The sun is everywhere

The sun…the sun…the sun is everywhere. And that’s a good thing since that is the main reason hotels in the Algarve are sold out for the rest of the summer.

The Algarve is so popular with holidaymakers, especially our British friends from the drizzly north, because the sunshine can be counted on, with the region boasting nearly 300 days of sun a year.

Nothing spoils a seven-day vacation more than five days of rain. Well, actually seven days of rain would do the trick by ruining the trip. I know, because ol’Pat has previously lived in Panama for a number of years, a country with two seasons, a four to five-month dry season and a six to eight-month rainy season.

My wife and I have had plenty of visitors come during the rainy season – not monsoons exactly but lots of precipitation, with winds, thunder and lightning. If it rains most of the time, many of our guests go through the five stages of grief, with the anger phase lasting longer than called for. Apparently, they didn’t pay those airfares to watch television or check emails on somebody else’s couch. So the drinking starts early and all too often becomes surly.

That just doesn’t happen in the Algarve, and especially not during the summer. What does happen is that the days can and do get hot. Again, this is what many tourists want – bright, constant, sizzling sunshine reflecting off the white buildings. Vacation pictures on Facebook do look better when the ocean is sparkling and the sky is a clear unblemished blue. An interesting note is that in July and August into September, the southern coast of Portugal can get much warmer than sub-tropical Panama, for example – 44 degrees Celsius compared to 33.

I’m always surprised to discover that many residents don’t even have air conditioning and seem to survive. Maybe they’re used to sweltering in the summer. After all it is a dry heat, which is easier to cope with than hot and humid. My point is that it is still as my English friends like to say, “bloody hot!”

Not everyone knows how to handle the ultraviolet reality, however. While I don’t want to deal in unfair stereotypes, our jolly old visitors from Britain aren’t always aware of the glare as much as maybe they should be. After all, unfiltered rays from the centre of our solar system haven’t actually hit them in months, if not years, and now all of a sudden they’re on the beach going topless.

I have a number of friends who work in the tourist industry and do things like run beach umbrella concessions, or rent sail boats or bartend along the cliffs. More than once (understatement alert) my associates have had the opportunity to go up to a sunbather and advise him or her that “you’re pretty much done. You might want to go in for a while”. All too often, the lobster-red recipient of the advice demurs saying simply, “Cheers, that’s okay, I’m fine” or “No worries mate, I tan, I don’t burn” or “Don’t worry, it’ll turn to tan.”

I’m not advocating overreacting by wearing long sleeves instead of swimsuits, but I do think everybody should slather on the sunscreen. You might not need a SPF rating of 97, but certainly more than 15. I also suggest you rent an umbrella from one of my friends.

A form of entertainment for locals and residents is sitting at an outdoor café around the marina in Vilamoura watching scarlet ladies walk by in sundresses. As the ruthless sun finally sets, with shades of sky-blue pink fading on the horizon, the blisters begin to appear, spreading like an incoming tide across shoulders, down arms and knees and along the tops of no longer bare feet. That is what they came for and that is what they got – the sun in all its glory.

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.