A New Life 2: Early Days


The sun was hot in the clearest of blue skies as the Patron's wife showed us into the dining room where the table was laid for breakfast. It was only 7am, yet she had purposely woke early in order to prepare food for us before we started our journey south. I wanted to have a conversation with this friendly little woman but being new to the country and language, I felt shy and could only mutter 'por favor' (please) and 'obrigada' (thank-you).

The breakfast was delicious as once again we tucked into fresh bread rolls filled with butter, cheese and ham, marmalade and jam, alongside glasses of fresh orange juice followed by large round cups of hot milky 'real coffee'! I said a grateful thanks to the Patron's wife at the end of our meal and I was totally astonished as she replied to me, " C'est rien. Mon plaisir!"(Its nothing. My pleasure!) I speak a little French and said 'Vous parlez Francaise!" She said " Oui. Je suis Francaise. Je suis une Parisienne!"

I answered back in French and her face lit up as she went on to explain. She had met her husband in Paris. He had left Portugal as a young man to work in France. They were young, fell in love and married; then she returned with him to live in Portugal. I remember we had quite a long conversation. She was such a nice person, so friendly and warm and as we took our leave (reluctantly on my part, as I felt I had made my first friend in Portugal) she said how nice it had been to converse in her own language and I thought, yes, I suppose she must get 'homesick' for her country and language at times!
She wished us' 'Bon voyage!' and as we drove away, I turned in my seat to see them both, the patron and his delightful wife standing by the hotel, waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

The good nights sleep, nourishing food and pleasant company had put us in a light-hearted mood for the last stage of our journey. This took us through varying scenery as we passed woods of cork oak, a sight quite new to us. It was strange to see these sturdy trees with strips of bark missing from the trunk. I was completely ignorant of where cork actually came from till then. So it was turning out to be a learning trip as well.

Being an avid gardener I was fascinated by Algarve�s brick-red soil; comparing it to the black soil of England, which to me was full of nutrition. I wondered if anything I planted would grow? But the evidence was there before me with fields of lush vegetation springing up along the roadside and huge plastic tunnelling that I could see housed healthy giant tomato plants and salad crops. I mused what challenges there would be for me in Algarve on the horticulture front. My holdall held a container of various seed packets that I'd brought with me. But would they grow here? I would have to wait and see but I was determined to give it a go!

Our chosen road took us through the old Moorish capital of Silves. That day we did not have time to explore the town as we had an important rendezvous with the people we had bought the business from and this was at our next stop. Lagoa.

Coming into Lagoa we were a little lost but we had been told to meet up at the town's 'Camara' - the local authorities building. Eventually, with the help of a guarda (police) officer we found it and parking nearby, we got out to stretch our legs, happy to have reached our destination safely and without too many problems!

Hub went to buy us some ice-cream, which was very welcome after the long drive. We found that it was noticeably warmer; the temperatures higher than the Alentejo region and as we sat eating our ices on a bench near to the call box opposite the Camara building, I realised that this is how it would be now; sunshine and warmth most of the year! A marked contrast to the cold damp Kent we'd left in UK a few days previous!

We were getting very hungry too but decided to wait for our business friends to arrive, before looking for somewhere to eat lunch. Nearly two hours past and there was still no sign of them. It was at this point that our worries began to set-in. Could we possibly, have been -- conned?! Hub had paid £2,000 up front as a deposit for the carpentry business. We voiced our worries to each other, wondering if they had been honest folk? We didn't know them and had taken it all at face value. What if they had made off with our money? Where did that leave us? Hub was very anxious. The minutes were ticking by and no one appeared. He started to speak of selling the car and buying air tickets to fly home.

I couldn't believe we were talking in this manner. The day had been so good and now this! But what if they didn't turn up? Were we to be left here high and dry, stranded in a foreign country? No home, no friends. We sat on the bench, staring at the ground feeling worried, lonely and scared.
The squeal of tyres and squeak of brakes had us looking up to see a white pick-up truck coming to a halt behind our BMW. Before we could stand up, the truck door swung open, a gangly figure with greying hair jumped down and came striding towards us. Hub went to meet him with outstretched hand in eager greeting.

"Elle, this is Bill. Bill meet Ellie and Jamie".
Anxiety gone, our smiling faces met with his open friendly face; a face that I liked immediately. His look told me that with Bill, what you
saw, was what you got and I wondered that for a while we had doubted him. "Sorry guys, for keeping you waiting. Held up on a job. You made good time. Didn't think you'd be so early". He was so friendly and welcoming that we didn't have the heart to tell him that we had waited over two and half hours. But it didn't matter. He was here now and we could breath a sigh of relief! "You must be starving? Joan's got food and drink laid on. So if you follow me back, you can freshen up and have a spot of lunch".

We followed him out of Lagoa, onto the country road, driving about three kilometres, when Bill pulled up in front of large white gates. We drew level with the truck under the carport, then got out to take a look around. It was most impressive. The large white villa was enclosed in equally large gardens, its walls smothered in deep crimson bougainvillea. The patio was crowded with huge terracotta pots that contained masses of geraniums every colour imaginable. It was a breathtaking picture and I stood mesmerised. A group of tall slender almond trees caught my eye, their fragile branches wreathed in pink/white blossom, a filigree of lace against a sky the colour of bluebells.

I let out a sigh of contentment. This is what all the preparation, hard work and long journey had been about. To come to this most western corner of Europe - a little bit of paradise - Algarve, especially in springtime! "You're here at last" Joan came hurrying through the open patio doors, her small brown-haired figure came over to us, shaking hands and planting a kiss on
both my cheeks. It was a wonderful welcome. "Come on in. You must be tired and dying for a cup of tea?" Those words were magic to our ears. Four days we'd been without our favourite brew.

As we relaxed in their cosy sitting room, Joan appeared with a large tray and as she set it down on the coffee table our eyes lit on the huge brown teapot! That tea tasted like 'nectar' and as we chomped our way through a selection of sandwiches and thick slices of homemade fruitcake and more than a few cups of tea, our weariness and doubts faded away. We felt at home!

As Hub and Bill discussed the business, it seemed everything was going to plan. There was just once hitch however. The apartment we were going to rent in Lagoa wouldn't be available for two weeks. But, they had found a holiday let in the fishing village of Carvoeiro. So after 3 nights in a B&B there, we could move into the small holiday villa and stay till the apartment was ready.

After tea, we followed Bill to Carvoeiro and the B&B. The pension was very clean and comfortable and after an evening meal in a nearby restaurant, we were happy to take to our beds and were soon fast asleep. But I recall waking in the middle of the night and for a moment felt bewildered; wondering for a few minutes where I was! But then I heard the soothing swish of the waves breaking over the sands of Carvoeiro's bay just below us and I said to myself, "We're here. We made it. We're actually in Algarve!" A shiver of excitement ran through me along with a feeling of nervousness. The next day we were going to the workshops and meeting our workforce. I didn't sleep much that night, wondering what tomorrow might bring!