Empty main square in Tavira

New expats arriving in Portugal find wide-open spaces in the middle of Tavira

For many residents of the Algarve and particularly expatriates, most of whom are retired, life on the southern coast of Portugal has become static due to the many restrictions that have been imposed because of the pandemic. Tuesday seems quite a bit like Monday, or is it Thursday already? We miss getting together with our friends or going out to eat at our favorite restaurant. Heck, we’re not even allowed to walk on the beach, which was a main reason we moved here in the first place. We’ve nearly exhausted Netflix and our Kindle bills have never been higher. We miss the way it was, even if that means a few overweight tourists running around Albufeira in their thongs.

Even now the good-old days are still not quite just around the corner – maybe Easter, but probably not before. The vaccine programme could be moving faster and many of us are becoming tired and frustrated with lockdown. Most of us are holding on and keeping the faith because we know how nice it will be when things return to normal, whatever that means.

But what about the newest expats, those brave ingenious souls who have arrived with the intention of establishing residency in the year 2020 or even more recently? As my loyal reader might remember, I’ve already said that that experience has to be weird.

Ol’Pat has gotten in touch with three such retired couples, who arrived at a nearly deserted Faro or Lisbon Airport, were greeted by a cheerful driver (they think he was cheerful, but they couldn’t see him smile because he was wearing a mask) and driven through the empty streets of Tavira, their new home. Most of us old timers (these days, that’s anyone who moved here pre-pandemic) enjoy the off season, when there’s less traffic, but what’s it like when there’s no traffic, nobody on the sidewalks, no cars waiting their turn to enter the roundabout, not a single soul anywhere? Let’s ask them about their experiences.

First there’s Bina and Kenneth Cline, who describe themselves as “senior retired nomads”. They arrived in November 2020, so they were here between the first and second major lockdowns. Originally from Atlanta, they had spent some time in Costa Rica before deciding on Portugal as a place they wanted to stay for a while. In fact, they had visited twice before and stayed in Porto and even hiked the Camino de Santiago.

Ultimately, they “fell in love with the little town of Tavira”, which they felt “was a natural fit”.

Then, the second lockdown was declared, and they discovered they “couldn’t do anything” and, most importantly, while isolating “couldn’t meet people” and therefore “couldn’t build relationships” because they were “unable to establish connections”.

The Clines were able to gather “plenty of information online”, but there often seemed that “important details were missing” and that they felt that they were “solving problems on their own”, when possible.

Or, as Ken described it, “while sometimes it felt like desolation, mostly it was just very quiet.”

Since they had first visited Tavira in September 2018, the Clines did have an idea of what tourist season looked like without masks. Bina noted that she enjoyed “café culture” and did miss “the chance to stop for a coffee” during a morning walk.

Having actually escaped Costa Rica which they found to be quite dangerous, with home invasions being a real problem, these nomads are “thrilled to be here”, and have no plans to return to the States, even if that might mean being able to get the vaccine sooner.

Instead, they seem to be adapting to “a slower pace to life”, by simply enjoying the sunshine on their balcony; solitary walks in the countryside, which they describe as “gorgeous”, and spending more time than they might have otherwise “learning Portuguese online”. As Ken frankly put it, their experience so far “has not been that onerous”. Or as Bina summed up their attitude, they are indeed “looking forward to better days ahead”.

Then there is Deb Litman and Paul Easterday, from Scottsdale, Arizona, who arrived in Tavira on January 1, just in time for the current lockdown. That first evening, the two newcomers went for a walk around the town centre and, as Paul noted, “nobody was outside, nobody at all. The Christmas lights were shining and music was playing, but the streets were empty. The lights cast a blue weirdness across the cobblestones and buildings”.

“It was like the Twilight Zone,” Deb added, “or something post apocalyptic.” And yet, they “loved it”.

Deb, who is a retired pharmacist, and Paul, who is a retired x-ray technician, are, like many expats, the adventurous type and publish 33flights.com, a travel blog, and seem to be coping rather well.

They’re getting used to preparing their own food and going for long walks. Paul has been particularly impressed with “the vast variety of flowers blooming everywhere” as a part of the Algarve’s early spring.

Deb has even joined an amateur photography club and already won a weekly award. Both are also supporting the Pink Flamingo Croquet Club in that group’s charitable efforts to help feed needy families in the area.

They had visited previously in 2019 for five days but didn’t know Tavira that well, but now the two masked explorers are getting to know the geography and landmarks pretty well, and certainly not overwhelmed by any hustle or bustle. As Deb explains it, “We’re kind of fortunate – we’re going out exploring in a different way and enjoying a unique sense of wonder.”

On the other hand, Deb and Paul have not been out of Tavira since they arrived. They’re still looking forward to seeing other parts of the Algarve and indeed Portugal. They’ve yet to visit nearby Spain.

“Obviously, this wasn’t the plan,” Paul points out, but so far we’re not disappointed.” In fact, Deb feels “a romance with the city” and says that the restrictions have “forced us to be positive”. Certainly not negative, these two are looking forward to when things will be different but, for the time being, are enjoying the quiet.

The third new Tavira couple ol’Pat talked to are Connie and Craig Hathaway from Colorado via Washington State, who arrived on these shores on February 21. That’s less than one restricted month ago.

Connie, a retired nurse, and Craig, who is retired after 35 years of government service, moved into their new apartment in the Cabanas de Tavira development and found it challenging to set up their new home with most of the stores closed. “We were and are able to get food, especially at the open-air market,” Connie explained, “but not anything else”. Connie was able to set up an herb garden on their patio so far, but that’s about it.

Like many expats, who have settled on living in Portugal, at least for a while, the Hathaways have lived all around the world from Germany to Costa Rica (yes Costa Rica again – go figure). They even own a cabin in Honduras and are “not afraid of new cultures”. To be honest, they were quite disappointed with “the level of hostility in politics” that they were experiencing in the States.

They were somewhat disappointed in what they noticed about a locked-down Algarve. “It’s almost sad,” Connie said, “to see so many stores and businesses closed down. It’s nice and quiet to walk around, but there’s also a feeling of despair; of a lack of opportunity.”

Connie was impressed with the industry they were able to witness around their new development. “There are guys putting in new cobblestone sidewalks and I’m impressed by the skill they show, as well as how hard they work.”

Craig agreed and said, “In some ways, the town felt diminished” and that they are looking forward to a time when they can “see more life, more smiles and more activity”.

“We are looking forward to contributing to the local economy,” Connie added. “We’re really looking forward to open air dining and going to many of the restaurants around town that are currently closed.”

These grandparents of three are also looking forward to some self-improvement in the form of learning the language and doing some writing while still dealing with confinement and then, when things open up, traveling much more in Europe. Connie is also learning to play the clarinet, which is only not surprising when informed that this true musician already plays 16 other instruments.

They first visited the Cascais area near Lisbon, but then visited São Brás de Alportel, where they realized the Algarve, with its pleasant weather, was where they would focus. Craig mentioned that his wife, in particular, is “a water person” so they enjoy being near the beach in a river town. Since they’ve arrived, they’ve been “doing a lot of walking”.

Understandably, Connie and Craig have not had a chance to get to know very many of their fellow residents yet. They’ve had to rely on getting acquainted online so far, mainly through the expat group Americans and Friends Living in Portugal. And, of course, they’ve received plenty of good advice from local expat treasure Rui Caetano, a generous individual who also, by the way, helped the other two couples in this article get settled as well.

Heck, even ol’Pat, who has resided in the Algarve for a bit over five years, still relies on Rui for the best information. As far as I’m concerned, one or more of the expat groups (are you listening, Americans Living in the Algarve, ALITA?) should give Caetano an award for service to the expat community. Ol’Pat would be honoured to MC the ceremony. That is, of course, when we’re all able to gather in groups again and finally meet some of our newest residents in person.

Craig Hathaway’s Top 10 reasons for moving to Portugal
Here’s a list, in order, of the reasons the Hathaways gave their friends and family as to why they relocated on the western and southern coast of the Iberian peninsula. A list, by the way, that Ol’Pat agrees with and with which I think my loyal reader will probably also concur.

1. The cost of living – compared to the States and, yes, to Costa Rica and Panama, Portugal is quite affordable.
2. Safety – as most of us already know, Portugal is considered the third or fourth safest country in the world.
3. The EU – where a second language is expected, with English generally spoken in most parts of the Algarve.
4. Government stability – compared to Italy and Spain even and much more than what many Americans believe.
5. The economy – one of the fastest-growing (at least pre-pandemic), while still affordable.
6. The weather – actually all of Portugal, but particularly the Algarve, with 300 days of sunshine after this current rainy spell.
7. Food and wine – plenty of fresh, seasonal vegetables, with the cost of eating in or out low compared to other regions. And the wine is both excellent and cheap.
8. The people – are friendly and tolerant and are very helpful if you need assistance.
9. Infrastructure – while tolls can get pricey, the highways are in excellent condition.
10. Dual citizenship – Craig plans to become a Portuguese citizen and thus have two passports.

By Pat, The Expat
|| [email protected]

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.

Blue Christmas in Tavira
Empty main square in Tavira
Paul in magnificent isolation in Tavira