Chirpy, chirpy, sheep, sheep!

By SKIP BANDELE [email protected]

Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.

Finally…September! Following the wettest winter on record, the Algarve enjoyed one of the most consistently warm summers I have experienced.

Unfortunately, the midday heat did not diminish greatly at night making non-air conditioned sleep somewhat of a challenge. When I finally succumbed and bought an overpriced ventilator last week, the customary late afternoon wind did finally set in rendering the instrument useless. No matter, I am sure it will come in useful next year.

Love it or hate it, August is an interesting month in this part of the world. In 2009, the customary invasion causing the region’s infrastructure to approach saturation levels simply did not happen as the global financial crisis took its toll.

To the relief of local businesses and residents dependent on tourism in terms of making their living, the Algarve returned to ‘normal’ over the past four weeks – in the Portimão area at least.

Parking near the beach during the day or one’s favourite restaurant at night proved just as impossible as safely navigating roads at any other time. My proverbial ‘eyes in the back of my head’ saved me more than once from reckless U-turns, speeding Spaniards or curb-crawling luxury limousines sporting the inevitable arm dangling out of the driver’s window – I always pray that the other is firmly in charge of the steering wheel rather than a mobile phone.

Making an overdue visit to the supermarket had to be precisely timed to correspond with peak beach times to allow for any elbow room at all as back roads suddenly became very popular with those ‘in the know’. Whereas the customary road works did surface, a phenomenon which never ceases to amaze me, water shortages, temporary power cuts or long lines at the petrol station did not, despite the fact that every building and corresponding parking space in my neighbourhood were overrun by temporary visitors not adversely disposed to partying all night long.

In order to close this chapter of this month’s contribution to your reading pleasure with an appropriate anecdote, I need to reveal a previously little known fact – I spend my evenings during the high season on the streets of Alvor handing out leaflets for a Chinese restaurant.

Apart from being a financially lucrative activity, I believe that it offers me a unique insight into the constantly changing profile of the average tourist coming to spend their holidays here. The summer of 2010 saw the continuing trend of large numbers of Irish families coming to the south of Portugal evident over several years now.

Almost always appearing in tribal groups, this particular species is mostly friendly, happy-go-lucky yet virtually impossible to steer in any direction other than the nearest Irish pub.

Then there are the Spanish and Portuguese holidaymakers who share a common trait in so far as both seem to know exactly where they are going while reappearing from the opposite direction no more than 10 minutes later equally determined to head back to wherever they had first appeared from.

Similarities are also evident in German and Dutch tourists’ behaviour patterns. Both are virtually unapproachable while appearing completely lost. Clutching a stack of postcards, any attempt to point out the nearest (and often only) letter box for example are stubbornly ignored. Marching onwards, the sensible shoes-clad Germans circle continuously maintaining a tight formation and may eventually condescend to barking out a request for guidance.

The bronzed and casually dressed Dutch in comparison tend to swarm out and proceed to spend the following hour trying to find each other again, a fraught activity accompanied by occasional hilarity pre-empting any third party approach from the moment they come into view. And then there are the Brits.

The English, Scots and Welsh not to mention the Northern Irish come in all shapes and sizes and still make up the majority of foreign visitors to the Algarve. As a group, they are very difficult to categorise featuring an assortment of ‘types’ ranging from the transplanted council estate Neandertaler brood – tattoos, piercings and football shirts included – to the overly polite tinted haired upper middle class couple.

Either can be engaging, inquisitive, personable or downright rude. I tend to ignore the uncouth latter, understanding that not everyone is enamoured by a complete stranger sticking a Chinese menu under their noses when on holiday in Portugal, and have made many friends I am pleased to see again year in and year out among the former.

I have found that the ‘indefinables’ somewhere between the two extremes can be the most rewarding and open to engage in conversation, the absence of xenophobia stemming from different life experiences being the determining factors.

Hence I find myself joking with retired bank managers on the tennis court, drinking with plumbers or having heated but amicable football-orientated discussions with teachers or even faded pop stars. One thing I refuse to condone however is pure and unbridled ignorance.

Only a few nights ago, a well dressed couple were heading in my general direction. He, mid-forties, well manicured, pink shirt, grey slacks, responded to my polite entreaty with a blunt “I don’t do Chinks”. Turning away I beheld his platinum blond partner excellently turned out, her sleeveless white print gown complemented by golden stilettos. While still some metres away, I had to observe the lady taking a good sniff under each armpit and then shouting out “Oy Neal, I forgot to put on me deodorant!” Enough said.  

In general, I find that this year has been much better than expected following the initial downpours compounded by the volcano no-fly fortnight in late April. People are coming to the Algarve again and that can only be positive for a region largely dependent on the tourism industry. I for one genuinely believe that the future is bright although we may have to keep our belts tightened for quite some time yet.