Written by Zoë Ryan Shipley
“Tribodar,” in Portuguese, means “sharing tribe”. Located in Nisa, Portugal, this tribe is the place I have made my home for the last three weeks. When I ﬁrst arrived, I must admit, I was a bit taken aback – having recently spent time at a well-established and beautifully located ashram in Australia, I had a very speciﬁc idea in my head about what kind of a community I was looking for. Tribodarʼs description on HelpX.net and professional-looking website conjured up images for me of a very developed, serene retreat center with daily yoga and meditation, surrounded by nature trails and waterfalls. With this vision in mind, I was ready for two months of self-exploration and inner healing, picking up where I had left off at the ashram five months prior.
Unfortunately, the reality of Tribodarʼs set-up and locale were far-removed from this idealistic picture I had painted for myself. In place of lush greenery and grass expanses, I found dust, rocks, an abundance of ﬂies, and a smattering of ﬁg and eucalyptus trees. Instead of a utopian retreat center with daily classes, I was introduced to a plethora of ongoing projects, many of which were happening on a trial basis. While the owners had a clear vision of what they would like their property to become, their approach to achieving this goal seemed disorganized and chaotic. And while there was a “daily healing hour” that sometimes happened and sometimes did not, the morning yoga I had excitedly anticipated was nowhere to be found.
“I was feeling suffocated by labels such as “hippie” and the traits that I felt were expected of me”
The disconnect between my expectations and how this community was actually set-up caused me to have a brief internal conniption, combined with a temporary quarter-life-crisis. Part of my panic came from the idea that I had committed to spending two months in this place, which made me feel claustrophobic when I realized it was not the paradise I had imagined. In addition, I was feeling suffocated by labels such as “hippie” and the traits that I felt were expected of me by others who associated these labels with me. The people I was surrounded by seemed completely comfortable with the eco-community lifestyle, whereas I was questioning whether this was really a way of life I could adhere to. If I couldnʼt, did that make me a “bad hippie”? If I was really someone who wanted to lower my carbon footprint and live in a sustainable way, shouldnʼt I want this lifestyle? What did it mean if I didnʼt?
“I realized that if this place was not going to ﬁt into my expectations, I would have to change my expectations to ﬁt into this place”
After a couple days of anxiety and several panicked e-mails asking friends for support and guidance, I realized that if this place was not going to ﬁt into my expectations, I would have to change my expectations to ﬁt into this place. Luckily, I was surrounded by a wonderful tribe of other helpers, as well as the owners and their active two-year-old, who proved to have much to teach and share. The ﬁrst step to calming myself down was realizing that this was HelpX, not the Marines. Yes, I had originally planned to stay for two months, but it wasnʼt as if I had signed my life away in writing!
My hosts turned out to be very ﬂexible and understanding when I told them that I wasnʼt sure how long I would like to stay at this point and wanted to take it one day at a time. While I knew I still wanted to spend some time at Tribodar, I began looking into other HelpX opportunities in Portugal and Spain, as well as yoga and meditation retreats. Simply conﬁrming that there were other options out there and knowing that I could leave whenever I wanted made me immediately feel ten pounds lighter. It also made it easier for me to enjoy the time I would spend at Tribodar, instead of feeling trapped.
I expressed my disappointment at the lack of daily yoga classes and was immediately given support and encouragement from two other members of the tribe to begin my own morning sessions – what an idea! We started the next day and for every day since, the three of us have risen before breakfast to do yoga together at sunrise, focusing on our minds and bodies before starting the work day. I unexpectedly discovered that I love teaching yoga and would like to pursue it further; a helpful bit of information to aid me in my quarter-life-crisis.
“Instead of trading money for commodities, massages are traded for didgeridoo lessons, hula hoop workshops for pieces of artwork, and essential oils for belly dancing classes”
I soon learned that every person here has invaluable skills and knowledge to teach and share. One of the things I love most about living in this community is that each person brings something different to the table. Instead of trading money for commodities, massages are traded for didgeridoo lessons, hula hoop workshops for pieces of artwork, and essential oils for belly dancing classes. Being in this environment has inspired me to gain more skills that I can easily share with others and to dedicate more time to crafting trade-worthy trinkets.
While I was surprised at the disorganized and undeveloped nature of Tribodar, I found that this meant the owners were open to new ideas and willing to start new projects. The projects here are driven by the enthusiasm and knowledge of the people who come to work, guided by the vision and direction of the owners.
Many tasks are experimental and may not work out as planned; itʼs a constant learning experience for everyone involved. Some aspects are relatively simple and are a staple of rural communities worldwide, such as compost toilets. Others, such as the green roofs we have constructed in my time here, have required more research, have hit many unexpected road blocks along the way, and may need to be re-done a few years from now. Though it can be frustrating to get halfway through a project only to realize youʼve done it wrong and have to start all over, there is always learning involved in any misstep you may take.
“Iʼm living my own unique life, the conﬁnes of which are dictated by me and me alone.”
Through living at Tribodar, I have been through many highs and lows in a relatively short time. I have learned that while this lifestyle may not be my ultimate goal, there is much that I can take from my time here to be incorporated back into a more urban setting. I have also learned not to get bogged down by labels and ideas of what you should or shouldnʼt be doing based on those labels. Iʼm living my own unique life, the conﬁnes of which are dictated by me and me alone. This means that Iʼm free to mix and match whatever aspects I ﬁnd enjoyable and useful of the experiences I encounter in the world to create my very own Ryan Shipley mélange, suited perfectly to ﬁt my own wants and needs.
“Once you realize you donʼt have to ﬁt your life into a box with a label that someone else has already created, itʼs pretty exciting; the possibilities are endless!”
Some people may still choose to call me a “bad hippie” because I like using shampoo and conditioner, living close to a city, and yes, I even enjoy the occasional Starbucks. But you know what? Thatʼs ﬁne with me, because I have realized that there is no way for me to be a bad Ryan Shipley; whatever I decide to do is exactly what I should be doing, and thatʼs the only label I care about now. Once you realize you donʼt have to ﬁt your life into a box with a label that someone else has already created, itʼs pretty exciting; the possibilities are endless!
My biggest piece of advice for anyone planning to embark on their very own HelpX adventure is this: know the place you are going before you get there. Itʼs easy to make a piece of land look like a resort with the right photos and a ﬂattering description. Even as a seasoned HelpX-er, I never know quite what Iʼm getting into each time I visit a new farm, and thatʼs half the fun!
There are questions you can ask ahead of time to make sure you have an idea of the place you will be spending your time. Donʼt be shy about getting as much information from your hosts as possible. Ask what the weather is like and what kind of clothing you will need for work. Make sure you know how many hours/days you will be work each week and what is expected of you. I have found that most hosts are fair in the amount of work they ask for, but itʼs always good to know ahead of time.
Although I have decided to cut my stay here shorter than originally planned, I am leaving Tribodar with a grateful heart, an eagerness to love and share, a head full of ideas, and a desire to learn more. While every eco-community is different, I have found there is much to be learned from each one. I would highly recommend visiting a HelpX community to any person who has an interest in an alternative, low-impact lifestyle, or just wants to get out of the city. If nothing else, youʼll end up with a great story!
All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.