Photo: Inês Lopes/Open Media Group

A very good time to be a resident

Right now is a very good time to be an Algarve resident. Especially if you’re over 65 and have received at least one dose of the vaccine, your situation is finally getting better just like the weather. With sunny, warm (but not hot) days forecast, we are now allowed to travel between concelhos on roads and highways that still don’t have very many other cars catching up from behind.

It is currently possible to find a parking place in town not too far from your favourite restaurant that has recently reopened. While there, it is obvious that the owner is overjoyed to welcome back your patronage after eight long months of eating at home. The staff is literally skipping around from table to table with a smile on their employed faces.

Some establishments have not been able to reopen and that truly is a shame, but those who have seem to be in the mood for celebration and energetic service. We should encourage this atmosphere while we can, before the tourists descend and slowly but surely break the spirits of the staff with silly questions and ridiculous demands.

We no longer have to sneak onto a beach for a barefoot walk in the surf, while our pups seem to be delighted to be off the leash. Of course, we still slip on our masks for visits to the grocery or wine store to pick up a few things instead of a biweekly excursion to acquire supplies.

I realised recently that, for the past several months, my main social interaction was with the gals at the checkout counter at Jaffers and Paulina, the nice lady who owns the corner store in the village. Most locals do seem to be pretty good about keeping a bit of social distancing as part of what might end up being “the new normal”.

Ol’Pat was able to go to the barber recently to get his hair and beard cut back to pre-lockdown levels. My barber, who still remembered my name surprisingly, did need a snow shovel to remove the massive pile of excess gray hair that covered the floor.

We should enjoy this idyllic time of sparse traffic and no need for reservations because it won’t last forever. Travel restrictions, particularly internationally, will eventually be rescinded and one of the world’s most attractive vacation locations will once again be open for busy business.

There is also a building backlog of demand for people planning to retire to an area of the planet that makes the top of almost every list of “best places to retire”. In other words, ‘they’re coming’.

My loyal reader may recall that I recently wrote a column about some intrepid couples who relocated here even when the restrictions were at their height, proving that really nothing can stop people from moving here. While the main point of that discussion was to demonstrate that we all had much in common and that we’re a resilient lot, those folks were just the first wave in what could turn out to be a tsunami of pent-up demand.

Veteran expat residents, which are basically anyone who arrived before 2020, are going to have to steel themselves for a surge of newcomers. Especially on social media, these newbies are going to relentlessly bombard us with the same questions, no matter how earnestly the various group administrators encourage them to check out the files of helpful information.

These hopefuls will continue to ask for tips as where to settle down or argue about whether or not it is a good idea to ship their Dodge Ram truck from the States (I always answer the motor vehicle question with the same one-word answer “parts”). Everybody, it seems, is looking for an inexpensive two-bedroom apartment with a magnificent sea view in a complex with a swimming pool and not far from a golf course and in walking distance of the centre of town. Naturally, we wish “everybody” good luck with that.

While Ol’Pat is trying his best at not being a troll with my notorious sarcasm held at bay, I am impressed by how generous and genuinely helpful many of my friends are when answering yet another question from somebody who seems to know how to get on Facebook but has never heard of Google. For example: “Yes, we do have hospitals”, or “It’s not a nifty number, it’s called a NIF number” and “No, we don’t drive on the left”.

One query many wouldbees seem to like to ask is something along the lines of “What are the minuses as well as the pluses of living in Portugal?” I did come across a reaction to the many essay-long comments that people already here made, that was submitted by a prospective resident named Dave Maxwell, reprinted here with permission:

“The more I read the more I want to move to PT, but my wife is quite uncertain. In order to temper my excitement, I’ve been reading what I can find about the downsides. If she searches my browser history, she definitely won’t want to go!

What she would discover is that houses are moldy and cold except when they’re hot, everybody smokes everywhere, the language is hard, they charge for bread, consumer goods are cost prohibitive, people are friendly but you don’t make friends, Porto is too cold, Lisbon is too hot, there’s dog poop on the sidewalk, it’s all one big hill, rents have been skyrocketing, pickpockets are everywhere, mail can take a month, bureaucracy is impossible, drivers are crazy, yadda, yadda.
In other words, Portugal is hell on earth and you’d be crazy to move there!

I better clear my browser history.”

My point is that paradise is not perfect. When we lived in the Bahamas, a country of 700 beautiful islands, we had sand flies on the beach also called “noseeums” by the locals, that were little invisible flying teeth that made sitting on your beach towel an ordeal, while there were sharks in the clear blue water. In Panama, number two on most lists of “best places to retire”, many expats wore Crocs because rubber shoes were an excellent idea during rainy season and also were useful for smashing scorpions. And so it goes.

Another newish trend on social media is what one self-aware newcomer referred to as the “quintessential arrival photo” consisting of a picture of a smiling couple with 12 suitcases, five duffle bags, two large cardboard boxes and a pet Great Dane puppy named King Canute. One Facebooker asked “when did those become a thing?” We’re also asked to be impressed that the trip took them some 30 hours to complete. Well yeah, Portugal is far away from Spokane. They’re also universally glad that their happy, generous and patient driver named Monti met them at the airport with a van big enough to haul their possessions the rest of the way. Well, they’re here, with more to come.

One thing that occurred to me recently while contemplating the influx of people seeking a new location for a different life is that as long as I have been here, I still have not seen one MAGA hat. Could it mean that people who don’t like the idea of Joe Biden and those Democrats turning their country into a socialist state are well enough informed to know that Portugal is run by the Socialist Party in collaboration with the Greens and the Communists? Or could it be that they’re embarrassed to have moved here without knowing? Maybe they’re just not coming.

By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.