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The Hermit

Marcelino Vicente | The Hermit from Barbelote

Next spring, after the end of winter, there will be a moment that’s well worth celebrating. On 30 March, Marcelino Zé Vicente will turn 80 years of age. For 67 years, he has lived in Barbelote, a small historic village, now in ruins, close to Foia, the highest point in the Serra de Monchique. For the last ten years, he has lived alone in a small house built of local stone. In 1949, when his parents bought the plot of land and moved up into the hills with their children, they also took with them two cows, five pigs, and a dozen or so chickens and rabbits. They lived from agriculture, farming the land for their own food and also selling their produce on the local market. These were the times of the dictatorship and there was no compulsory education. The only pair of shoes came out into the street on Sundays and special holidays. Today, Marcelino is the last inhabitant left in Barbelote, living without any electricity or television. He has never had a car and he rides down into Monchique on a bicycle. Getting down is easy enough, with the aid of gravity, but getting back up the hill calls for some vigorous pedalling. ECO123 visited him during the course of a walk next to the Barbelote Waterfall.


How many people were there in your family?

Seven, but my father died the same year we arrived here, in the very next month. My mother was here for another 19 years. We were four brothers (today there’s just three of us left) and one sister. She and one of my brothers now live in a home. I’m the last one to remain here.

Do you like living up here with this wonderful view over the sea?

No, I don’t like living here.

So, you don’t have any other possibility…

No, not for the time being. But eventually I’ll have to leave here.

If you look back over your life, what do you see?

I worked in lots of places, and in lots of different areas. I worked in timber and in clearing shrubs… but most of the time I worked in agriculture. It was a lot of years and I always worked for myself: digging, sowing, harvesting…

Most of the time, I sold what we harvested and we all also ate our own produce. I planted potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, cabbages; in the summer, there were tomatoes, cucumbers, water melons and honeydew melons. We had two cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits and a donkey. I’ve missed that a lot. I used it to go down into town and bring back the shopping.

What did you use to do in the winter?

I used to make medronho. The medronho picking season starts on 10 October and lasts until December. You make the brandy in February, which is also the time for clearing shrubs.

And, even today, you continue to work and to receive your pension?

I can’t manage much work today. I get my pension, but it’s very little. What I can’t grow, I have to buy. At the moment, I’ve still got some tomatoes to pick in the garden. I’m not short of anything here. I’ve got the spring water and I cook everyday. Today, for example, I made some potatoes with a tomato salad and a bit of roast cod. But I’d like to live somewhere else.

If you could move today, where would you like to live?

I don’t know yet. These houses used to be mine (he points to the surrounding houses). I’ve sold them all. Perhaps I might rent or buy a house in Monchique…

How does your day begin?

I wake up in the morning, I get up and busy myself about the house… I do the washing up. I sometimes have a drop of wine with a rasher of bacon in some bread. I do some washing and I work on the vegetable patch, getting the cabbage ready for the winter. Then I busy myself in the kitchen. I enjoy making beans with rice or with potatoes, and a tomato salad with some bread. I turn on the radio every day to listen to the news on Antena 1 and some music on Rádio Amália. I like fado. I don’t have a television. Once a week, I go down into the town to do some shopping, getting some bread and fruit from the grocer’s. I also go to the hospital to pick up my pills and visit my brother in the home.

Do you also buy any meat, milk or eggs?

Milk, no, and I don’t buy any eggs either. I don’t like butter or cheese. I like smoked ham, chouriço and cod. I like to eat lots of fruit. Apples, melons, grapes. And I buy a five-litre bottle of red wine once a month.

Are you afraid of fires?

I am, but let’s not talk about that today.

Have you ever travelled on a plane?

Never. I once left Portugal and went to Spain, with my cousin. I’ve been in Ayamonte. We spent a day there doing nothing, just eating and drinking, and riding on the bus. Another time, I went to Carmona, a city with more than 2,000 years of history.


Can you read and write?

Yes. I learned when I was almost an adult. I left school when I was eight to look after the animals with my brothers. My mother taught me at home. When I was 18, I went back to school, but only for a short while. At that time, I learned to write and to do sums, multiplying and dividing with three-figure numbers…

Have you ever been married?

No. I don’t want to. I’ve never needed a wife…

Are you happy with your life?

I’ve always been healthy. Today, I have to take pills every day against rheumatism. How can I be happy with these pains? I’ve grown a lot weaker in recent years.

You’re a very important witness to the time you live in. What opinions do you have about Monchique over the last few decades?

There’s a real shortage or people inland. There are fewer and fewer young people in Monchique. And the people of my age have been dying. Yet there’s also no work for young people and women don’t want to have children any more. But people don’t know what’s good for them. They like living in Portimão, but the water and the air are much better up here. Today, everyone lives for money and there are lots of people who can’t pay for what they buy. And it’s not just here in Monchique. Lots of girls live off their mothers’ pensions. And there are lots of Portuguese living abroad: they go and work in Switzerland, France and Germany.

Did the hills use to have a different climate?

The winters used to be much wetter, you’re right, and they were colder too. And the summers are also getting more and more dangerous. In the old days, there didn’t use to be any fires. The land was kept much cleaner and there were fewer eucalyptus trees in the woods. The weather was much more stable. Last year, it was a hot summer, and this year’s even hotter. Nowadays, we have thunderstorms and rain all year round. Life’s getting more dangerous every year.

Thanks for the chat.


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