Aug 5, 2016

EVS Camp in Amarante!

For what turned out to be a very memorable weekend, Casa de Juventude da Amarante hosted over 50 EVS volunteers, myself, Carlotta and Alifya included, from across Portugal at their organisation in order to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of European Voluntary Service. Concurrently the municipality of Amarante had organised Há Fest in the city, a festival targeted at the young people in the city, meaning there was plenty of events going on throughout our visit.

The first day we went to a small village called Vila Meã, where we were taken to see a few historical sites, before heading to the river running through the village. There, we experienced our first event of Há Fest, with a surprisingly large set-up for such a small place. A large sound system had been set up and it was definitely power hungry as the electricity cut out on more than one occasion! It was a great environment for us all to start getting to know each other and everyone enjoyed taking a swim in the river. In a rather odd moment that I still don’t understand a few people started releasing some fish into the river and it left a few of us perplexed as to why. The circus equipment had also been brought along so everyone tried their hand at different things; I tried my hand at juggling with clubs but it is a difficult thing to master so I will have to stick with using balls for now.

Vila Meã
The next day really commanded a lot of energy as we were due to make the 10km journey from Vila Meã back to Amarante on foot. Not a large distance to cover at all but certainly tiring, especially considering it was the hottest day here in Portugal so far. I was extremely grateful for a cold shower upon arriving in Amarante but the walk was pleasant. In the afternoon there was a circus workshop for those who wished to attend but a lot of us took the opportunity to rest after the walk.

En route to Amarante

A sweaty group photo upon arrival in Amarante!
As well as having all of the EVS volunteers at Casa de Juventude, they also had about 30 young people participating in a youth exchange at the same time. That evening those on the exchange all produced a buffet of food from their home countries meaning I got to experience some traditional cuisine from Georgia, Armenia, Macedonia, Slovenia and of course Portugal as well. It was all very delicious and certainly added to the experience; I definitely did not ever expect to be eating Macedonian food whilst living in Portugal!

A very international meal
After dinner we had another Há Fest event, this time on the bridge in the middle of the city, where a couple of sound systems had been set-up; I keep thinking there can’t be that many different ways I will find myself listening to bands and DJs but I continue to be surprised. It was certainly a great way to end the day, enjoying a few beers and the atmosphere, before trekking back to our campsite for the weekend.

The Saturday brought another day of varying activities, surprisingly starting with a trip to the golf course. There we got to have a go on the driving range and try our hand at a bit of putting. I’ve never been particularly good whenever I’ve tried golf in the past but I surprised myself actually hitting quite a few decent balls on the driving range. However I do know now I have a habit of hooking the ball right so better get myself a coach and sort that out. Whilst I certainly wasn’t expecting to play golf, as EVS volunteers we do get to experience such a wide variety of different things. At its core this stems from living and volunteering in a different country and this is one of the reasons why EVS is such a valuable and worthwhile journey.

Everyone in golfing action
The afternoon started out with a talk from Miguel, one of the first ever EVS volunteers, about the work and values of Casa da Juventude. It was interesting to hear about all the interesting things they have done there, including all the different European projects as well as the opening of the first Fairtrade shop in Portugal. Following on from this, we relocated to the forest for a seminar of sorts with a member of the municipality and a representative from the national agency. It was good to hear just how highly they regard young people and how important they feel projects like EVS are.  In the evening there was a performance by Dengaz, a well-known artist here in Portugal, but for a lot of us it wasn’t our favourite music so we found ourselves a pool bar and chilled there for the rest of the night.

EVS volunteers in abundance!
Sunday, the final day of the camp, was no let up on the previous few days, with another early start. We spent the day at Fisgas de Ermelo in the Parque Natural do Alvão, a beautiful place with the views extending for miles. In the morning we hiked up to the most scenic lagoons I have ever seen and of course this meant more swimming. The water was absolutely gorgeous and we were able to jump from the waterfall into the lagoon below. Afterwards we hiked back to the coaches and were driven to the site for lunch, another BBQ Portuguese style.

Fisgas de Ermalo

Following this was the perfect opportunity for a siesta before the Volta a Portugal passed by, the equivalent here to the Tour de France. The two breakaway riders came hurtling round the bend but unfortunately only one continued his race. The rider failed to slow down enough and went flying into a rock wall, damaging his arm badly enough to be forced to retire. In the evening it was time to do some racing of our own, participating in a 5km night race to round off the camp. Whilst a few of us ran, and I actually surprised myself in how well I completed the 5km, the majority walked and it was a good experience to see so much of the city out to participate.

Volta a Portugal

EVS being repped at Amarante Night Run!
It really was a great experience meeting so many people undergoing their own EVS journeys and getting to be a small part of them; I hope I made a positive contribution. Hearing all their stories and about the work they do makes you realise we are all doing something amazing and how fortunate we are to be doing so. EVS has given me so many opportunities to do such amazing things and meet such incredible people and this was one of those occasions, of which there have already been many and I hope there are many more to come.