Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

Castro Marim on a Bicycle – one perfect day

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 00a of 03 - RQ

It was my final day in the Algarve. I would be leaving the next day for two weeks in England where the temperature is 14 degrees rather than 34 and where something called ‘rain’ is still occurring with frequency. So, what better excuse for a full day out on the bikes.

The 2nd Saturday of the month is Castro Marim market day, which is not vastly different to any other monthly market in the Algarve, but we particularly like Castro Marim; for its sleepiness, castles and the fabulous Medieval Days festival which take place each August. I am always astonished how such a small and sedate town can pull off such a brilliantly orchestrated event.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 01 of 03 - RQ
We set off later than usual, as always full of good intentions and commitments to getting going before it gets too hot, but perpetually fail due to idleness, morning swims and lazy breakfasts on the terrace. It’s easy to slip into a slow pace of life when everything is just so damned good. We have recently taken to Instagram and so nowadays our every journey is punctuated by photo stops, where the ruined cottage is particularly picturesque and the flowers especially cascading. The usual route of choice is the Ecovia, a favourite place to cycle across saltpans and through quiet fields and trees, but today we are mavericks and took a turn off the N125 past Altura into the hinterland of Sao Bartholomeu towards Azinhal to sneak round the back, cut the corner of Vila Real and emerge in Castro Marim. It’s a lovely stretch of road for a bicycle – some undulation but nothing too painfully hilly. Whilst Keith loves the challenge of altitude with its steep climbs and death-defying downs, I prefer a more moderate terrain – too flat is dull and too much up and down is equally tedious. I’m not made for hills: I’m a plodder, a shire horse of the cycling world that can go on forever but not at great velocity.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 02 of 03 - RQ
Due to our typically tardy departure, we fortunately arrived in Castro Marim in time for lunch, which in the market is restricted to the limited menu of olives, bread and chicken straight from the grill. Although we eat little meat at home because we don’t feel the need, we have yet to take the full plunge into the veganism we feel to be a better way to live. To be honest, the existence of grilled chicken is not helping. We make verbal justifications about ‘protein’ and ‘energy loss’ due to cycling and we sit back and tuck in. I think I love this place because it reminds me of Morocco, which I also adore and almost lived in. Whilst taking in the smells, sights, singing and general atmosphere, we talk about how maybe, just maybe, the Algarve really is the perfect place for us. It has all the best of Europe with a dash of Morocco. We ponder whether we really could make the move further north, as we sometimes threaten to do in search of more (affordable) land and rain to make the growing easier. That’s for another day. Today we are glad to be here.

Castro Marim on a Bicycle - 03 of 03 - RQ

And then it is time for the beach on our meander home. The Eastern Algarve coastal stretch from Vila Real to Manta Rota really feels like a secret. I almost expect people to be whispering and tiptoeing around, just in case anyone else should get wind of the place. Today we stop at Altura and its beach, Algoa, but anywhere along here would serve us just as well. The sand, the sea, the long, long convivial lunches in the seafood restaurants; the mood is peaceful rather than hectic. Having transported our parasols in our panniers like masts this far, it’s time to set up camp on the sand for a snooze and a swim and to make some vague post-lunch plans about 2 month cycle rides around Portugal and lengthy trips to the Azores. Everything feels possible today.

Home beckons as I have to pack and the garden needs a watering, so off we pedal; a little sandy, a little sore and a lot tired. We have covered 60km in the heat, sometimes helped and hindered by a strong northerly wind. The final 10km are the hardest; the climb back up into the hills is too much for me at times. I send Keith off to make his way home at his own pace and I walk and freewheel my way back, enjoying it all in the isolation of the empty serra roads. It seems that today I may have enjoyed myself for too long because as I made my final approach to Casa Torta, I was met by Keith coming the other way in the car, having become worried about my extended absence, he having arrived home 15 minutes before. I don’t know what he was worrying about, I was getting there. Maybe he needs to chill out a bit.

Learning Portuguese

Learning Portuguese

We’ve been in Portugal part-time for a year now and for most of that time we’ve made learning the lingo a big priority, but it’s not easy. Keith, my beloved, isn’t the world’s greatest linguist, having sent our first teacher into despair with his incessant engineer/scientist need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. Our teacher said that one lesson with Keith was more exhausting that four lessons with other students. We, not feeling that this was a way to encourage a student, gave him the heave-ho and found someone with more patience (or Valium). I was doing a bit better and got to the advanced stage of being able to take a radiator back to the shop and tell them that it only had three wheels instead of the requisite four and negotiating a replacement. Our lack of any victims to practise on is out main problem. We live in a rural location and have no cause to speak to random strangers in public apart from at our local bar, and even then it’s difficult to strike up some small talk when the chance of me knowing what is said back to me is slim.

In a bid to get more exposure to listening to the language, I have been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely Chef’s Academy, which is the local equivalent of Master Chef. I can’t work out why it’s called Chef’s Academy and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a presumably celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and the  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.

Weirdly, I feel more comfortable 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 buggers.

This past week, I have taken my efforts to have something useful to say to the friendly people at our bar rather than the bog standard greetings to a new level. I have been at the Cial Language School in Faro for a week studying Portuguese for 6 hours each day. I don’t recall ever being so uttlery exhausted, close to  tears, migraine and nausea. Don’t let any of that put you off – it’s been fantastic on all counts except those. The school operates a variety of options from group classes to individual lessons and I opted for a mix of both, hence the language overkill. Most people do a 3 hour group class in the morning as I did, but I added a 2 hour individual lesson in the afternoon, which with hindsight was a bit much.

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The school itself was a warm and positive experience with students from all over the world (me being the only British person there) and of all ages and levels each wanting to learn Portugues for different reasons – some just for the fun of it. I was the only person living in Portugal. I am told that in the summer the demongraphic is younger and groups are larger. I have spent the week with two Swiss people in my class, both older than me, both serious and committed learners but both happy to go out for lunch (still speaking Portuguese, which the youngsters appear not to to) and crack a joke or two.

I already had a basis in Portuguese from my Skype lessons with a tutor, but have found the opportunity to speak to a number of people in the group and the school has had an amazing effect on my ability. The lessons follow a course in the form of a book, exercises and discussion with opportunities for reading, speaking, writing and listening. All of the teachers I came into contact with were full of energy and interest. I can’t praise the place highly enough.

Next week I return home to inflict my new found grammatical abilities on an unsuspecting population out in the hills. I can start asking questions about growing vegetables. Now what is the word for aubergine…

Darling, Bring Me A Pan, It’s Raining In The Kitchen

Darling, Bring Me A Pan, It’s Raining In The Kitchen

Darling, Bring Me A Pan - 01

Well, it’s a bit different from last May (2015) when we were basking in 30+ degrees at this time of year. The rain has been incessant this past week. Heavy, prolonged and at times downright cantankerous: stopping and starting every time I go to put a welly on or take a welly off. We scoffed at how much use those wellies would get when we bought them last year and now we can’t leave the house without needing them as our path is 2 inches deep in water.

Darling, Bring Me A Pan - 02

Yes, yes, it’s good for the garden and given the drought in Portugal in 2015, it is certainly welcome and needed, but when exactly is enough? The tanks are full; the plants are happy – not all: the baby pumpkins have got rotten and shrivelled – and we are fed up of being indoors.

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We are partly fed up of being indoors because it is raining in here too. Our house is old and roofed only with some tiles, a waterproof membrane and some canes. The membrane has holes in places and therefore naturally fails to live up to its ‘waterproof’ status in those parts. It’s strange that if in England our flat were to have water dripping through the ceiling, we would panic, believe the roof be about to fall in and rush to find a person to rub his/her chin thoughtfully and charge us a considerable amount to fix it. Here: we just put some pans under the drips and make sure we don’t leave laptops or phones on the kitchen table. We eat meals to the sound of the drips and casually mop up any that fail to hit the saucepan target. Why do we react so differently here? Is it just that we know the sun will come and dry it all up any moment now, or that our possessions and life here are so much simpler and smaller (no carpet, for a start) that a few puddles here and there are really not a problem. Or is it that we have changed just by being here? I have noticed other inconsistencies between our UK and our Algarve life: we are happy to live with geckos, centipedes, and ants on occasion, where in England we would freak out at sharing the bathroom with another pair of eyes. These things are just part of the deal in a rural setting and more than just tolerate them; we welcome them. We say good morning to Colin the gecko who lives in the bathroom and watch for hours the ants with their astonishing weightlifting capabilities. It was only the Yellow Banded Centipede who moved into the kitchen cupboard who met with a sorry end (they can cause coma with a single nip).

This afternoon between showers we ventured out, Vitamin D depleted and bored, for a walk in the hills. Usually silent, the sound of gushing streams and even waterfalls assaulted our ears and we were halted in our progress by a typically bone dry riverbed which had flooded the road creating a torrent. One of Keith’s wellies has a split so we couldn’t go any further. What a difference a few days downpour makes.

Darling, Bring Me A Pan - 04

So, whilst we ponder on the rain from inside and out, it serves to remind us that a few drips in a pan aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things, and that maybe this carefree attitude to the small things is a good one to take on board for life in general. We still have a roof of sorts, some wellies of a sort and a beautiful place to live. That is, until you realise that you’ve left your sandals outside, again and that you’d like to cook some dinner but there are no saucepans left.

And breathe…