WHILE I know that eucalyptus is grown as a cash crop, it was a shock to find the hills, through which we walk everyday, bare of trees. A few days earlier, the forest had been dancing to the wind, 40 feet tall and capped with flowers. Now, the components of bare trunks, crushed foliage, stripped bark and decapitated white blossom lay on a bed of mud. The dry stream was full of debris and the aromatic essence of dying plants lay within the confines of our valley.
Common sense overcame sadness as we realised that a fire risk had been eliminated, so we asked the boss of the chainsaw gang if he would give our plot a short back and sides. Having been within a whisker of losing the house to a hill fire three years ago, it seemed sensible that trees, liable to fall on the property, should be felled.
Clearing away boats and trailers before work started, the Boss uncovered an ocelated lizard hibernating under a Big 4 roofing sheet. It was about 14 inches long (two-thirds of which was tail) and, although rather earthy, the skin shone iridescent green. Carefully replacing the cover, we banked it with soil and hoped for its survival.
And then it was Christmas Eve and our family a thousand miles away … but the house sparkled with lights and a real tree, bedecked with stars and coloured globes, stood in the hall to be photographed and e-mailed so that we might share the fun. In the early hours of December 25, a lightning strike disabled our telephone, cutting off calls to special people, and text messages are not the same.
Later, in Luz, a sea of umbrellas outside church told us that our Catholic friends were still at full throttle; their joyful voices unaware of time passing as more rain came down. Many gave us a welcoming ‘Boas Festas’ as they left and, within 10 minutes, every pew was packed six abreast with expatriates. Numerous small children added leaven to the congregation and assistant chaplain Eunice brought along a large stuffed lion. She told them a resumé of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, in which the lion dies but is resurrected – as Mary’s child was born to die and rise again. Enjoyment of Christmas Day was in no way spoilt by the weather, a bonus that kept the hunting fraternity with their families rather than out on a killing spree.
In early December, a buzzard was either shot or otherwise damaged, and found by two of our friends. With considerable courage, they rescued, caged and took it to a bird sanctuary at the other end of the Algarve. The question arises as to the legality of hunting birds of prey, already diminished through fire, drought and unsafe farming practices.
Boats are never far out of the picture and Lagos marina offered a prize for the best-dressed yacht during December. Pai Natal was to be seen helming, keeping look-out and even swinging from the crosstrees, but otherwise little interest had been shown until friends arrived from Wales. Bedecking their ketch in streamers of coloured lanterns, with port and starboard lights at the masthead and tree and tinsel in the cabin, it shone like a beacon on a dark night. Even better was the complete turkey dinner plus trimmings miraculously produced, sizzling and fragrant, from a very confined galley. Raining again when we left, the inner glow from hot punch, excellent food and good company kept us warm and dry until we reached the car.
It was a far cry from the Boss’s most recent competition off Portimão, on a very big sea in half a gale, during which his Laser dinghy was picked up by a 20-foot wave going in the wrong direction. To lay the next mark of the course required him to gybe, a tricky manoeuvre at the best of times and quite impossible in such conditions. Running dead down wind sitting forward of the transom, his boat perched on the crest of this foaming curler and, going like the clappers, he had no say in the matter but sat very still and a light touch on the tiller, yelling “s**t, s**t, s**t” at the top of his voice and praying. Eventually, the wave passed underneath and away, dumping him still upright into the trough astern.
Negotiating a quick gybe before the next sea hit the boat broadside on, the Boss set off on a long slog back to the fleet, the finishing line and finally home for a hot shower. Certainly, he had earned his supper and a quiet snore in his rocking chair by the fire.