Newsletter August 2004

  by: Nigel Anteney Hoare

For the first few days of July we had been in the UK to attend a christening in Yorkshire and also to collect our children from their school for the summer holidays. We arrived on 5th July back to Carvoeiro, tired but glad to be home.

It had been quite a race around England, or at least part of it, as we had arrived at Gatwick on Friday evening, driven to London to overnight, on to York the next day, overnight again, Sunday Christening and then down to Norwich overnight and back to Gatwick. We sure had our moneys worth out of the hire car and it proved the frequent posts on the Cvo Forum that if you shop around you will save money as our original quote for an estate car to take all our luggage reduced from £150 to £90 simply by some diligent Web surfing.

Due to the timing of the christening our subsequent journey to Norwich coincided with the Euro Final between Portugal and Greece so I had to be content with listening to the first half on BBC 5. We arrived at our friends in Norwich in time to see the second half on television and of course I don’t need to go into what happened!

Arriving back to Carvoeiro on Monday 5th the sense of disappointment was almost tangible. Such an anticlimax but what a fun time it had been! The flags still flew but without being waved. Talking to people, all agreed that it had been good for Portuguese morale instilling a sense of national pride that is sometimes lacking in the locals. One prominent Portuguese politician had already said that he believed all Portuguese schoolchildren should sing the national anthem every morning and I tend to agree that a sense of national belonging does not go amiss.

Rather like the UK’s Tim Henman, the whole Portuguese football squad were invited to an audience with the President at his official headquarters where they were honoured for their efforts. It was reported that the President shed a tear with the emotion of it all!

We found, on return from our brief absence, that the hot days were continuing but generally there was a strong wind to cool things down. The evenings were quite cool in fact and I saw that most holiday makers were covering up bare arms on their way past my house to the town for dinner. On the morning of the 10th a large bank of grey cloud framed the Serra de Monchique mountain range to the north of Silves. I don’t know what the weather was like up in the lower Alentejo beyond the hills but it stayed hot and sunny here.

There was a lot happening around and about including the bikers rally in Faro planned over the weekend of 17th/18th. Over 25,000 bikers were expected from all over Europe for this annual event which does not cause too much chaos for us here in the west. A trip to the airport can be hair raising however if you happen to hit the 25,000+ bikers on their Sunday trip round Faro!

Nearer to home was the 2nd Jazz Festival held at the “Fontes” near Estombar. I couldn’t get to this years event but friends who did go tell me it was terrific and they particularly complimented the catering facilities provided by Howard Bancroft and his team from SULLYS BAR and the ROCHA BRAVA CAFÉ. This seems sure to be an annual event and even for non jazz lovers is worth a visit as the ambience is just superb – an open air auditorium right by the riverside in absolutely beautiful natural surroundings. Just be aware of the mosquitoes though!

The Silves Beer Festival hiccupped to a halt and from what I hear was not that well attended. I personally think this event is past its sell by date and was never the same after it left the castle grounds even though it was an archaeological travesty to hold it there. I recall the festivals in the early 80’s which were fine fun affairs. The event is used as a fund raiser for Silves Football Club so I guess they must keep that going.

Lagoa Council had organized once again a Youth Festival at the Fatacil ground in Lagoa and I understand that was well attended with plenty of music and other happenings suitable for younger people.

There was even the Snail Festival in Porches! Whilst I have in the past tried “caracois” in the traditional way with a nice cold beer and bread, a snail festival is not some place I would rush to but again I hear it is well attended each year.

I promised last month not to mention football and broke that promise in my first few paragraphs (sorry!) so I may as well mention the charity match between a Luis Figo Portuguese team and a team of All Stars at the new Faro-Loulé stadium on the 12th. Again I could not be there, but a capacity crowd enjoyed watching some soccer stars of today and yesterday “battle” it out over 90 minutes for a charity known as the Luis Figo Foundation. I did catch some of this live on Portuguese TV. The All Stars team included Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne (looking very fit!) and F1 driver Michael Schumacher, a very good footballer in his own right. The end result was a very fair 2 -2 and the crowd were entertained by that grand old man of British football, Sir Bobby Charlton, coming on for the last 10 minutes at 67 years of age! Manchester Uniteds Sir Alex Ferguson was there “managing” the All Stars team.

The country had a political crisis mid month as the incumbent Prime Minister, having decided to accept the appointment as President of the EU Commission, had to leave his political post here. The new Prime Minister, Santana Lopes was not everybody’s cup of tea and thus there were various resignations in the cabinet resulting in a complete Government reshuffle and what was effectively a new Government being appointed. The new premier immediately promised to reduce income tax so it was beers all round! Funny how they always promise things like that isn’t it?!

On 10th we had gone to RESTAURANT KAZY in Silves for some chicken Piri-Piri with our old neighbours from Cumeada near Silves TOM and BARBARA CAMPH and friends JOHN and ANN SCOTT. Barbara is a talented artist working with stained glass and creating all manner of articles from wind chimes to earrings to lampshades. She often attends shows and fairs and told me she had been invited to display her wares at the KRAZY WORLD all-night rave party which was scheduled for the next day! I thought she must have bust a gasket or something as the rave was intended to bring together 20,000 young people to listen to high volume music played by invited DJ’s including star act - the Chemical Brothers (yes I hadn’t heard of them either!) Anyway the piri piri and the company was good and next day I got a report that only about 2,000 or so had attended, that it had been VERY loud and finished at about 10am next day! Something different for the Algarve country side.

These days were delightful, clear and sunny but with a cool breeze. As mentioned in the last Newsletter the colours of the plants this year seemed exceptionally vibrant. They were at their best in early July and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one well kept Carvoeiro garden to share with you. The alfarroba (carob or ‘locust’ beans) were ripening to their shiny black on the trees and falling to the ground in the wind. They reminded me of when I lived in Cumeada where we had a fair amount of land and many alfarrobeiras (carob trees). Driven by the fact they grew for free and you could simply collect them and sell them I began filling hessian sacks persuading other family members that this was good fun and sort of ‘back to nature’. It was a back breaking task but we filled about 20 sacks and it was off to the local “alfarroba dealer” in Messines to be weighed on the weigh bridge and receive my cash. I recall the price was low that year and I got about 20,000 Escudos – now 100 Euros. The excitement of this was curtailed by a 30,000 Escudos chiropractors bill to put my back right again!

Mid month we had reports of forest fires in the North of Portugal but we had so far escaped relatively unscathed down here in the Algarve. As I walked my dog early on the morning of 17th it felt almost autumnal with a morning mist hanging in the valley and parked cars damp with dew. I thought to myself perhaps the really hot time was over?

There was a bouncy castle erected on the square to entertain the younger kids but the place did seem very quiet all round and coincided with a report from the head of the Algarve tourism board that tourism generally was well down and the prognosis for August was not that great. Most trades people blamed the football for keeping away the early visitors and places like Bulgaria and Turkey seemed to have benefited from that.

From the 20th onwards the temperature began to increase and warnings were sounded by health authorities about a coming heat wave. The skies had taken on a strange greyness and this turned out to be the result of a huge sandstorm in the Sahara desert which had whipped the sand up to high altitude, then borne by the winds to us.

The increase in temperature coincided with a serious outbreak of forest fire in the Monchique and Silves areas and also near Tavira where the main A22 highway had to be closed for over 2 hours due to the danger of smoke and flames.

The high summer is known as the silly season here but one amazing press report told of a middle aged woman driver who had somehow managed to enter the A22 at Lagos on the wrong carriageway and drove against the traffic flow 30 km. to Lagoa where she got off the motorway and continued in a normal fashion! Fortunately it was very early morning and no real harm was done. Still can’t work out how she managed it!

By the end of that week it was really hot with temperatures in the high 30’s centigrade. My Birthday fell on Saturday 24th and we had invited 21 family and friends for a barbecue. Making preparations in the morning it felt unusually hot by about 10 a.m. The thermometer rose and rose during that day and by mid afternoon hit an all time high of 44ºC. My niece's husband is an experienced grill chef so we left the barbecue to him and I felt sorry for him as it must have been well over 50º in front of the grill even at 8pm! Plentiful cold beers and an occasional plunge in the pool saw him survive.

The evenings never cooled down and the nights were too hot for most people to sleep. At 11pm at night some beaches were still full of bathers with the water being the only way for many to keep cool. Air conditioning units laboured and were unable to cope. The electricity supply failed fairly frequently simply due to the high usage. Very uncomfortable indeed.

Sunday 25th July continued nearly as hot and the fires in Monchique had broken out again after having been partially controlled by the bombeiros. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for those brave men and women fighting fires in the already intense heat. The temperature was still 43ºC on Monday 26th and we could see very heavy smoke from fires in the area between Silves and Monchique. A huge pall of smoke came over Carvoeiro dropping ash and burnt leaves.

The heat wave continued into the week and on Wednesday we decide to try some Chinese food. With a total of 11 of us it was always going to be tricky to get in some place and, with the heat, a priority was air conditioning. We had no luck at the Restaurant CHINES opposite COLOMBOS nor at GRANDE MURALHA further up Estrada do Farol (restaurant hill) but we were able to get a booking at CHINATOWN. We popped next door to FLIC FLAC BAR for a drink whilst we waited for our table to come free. Not very busy at that time of the evening - post cocktail and pre after dinner, but we enjoyed nice drinks well served by the young Portuguese lady behind the bar.

We all thought that the Chinese meal was excellent. The place was full but service very good even though we were a table of 11. A very reasonable bill was shared amongst us and the girls amongst our party were delighted to be given fans by the waitress as we left. They would come in handy!

On Wednesday we travelled to Spain to stay overnight with friends at Sotogrande just along the coast from Gibraltar. The devastation along the motorway near Tavira following the fire was amazing. We drove for 15 km. seeing hectare after hectare of burnt trees and shrubs, sometimes on both sides of the motorway where the fire had leapt across.

On Thursday morning I had to go into Gibraltar and had the usual border nonsense! I left my car on the Spanish side and walked over but when I came out again at lunchtime there was a huge queue of cars trying to get in hooting their horns in protest which just makes the Spanish frontier people even more obstinate. With Gibraltar's planned celebrations of 300 years of British rule about to take place in early August it is time this matter was settled once and for all.

Driving back up on Thursday afternoon a friend called us to warn of a large fire between Loulé and faro. It seems this was the same fire that had started near Messines and had travelled right along the ridge. As we approached Faro we could see what was obviously a huge fire up in the hills. Thick black smoke was clouding the sky and giving the hot afternoon sun a weird red glow. We saw three large water carrying planes apparently fetching and carrying water from the sea to douse the flames. It was obviously a major fire and well out of control.

Arriving back home in the early evening, we joined up with our friends who had been staying with us and went to VIA ITALIA. We just managed to get a table for the seven of us as it was pretty busy and once again I really enjoyed the meal there. Via Italia sits nicely above the town and has a busy “Italian” atmosphere to it. CESAR the waiter whom I have known for years was zipping in and out of the tables keeping everybody happy. As previously we finished off our meal with fresh parmesan cheese brought to our table in a huge lump for us to slice off – delicious!

The temperature had dropped significantly whilst we had been to Spain and was more bearable but still in the mid 30’s. After 44º that seemed positively cool! On Friday with a general desire for some spicy food we all went to Algarve Club Atlantico to the Indian Restaurant: I am always unsure if it is called PEARL OF INDIA or CURRIES AND SPICES. I think this is Indian food at its best and we were well entertained by the staff with not too big a bill at the end.

With the month drawing to a close and our first batch of visitors due to depart we decided on our annual pilgrimage to ILHA DESERTA off Faro. Eleven of us set out to catch the first ferry at 10 am. This is a fabulous place and well worth a day out. The beach never gets crowded even at peak times simply because it is rather remote. You can get there either by private boat, the regular 100 seater catamaran ferry which costs 7 Euros return or by private speedboat taxi which costs 7 Euros one way only with a minimum of 5 passengers and maximum of 10. The ferry leaves from the quay alongside the walls of the old city of Faro. It is a very pleasant 30 minute boat trip and then a short walk from the quay to the beautiful sandy beach. Sun beds and umbrellas are available.

We took some filled rolls and water with us but enjoyed a super lunch of fresh sea bass at ESTAMINE - the only restaurant there. At 6pm we caught the last ferry back and headed back to Carvoeiro. The difference in the numbers of tourists in the town was very noticeable and we could see that the August invasion had already started.

Until the beginning of September - have a good summer.