Category Archives: Portuguese Living

guidance and advice on living in Portugal, from a couple of novices. Learn from our mistakes!

Loulé Carnaval 2018

The flags were flying and the town was buzzing when we arrived on the third day of the Loulé Carnival. Steeped in more than a century of history the Carnaval is one of the must-see events of the Algarve calendar …. the riot of colour, vibrancy and spectacle is not to be missed even if the music can be deafening at times.

The theme for 2018 was “Carnaval Summit de Loulé”, a parody of the Lisbon Web Summit.But if you did miss it, here’s a little snapshot…

Health, Wealth & Welfare?

We decided to visit an organic farm, as Her Outdoors was trying to find some turmeric to grow in our garden. ‘Organic’ is usually a term added to the description of items for sale in order to charge more. Cynical, I know, but perhaps there is some truth in it. What the term does suggest, is that the items are healthier, or ‘good’ for you.  Not for me though, our visit landed me in the hospital casualty and gave me an unwanted insight into the Portuguese health system.

I’ve not played serious football since1983 when I sustained a serious knee injury. Shoot forward to November 2017 and I started playing football again. Or rather the walking football variety of football; no running, three touches and the ball is not allowed above head height. I strained my calf muscle playing, but hobbled on in goal, so as not to let my teammates down. Silly me! Two days later Her Outdoors and I went for a look round the organic farm. I limped round, but when leaving the farm I tried putting my full weight on my foot. Big mistake! To the sound of a loud ‘pop’ and an excruciating pain in my ankle crumpled. I thought Her Outdoors had kicked me to hurry me up! The pain was serious, so we decided to visit the nearest hospital. This was my second mistake; the Hospital Lusiades is actually a private hospital.

Old codgers playing walking football.

At the Lusiades we got a great reception – wheelchair brought to me immediately, charming receptionist speaking excellent English. But when she realised we didn’t have private health insurance (other than our EHIC), I was kicked out of the wheelchair and directed to the ‘Centro de Saude’. (Actually I jumped out immediately, fearing that she would start charging me for its use. Just trying to evoke some sympathy here.) Why no private health insurance you might ask? It’s a long standing socialist principle with me, I have trouble supporting elitist systems or divisive public services.

‘Her Outdoors’ suggested we went to Faro Hospital. My third mistake of the day was insisting we went to the local Centro de Saude. Once there, I quickly got registered and saw the triage nurse where I was colour coded. Well my arm band was coded, not me personally. I was the second lowest ‘urgencia’ band. One above the “don’t waste our time” category. A notice suggested my colour code would entail up to 2 hours wait. The waiting room was full, so we settled in for a wait. We sat back and I researched the likely diagnosis: rupture or partial rupture of the achilles tendon.

Spanish, but similar!

Two hours later, the waiting room had emptied somewhat and I was hopeful… (mistake number 4!) Unfortunately the next two hours saw no progress. We learned later that there were no Doctors in attendance at that time. When things did start to move again, there was a commotion. A new, greenbanded incomer was immediately seen by a Doctor because she knew him. Docile patients immediately started rebelling and the sacred complaints book, Livro de Reclamações was brought out. We also complained, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Clearly there were no doctors in Ear, Nose and Throat either…

Another two hours ensued, at which point Her Outdoors asked the receptionist why I had waited so long and when I would be seen. Very shortly after (!) I was taken in to see the Doctor. I explained the problem in English, with the odd Portuguese word thrown in for effect (It didn’t have one!) and also gave my own diagnosis. The Doctor didn’t seem too impressed with my new found medical expertise but called in the receptionist, not for a second/third opinion as I thought, but to translate. She explained that I needed an ultrasound, but they didn’t have one I was offered an X-ray. I pointed out that I understood it wouldn’t show a ruptured tendon. I needed to go to Faro Hospital, (cue a ‘look’ from Her Outdoors) but it was unlikely to be done that night, as there is usually a two month wait. This all happened without any examination of my ankle at all. We were amazed at either; the Doctor’s skills in diagnosing injuries telepathically, or how convincing I must have been in my diagnosis. Google has a lot to answer for!

I waited a short while to get my ankle ‘immobilised’ (bandaged!), and took the time to stop an older man leaping out of bed while attached to a drip and oxygen mask. I paid the €14 tax for the appointment, which would have been €20 if I’d had an X-ray and we headed home with the instructions to go to Faro Hospital at 8am the following day.

Author, with borrowed crutches.

Faro hospital was a better experience. I only waited two hours to be seen, or rather before asking the nurse why it appeared that nobody was being seen by a Doctor. Two minutes after asking, I was ushered into the consulting room. After a brief examination, but no ultrasound, I was diagnosed with a partially ruptured achilles tendon (well done Google!). I was then plastered, (a cast that is and by the Doctor!) told not to put any weight on my foot, to come back in a week and then wheeled to reception in a decrepit old wheelchair and left to sort myself out. Without crutches as they don’t supply them!

Faro was a better experience, although I was shocked after taking a wrong turn and coming across a basement room with about 50 beds/trolleys, full of old people with drips and breathing masks. No privacy curtains, no windows and standing room only between beds. It looked like a war zone hospital. Not that I’ve ever experienced a war zone hospital…

A week later I returned to Faro Hospital, as directed. I wasn’t given an actual appointment and got the impression that an appointments system is an unknown concept. The reception was full, although I was able to go straight to the reception. Language was a bit difficult, but I gleaned that I had to wait for the triaje nurse, which took about 20 minutes. Once I had explained to the triaje nurse why I was there (I was beginning to wonder…) I was directed to the ‘ortho’ waiting area which was already full of walking, and non walking wounded. (Forgive me another war zone reference.)

THREE hours later I was eventually seen but the Doctor didn’t know why I was asked to return. He told me that the Doctor I’d seen the previous week “would be here in half an hour/an hour” and for me to wait. I did, for a further 90 minutes until he arrived but it was 2 hours until I was seen. The cast was removed (again by Doctor!), my hand was shook (I forgot to wash my hands!) and I was discharged with a smile and a wave. No explaination, no follow up, no fitness regime, no advice other than “be careful”. And he gave me no date to start playing football again. It was all an anti climax.

On leaving the hospital via the triage area, I was again shocked by the sea of bodies (alive!), trolleys, ambulance crews, Bompeiros crews and the faces of people who I am sure had been there before me. It was a scene you would expect to see after a disaster, yet it was relatively calm. The Portuguese are remarkably patient at being patients in a seemingly chaotic system.

Did I tell you we were invited to a breakfast at the Organic Farm we visited? I think I’ll give it a miss…

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Sunshine in the rain

With no significant rain from early May to November, Portugal has had it’s worst drought in over 20 years. Her Outdoors tried pleading, praying and dancing to break the dry spell. See her reaction as the heavens opened.

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UNWELCOME VISITOR (pt. 2)

I thought Her Outdoors would be happy to see one of her friends, or what I thought was one of her friends. Since we moved here to Portugal we haven’t seen many of them. We have so many places for them to stay now that I thought they’d both be happy. I was wrong. I was in trouble.

It came about as I was re-laying a path. The path runs from the side of the house, down past the pool, into the lower meadow.  When we have a downpour (Her Outdoors is praying for one at the moment) the water runs off the roof onto the hard landscaped area and onto the path. When I say downpour I mean POUR and DOWN. It flows at a rapid rate. It gushes. It overshoots. It washes things away, hence the need to re-lay the path.

So I was down at the bottom of the path, next to the meadow which is next to the road. I’d just lifted a flagstone when I spotted the ‘friend’. I was excited. The first such friend I’d seen in a long time. “Hello my little beauty” I said, “Her Outdoors will be so happy to see you”. With that I scooped the friend up and carried her, whooping with joy to regale Her Outdoors with her presence. That was me whooping with joy, not the friend. The friend was wriggling, but mute.

I reached Her Outdoors and presented her friend to her. She shrieked. Her Outdoors that is. The friend is mute, remember. “Take it away” she said, “I don’t want to see it!”

“Why not” I hesitatingly asked, still holding the friend that was wriggling uncomfortably by now. “I thought you’d be happy to have this visitor in your garden. Aren’t they good for the soil?”

“Worms are, but that’s a bloody snake!”

LATER…

After some research…It turns out that we were both wrong, it was an Iberian worm lizard. Although I was partially right…

Iberian Worm Lizard photo by Jorozko

If you are an internet worm (as opposed to a bookworm) you can find out more on this interesting blog – https://allyouneedisbiology.wordpress.com

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Unwelcome Visitors

Her Outdoors and myself have become racists. Well at least anti Gypsy. Well, more specifically anti the family who camped in the field next to our house! We didn’t want to become anti Gypsy and have spent a lot of our adult life challenging other people’s attitudes to different cultures. For me, my abhorrence of racism stems from being brought up in a family with an Irish Catholic background in 1950’s England and the prejudices that prevailed at that time. For ‘Her Outdoors’ it’s because she is such a lovely, accepting woman who abhors prejudice of any kind, to anyone.

Her Outdoors and myself like travelling and have occasionally enjoyed the ‘Gypsy’ lifestyle. (Our longest trip in the motorhome was for six months) We enjoyed meeting fellow ‘silver surfers’ although many of them were appalled at me describing them as ‘Travellers’. “So, you are living in your motorhome, wandering around Europe and are not working, but you wouldn’t describe yourselves as… “.

Sundance and ‘Her Outdoors’ in Albi, France.

So, we were making our way back to our home in Portugal having been back to the UK to visit our families, then on to France visiting French friends, before meandering our way back through the Pyrenees and Spain. We intended to take 3/4 days for the last leg through Spain, but got a call from a friend telling us someone had broken into our garage. “Oh dear” we thought, “at least there isn’t much in the garage”. Except our two motorbikes, four bicycles some building materials and all my DIY tools. But we were not too dismayed; at least they didn’t get into the house.

Shortly after, we got another call from our friend, saying they had also broken into the house! The burglars had apparently pulled the doors closed when they left, so it looked secure. Our “Oh dear” was replaced with “Oh b******s””. At which point we decided the leisurely drive through Spain should be curtailed by pressing a firmer foot on the accelerator.

Welcome sign after an eventful day

We managed to get home by late evening. For any Spanish or Portuguese police that may be monitoring our blogs, we assure you that no speed limits were exceeded. And anyway, our campervan isn’t capable of the120 mph motorway limit…

Strangely, by the time we got home we were quite philosophical about the situation. We’d had several hours to digest the news and so were not overly shocked or upset at the scene of devastation. (Actually there was only my office that had been ransacked but I’m trying to elicit a sympathetic audience response here.)

We started cataloguing missing items, as the GNR (local police) were expected and we thought they would be interested in what had been stolen. TV, DVD player and remote controls, two old laptops, a computer monitor, video tripod and sound recorder, video lights, a washer (for laundry, that is, not as in nuts, bolts and…) The list got longer and longer. But we noted items that had been left; microwave, kettle, and toaster. At this point ‘Her Outdoors’ got irate. “What’s wrong with our British goods?” she wailed. Actually it was more of a contemptuous statement (I’m trying to elicit sympathy again).

Image ‘illegally’ taken, as advised by GNR, so doctored to protect the ‘innocent’. Allegedly.

The GNR duly arrived as we’d arranged. “Por favor Senor, how did you manage to drive through Spain and Portugal so quickly?” wasn’t asked, but they went about their business poking around looking for fingerprints. But it seemed just a cursory poke. There was no evidence of them having honed their investigative skills by watching any of the CSI programmes. There was no brushing on of face powder or whatever they use, no taking samples for DNA analysis. No criminal profiling. (See my own CSI profiling at the end of this blog.) We were deflated, although not quite as deflated as my bike tyres that I can’t pump up until I replace the stolen pump! (Added to list!)

The immediate problem we had was the doors and how to secure them overnight. Because of the layout to our Quinta, we have three doors on our terrace that give access to various rooms. They broke through all three (as well as the garage). One room is my office, which we decided to leave unlocked overnight, partly hoping that the burglars would come back to tidy up. The office is next to our utility/larder from which they took our beers, wines and other less precious items such as bottled water and large bottles of our homegrown olives, which were curing. Fortunately they didn’t take our stash of marmite! The door to the main house was barricaded inside with heavy furniture. We were concerned they might come back for the kettle and toaster.

The next day I had to go to the GNR to make a formal report. What a horrible experience that was. It started with me apologising that I don’t speak Portuguese and asking if they spoke English. “NO, ONLY PORTUGUESE!” came the response from a rather arrogant young GNR. Eventually, a translator was summoned and a report was written with a list of stolen items and values. The arrogant one’s single finger typing took some time. I started to feel like I was the criminal, confessing my crimes.

Report writing was punctuated by quizzical looks and wry smiles between the arrogant one and the friendlier translator. The olives obviously resonated with them. The report writing was also punctuated by other officers coming through the office to say hello to the arrogant one and tell him about their previous night out. Or so I thought. Eu náo falo Portuguese, remember.

The burglary has elicited a real rollercoaster of emotions. From the initial shock of the news, to the anger of ‘how dare they’! There was the petty annoyance when finding a ball of string had gone, to the huge inconvenience of changing passwords and setting up a process to wipe my old computer, if it came online. But then we had a lovely surprise when tidying up to find 2 packets of chocolate eclairs. (My family hide them for us to find after their visits. I know that as a parent I should be the one hiding for the kids, but it’s a lovely tradition, which they should keep up!)

Life has got back to normal now. Her Outdoors is spending even more time outdoors. She’s not quite gardening with her head torch on yet, but she is finding it difficult to find her way back to the house in the dark, ever since the solar powered fairy lights disappeared. Bugger! Another one for the list! I wonder if I could type that one myself?

CRIMINOSO PERFIL/CRIMINAL PROFILE

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Learning the Lingo

We’ve been in Portugal for two years now and for most of that time I’ve made learning the lingo a big priority. But it’s not easy. Our first teacher was a delightful Irish church worker, who was also a trained teacher and offers classes to raise money for his church. He was good. However, many of the  twenty plus learners were not. Despite most of them having been in Portugal for over five years we got no further than the present tense of the verb ‘to be’. He had the patience of a saint but we didn’t, so after five or six weeks of squashing into a classroom smaller than our kitchen, we decided to move to fresh fields.

Our second teacher was a Portuguese woman raising money for the local community centre. We were hopeful when we found the class was less than eight and in a decent-sized room where we could clearly see the whiteboard.  However one of the group sent our teacher into despair, with his incessant need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. We stuck at it for several months feeling a great solidarity with other students suffering from her put downs, fingers drumming the table with impatience and high pitched rants (particularly directed to the male students) .

I don’t recall ever being so panicked, close to tears, migrainey and nauseaous as during her classes. We lived through dramas of dictionaries being purposefully flung in her direction, people stomping out and respected senior citizens being reduced to tears. Don’t let any of that put you off – it was enjoyable on all counts. Except those. Oh, and comments like “Alan you’re as bad as Graham” was not the way to encourage students, so we gave her the heave-ho and looked for someone with more patience (or Valium). Unfortunately at this stage Alan more-or-less dropped out, although from time to time I do find him secretly using Duolingual to brush up his Portuguese vocabulary.

I found a delightful Portuguese young lady wanting to teach Portuguese. Yolanda is bilingual, having grown up in South Africa and is full of energy and interest in our language acquisition. I can’t praise her highly enough and decided to ask Christine, a French friend, to share classes with me. Christine’s Portuguese is far better than mine on account of her native French being a lot closer to Portuguese than English, added to which she already speaks Spanish and is, in fact, a linguist. I hoped that her language abilities might somehow sweep me along with her to attain higher levels. Well I was ready for the challenge anyway.

A lack of victims to practise on is my main problem. We live in a location where there are many other expats and have little cause to speak to random strangers in public. Even brave attempts at striking up some small talk are usually shattered when the reply is in English or, on the rare occasion when it’s not, the chance of knowing what is said back is slim.

In a bid to get more exposure to listening, I’ve been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely children’s animated stories. I was mightily chuffed when our 3-year-old grandson showed interest in this pastime and Garibalde o balde became our shared friend.

Chef’s Academy is another program I watch. I can’t work out why it’s called this and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and then getting horrendously slated by the judges. What makes it useful as a learning tool is that it is very visual and relatively limited in communication with not much of a plot to follow. What makes it useless is that all I am learning is a wide vocabulary of cooking terminology. Well, it’s a start.

In another attempt to force myself to speak Portuguese I joined Speaky.Com in order to find online language partners. This is easier said than done as 99.9% of those wanting a Portuguese/English exchange are Brazillians apparently on the look-out for a new love interest. However, I have made two friends through it; Pedro who needed IELTS to start a PHD he’d got funding for in London and my dear friend Maria from the Alentejo region. She’s enriched my life enormously, teaching me many things about P and they way people see things here. She and her husband have stayed with us and we’ve had wonderful visits to Sines, met her children, grandchildren, shared her birthday and has become my Portuguese sister.

Weirdly, I feel more comfortable speaking to strangers here than I do in the UK. It’s almost as though there is liberation in not knowing what the hell is going on, which, rather than get anxious about, makes me brave and fearless. I am undoubtedly more sociable and willing to speak to new people in Portuguese than I am in English. Poor unsuspecting buggers. Now what is the word for aubergine…

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A Travel Back in Time

View across Guadiana to Sanlucar, Spain
Church in Querenca
Free camp between Pereiro and Alcoutim

One of the first trips we took in our new (to us) camper van, was to explore the area that borders Spain. Our route took in Loule, Querenca, Cachopo, Martinlongo and Alcoutim where we discovered a zip wire that is ‘The Only Cross-Border Zip line in the World’  and crosses the Guadiana river between Spain and Portugal. It also allows you to travel back in time!

Now ‘Her Outdoors’ has many wonderful traits, quirks and enlightened world  views. But what I really love is her sense of adventure and her ‘try anything’ attitude.  So her suggestion of “can we try the zip wire” came as no surprise. Here’s the result…

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Quinta Views

It’s quite a time since we were able to post any new blogs, due to being busy building a fire pit in the garden and also having a hugely enjoyable family visit from son Glenn, daughter Sam and partner Tony and their son Garak.

Glenn and I had a lot of fun playing with his new toy, a DJI Phantom Quadcopter. We have some rough cut pieces from a test flights we managed to do around our property, when the wind and the baking sun allowed us.

Goodbye Old Friend

It is with a sad heart that Her Outdoors and I have to say goodbye to a much loved friend. She has been an important part of our lives for what seems a lifetime, but is actually only seven short years. But what a seven years! We’ve travelled together, slept together, upset our neighbours, had many a scrape and had lots of adventures. She gave me my ‘Sundance’ nickname (I’d gone 60 years without one before meeting her!). She even helped us move to Portugal.

Chefchouan Campsite, Morrocco

We have travelled  much with her. She’s taken us far and wide, since our first meeting in a very cold and wintery Wales in 2010. She’s been with us from the Western Highlands of Scotland to the most southwesterly point of Europe. even to Africa. And what adventures she’s seen and caused – besieged by drug dealers, getting lost many times, encounters with the police, getting stuck in tight places and the unforgettable bomb scare outside the Ministry of Justice in Seville, Spain.

She’s taken us to many interesting places; the French Alps, Italian Lakes, Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh Festival, Moroccan Souks, Slovenia, the Alhambra in Granada, the Palaces in Sintra. We’ve been skiing and even enjoyed a couple of music festivals with her.

The French Alps
Shelagh, Sundance & Natalie’s kids

She’s also been very kind to friends and family. She’s picked them up at the airport, housed them when our house was full, been there at family picnics, gone shopping. She’s provided excitement for Shelagh (sadly departed and much missed mother of ‘Her Outdoors’) and weekend trips for language students and Australian friends. She’s transported timber for sheds and patios, furniture, motorbikes not to mention what seems like thousands of plants.

Bomb Scare, Ministry of Justice, Seville

It’s not all been fun though. She was instrumental in causing the bomb scare in Seville and she’s let us down a few times. She stranded us on a remote beach in Portugal when we had to get assistance. There was that incident on the Moroccan motorway that caused some damage… the penalty charge for the Dartford crossing… and her annual checkups and charges. There was also that expensive ‘accident’ at Sainsbury’s, not to mention the latest encounter in Portuguese  car wash which ultimately caused the fatality…

We are going to miss you Sundance, our beloved motorhome. RIP (Rust in peace.)

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