I know exactly when the heat arrived. It was Tuesday, July 31. That morning, I sat out on my terrace, drank a cup of late-morning coffee and enjoyed a brisk breeze. It was warm but quite agreeable at about 78°F to 80°F (26°C). I went into my cool and comfortable den and logged onto Facebook on my laptop and bragged to “friends” about another beautiful, sunny and envy-inducing day in the Algarve in a caption attached to a clear blue-sky photo of the sea in the distance.
Early that afternoon, I noticed that the wind had dropped to almost dead calm, as if a front had passed through. When I stepped through my sliding screen door and onto the sunny deck, I was hit by a blast of hot air. I grabbed my “smart” phone and pressed the weather button. It was 33°C (92°F). In other words, it was suddenly summer. It was like João Fernandes, the Algarve’s new tourism boss, had thrown a switch. As all residents of the Algarve now know, August has been very hot and is forecast to remain hot. How hot? Mad dogs and Englishmen hot; or as we say in these parts “mad dogs and English tourists hot”.
This is our first August in the Algarve and, to be honest, my lovely wife and I were warned. As my regular reader already knows, Ol’Pat was previously an expat living in Panama, where I resided last summer. Thanks to that trusty app on my I-phone, I was able to check and compare the weather. I was surprised that, even though I was living in a tropical rain forest much nearer the equator, that it was much, I mean “much”, hotter along the southern coast of Portugal. Often when I checked, it would be something like 32°C (91°F) in Panama City, which is quite warm, while it was reported to be 44°C (111°F) in Faro, which is scorching hot. So, we thought we were ready. We weren’t.
The shade screen that I unfold in front of the windshield (windscreen) of my car fell down recently and I had to turn on the air-con and wait for 10 minutes before I could touch the blistering gearshift.
One thing people often say is that it is a “dry” heat, and that has proven to be true, with an emphasis on the word “heat”. Humidity, like the damp heat we got used to in Central America and the Caribbean, can add to the discomfort level. However, when the thermometer climbs into the 100s (39°C or above), dry is also something you have to deal with.
We now cool down our dog Fluffy twice a day with the hose and she doesn’t go out during the day preferring to lay on the cool tile floor directly under the air conditioner, which is currently on full blast full time.
Both my lovely wife and I have taken to drinking gallons of water rather than glasses of wine with lunch and dinner (supper), and in between. You can actually watch beer evaporate through your pores in a light steam if you’re foolhardy enough to drink one while sunbathing at a sidewalk café. This also happens on the golf course. I’m talking dry here. The newly-washed and wet towels, sheets and boxer shorts on the clothesline dry in minutes.
My lovely wife now buys moisturising cream by the bucket-load. I don’t just have ashy ankles anymore, but rather I’m contenting with sandpaper face, roasted elbows and knees and scorched skin. I have to pour water over my lips to get them to separate and my nasal cavities are like a barren desert, just without the tumbleweed. Inhaling a cloud of fine Saharan dust completes the apt simile.
I can’t believe that there were complaints about the cooler-than-normal temperatures during the months of June and July. Now that I know just how balmy it can get here, I’m grateful for the respite and actually would have appreciated a more gradual transition from tepid to torrid. According to recent reports in our favourite local newspaper, some seasonal concessions were feeling the summertime blues because business had fallen off. I don’t get it. It was still very sunny and warm enough to run around in a Speedo if you wanted to. Apparently, tourists love it when they realise that the sand on the beach is so scorching hot that they have to hop around when trying to slip their flip flops back on before getting back to their oven-baked van.
Unfortunately, one of the consequences of a very dry hot climate is the danger of wildfires. This season the lovely area of Monchique has been particularly hard hit. Brave firefighters are doing all they can to save people’s homes and ol’Pat joins with all residents of the area under a cloud of ash in hoping for a safe and successful outcome from their courageous efforts. If you’re a smoker, whatever you do, don’t flick your cigarette out your car window.
It’s not going to be 106°F (41°C) every day in August, but even if it is that is part of the deal of being a resident in this beautiful part of the world. There’s nothing you can do about the weather. File your complaints please with the appropriate authorities.
Note: Some of my dear friends from the UK seem baffled when I (as an American) use Fahrenheit to describe just how blasted hot it is. “Phew,” I sputter, “it must be 110 today.” They look at me with a befuddled look on their faces and then “politely” enquire “What is that in Celsius?” My wise-guy response is “very hot”. However, these same pub buddies (one in particular) are uninhibited about using Celsius when noting the temperature in my presence. “Blimey,” he might blurt out, “it must be 43 today.” As usual, I roll with the punches but, as an English major, I don’t do math (or maths).
Below is a simple guide rounded off to the nearest decimal point.
In other words, short of having a conversion table app on your ever-present phone, it’s possible to generalise and get along.
Celsius / Fahrenheit
20s – comfortable / 70s – comfortable
30s – warm to hot / 80s – warm / 90s – hot
40s – quite hot / 100s – man oh man hot
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.