Abandoned animals, a sad fact of Portuguese life

These are a few of the dozens of dogs at a privately run animal shelter in central Portugal. Volunteers care for the animals and help them get adopted. More than 43,000 animals were abandoned in Portugal in 2022, according to an official report.

Abandoned animals are an unfortunate fact of life here in Portugal. The municipal and private shelters are always crammed and desperately in need of more volunteers to help care for the animals and donations to cover the cost of food and vet bills.

I have been living in Portugal for nearly four years now. I frequently see dogs wandering the streets of the villages. Cats are everywhere. My next door neighbor regularly feeds four or five of them. I see their eyes glowing in the dark when I take my dog out for her last night pee walk.

In fact my own dog was abandoned in my village a few days before I move into my house. I used to have two cats in the US but was unable to bring them because I had no fixed abode for the first couple months I was here. I did find them a very good new cat-mommy, but I firmly intended to get more cats when I settled in.

The universe had other plans. Divina was wandering the street, sleeping on a doorstep. I saw her and offered her some bread and milk and hey presto! I had a dog.

Divina, the podengo mix female dog who was abandoned and adopted me once I moved into my house in Portugal.

Not all dogs are so lucky. (At least I think Divina is lucky. I feed her, walk her multiple times a day, and adore her.) According to an official report by the ICNF (institute for conservation of nature and forests), 43,600 animals were abandoned in Portugal in 2022. That works out to 119 per day.

The report said conditions during the Covid pandemic greatly worsened a longstanding problem. Many Portuguese struggle to make ends meet and the care and feeding of animals is often not a priority. On top of that, it is relatively expensive to have a veterinarian neuter dogs or cats so the practice is not common. Hence, there are thousands of unwanted litters of puppies and kittens.

I walked out one morning in October 2021, about to take Divina for a walk, and heard a little bark from somewhere inside my gate. I searched around and found source of the sound under my car. It was a tiny puppy. I guessed he was maybe eight weeks old. Just weaned from his momma.

Someone dropped this adorable little puppy over my wall one night in October 2021. I was able to find an American family to adopt him.

Many Efforts to Re-home Animals

There are resources to help the abandoned animals. There are 170 official collection centers for abandoned animals located in municipalities all over Portugal. However, they are often very crowded. The animal shelter outside of Tomar, my nearby town, had more than 100 dogs when I volunteered there in early 2020. My work as a volunteer consisted of sluicing out the pens. The constant sound of barking from all these animals was overwhelming.

Sadly, when the Covid pandemic restrictions took effect, I and other volunteers could not longer help there, though this situation has since changed.

I recently helped out at a privately run dog shelter. Pegasus e Bigodes, near Figueiro dos Vinhos. It is a non-profit started by a Dutch woman and run by volunteers. It operates out of a house where supplies are stored. All around the house are enclosures built by volunteers. When I went there recently they had about 40 dogs. Volunteers walk and feed the dogs, clean the pens and help to find adoptive homes for the animals. They raise funds through stalls at local markets. A man who runs a consignment store donates a part of his proceeds. But they really need volunteers and donations and volunteers. (Hint, hint.)

Follow my blog to learn more about daily life in Portugal! And check out my book “The Power of Rain” on Amazon.


Thoughts on Uvalde, a year later

Morning Glories in my Portuguese garden.

(Author’s note: I wrote this blog post almost a year ago, after I had read about the horrific events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young children and two teachers were shot dead. Sadly, so much is still the same. Gun violence has become more prevalent, mass shootings are a near daily occurrence and nothing is done to address the real problem–the prevalence of weapons of human destruction.)

LOSING A CHILD is the most gut-wrenching experience that can happen to a parent. It isn’t supposed to happen. Your children aren’t supposed to die before you. But it does happen sometimes, and we become members of a club no one ever wants to join. 

Their little faces remain forever young in the photos that surround you, haunting you, like phantom pieces of your heart.

I lost my 11-year-old son to a rare and devastating illness many years ago and I am still haunted.

There are so many emotions; pain, despair, rage. The questions; why them? Why now? What did they/I/we do to deserve this terrible thing happening?

When numbness finally comes it is a relief from the pain, but it is always with us, like a severed limb that will never regrow. 

I write this not to gain sympathy but to draw attention to what the parents of those 19 children in the small Texas town are facing. It will affect not only them, but their other children, their nieces and nephews, their grandchildren. It will ripple out throughout the families and neighborhoods, and eventually to the next generation.

The parents in Uvalde will live the rest of their lives asking the questions. And the terrible thing is; that despite so many of these hideous incidents, and their increasing frequency….. NOTHING substantial has been done to prevent them. Why the lack of courage to make change? Americans pride themselves on living in the land of the free. Where is the freedom in having to go to school surrounded by armed guards? Having to live in constant fear?  Is that freedom? 

I moved to Portugal three years ago and feel safer and more free here than I ever did in the US. 

My son Max: February 18, 1988-June 6, 1999.

Loving the marvelous markets of Portugal!

The indoor market in Tomar is open daily, but Fridays are the main market day when the plaza around the indoor market is filled with vendors of clothing, shoes, kitchen equipment, tools, garden supplies and furniture.

Visiting local markets is one of my favorite things to do in Portugal. It’s a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the local community. I love hearing the market sellers calling out their wares and the hubbub of people crowding around the stalls.

Markets are an age-old tradition in Portugal. Every town has its regular market day. In days gone by it was the only way people could buy items they didn’t grow themselves. Nowadays, market day is the still the time when residents shop for fresh produce and take the opportunity to meet and chat with their neighbors.

My village, Chãos, (roughly pronounced shah-oosh) has a market every Sunday morning. The indoor market area features vendors from two different bakeries, a fish seller, two butchers, two vegetable stands and a stand that specializes in cheeses, bacon and chorizo sausage. On the plaza outside, there are a couple of ladies selling vegetables and olives and a van that has linens.

If you are hungry, there is couple that sells grilled chicken and fries. Or, you can get coffee and a drink in the tiny cafe inside at the back of the market and another upstairs in the community hall. It’s a great time to meet friends.

Pots, pans and live chickens

The second Sunday of the month is the “big” market in Chãos and the plaza is covered with vendors. That’s when you can buy a pair of jeans, sneakers, pots and pans, tools, live chickens and ducks, plants and young fruit trees, and the distinctive terra cotta colored Portuguese pottery.

One of the fish stands at the indoor market in Tomar, central Portugal. Portugal is the country with the highest fish consumption in the European Union, according to the US Dept. Of Agriculture.

Towns around where I live have their own different market days. Tomar, a town of about 22,000, holds its market on Fridays. Its market covers several acres in the center of town. One of the things I like best about the Tomar market is the stands selling dried fruit and nuts. You can buy quantities of walnuts, almonds, dried figs and apricots. There is even a variety of items like Chia or sesame seeds and quinoa!

The other towns near me, Ferreira do Zezere and Freixanda, hold their markets on Mondays. So, I have plenty of choices to indulge my love of markets. The prices are always great. I load up on vegetables, buy plants for my garden and have also scored a slinky pair of jeans and some lovely sheepskin slippers!

Pistachios nuts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and different types of grains are available at this stand at the indoor market in Tomar.

May is pilgrimage season in Portugal

A floral pattern on the paving stones in the village of Chaõs in central Portugal. Foral patterns are a common site during the many religious festivals and processions that occur during the summers in Portugal.

Pilgrims were on the move this week in Portugal. Huge crowds of walkers, clad in high-visibility vests lined the country roads heading to the town of Fatima. May 13 marks the day in 1917 when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in a field outside of the town. The children; Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco said they saw her several more times. The last time was on October 13, reportedly witnessed by 70,000 people.

Nowadays, the ornate Basilica of the Rosary of Our Lady of Fatima dominates a vast plaza around the site of the original apparitions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year.

This week I was on a cycling trip through an area of central Portugal near Fatima. My fellow cyclists and I saw several pilgrim groups. They were happily chatting and laughing, waving at us as they strolled along the country roads in their brightly colored vests.

My Portuguese teacher, Helena, recalls making the pilgrimage in her youth. She said she and her parents walked “dozens of kilometers”. They had to reach Fatima by the night of May 12 so they could take part in the traditional candlelight procession. She mostly remembers how cold and exhausted she was during the night spent there.

Many Ways

There are several “official” routes waymarked with blue signs. The 141-km Tagus Way starts at the Parque das Naçoes in Lisbon and continues along much of the same route as that which leads toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The Northern Way is a 260-km route beginning in the town of Valença on the Spanish border. The 111-km Coimbra route begins in the university city of Coimbra. The Nazaré Way starts in the coastal town of Nazaré which has a shrine of its own to Our Lady.

Olive trees and poppies are a common sight along the pilgrimage routes to Fatima in central Portugal.

Follow my blog to learn more about daily life in Portugal. Check out my mystery novel “The Power of Rain” on Amazon.

My book is an Award Winner!

I was so excited to get an email from the National Federation of Press Women this week with this news.

Every writer dreams that readers will love their book. This week I got one of my wishes! An email arrived from the National Federation of Press Women letting me know my debut novel “The Power of Rain” was awarded Third Place in the 2023 NFPW At-Large Communications Contest.

The National Federation of Press Women is a US-based organization of professional women and men working in all types of communications, including broadcast and print Journalism, PR marketing advertising and more. The book was inspired by many of the weird and wonderful situations I experienced during the 18 years I was a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico. Many states have their own state-based contest, but since I am no longer living in New Mexico I had to enter the “at-large” contest.

Receiving this award is a real validation of my instincts as a writer.

The Power of Rain– the story

Passions clash in Las Vistas, a Southwest desert town where money buys power and corrupt politicians turn a blind eye. Elizabeth “Digger” Doyle is a tough young reporter investigating Johnny Raposa a shady developer who wants a road built to his luxury new subdivision. Hispanic activist Maria Ortiz begs Digger to save her heritage, a historic Spanish chapel that lies in the path of the road. Digger’s investigation into Raposa’s past is complicated by her powerful attraction to Maria.

As the two navigate a tightrope relationship fellow reporters warn Digger she’s risking her career by getting involved with a story source.

Can Digger get the story without losing Maria’s trust? Can she expose Raposa and stop the bulldozers before they destroy the chapel?

I published the book in June 2022 and have been working hard since then to market it. I have received a lot of good feedback in the reviews on Amazon and in other places.

What the judges said:

A strong sense of place pulls the reader immediately into the story. Characters are fully developed. Good dialogue.

Action, conflict and resolution are well-represented in this novel, creating a smooth delivery of a mystery dealing with contemporary topics.

National Federation of Press Women contest judges – (fiction for adult readers category)

Readers reviews

This book gave me sleepless nights….quite literally. I usually like to read a chapter or two of something before I go to sleep, and this was so darn good that I kept finding myself up until two in the morning finding out what happened next!

Written with a deep knowledge, both of the setting, New Mexico, and the background, local journalism, Rosalie Rayburn has got a winning formula here.

Amazon Customer

Another Amazon Customer: Set in a city in the New Mexico desert, this novel has all the characteristics of a page-turner –romance, underhanded or bewildered City officials, journalists at work to shine light on bureaucratic dealings, nefarious developers and the power of local people who keep showing up and speaking the truth.

Michael Rothrock, The Book Commentary: Rosalie Rayburn’s The Power of Rain contains expertly crafted prose that pulls off the seemingly impossible by making small-town politics a page-turning subject matter. The protagonist is well-developed and leads a life filled with enough turmoil and intrigue to keep the reader on the edge of their seat as she navigates a complicated relationship, a journalistic mystery, and uncertainty regarding her employment. Raposa is an antagonist equally well-developed that the reader will love to hate for his hidden motives and arrogance. Filled with intrigue and suspense, mystery fans will love The Power of Rain

A new book coming soon

Over the past year I have been working on a sequel to The Power of Rain. Many of the friends who gave me encouragement and support during the writing process said they wanted to hear more about what happened to my main characters (Elizabeth) Digger Doyle and Maria Ortiz. The new book is called “Sunshine Dreams” and I hope it will be published by the end of 2023.

I’m not going to give the plot away, but I will say that it’s another story about political intrigue, intrepid reporting and REVENGE!

Follow my blog for more news about life in Portugal. Check out my website: rosalierayburn.com

Portugal celebrates nearly 50 years since the Carnation Revolution

The evening news on April 25 shows people dancing in the streets of Lisbon, all part of the celebrations for the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, a nearly bloodless coup which ended 40 years of authoritarian rule in Portugal under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. (Note the man in the bottom right of the picture. Portuguese news programs always have someone signing.)

Dancing in the streets, parades, singing and joyful speeches. Portuguese people turned out everywhere last week to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, which ended a decades-old dictatorship.

Portuguese people have a lot to be proud of. They endured more than 40 years of a brutally repressive regime which began in 1932 and ended in 1974. During the “Estado Novo” which was created by Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, there was strict censorship of the press, books, music and arts. People lived in fear of being reported to the secret police, the PIDE (Policia International e de Defesa do Estado). Thousands were arrested, tortured and imprisoned during those years.

Salazar was a staunch supporter of Portugal’s colonies; Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, in Africa, Goa in India and Macau in China. In the early 1960s Portugal sent troops to quell independent movements in the African colonies. These colonial wars were very costly and unpopular. Many Portuguese fled their home country to go work in France so they didn’t have to participate in those conflicts. (When I moved to Portugal in 2019, I quickly found that many older Portuguese speak fluent French from their years there.)

Salazar suffered a debilitating stroke in 1968, was replaced as prime minister by Marcelo Caetano, and died in 1970. Meanwhile, many of the lower ranking officers serving in Africa began planning to overthrow the dictatorship. The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) was also active in organizing opposition.

Popular song gave the signal

On April 25, a song played on the radio, “Grandola Vila Morena”, was the signal for the armed forces, with widespread popular support, to overthrow the regime. The coup gained its name because people in the streets handed red carnations to the soldiers who put the flowers in their gun barrels or on their uniforms. Within a few hours Caetano had resigned and the Estado Novo came to an end with hardly a shot fired.

Children and their teachers participate in parades in Lisbon during celebrations on April 25 to honor the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution.

Soon after the overthrow of the regime, the former colonial countries in Africa began their own struggles to complete the transition to independence. Back in Portugal a major symbol of the change was the renaming of the iconic bridge across the river Tejo in Lisbon from the Salazar Bridge to the 25 April Bridge.

The 25th April Bridge (Ponte 25 de April) over the River Tejo in Lisbon. It was designed by the consortium that constructed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Calif.

Happy to be home again in Portugal

Parade in Rua Serpa Pinto, Tomar, Portugal
Students embrace in the street, followed by a parade to mark the end of the school year in Tomar, Portugal.

It’s been one week since I returned to Portugal after a six-week visit to the  US. The past seven days have gone by in a flash; reconnecting with friends and neighbors, tending to my weed-infested land, taking my energetic dog for a walk, and loving the kindness that is all around me here.

A neighbor of mine, an Englishwoman who has lived here for more than fifteen years, described the Portuguese as a gentle people. I think that is a good description. In the nearly four years I have lived here, I have so rarely heard people arguing. I could count the number of times I have experienced a rude or impatient response in a store, or from a person waiting in line, on the fingers of one hand. 

Long journey home, but reassuring welcome

The evening I arrived back in Lisbon, after a nearly 20-hour delay-plagued journey, I stayed at a modest guest house. Marta, the young woman who functioned as the check-in person, was so calm and reassuring that I felt as though I had arrived at an expensive spa. The guest house itself was across the street. The entrance was a door with no sign. She led me up some flights of stairs to a door marked with the guest house name. She showed me to my room and advised me about a nearby restaurant where I could get dinner.

When I returned after dinner it was dark and I got confused as to which floor the guest house was on. Tired and a bit panicked, I went back to Marta and she very kindly came back across the street with me and showed me to the right door. I really doubt I would have had that experience anywhere in the US. 

If I had been in a large US city, I think I would have been terrified to be mugged or shot. I am glad to be living in a place where people are not afraid. Where people do not open the door holding a gun and risk being shot by police. 

Spring flowers are always a welcome sight in my little corner of Portugal.

Useful things to know about life in Portugal

These iconic yellow and white tram cars are a useful way to get around in Lisbon. They are very popular with tourists!

When I first spent an extended time in Portugal I noticed a lot of little differences about the way people do daily life compared to what is commonly done in the US. Now that I have been living in Portugal for more than three years, I just take all these differences for granted. But my current trip back to the states makes me realize how much I have accommodated to my new life in Europe. I also appreciate how many of the customs in Portugal reduce water, plastic and paper waste that is harmful to the environment.

Eco-friendly shopping

In Portugal the supermarkets and small grocery stores do not bag your groceries. You must bring your own shopping bags or buy one at the checkout. The bags you can buy are sturdy and generous sized so you can fit a lot into one bag. You yourself must stuff all the items you have bought into the bag at the checkout. This saves a mountain of plastic bags from ending up in landfills. I was saddened to see that in Albuquerque, where I used to live, the city council reversed a decision to ban those plastic bags.

Another practical innovation is the way you use shopping carts. They are typically linked together and you must insert a coin or a plastic token to release the cart to take it into the store. After you’ve unloaded your shopping, you return the cart, reconnect it and you get the coin or token back.

This is a simple way to ensure that carts are returned. In Albuquerque I was used to seeing shopping carts abandoned all over the place. On a windy day a rogue cart could damage your car. It was also probably a big expense for the supermarkets to lose them.

Bathroom etiquette

In a lot of private homes, restaurants and even small hotels in Portugal, it is common to see a sign asking you not to put any paper or other products into the toilet. In private homes it’s because they have a septic system that can’t handle large volumes of toilet paper. I’m assuming the restaurants etc have some similar problem. Anyway, you have to re-train yourself to put the TP into the small container next to the toilet. It took me a while to be consistent about this.

I have even found some bathrooms, such as at a train station or a shopping mall, where you have to grab a length of TP from a huge roll hanging on the wall by the sinks, BEFORE you go into the stall.

Of course men rarely have either of these problems.

A couple of other points about bathrooms. Most toilets in Portugal have dual flush options which save water. Bathrooms typically have hot air blow dryers instead of paper or cloth towels to dry your hands.

Time and temperature confusion

After more than three years of living in Portugal, I have become figuratively bi-lingual in matters of time and temperature. I am no longer flummoxed when trying to decide whether to take the train at 17:00 or 19:00, hint 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. Now, having to say a.m. and p.m. seems so inefficient. You also know immediately whether you’re talking about 12 noon (12:00) or midnight (24:00) .

I’ve also adjusted to using Celcius versus Fahrenheit when referring to the weather. I’ve become used to thinking that 20 degrees C (68F) feels pretty comfortable and 40 degrees C (104F) is nigh-on unbearably hot. Coming back to the US and reading that it’s 21 degrees I have to do mental gymnastics to remember that is really cold! Or, I could just stick my nose outside!

How far is that?

I must confess, I have not adapted so well to using kilometers versus miles, or kilograms instead of pounds. I used to be a very enthusiastic cyclist in New Mexico. There are mountains in NM but there are a lot of opportunities to ride on flat ground too. A 30 mile flat ride was considered pretty easy. I live in a hilly area in central Portugal and it is hard to find flat routes. Hence, a 30 km (18.6m) ride in my area is pretty tough!

I have to use grams and milliliters for European cooking recipes but I keep my bathroom scales on pounds so I still can’t tell you what I weigh in kilos. (I probably wouldn’t anyway!)

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Riding in the area around Figueiro dos Vinhos in central Portugal involves climbing a lot of steep hills but it’s beautiful.

Return to US, long trip and big culture shock

The Walmart sign has become pretty much synonymous with shopping in most US towns and cities.

I’ve been back in the US for a couple of weeks on my annual visit to my son and grandchildren. I have been living in Portugal for nearly four years now and have made the trip several times. The first time was in January 2020, just before the arrival of Covid.

The pandemic soon changed the world as we knew it. Restrictions introduced in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus made international travel impossible for many. I was only able to visit the US and return to Portugal in late 2020 because I had already obtained my Portuguese residency permit. Covid traveling rules also added to the already high cost of an international trip. I had to show a negative result on a Covid PCR test to be allowed on the flights. The test cost about 100 Euros in Portugal for the outward journey and $175 in the US for my return trip.

Even though it’s now easier, it’s still a long trip. The best connections I’ve been able to book meant a 17 hour journey. When my son lived in California it took 26 hours!

Mind boggling!

The sheer size of an ordinary Walmart store and the mind boggling array of choices for every kind of item is overwhelming after living in my small rural community in Portugal.

Coming back to the US has become a culture shock. The size of the vehicles, the size of the meals and the size of the people is, at first, mind boggling!

Other aspects of life here make my eyes pop too. My son is currently living in Kentucky, a solidly conservative state. There are flags and churches everywhere. The camo-bedecked, a genial grizzled old army veteran, proudly told me about his warm relationship with guns. I smiled and said nothing.

Kentucky is proudly celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, news anchors are beginning to talk about what hats to wear for Derby Day (May 3), and the stock market is on a roller coaster ride thanks to another banking scandal. Shades of 2008?

Follow my blog to read more about the real experience of daily life in Portugal. Lots of useful hints and tips if you’re thinking of relocating.

It’s “Carnaval” time in Portugal

A little boy drummer leads his school friends in the carnival parade in Ferreira do Zezere, central Portugal.

It was “Carnaval” time in Portugal last week. Yes, that is how they spell it here in Portugal, where every town and city around the country was celebrating with music, dancing and parades. The carnival tradition supposedly originated hundreds of years ago in Italy. Catholics were not supposed to eat meat during the season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Easter Sunday. So, they began the custom of holding a lively costume party festival on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. They called the festival “carne vale” which means “put away the meat.”

Here in Portugal, the tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. The oldest known carnival celebration started in the thirteenth century in the city of Torres Vedras, about 43 kilometers (27 miles) northwest of Lisbon.

Often groups in small villages all around a larger town will get together to create a float or parade group around a theme. Movies, popular bands and local sport clubs are frequent themes. Sometimes the floats have highly political messages, with signs or costumes satirizing current issues or poking fun at well-known government personalities.

Maybe Celtic origins?

The village of Podence in the Tras os Montes region of far northeastern Portugal is known for its unique colorful costumes and the bizarre antics of the revelers, called “Caretos.”

Men from the village and surrounding area are clad in home-made woolen costumes in red, green and yellow. They wear red masks made of wood or leather. They hang metal rattles and bells from their belts and often carry a wooden staff.

These “Caretos” go round the village shaking their rattles and bells at any women they find. Supposedly it’s all about spring, fertilization and new growth after the long winter. The festival in Podence and Macedo de Cavaleiros nearby, has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Some historians believe the festival is linked to ancient Celtic fertility rites.

My village celebrated with a carnival dance “Baile Carnaval” in the local association hall. There was plenty of traditional Portuguese music, which sounds to me a lot like polka tunes or the kind of Mexican “rancheras” I was used to in New Mexico. A lot of local people showed up and danced enthusiastically or joined in the conga line if they couldn’t find a partner.

The nearby town of Ferreira do Zezere held “bed races”, where teams competed in pushing a steel framed bed on wheels up and down the main street. One member perched on the mattress and clung to the headboard for dear life while team mates pushed and hauled the unwieldy bed down the street, trying not to crash into the sidewalk or the onlookers.

Local musicians bring a carnival spirit to the local market in Chãos, central Portugal.

In the US, the carnival tradition is observed in New Orleans as “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday. The days-long festival in Rio de Janeiro is world famous for its samba bands. My nearby town of Tomar also spread the festivities over several days with parades for children and night time concerts in the main square. On Tuesday, the actual carnival day, many businesses observed a holiday as the streets became choked with onlookers watching the parades.

Revelers crowd the streets of Tomar, central Portugal to watch the carnival parade.

Follow my blog to learn more about adventures in daily life in Portugal and check out my novel “The Power of Rain” on Amazon.