Additional groceries still require a trip to the supermarket by car. Fully unplugging from the Matrix therefore remains a fantasy that will probably never become real. Still, finding ways to reduce dependency on a system responsible for the degeneration of the planet remains a commendable and worthwile quest.