Bart, 31 years old, is a surfer from Belgium. Together with his friend Jeroen, he has a piece of land at Vegan Hills, on the West Coast of Portugal. We talked to Bart and Jeroen last October about their adventures, ideals and future plans. At the moment Bart is busy developing the land from scratch. Eco huts will be built, a lake will be dug, trees will be planted. In case you haven’t yet read part I (Jeroen’s story) you can do that first!
In a sense I’ve always been searching. Traveling from one place to the other, trying to learn more about myself. I don’t think our current societal system provides the right breeding ground for really getting to know oneself. At school I didn’t learn all that much.
During my sports degree, my teachers told me that I wasn’t a good fit with the Western educational system. I totally agreed. Although I completed my degree with merit, I felt limited by having to stay within the boundaries and regulations set by teachers. In gym class the rules are fixed. But I wanted to take people outside, into nature, into the forest, so we could explore. This wasn’t allowed.
Luckily I was able to specialise in sports & recreation, particularly outside sports such as boardsports and adventure (surf and snowboarding). These last years I did a lot of seasonal work; in the winter I would be on the ski slope and in the summer at the beach. In between I would travel, going from one place to the next. Nothing was really planned. An opportunity would present itself and I would hop on that train. Go with the flow. You could say this is my life motto.
A new chapter
After all the traveling and many great experiences, I now know what I don’t want. I have outgrown the traveler’s lifestyle and am looking for more meaning and depth. I am ready for a new chapter of my life.
Right now I am in Portugal and I want to create a place I can call my home, here at Vegan Hills. Before, I had my van and I could go wherever I wanted to go. I still have my van and it’s a great thing to have. But I want to build a foundation. All that I am learning now, I hope to be able to pass on to others. I guess this is where the teacher in me awakens.
Vegan Hills covers 100 hectares on the West coast of Portugal where various people will live together, each on their self chosen piece of land. The aim at Vegan Hills is to live ethically and sustainably. The first people, like Bart and Jeroen, have started living there and are building their own (off grid) house.
Jeroen and I are different. Jeroen will sit down with others and start telling a story, sharing knowledge. I think it’s awesome to listen to him. But I myself am more of a doer, and can motivate others with my energy and enthusiasm. That’s why I think we’re such a good team, we complement each other in that way.
Sense of freedom and trust
It feels good to be in the Algarve. I feel at ease here, even though the situation is quite hectic right now. We are still in the initial stages of setting up Vegan Hills. There are still many uncertainties and question marks. It’s a lot of work, but I have trust. If I start to think too much, I lose this feeling of trust. So instead of worrying just give me a shovel so I can dig a hole for our first pond!
I have always felt a great sense of freedom. It allows me to go wherever I want and do the things that make me happy. For instance, ever since I started studying I have lived in a van. You need guts to go your own way. We often feel a need for security. And with this I mean the fake sense of security society offers us, like a house, job and car in the driveway. But this is security in a limited form. You become dependent on these material objects and get caught up in the system. To get out of this cycle, you need to take a leap of faith. You’ll discover you can create a sense of safety and contentment within yourself, no matter where you are, no matter what you have. I live a very minimalistic life, but I also have my toys; my kites, surfboards and snowboards!
I’m the eternal optimist, always trusting things will turn out ok. My parents split up when I was 3 years old. When we were kids we needed to make our own plans and this taught me to be inventive and flexible, always finding a solution.
The right environment
I try to create and find happiness, harmony, oneness. Peace of mind. You achieve this by being yourself in every situation, by surrounding yourself with great people and by only doing things that really suit you. If you can’t live in harmony with your environment, you’re not in the right place. Therefore it’s so important for me to create the right environment. Of course there will always be stress factors, but for me it’s relatively easy to brush it off.
Part of this right environment are people who can support us and help us starting up Meraki. We have the knowledge, but not a lot of experience with, for instance, permaculture. All the things we’ve done until now have helped; such as working at other projects, starting a water catchment system and surveying the land. But meeting the right people is most important.
With Meraki Algarve, Bart and Jeroen will be offering holidays on their land. Holidays with a combination of relaxation, nature, sports, inspiring eco projects and practical experience. Bart and Jeroen strive to create a self-sufficient way of living and to share this with others who are ready for a new perspective.
I have always been the odd one out. I can live in society and feel accepted, but I’m still that guy who walks on bare feet through Belgium in the middle of winter. Straight away you notice people’s reactions. During my studies and at surf camps I was also the weird one who did things differently. People didn’t really understand how I could live such a minimalistic lifestyle and be happy. My goal is to motivate those people going through a transition period in their life, those who are ready to ‘be the change’. I want to bring those people from the ‘dark side’ to the ‘green side’ (laughing).
Everything is energy right? I have solar panels on my roof, that’s energy. For a surf magazine I once explained the process behind surfing. It starts with a flat ocean. The wind blows over the surface of the water and creates a ripple. The ripple travels thousands of kilometers towards the coast and the energy builds up. Then all this energy reaches the shore and breaks as a wave. The fun part is, as a surfer you only use these final moments of this wave. When the energy reaches it’s highest point, you catch the wave. Start ‘dancing’ on it. So the energy doesn’t only come from yourself but you use the energy that is already there. If you use it wrongly, you crash. But if you learn to use the energy and ride the wave at the right time and angle, you can make a beautiful run. For me this is a great description of energy. You let it build up and once it’s ‘full power’ you use it and turn it into something great. Enjoy the ride!