Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Time to pick up the keys to our new little house in the Algarve. It feels like I’ve been counting down the days obsessively since we had our offer on it accepted on 23rd December, and that’s because I have. No, far more obsessively than that: tally charts, crossing off multiple calendars, writing the new total days in my diary every day and Tippexing the previous day’s count out, counting over and over again just in case I got it wrong and it wasn’t REALLY that long to wait. And now it’s here and it feels weird, extremely stressful, and weird. Keith will be here for most of the next 6 months, I will be to-ing and fro-ing to the UK to work in order to keep us in fava beans and piri piri chicken. We’ll see how that goes.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 01

We decided to drive to Portugal so that we could take plentiful supplies of muesli, Listerine and Johnson’s talc – all things which are widely available in Portugal, but things which Keith can’t live without (see: Bold Crystal Lily Rain thing), so no risk could be taken. Had we considered that the car would do somewhere in the region of half its normal fuel consumption due to the ridiculous amount of stuff we packed into it and on to it, perhaps we would have thought again. Added to that we also had to buy a roofrack to put the bench that someone (me) took a fancy to in a second hand shop and wrongly calculated that it would fit in the boot. Expensive bowl of porridge, that. The sensible bonus of taking our car is that we don’t have to pay for car hire over the expensive summer months – you can legally take a car to Europe from UK for 183 days each year (as long as your insurance and MOT is sorted).

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We caught the Plymouth-Santander ferry which is a 19 hour voyage of joy last travelled in reverse on our way back from last summer’s Channel to Spain bike ride. The onboard musak features low budget cover versions of familiar songs sung in such a way that they sound absolutely nothing like the original. It’s as though the vocalist was given the lyrics of a song completely unknown to them and asked to make up their own tune. The result is an interesting game of Name that Tune and a wonderment that anyone can destroy a perfectly good Hall and Oates song quite so magnificently. On the subject of music, you’ll be pleased to know that Sinitta is alive and well on Spanish radio.

Once in Santander its a 600 mile drive down to the Algarve. 600 claustrophobic miles sat in an overloaded car with a picnic box and a rucksack on my lap because the boot was full of Alpen and Marmite. The weather was interesting to say that least with a snowstorm and temperature of 0 degrees. In Spain. Bloody grateful not to be on a bike this time.

Followed 20 minutes later by:

I may have said before how much I really like kilometres. There are more of them, it’s true, but they pass so much more quickly than miles and are far more satisfying in terms of progress. We did more than a thousand of the buggers.

We spent the night in a hotel in Merida and went for a wander in the evening. I had never heard of the place but it has an incredible amount of Roman architecture all over the city. We had some food in a tapas bar and ordered various random unknown things from the Spanish menu which turned out to be clams and cuttlefish. Er, yum? I am one of those people who feels the need to at least make a dent in the food that is given to me, even if I really don’t like it. It’s a stupid trait considering I’ve paid for it, but that’s the way it is. Keith doesn’t feel any social requirement to not upset the chef, so my burden is not even shared. Let’s just say that I have committed the Spanish word for cuttlefish to memory so that I never make that mistake again. Not a patch on KFC.

On our way home we passed what can only be described as 40 people carrying a giant bed with some wrapped up statues on top accompanied by a brass marching band.

The quality of the photo is poor, but there are definitely 40 people walking extremely slowing under there. Makes my picnic box on the lap car experience comfortable by comparison. Don’t their heads hurt? Are the ones in the middle freaking out? Where are they going? So many questions and no answers. Much like life, eh?

Our past experience of stumbling across random festivals (the tuna stew competition in Castro Urdiales springs to mind, the ‘Let’s-dress-up-as-pirates-and almost-drown-swimming-across-the -bay’ in San Sebastian does too) says that this is standard fare for Spain, even at 9.30pm on a Monday evening in March. I presume this was some kind of practice for an Easter do of some religious nature but it might just be what the Meridians(from Merida?) do for fun. Next morning provided another opportunity for ‘Asians at Breakfast’ (last seen in Athens), which involves watching the coachload of middle aged Asian tourists navigate a European breakfast buffet. Today’s piece de resistance combo was bacon, egg and doughnut. There are Japanese people sitting in hotels in Tokyo at this moment crying with laughter at Europeans eating the Japanese food faux pas and mixing their bento with their sashmimi.

Back on the road and eventually arriving at Casa Torta, our house; which translates as ‘crooked’ or ‘cake’, so take your pick. Both fit pretty well given the predilections of the new residents and the height of the doorways. OK, so it was all we could afford. What’s a daily dose of mild concussion in exchange for a life in the sun.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 06

This is the view from our house once you have ducked down far enough to leave it.

It is the same view as from the much larger, luxurious and expensive villas which surround it. Our house is the slightly drunk, dishevelled uncle at a family gathering: seen better days, wonky and with an odd smell. But you love him all the more for it.

The house has been empty for many months – or so we thought. On opening up Keith’s old French house, we were frequently greeted by scorpions. Here, it’s lizards, big ones with suckers on their feet. Our new squatters. They are far, far more welcome than a scorpion, although that opinion is subject to change the night that one falls on my face from the ceiling. When we went to Santorini, we found that the lizards there were partial to cake, so maybe these are too.

First meal at our house. Too cold to eat outside really, hence the coat, but it’s not every day you move to Portugal.

Nice bench.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Give praise! The Malted Milk Crisis is over thanks to Algarve Iceland and our plans can continue, but they are €1, not the 23p that they cost in Aldi. Sacrifices will have to be made. Other ‘delicacies’ from home are available in Algarve Iceland to the expat or in-flexible holidaymaker: ‘I don’t care if we’re on holiday, Edna, I cannot go a whole week without a dumpling’.

On the subject of inflexible people; a miracle has occurred. Keith, it turns out is not only an eco-warrior of the first degree, he’s also a very flexible person. Now, I’m as surprised about both of this as the next bod, but thus is transpires. We went to see our new house (heart, heart, love, swoon) and meet the owner in order to bombard him with questions about the location of boreholes (free water), fruit trees (free food) and cesspits (free poo). This is our garden. Still superstitious about showing the house, but a view of the garden is OK. Our poo will emerge somewhere near the bottom of this photograph, which may explain the intense greenery. It doesn’t really emerge; it’s in a tank, only the filtered water does. It’s a tried and tested rural system.

Our grey water – the non-poo, shower/washing machine effluent – runs out into the garden. This is pretty standard in rural French/Spanish/Portuguese/etc. houses and is no surprise. In order to make sure that no nasty chemical shite pollutes our fruit-bearing garden (please may I show off our existing (and to be added to) fruit tree cornucopia? Thank you. Oranges, pomegranates, lemons, olives, almonds, nespera (loquats – plum/apple type thing) and… wait for it… grapefruits. When the seller said there was a grapefruit tree my little head did a quick data swipe and quickly considered whether grapefruits actually grew on trees, on the ground or underground. Stupid. We want to only use ecologicallly harmless cleaning and washing products – you know where this is going – Goodbye, Bold Crystal Lily thing washing powder (see post previous to this one: Algarve Malted Milk Crisis for context). As we drove away from the place and were discussing what products might be suitable, I tentatively suggested that the Bold would have to go. You know what he said: ‘Fine’. Just like that. No flapping, stamping his toe on the floor repeatedly, no grunting; nothing. As I said, my darling is a flexible eco-warrior. Who knew.

We’re staying at AH Villas (which stands for Algarve Holidays, I discover, not the sound you make when you wake up there in January, look out of the window and realise it’s sunny) outside Olhao, which is a fabulous town on the coast – more on Olhao in a later post. He’s a right chatterbox, the owner and a bit of a hoverer. It’s costing us £15 a night for a double room and massive carbohydrate filled breakfast – just don’t go near the orange ‘juice’ if you don’t want to glow in the dark. He does lunches and dinners for €4 and usually has something decent and fresh on offer. The other morning he asked if we’d like tuna steak for dinner that evening. Keith doesn’t do fish beyond a cod and chips, but in the spirit of his new adventurous self said he would give it a go (#proud). Evening came and fella invited him into the kitchen to see the fish (massive, plate size steaks), Keith came out, said he had smelled it and would be having chicken nuggets for dinner.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 05

Keith also provided a full 5 day’s worth of entertainment for our host when he was offered a glass of medronho, a lethal, firewater of a drink, produced from the arbutus or strawberry tree only in one region of the Algarve where they grow wild. There are tourist versions of medrohno largely made from cheaper spirit and flavoured, as the real stuff is made in farmhouse stills and costs €25 a bottle. I’ve tried it before so said No, ta. Keith, you must remember is a puritanical thing with a little temple of a body, which has never smoked, taken an illicit substance and rarely drinks, falling asleep and uttering ‘Ooh, the room’s gone all spinny’ after one bottle of Crabbies Ginger Beer. He took a swig of this stuff, choked, spluttered went red in the face and by implication declared himself ‘not a man’ to all of Portugal. The Swedish woman on the next table happily sipped away, indicating her strong enjoyment of this paint stripper, but then she has probably been drinking vodka since she was a baby. Now, every morning at breakfast we can look forward to Keith being offered a tot of medronho in his coffee and being reminded that ‘the lady drank it’ whilst our host dries the tears of laughter from his eyes. To be fair, Keith does struggle to grow a moustache.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 06

We’re a bit bemused that we seem to attract people who chatter incessantly, like really non-stop. Our Portuguese lawyer is one of those. We sat in his office for and hour and a half the other day whilst he told us his philosophy of life (children should have Mothers: see Ronaldo), if you have a child you live on forever (it felt like forever in that office and a long an convoluted story about his wife and how she got stuck in the middle of the Atlantic for 9 years. We were both sitting thinking that something had got lost in translation and conferred after the event, but nope, we both heard the same thing. After an hour and a half of doing no admin whatsoever, he said, right, that’s it, I’ll see you tomorrow. After careful observation, I’ve realised that the chattering is all Keith’s fault. He says that in order not to appear rude, and because he is unable to do normal conversation, he asks lots of questions, thereby giving the impression of a deep and genuine interest in the location of lawyer’s lost wives (he was on the phone to her about picking up the kids, so we assume she’s back and fine now), which encourages them to spout forth at length. I just sit silently, rudely, getting twitchy, kicking Keith’s foot and muttering ‘Get us out of here’ out of the side of my mouth.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 07

Portuguese is known to be a tricky language to learn. There are some squiggles and some unusual pronunciations. The word ‘puxe’, pronounced ‘push’, actually means ‘pull’. If you ever see a Portuguese shop door and managed not to look a twat, you can thank me then. Keith is not a linguistic; English is a struggle for him (failed English O Level 5 times, never passed). I am a words person, I spoke full sentences by the age of 9 months according to my Mum and some would say I haven’t stopped since. Despite this, I have no skill, commitment or patience for grammar – I just want to communicate. We listened to a Portuguese language CD on the plane over and one hearing that not only is ‘a’ or ‘one’ gendered (as in many languages), but ‘two’ is as well. What? Not ‘three’ or beyond, just one or two, and of course this means knowing the gender of the word following. A thought passed unannounced through my head: ‘I just won’t bother with that bit’, which is hardly a good attitude to learning a language. I also read Ben and Louise Taylor’s book and accompanying blog, Moving To Portugal, which explains something that I have been doing for many years; they call it ‘The Fight’. This is where you begin an interaction with a foreign person in their language and they (realising that you are no native) reply in your language. The goal of the fight is to plough on in their language until one of you gives up and reverts to your own tongue. Given that the Algarve is full of foreigners and that Portuguese is difficult (I’m giving the lazy, disrespectful bastards some credit here), hardly anyone bothers to learn it. I have had two ‘fight’ experiences this trip. The first was in a coffee shop where I expertly ordered two coffees and two Pastel de Nata (custard tarts to you), the server said: ‘Do you speak English?’ and I said ‘Yes, but I’m trying to learn Portuguese (in English). He actually put his hand over his face in something probably like despair and continued in Portuguese at which point I had to say ‘Eh?’ because two coffees and two Natas is the full extent of my Portuguese vocabulary. His irritation may explain why he put them in the microwave and turned them into molten lava which blistered the top of our mouths. Note to self: must learn Portuguese for bastard.

We’re very much liking Portugal. Everyone seems pretty laid-back and friendly and very small. I’m not sure if this constitutes racial stereotyping but certainly appears to be on the whole a factual statement. I feel huge here, towering above people. This is also demonstrated in the low height of the doorways of our new house and others we viewed, which is an old traditional cottage and also in the size of my new favourite vehicle, the Piaggio Ape 50. It is based on a scooter and has handlebars rather than a steering wheel. It is not uncommon to see two Portuguese adults putting around in these. I’d really like one, but I’m not sure where I’d put my legs. Or Keith. I’d look like Enzo in The Big Blue emerging from his Fiat 500. Perhaps that’s the sacrifice for the over-priced Malted Milks: Keith has to run alongside. As it only has a 50cc engine, this is entirely plausible.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 09

BTW Those lemons at the top of the page: they’re ours. I harvested (stole?) them from the not-quite-ours-yet lemon tree in our garden. They are probably the best lemons in the world. Or we are.

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

So, less than 36 hours after we departed from Greece, we find ourselves in Portugal. It’s all a bit much. We have no idea where we are, life has no structure and feels pretty surreal. Not expecting sympathy here, but it would be quite nice to be at home for a bit. Sadly, that’s not to be for me, as one day after we arrive home I’ll be off on the road for work for 3 days. At some point mental status quo will have to be re-established or something will go horribly wrong. But since we are here, I suppose we’ll have to struggle on. Pastel de Nata, dear? Oh go on, then.

We hadn’t planned to be here so soon, but things escalated on the house buying front and we were required to enter the infamous and terrifying world of Portuguese bureaucracy sooner than expected. All of the expat forums abound with tales of administrative indifference, confusion and downright bonkersness, so expectations are well and truly managed. We’re mostly hanging around Tavira, in the Eastern Algarve, which is the nearest town to our new house. Pictures of new house to follow when the deal is complete; superstitious? Maybe.

We decided to make the most of our time here, not spent with the lawyer and other official people, by undergoing reconnaissance about what foods we may struggle to find in Portugal, or which are extortionately expensive; there is quite a market for ‘British’ foods here, but they come at a premium.

Things that you cannot buy in Portugal (research gathered from visiting one supermarket, so may not be entirely accurate):

  • Bread flour
  • Yeast
  • Decaffeinated teabags in boxes any larger than 10.
  • Big tubs of plain yogurt
  • Malted milk biscuits
  • Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily Washing Powder

On the biscuit front, you can buy a considerable range of both ‘British’ varieties, such as the Digestive along with the Portuguese favourite; the Maria, which is a smaller version of the soggy, undippable for more than a nanosecond, and deeply unsatisfying Rich Tea. They sell them in huge packets and there are many varieties, but Portuguese people are not natural tea drinkers, so what are they doing with them? Who eats biscuits without an accompanying cup of tea? No one, that’s who. Or weird people. I’m not sure we want to live among people with such a different culture to our own; that sort of thing starts wars, you know. Keith starts his day with a Malted Milk; I’m not sure what he’s going to use instead. Cocaine?

The final item on the list: the Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily Washing Powder is more of a deal-breaker: it’s the only washing powder ‘flavour’ that Keith will use. It was a compromise that had to be made when we moved into together, which was tough for me, but sometimes in love and washing powder, someone has to take the hit and this time it was me. To quote the oft repeated words of the lovely Portuguese woman who patiently assisted us in opening our Portuguese bank account under the onslaught of my incessant questions issued forth before she had a minute to tell me herself: ‘I shall explain’:

I buy washing powder (and most things) on the basis of value; price and quality calculated in a non-existent algorithm (whilst searching for how to spell algorithm – I swear it was a ‘y’ – I discovered that the origin of the word comes from the name of the mathematician, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was part of the royal court in Baghdad in AD750. That is cool). It physically and mentally hurts me to pay more than necessary. My chest gets tight and I feel agitated. This is because it is simply illogical to do this. Totally illogical. Why would you pay more money for something when you can get an equally good, or better, product for less? Actually, now I’m sitting here thinking about it, it actually makes me angry. Anger, as we know, is reputed to come from fear, and I think the lack of sense about this frightens me because I don’t understand it, and therefore don’t understand the motivation of a person who would behave in this way, and therefore people are scary. And mad. The other side of this is that when I do find a bargain, I get a sense of euphoria, achievement and winning at life. Properly chuffed, like I am a clever bugger who cracked it. I’m just being honest with you here; judgement is not necessary.

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis

Now, Keith makes his consumer purchasing decisions based on other factors; cost does come into it and quality is important to him, but when selecting toiletries and household products, his No.1 criteria is smell. Seriously. Keith, and he won’t mind me telling you this (well, he might but he’s asleep so we’ll just go for it), is an excessive talcum powder user. He likes to douse his underparts and feet with the stuff on a daily basis, so much that if he sits down, he is know to leave an arse-shaped shroud of talc accompanied by a little cloud as its escapes through the fabric of his jeans. He only uses one brand of talc (Johnson’s Baby Powder). A few years ago, Johnson’s altered the formula of their talcum powder, which resulted in a change in the smell. I am confident in betting one of my kidneys (worth about 27p on the black market). Hang on, that would be funny if I got drugged and had a kidney stolen like in those tales you hear of that happening to people and then when they opened me up they found out that my kidneys look like this:

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis - 05

That might a stop to their illicit kidney-stealing shenanigans. And also shit them up a bit. The cysts are not just on the outside, they are all the way through, having taken over the tissue of the kidney in a kind of genetically mutated invasion. I think this means I am an X-Men; without my tweezers, Wolverine is only a week’s worth of chin-plucking away.

Anyway, I digress; back to the Johnson’s,as it were. I bet that the vast majority of the population did not notice that the smell of their talcum powder had altered, but Keith did. Keith could tell if I’d been smoking 48 hours after I’d had a cigarette despite numerous showers, teeth cleans and efforts to conceal my shady addiction. He was right, and I couldn’t handle it. Bastard. Keith smells all his food before eating it, he smells books, phones, boxes, wallets – pretty much anything you can think of. In autistic terms, it’s just utilising a different sensory sense to process your world: most people look or touch as their primary data gathering source; Keith smells.

So… the point of this lengthy explanation, is that Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily is very important to Keith and not easily substituted and hence when we go shopping and there is a phenomenally good deal on some other flavour I have to walk past it and buy the FULL PRICE Bold Crystal Lily and White Fucking Rain or whatever it’s called, reconfigure my screaming brain (‘Does not compute, does not compute, avert, avert’ etc.), and know that I am a good person. And know that being a good person is a ‘Good Thing’. Apparently. ‘Compromise’, I think they call it, or some other shit that means you don’t get your own way. He’s worth it; every penny of the money we have wasted on FULL price washing powder which might extend our working lives and force us to live in poverty… I’l stop now.

We’ll just have to sneak individual sachets into our Easyjet hand luggage (less than 100ml, officer) to meet my beloved’s washing powder ‘habit’, or pay €20 a box, if we can find it in the Iceland store which opened last year in the Algarve to supply the expats with all things Heinz. Love conquers all.

Relationship advice, anyone?