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Portugal smiles    

By TOM CALLAN

The late spring Portuguese sun conveys its distinctive welcome as I leave the aluminum cocoon of our aircraft.

Bedraggled tourists strain to tether hyperactive, squealing offspring and reinforce my determination to escape Faro Airport.

“Obrigado,” I mouth to the Portuguese immigration official.

Sticky sweet wrappers already litter the concourse, with children scampering like demented ants around the magic carousel.

I neatly sidestep the mayhem of jangling luggage trolleys manouveuring into position.

Strolling nonchalantly through ‘Nothing to Declare’, the welcoming glass doors slide effortlessly apart and I am enticed, once again, to step into a place with its promise of further, undiscovered delights.

Generations of Algarveans have produced rich, cultural fruits proudly harvested in the valleys, hillsides and harbours of this Southern European nation. Now they are unmistakable characteristics of beautiful people thriving in a shimmering land of vivid contrasts and distinctive personalities.

A few Euros later, the Albufeira bus bumps me along in a jaunty caress towards my final destination of Galé, a sleepy village which quietly nestles in central Algarve.

Carla, our smiling driver, imparts a genuine “Boas férias, senhor!” as I hop off. She gently readjusts the Ray Bans temporarily perched in her dark hair and the sincerity of her smile radiates from unmistakably dark, dancing Portuguese eyes.

I feel like an honoured guest being transported to an exclusive family banquet. Waves of greeting from locals to their driver also suggest a bond of strong community ties.

From the small villages to the big cities, pride in Portugal is an unmistakable hallmark of the Portuguese people. Anyone privileged to stay as a guest in their country is cherished as a worthy recipient of tales spanning centuries of achievement.

Carefully sculpted traditions of hospitality and friendship are as grand and robust as the magnificent architecture evident from Porto in the north to Lisbon in the centre and the smaller, southern monuments of the Algarve.

Over countless generations, nature has willingly collaborated with the people in creating a secure and cherished haven in which to live and, finally, die.

Alighting from our bus, I approach a favourite spot, Café Salgados. Being greeted like a son, brother, father, or a very privileged guest, is a familiar sensation in Portugal.

The pull of Portugal is as irresistible as the night tide cooling the searing sand in preparation for a new day to be cherished. From our terrace by the café, the brilliance of the beach beyond is consistent with the serenity enjoyed by others who are cocooned here at this moment.

They can enjoy the bright sand, enclosed by a citadel of natural rock and refreshing breezes.

Disappearing into the distance, Carla’s bus is now only faintly visible as a dusty mirage. The vehicle shrinks towards another point of welcome along the road lightly fringing Galé.

By now, the luggage at Faro Airport will have been removed from the carousel and a variety of busy buses head towards a kaleidoscopic range

of destinations.

“Tudo bem, Senhor Tomás?” José’s greeting is as familiar as my Café Salgados wicker chair.

I feel an overwhelming appreciation of where I am and the privilege of sharing this wonderful country and its people.

Long, friendly, months spanning spring and summer in Portugal are a delicious prospect to be savoured at this moment with my bica (black coffee).

“Tudo bem, José! E tu?” I respond, although José’s familiar reply is confined to the background for an instant.

It is a moment in which I squint at the sun and the familiar realisation dawns, as if by magic, that I have unearthed a priceless commodity.

I am rich in Portuguese gold that comes from an eternal mine of people and their pride in a precious, irresistible land. José asks me in Portuguese if I am happy to be back. I smile. Portugal smiles.

Tom and his wife have had property in the Algarve for eight years. A retired Deputy Headteacher and now freelance writer, Tom’s interests range from golf to Portuguese language and history.
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