Newsletter December 2004

  by: Nigel Anteney Hoare

Halloween falling this year on a Sunday made a good start to the month of November as 1st of November is All Saints Day and a public holiday here. I sometimes get pulled up by friends and colleagues working in other countries as to the apparently large number of public holidays we get but in fact we miss out on many due to the fact that if they fall on a weekend we lose’ em!!

Take this coming Christmas for example, with Christmas Day falling on a Saturday, and Boxing Day uncelebrated here, many people will not get any days off for Christmas at all. I will make sure I will though as we follow the UK holidays for Christmas at least!

The All Hallows/All Saints religious festival signals the arrival of the huge “Halloween” fair in Silves – the “Feira Todos os Santos”. This used to be a fine almost mediaeval affair with stalls and hot chestnut vendors spread out all along the main road to the left of the bridge, spilling onto the parking area beyond. Some years ago it moved further down past the swimming pools and behind the Fissul Exhibition Hall and accordingly lost some of its atmosphere I think.

Anyway we decided to give it a look on the Saturday afternoon 30th October when hopefully it wouldn’t be too crowded. We were right and were able to walk freely around the stalls that were selling everything under the sun. At the entrance were the traditional mobile catering caravans selling drinks, hamburgers, bifanas (see last newsletter!) and also “farturas” – a sort of doughnut made from a batter mixture fried in very hot deep oil in huge open wok type things above a gas flame. These are then dipped into a mixture of flour and cinnamon – great for the waistline! There was lots of smoke rising from the hot chestnut vendors’ barrows and the pungent smell of grilled dried octopus. Behind this the fair is split into two parts, the traditional funfair with dodgems and other rides and the stalls selling clothes, shoes, tools, toys, domestic ware, cd’s, videos and DVD’s in fact everything you can think of. Having not been to this fair for a couple of years I thought the quality of stuff had improved especially the clothing and there were certainly some bargains to be had. We spent a good while there and then headed back to Carvoeiro.

News filtered through of a fisherman being lost off the rocks somewhere near Rocha Brava. I had seen the rescue helicopter circling and wondered if this was connected. It transpired that the chap had lost his footing and fallen a fair distance damaging himself pretty badly but being rescued alive by the bombeiros. The cliffs around Carvoeiro offer many lovely walks but caution needs to be exercised to avoid a tragedy.

After a lay off of over 20 years I had finally decided I should take an interest in golf again. Being rusty I had booked half a day refresher with Derek Lutz the pro at VALE DO MILHO GOLF CLUB. Off I went and 4 hours later returned to the clubhouse with a swing like Colin Montgomery. Well maybe not exactly but I had hit the ball. Derek is a Canadian by birth and I found him to be both a charming person and a capable tutor. He intends to return to Canada over the winter (hang on Derek are you sure you’ve got that right?!) but will return next spring again to Vale do Milho. After the lesson a relaxing beer on the terrace overlooking the 9th green finished a pleasant afternoon.

The fine sunny weather of the first two days of the month broke on Tuesday night with rain. A good steady downpour which is just what the ground needs. The sudden torrential almost sub tropical stuff we often get here simply runs off the surface and does more harm than good. The reservoir just behind Silves is almost empty so this is much needed.

On the 6th, determined to put Dereks golf lesson to good effect, I ventured with my brother in law, a keen golfer, down to Benamor golf course just beyond Tavira. A while back we had won a round of golf for two at Benamor in a raffle so took full advantage of that. We played a foursome with an English couple who were staying at – wait for it – HOTEL ALMANSOR, Carvoeiro! They confirmed, like many visitors to Carvoeiro, that they were “hooked” on it and intended to return again.

On the way down to Tavira we had noticed groups of Scouts with black bin bags collecting rubbish from the verges. This was part of an initiative to clear the EN125 of litter and the combined efforts of 450 Scouts led to them collecting 11 tonnes of rubbish in four hours that day. It must be said that some of the Portuguese are not the most environmentally aware and you will often see them tossing cigarette packets or water bottles from their car windows, I have even seen bags of rubbish come flying out, so this was a welcome gesture by the Scout movement who have done similar things in the summer along the beaches.

The following days were bright and clear and on the 11th we had the first really cold day of the autumn. The car exterior temperature gauge read 8ºC as I left for work but it felt colder with a strong north wind tumbling down on Carvoeiro from the direction of Monchique. The following day was the same but with lighter wind. This was the day that heralded the “NO TOLLS” protest rally with many motorists taking to the EN125 instead of the motorway to prove that the road couldn’t cope. In fact the possibility of tolls is remote, at least in the short term. Just imagine the logistics of constructing toll booths on a road that is already in place and that has 17 exits! Best estimates IF it goes ahead are 2010.

The debacle over the start of the school term I mentioned in the last Newsletter and the state of education generally was emphasised with news that whilst Portugal was amongst the 41 countries that comply with basic standards of education as set out by UNESCO, it ranked only in 34th place on the list so it would appear that there is some work to do yet by the education ministry! My own impression having had children at school here in both the Portuguese state system and in international schools is that whilst the Portuguese pre-primary and primary care is excellent it all seems to go pear shaped once middle school stage is reached.

The weather had settled into a stable pattern with very clear, starry nights and cold bright mornings. On Monday evening as I walked my dog the delicious aroma of almond wood smoke filled the air from some neighbouring open fire and it was obvious it would be a cold one that night. Next morning the thermometer showed 6ºC at 7am and was that a hint of frost on the grass? If so it was early as we don’t usually get any of that until after the New Year. The difference in temperature between night and day was apparent as the thermometer rose to 19ºC by lunchtime in a cloudless sunny blue sky

Local news included that of a 30 year old man from Monchique who drove up the motorway towards Lisbon from the Messines turn off as far as the service area at Almodôvar whereupon he turned round and drove back south against the traffic. It seems he then reached the Messines toll booths (coming from the wrong direction of course!) where he turned round again and went back to Almodôvar. He then repeated his last maneouvre back south again! Of course by this time the Police had been alerted and he was captured whereupon it was discovered he was over 3 times over the drink drive limit. Perhaps he had taken too much of Monchiques favourite distillation on board but anyway he was locked up to face court the next day!

Around this time it was announced that Portugal would follow the lead set by other countries by prohibiting smoking in public places including bars, restaurants and discos. I think this could be a tricky one here and was reminded of a visit to a glass firm in Portimão the other day where in the reception were several large no smoking notices and I was attended to by the receptionist with a ciggy in her hand. Smoking in government offices has been against the law for some time but goes on regardless.

We had a quick weekend trip to the UK over the weekend of 20th/21st taking advantage of a 51 Euro round trip ticket on Easy Jet. We hit Gatwick at zero degrees on Friday night but on our return on Monday found that temperatures here had risen. It was still very clear but nothing like as cold. Late into Faro we ate out at MAXIMES. I think this place is very good indeed. They seem to try just that little bit harder and the food is always very good indeed with an imaginative new menu to keep diners interest up

Many of the bars and restaurants were beginning to close up. Some for a lengthy break until the New Year and others just for a brief pause expecting to reopen for Christmas. By the end of the month the lower part of town seemed rather quiet and dark with both SMILERS and COLOMBOS closed. The bars and restaurants on the square however were still functioning and I thought how cheery it looked in the evening with all the various lights on. Work had been ongoing by the council in altering the circular seating area on the square – not sure exactly at this stage what the difference will be though.

News came through of the Ukrainian guy who stabbed the English football fan to death in Lisbon during the Euros. He was condemned to 13 years which doesn’t seem much to me for taking a life
The settled clear weather continued and with the increase in temperature it was very pleasant indeed for the very few tourists that were around. On 29th following a trio to the movies at Algarve Shopping we ate in the Chinese restaurant up Estrada do Farol past FLIC FLAC BAR and it was completely empty at 9,30. One other customer came in for a take away before we left but that looked about it! This is certainly one of the lowest points of the year as far as tourists are concerned.

The full moon over the weekend of 27th 28th of November brought a change in weather as it often does. I don’t know if there is some meteorological reason for that but it frequently seems to be the case. The clear skies clouded up and for the next few days we had showers. Some people I know who live on the road from Monchique to Foia told me that Sunday Monday and Tuesday were spent in the clouds. They had a better treat in store though! Early Tuesday morning saw dark clouds approaching from the west with rolling thunder and sheet lightning out to sea beyond Cape St Vincent. By 9.30 am we were in the middle of a fierce electrical storm and torrential rain. The Lagoa Bombeiros siren wailed to call reinforcements, perhaps to assist in pumping water? My wife had to go from Lagoa back to Carvoeiro and was caught down town by flooding that had forced cars to stop. All very reminiscent of almost exactly the same day in 1988 and the great Carvoeiro flood. It made me recall Fraser and Lynn who in those days ran The Place Restaurant (now Fish and Chicks) and the basement Safari bar (now just chicks!!) and who lost all the famous parrots they had in the bar when it became completely submerged in flood water. I saw Fraser the other day and he is now walking very well after his terrible accident. I didn’t get chance to speak but he looks on course to reopen O FORNO in the New Year.

At the end of the month there was a major political upheaval when the President of the Republic took the unusual step of dissolving Parliament. This followed several votes of no confidence in the government and resignations from within the PSD/PP coalition governing party. Elections are planned for February and there seems little doubt that the socialist PS will win with a large majority.

The Christmas lights went on in Lagoa as usual with a fine and expensive display to please the locals. Carvoeiro itself made a more modest effort at creating seasonal cheer although this year the usual one or two lights were augmented by an illuminated train on the wall in the area by the new eco-ponte rubbish containers in front of VIA ITALIA.

Finally, on a very sad note, I made reference to Patrick Swift in last months Newsletter and mentioned his daughter Katty and her husband Roger who ran the Porches pottery that he established some years ago. I was shocked and saddened to hear that Katty had passed away some months ago after a long fight against illness, I understand. I had no idea of this and hope my reference never caused any distress to her family.

As I write this the weather is clear, bright and sunny with the promise of the coming holiday on every ones mind. I will be back in early 2005 and wish you all a peaceful Christmas and New Year.