The combination of a strong pound, the weak euro, dismal weather in the rest of Europe, financial meltdown at the other end of the Mediterranean, cross-Channel chaos and any amount of illegal ‘tourists’ laying siege to the remainder of the continent, meant that Portugal in general and the Algarve in particular enjoyed one of its busiest summers for a long time.
Scientists claim – what do they know – that the ‘perfect’ holiday is made up of three essential ingredients: company, time and location. That magical getaway should boast plenty of activities, sounds, sights, tastes, sun, as well as a sense of uniqueness, although male and female priorities do vary somewhat.
The importance of that annual pilgrimage abroad is highlighted by the fact that 34% of Britons’ treasured lifetime memories are related to travel.
Although I agree insofar as sun, sea, palm trees and exotic food have always constituted the perfect cocktail for a great foreign adventure, reality for the great majority of holidaymakers is not always as rosy as described above, leading to the creation of several potential candidates for new dictionary entries.
To start with we have the still tolerable ‘okation’. Here the weather is slightly overcast while the hotel is so-so, the restaurant food warmish, and the staff not exactly unpleasant. Been there, done it.
Worse is the ‘unsaycation’. All is hunky-dory until the fifth day when, over lunch, you say something uncalled for and your partner responds in kind. One thing leads to another and, before you know it, you are both glaring at each other and wondering how you’ll ever get through the remainder of your vacation.
Many years ago I failed to hold my tongue somewhere in Portimão provoking my then girlfriend to storm out of the backstreet eatery. Are you familiar with that sickly feeling in the stomach totally unrelated to the meal-in-the-basket left in front of you?
I finally found her the next morning in some newly-constructed apartment block cared for by some extremely camp bloke wearing pink pyjamas – I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details!
Both examples of less-than-wonderful down time are rendered immaterial by the ‘swaycation’. This instantly forgettable experience involves a fortnight spent knocking back copious amounts of Superbock, Medronho and anything else sufficiently strong to cause daily amnesia resulting in the endless search for your hotel, the name of which permanently escapes you.
All of which brings me back to the diary of the less carefree resident who has to both endure, and put a brave smile upon, this recurring excess while trying to get enough sleep to cater for the needs of this legitimised invasion of what is otherwise a quiet place to live.
6am: Some time before the sun creeps above the distant high-rise horizon which is Praia da Rocha, a raucous but good-natured crowd spills out of near-by Buddy’s Bar, and proceeds to do its best to persuade the rest of the slumbering village to join in their sing-song. At least the bifanas were good. I have already been awake for an hour thanks to earlier closing times down the strip providing less pleasant and definitely more dramatic entertainment – why do drunken Brits insist on picking fights with the locals?
8am: I need cat food and some extra cans of 7-Up for a slightly better behaved group of shandy-drinking ladies at work. Unfortunately the local mini-market is already swamped with bleary-eyed revellers in search of something to soak up the alcohol. The queue almost causes me to miss my bus which is already full of early beachgoers jousting with deck chairs and oversized umbrellas.
9am: As I welcome my first still sober customers I can see the scramble for sunbeds surprisingly spearheaded by Portuguese elements in the vicinity of the nearby hotel pool. The exodus down the paved path to the beach has also begun while both sides of the road leading up from the bus stop have long been occupied by endless rows of cars and caravans of every description.
Noon: Time to head home and lunch – the plan backfires as one bus after another passes without bothering to stop as they are already overcrowded. Not in the best of moods, I head for a café nearby only to find all tables taken. I end up sharing stale rolls with a noisy family from Hull which really puts me in the right frame of mind for my afternoon’s labours.
7.45pm: Closing up following an afternoon spent contemplating where all the people whose motor vehicles are so much in evidence have disappeared to, I decide to walk back to Alvor. Warding off all those touting for restaurant trade with a knowing smile on the way, I finally reach the Doghouse where mostly regular customers and several not so well-chilled bottles of Cristal await me. Another August day is almost over.
10pm: The fridge did not have much to offer and Ciao Baby filled the void with a rack of BBQ ribs – the onion rings were missing, however, sold out – I blame everyone but myself despite the advanced hour. My bed is shouting at me but is soon drowned out by Gareth, who is ramping up the sounds at Rory Mac’s not far from my open window. It’s almost midnight now and I have just managed to drop off when a group of Chelsea fans starts taking turns on a karaoke machine which, judging by the racket, has seemingly been smuggled into my flat. A couple of teenagers engaging in a throwing up contest slumped outside the front door does not help matters. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…
Life in Alvor is not always this entertaining – most of the time it is exactly what I wished for following a life spent without sinking any real roots. I have found them here, mostly far away from the maddening crowds which, at times, have nonetheless taken it upon themselves to pursue me to the ends of the earth. Otherwise life is good. See you next year!
By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 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.