Life on Mars

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.

Life in the Algarve can involve varying degrees of alienation. Sporadic contact with visitors briefly reminding us of the past sometimes best forgotten can upset the routine we have laid out for ourselves in these sunny climes somewhat removed from previous realities.

The fact that these temporary residents are on holiday heightens the sense of lack of our perceived reality as holidays are exactly that – a time spent away from everyday life almost forcing false bravado upon those determined to enjoy their time away.

It is easy to be jolly, to go out every night hell bent on enjoyment when you are aware that this particular ‘spree’ is finite and unlikely to return for another year.

For us, already firmly at one with sun, beach and bars, the easy-going lifestyle, a certain cynicism sets in clouding our appreciation of these free spirits at play. Said facts are true in my case anyway. That is not to say that I am not very grateful and aware of the privilege I have created for myself in having transformed my life to encompass the Algarve.

Many people find the onset of winter bleak and depressing – I love the solitude, the return to ‘normality’, the empty roads, the time available to devote to family and friends so noticeably absent during the high season. At the same time, November, December and January in the Algarve raise the awareness that we do live on a different planet, one way or the other.

Having just leafed through the current edition of the Algarve GoodLife Magazine of which I am usually only able to identify with the editorial piece at the beginning – yes, the Algarve has changed dramatically, but change is a necessary evil – I am glad to see that some of our so-called ‘expats’ have assimilated and become part of their Portuguese communities.

Sadly, I have made enough acquaintances here who, after 20 years or more of residency, are not capable of more than a bom dia or obrigado. Living in a foreign country, it is only natural to seek out compatriots, people that you can easily communicate with. But turning that initial state into a permanent one is beyond my comprehension. Even when I was a frequent visitor to the Greek Islands, I was soon able to communicate in a rudimentary fashion and always loathed to be regarded as ‘just another foreigner’.

When surrounded by Portuguese people, culture and lifestyle for any length of time building isolationist British, German or Dutch enclaves just seems alien to me and the global community we are supposed to be a part of.

One of the most vivid memories I have of the time the South of France became my favourite holiday destination is sitting in a cheap Cannes café (contradiction in terms?) listening to One-way Ticket To The Moon on a 50s style table jukebox. We had baguette washed down with copious amounts of red wine followed by endless ‘pastice’ with the locals.

Having only the next school or university year to look forward to, it really did feel like I was on the moon, albeit with an all too close return flight awaiting me in the near future. If I were not so sedentary, I would have different options today. The US NASA space agency has set out on a programme to colonise Mars. The mission is to boldly go where no man or woman has gone before. The snag is that coming back will be either too time-consuming or expensive.

The Red Planet is half the size of Earth and has similar seasons to our planet as well as days only 41 minutes longer than ours. The ultimate solution to Ingid Bergman’s “I want to be alone” loses some of its appeal though if you consider that in H.G. Wells’ prophetic masterpiece War of the Worlds, Martians landed in Woking, Surrey – the place is a dump. Why couldn’t they choose the Algarve?

Mars also has two polar ice caps. This is a worry. Human colonisation would inevitably be followed by human avarice and the human compulsion to ‘possess’. A leading academic back here on Earth has already suggested that Britain and NATO should increase their military presence in the Arctic – what would happen on Mars?

Apparently almost a third of our world’s untapped resources, most importantly oil and gas, are at stake. Access to both will open up as the polar ice cap melts (our doing!), pointed out Cambridge professor Paul Berkman who added that bordering countries such as the Russian Federation, Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Norway and the US have not actually advocated peace in the region. “In effect, the Cold War never ended in the Arctic Ocean,” he said. The situation is not helped by the 2007 planting of the Russian flag on the seabed of the Lomonovsov Ridge or by Rear Admiral Chris Parry’s statement that “The situation has moved from strategic concerns to the bleeding obvious.”

I, for one, am glad that the coming winter will offer up some peace and quiet as well as some lower temperatures well above freezing point nowhere near ‘Cold War’ standards. I do not crave life on Mars – the Algarve is quite far enough away from the maddening crowd to feel separate yet a part of it. And ‘a part of it’ I intend to remain – in every sense.