A week in Portugal

Journal

A week in Portugal

Lost in translation
“We are never, ever flying to a foreign country again when it’ll be dark when we arrive!” I ranted, as we drove into the darkness on a road somewhere outside Faro, lost just ten minutes after picking up the rental car from the airport.

Despite seemingly having access to all the other benefits of 21st century technology, Portugal appeared to lack the bare essentials I’d come to expect over the last decade or so of being a driver. Okay, I’ll concede that it’s expensive to run electricity cables everywhere in order to light the signs. But what about those cats eye things that I’ve seen in many other countries? Surely they could stretch to some of those to make the junctions a damn sight less terrifying while you’re trying to avoid the racey natives, hell bent on getting to where ever they’re going.

Two and a half hours of second guessing ourselves later, we happened upon our destination of Parque de Floresta, for our weeks’ stay in my Auntie Alison’s holiday villa.

Once we were shown to the villa by a lady from reception, we wolfed down the pizzas that the restaurant had furnished us with at short notice, before going straight to bed, exhausted from our travels.

Familiar faces
Next morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and a beautiful blue sky, as the full splendour of the resort was unveiled in the warm light of day. In the main, it’s a golfing destination, and even thought I don’t play the game I could see the attraction of playing in a place like Portugal. We were there for some rest and recuperation, though, and left the golf to the well to do folk that looked bronzed enough to have spent most of the year there.

Instead, we planned to drive into Lagos to meet Kieran and Ele, the friends we’d said goodbye to back in June when they’d set sail from Liverpool in their boat Dart Warrior.

Setting off from the villa in the warm light of day the driving wasn’t nearly as arduous as it had been the night before. Half an hour later we’d found somewhere to park at the back of the marina and were sitting onboard Dart Warrior chatting away while Ele made us lunch. It was great to see them both again, and slightly bizarre to have ready made friends waiting for us on holiday.

After lunch we went for a long walk along the seafront, stopping off at a beachside cafe for refreshments. On our return we cut up into the town for a look around the narrow streets on our way back. Lagos presented a mix of both traditional and modern architecture, and it was good to see that it wasn’t yet spoiled in the way that most mediterranean destinations are.

That done, we invited Kieran and Ele back to the villa so they could get a break from the boat and enjoy some home comforts. Picking up some supplies from a supermarket near the marina, we made the short trip back to the resort for a relaxing evening.

On Tuesday we spent the day by the pool, with Ele and Fliss making the most of a chilly dip. Kieran and myself stuck to the sunbeds, chatting about work, although we did brave a short splash once the temperature had gotten up.

That evening we made our way back into Lagos to meet with Kieran and Ele’s friends, Mark and Nat. They were lovely people, and we enjoyed the good company over a tasty meal at an Italian restaurant, before walking back to the marina – picking up some ridiculously large ice cream cones on the way.

Lazy days
Fliss and I spent the next couple of days taking it easy at the villa. I shared my time between working on the laptop and reading a book out on the sun lounger, while Fliss either read her book or shared the PSP with me. It was good to spend the two days just doing nothing, not wearing a watch, eating when we felt like it, and not having to stick to a schedule.

Making a splash
On Friday we headed back into Lagos for a day out with Kieran and Ele. No sooner had we arrived than we’d set off on Dart Warrior around the coast to find a sheltered beach. Our cove of choice was slightly wavey on the approach, but after Kieran and I had made it ashore in the dinghy we figured it was calm enough for him to go back out and bring the girls in. Getting the dinghy back out beyond the breaking waves was no easy task however, and I got dragged over the submerged rocks trying to keep hold of the inflatable in the surf.

Although Ele cut her hand on those same rocks as the rest of the party made it to the beach, we decided that once the tide had come in a bit the journey back to the anchored Dart Warrior would be less troublesome. Hindsight would show that notion was misguided.

A couple of hours later, after sunning ourselves on the secluded beach, paddling in the breakwater and sheltering from the stare of the sun in the shade of the rocks, Ele suggested it was time to get back to the boat. I hadn’t really noticed, but during our time ashore the wind had picked up, the waves had risen, and the prospect of swimming back to Dart Warrior seemed that much more challenging than it had when we first arrived.

Ele picked the perfect time to leave, setting out strongly during a calm in the breaking waves. Lagging behind I helped Kieran get the dinghy out past the break point, taking care to avoid the rocks that had cut me earlier in the day. As she entered the cold water, Fliss immediately had her doubts about swimming back. I did too, but there was nothing for it – the cove was surrounded by rocky cliff face, so we didn’t have much of an alternative.

At first we made very little progress – the incoming tide proving difficult to swim against. I had also left my sandles on to avoid cutting my feet on the rocks, but now their buoyancy was making it really hard for me to swim properly. As I spluttered after a mouthful of salt water, I realised I was leaving Fliss behind, too. Up until this point, her being pregnant hadn’t really made much of a difference to our daily lives, but suddenly here was the mother of my child getting swamped by the incoming tide as we attempted to swim out to sea. In that moment I started to think that we might be making a stupid mistake. We were doing the kind of thing I’m always shouting at people for doing in reconstructions on those rescue programs!

Coming to our aid, Kieran turned the dinghy around to face the shore and Fliss and I grabbed hold of the ropes on either side as he ran the electric motor in reverse to try and pull us clear of the strong waves. This had little effect, other than stopping us from drifting back to shore, so Kieran turned the engine around and gunned it forwards – straight away I could tell we were finally moving out to sea and it was a bit of a relief after an anxious few minutes. Now that we were relatively safe we had a bit of a laugh about the situation, and I took the opportunity to toss my sandles into the dinghy for some greater freedom to swim and help our progress.

Ele’s head was now a spec in the distance by Dart Warrior, but as I bobbed over the crest of each wave I could see that she hadn’t made it onboard. It turns out that making it to a boat and making it onboard are different things entirely.

Try as I might, I didn’t have the strength to pull myself onto the deck after the exertions of the swim. Fortunately Kieran was able to climb onboard from the dinghy and then put the ladder in place for the rest of us to clamber up the side.

I’ve done a few exhilarating things in my time, from downhill mountainbiking to chucking myself into ramps at the skatepark, but I can honestly say that swim from the shore ranked in the top five of moments in my life where I’ve felt truly alive. There’s nothing quite like being in a bit of peril and getting away with it to put a smile on your face and, although we had to question the wisdom of what we’d done, there was no doubt the day had been the highlight of the holiday.

Once we were all onboard and in a fit state again, I helped Kieran haul up the anchor and we chugged back to the marina at Lagos. The excitement of the day over with, we spent the evening relaxing on Dart Warrior before Fliss and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the villa.

Spending Saturday relaxing, we packed and checked out of the villa on Sunday morning and again made the journey into Lagos to have lunch with Kieran and Ele. Soon enough our time was up and we left them to their preperations to sail to Faro the following day, leaving for Faro ourselves.

Now experienced enough to deal with the quirks of Portuguese motoring, we took the freeway back to the airport without incident. A mysterious scratch that had appeared on the car door on Monday was waived off by the young lad who we handed the Corsa back to; “I didn’t see anything” he said with a wink, and with that the holiday was over bar the flying.

Over all I really enjoyed our week in Portugal. It contained the perfect mix of relaxation and fun, and the fact that Kieran and Ele were there was great too. It’s just a pity that if we go back to the villa again, they’ll probably be somewhere else exotic.

Fliss has some pictures from our holiday in Portugal in her gallery.