How did I get here – reflections on houses

Walking the Rota Vicentina, March 2014

In March 2014, feeling a little lost in between jobs and in the aftermath of heart wrenching turmoil, I walked up the coast of southwest Portugal along the Fisherman’s Trail section of the Rota Vicentina, with my brother Alec. It was the first time we had spent time together since we were teenagers (something of a risk in itself) and we shared our hopes and dreams as we walked (as well as disagreements, a fear of angry guard dogs and a day spoken entirely in rhyme, but those are other stories).

Alec lent me Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to read, a tale of listening to our heart’s true desires and following our destinies.

Sitting on the beach one afternoon, looking out across the Atlantic, I considered what I really desired; a home of my own, somewhere to belong and to make secure for myself.

It felt so out of reach. I had recently completed a Masters which had consumed all of my meagre savings, and my chosen field (conservation) was not one in which to make a quick buck. But I resolved to save 10% of all my earnings from then on into an account specifically for a house deposit. I didn’t know how long it would take, but figured that even if I was earning peanuts, 10% of a peanut should be manageable.

Fast forward 4 and a half years to 2018, and I feel like I might have enough to put down on a house. I visit the bank; yes, I could get a mortgage. I browse RightMove; I can just about afford somewhere very small, not too far from where I work (or, more importantly, the sea). I make appointments to view flats. I do some calculations, and realise that although I could afford to buy a small place to live and pay a mortgage, a) I’d end up paying for the house many times over in interest, and b) I’d never be able to afford to earn less than I needed to cover the mortgage for a single month.

I would have to stay in my job, or go straight into another with equal or higher salary. If I ever wanted to take a break from work to travel (as per my routine-breaking Jedidiah Jenkins-inspired plans), I’d have to have tenants paying me sufficient rent every single day that I was not there.

There went my dreams of adventure or one day starting my own business. Owning a house would tie me up and hold me down, just as I was realising that that was exactly what I didn’t want.

But did I have to spend my hard earned and saved money on bricks and mortar? Does a home have to be a house? Or can it be something else that can travel with you, and that doesn’t require getting into debt?

I had friends who lived in vans, or on narrow boats on rivers and canals, and others who had built their own homes in cob for mere thousands.

I didn’t like the idea of being reliant on fossil fuels to travel in a van, nor being confined (mostly) to rivers or canals on a narrow boat.

No, what I wanted was a sail boat.

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