Part II – The Valley of the Unknown

The valley of Carvalhal da Mulher in the morning.

How easy is it to jump into the unknown? How easy is it to move a whole family to another continent in complete uncertainty?

It is as easy as we allow it to be. You see, we have that wonderful tendency to make things harder for ourselves. And it is one thing to sit in Kampala with the bills paid and the kids in school and say: we will need to give ourselves time to find a place and settle in. It is another thing to be moving with three little children and five suitcases every two to three days to a new place to find a home; find out that there are very, very few houses for rent and that it’s even harder to get one when you don’t have any prove of income; see your money slipping through your fingers, because you have to eat out all the time; discover that Portugal can be pretty damn cold even in September (at least when you’re used to Amazon and African temperatures).


I had seen the announcement for a house in Caramulo. On the map it was clear that the place was quite some distance from the bigger town of Viseu, which we had been to and liked a lot. In any case it was very green. Maybe I’m not a great map reader, but what I didn’t see was that it wasn’t just distant, it was completely remote. The place I had booked for us was even higher up. Even more remote. It took us almost ten hours to reach from Viana do Castelo. Now, my friends, it is quite an achievement to travel ten hours in the Northern region of Portugal alone, considering that we could have reached France had we gone up straight.

We took he train; spent hours on a bus; traveled on foot. A 1,5-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old, a couple and five suitcases on a baby carrier. Finally, we had to cram everything into a taxi, because there is no public transport to Carvalhal da Mulher. By the time we got there, it was dark. We had all caught a cold, we were tired and exhausted. The house was an old rustic stone house, and it was freezing. My eldest started crying and said she wasn’t going to stay there; the second was crying, because she wanted to return to Uganda to her friends and teachers, the little one said nothing. She was too tired.

Luckily for us, I had had an intuition and had jumped into a supermarket at the last bus station to grab some groceries. Otherwise we would have been without dinner or breakfast. There are no stores in Carvalhal da Mulher. We later learned that for most Portuguese, Carvalhal da Mulher is as much of unknown territory as for the rest of the world. I found a cozy bath robe and wrapped my eldest in it. Then I wrapped us all in everything that remotely contained cotton or wool, fed us all and tucked us into bed. Look, I said to my eldest, we ate and we’re warm. We’re okay. Let’s sleep.

The next morning

We slept like babies. The cold can annoy the hell out of me when I’m up, but there is no better sleep than tucked underneath several layers of blankets with the nose in the cold fresh mountain air. I got up when I saw the first ray of sun through the curtains. I opened the blinds and looked out.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. The valley below us was covered by a dense white cover of clouds, as soft as cream. The sun rose behind the mountain peaks on the other side. Everything was bathed in a sleepy mist, silent, peaceful. “This place is so beautiful, mom.” My eldest had woken up, too. She stood next to me in that too-big bathrobe, looking out the window, in awe.

We loved the house, we loved the place, we took a walk along the Serra and had incredible fun catching grass hoppers which pooed on our hands. We knew we wouldn’t rent a house there, but we were grateful and happy that we had come. Had it not been our search for a house, we had never gone to the unknown, to Carvalhal da Mulher. We met such kind people, the five of us had a feast of soup, main dish, desert and drink for 20 Euros altogether, while the youngest re-arranged all the water bottles of the restaurant. We enjoyed every moment of our stay.

It is easy to jump into the unknown. When you let it be.

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