This spring we spent 7 weeks in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, in a place called Armacao de Pera after hiking the outstanding Rota Vicentina trek, the best of Portugal’s hiking trails which goes along the Costa Vicentina through the beach towns and charming villages of Aljezur, Odexeice, Zambujeira, Almograve, Carrapateira, Vila Nova de Milfontes and Porto Covo along the way.
Google Translate told me the name means “pear frame” and it doesn’t usually mess with me so that’s what I thought it meant most of the time I was there. Funny thing, though, it doesn’t mean that at all. I guess “pera” is the name for a kind of tuna, so it means “tuna cage” or something like that. Which makes more sense, since we didn’t see a single pear the whole time there. Lots of good oranges and one place that sold fresh buns, but no pears. Luckily, we didn’t get to know a single person so I never got a chance to use any of my pear frame jokes. I was quite relieved, in hindsight.
We were sort of stuck in Armacao even though it was mostly our choice, if I’m being honest. There was this big outbreak and the whole world seemed pretty revved up about it, so everyone was hurrying to the airports and glaring at strangers and trying to fly back to where they normally lived. It sounded really crazy so we just said, hey, let’s stay here. And they let us, which was pretty cool of them.
Way back on March 16th we were in Sagres and had just finished hiking the Rota Vicentina, a bunch of empty restaurants connected by sand, and decided we should go stay in Armacao where some friends of ours were staying. Dick and Sue, from B.C. You probably don’t know them. Although some people do. So we went out to catch the bus and when it came the driver yelled at us and the other people for waiting by the front door, I guess because he wanted us to go to the back door. He had put tape over the first few rows to keep people out of them and when we asked about paying he didn’t want to hear anything about it. Hey, free ride, so I kept quiet and just smiled a little.
We got off the bus in a city called Portimão because we figured we might be in Armacao for a long time, who knows how long, and if that was the case Laynni thought it was pretty important to make sure we had at least one fuzzy blanket. So we found one of those, and a backup Bluetooth speaker – because what if something happened to our other one? – and a yoga mat for Laynni. The mat was really cheap, like, €9, so I had to hand it to her, it was quite a bargain. We also bought sort of matching sweatshirts because we couldn’t agree on who had picked theirs out first. It’s fine, I guess.
When we finally got to the apartment we were renting I thought, awesome, now we can take it easy a bit. Boy, was I wrong. There was so much cleaning to do, I had no idea. Laynni explained how we didn’t know anything about this place, or who had been there, or when, and were they the kind of people who got viruses and things and picked their nose and touched other stuff, or maybe even liked licking remote controls and soap dishes and stuff? How could we know? So we cleaned and cleaned, then read for a little bit, then cleaned some more. Finally, it was clean enough so we went to buy some groceries. We were kind of worried they wouldn’t have much because, you know, we’d heard all about the big toilet paper mobs back home and, to be honest, there were only two rolls in the apartment when we got there so once those ran out, I mean, we could end up in a tough spot. The store had tons of things, though, like, so much. No word of lie, we could have literally bought 200 bananas if we wanted, I mean, if we had more bags. It’s too bad because then we’d have been set until summer.
The next day we got our first taste of how the Portuguese government was dealing with the pandemic. It turns out, by driving around in vans with loudspeakers telling people to smarten up. The sound wasn’t real clear, so it was hard to tell exactly what they were saying but I think I heard something about “no more than 4 live chickens per family” and “definitely no arm wrestling”. But I don’t speak any Portuguese so that’s mostly a guess. That night we both got bit by the same mosquito. I really don’t know if there was a connection or not. But it interrupted the dream I was having about killing a man with a crescent wrench then getting really upset because I wanted to go kill his friends but I couldn’t find my socks. In the dream, this was very disappointing.
The first few days in Armacao we did some really cool hikes along the beach and cliffs and that. Pretty awesome, seriously. Then we started trying out some other walks, ones farther from the ocean, even though we were really liking the ocean, but we knew we’d get to walk on the ocean lots more probably so, hey, let’s mix it up, right? So that’s how we ended up seeing some nice villas, and some old abandoned houses, some that still had roofs and some that didn’t anymore, and some sheep and goats, and lots of flowers, and a big mud puddle, which wasn’t nearly as impressive once we found a whole swamp, with weeds and ducks and everything, and a nice boardwalk near the next town, and a couple big tall birds. Storks, maybe.
Meanwhile, we moved two more times. First we moved into Dick and Sue’s place for a few days after they left for Canada. It was right on the malecón so we could watch people walking by. But no spitting, not with the virus and whatnot. Then we moved a few blocks down to another apartment and stayed there for the next 5 weeks. It was big and nice and high up on the 5th floor with a big balcony where seagulls liked to land and make loads of noise. Until then I didn’t know that when seagulls scream their throat kind of goes up and down like an Adam’s apple when you’re swallowing things, like cookies or salami or secret notes. Either way, with all the tourists gone it’s starting to seem like the seagulls are kind of taking over. Makes me wish I’d been a little nicer to them, just in case.
At low tide it was possible to walk down around all the rocks and stuff, which were still pretty wet even though the water was out. It takes way longer for them to dry completely I bet. Officially all the beaches were close but this wasn’t really a beach, right, except we needed to cross a beach to get there, and another one to get back to the trail, so all in all it was pretty confusing.
I think maybe the main reason they closed the beaches was to keep the city people away. We had joined a bunch of Facebook groups for foreigners in Portugal to, you know, to stay in the loop about the virus, and travel rules, and the best place for an American to find a really good flea collar for their dog, like really American good, not just the same kind Portuguese people use.
And a lot of the people in those groups were pretty mad that people from Lisbon were such jerks that they would want to come down to the Algarve, even other Americans and British, with all that was happening, just because the weather is great and the scenery is amazing and there are lots of great hiking trails and because a lot of them already owned vacation homes there. So rude. I mean, it’s one thing for these particular Americans and British people to come there because it’s different for them because, well, I’m not sure how it was different, but they seemed pretty sure it was different. Everyone else, though, should just stay away! You’re not wanted! Some of them got really nasty and did a lot of cursing but that’s okay, because that’s what Facebook is for, so people can let other people know what’s what, in no uncertain terms.
One night we ordered pizza and I had to go pick it up. They weren’t letting people into the restaurant so they had a little table set up across the doorway to keep people out and take their money, all at the same time. It was pretty clever. I didn’t need any change so I wasn’t worried about dirty money (virus-dirty, not big-time drug dirty) but the woman who gave me the pizza didn’t seem too sure, so even though she still touched the money, she did it real gently, like it was a fuzzy little chick, or maybe some raw meat that she didn’t like the feel of.
One day we realized we had walked for at least 1 ½ hours every single day we had been in Portugal, so we did some math – nothing crazy, just basic stuff – and decided that was 27 days in a row. Then the next day it rained so we didn’t walk at all and instead just stayed home and watched Bombshell. So the streak was broken and we never made it to 28 days, but we did learn a thing or two about sexual harassment in the workplace. A 27-day streak and Amy Winehouse was 27 when she died. Pretty strange stuff, when you think about it.
Eventually we were starting to get a bit bored, because we weren’t really doing anything but walking and eating, so I washed my new sweatshirt, and we bought another roast chicken – it was really small this time – but that didn’t seem like enough so we also set up an online card game with some friends from home and drank some beer and played Kaiser and all talked at the same time while looking at each other on the computer, then said, “no, you go”, then all talked at the same time again. It was fun. Then we did the same thing with my sister, except with kids instead of cards, well, on her end, we didn’t have any kids in Portugal either. Another day I watched the NFL Draft and drank beer all day. Well, not the main part of the draft, since that was on in the middle of the night in Portugal, so just the last few rounds, and not the actual draft, but just a couple guys on YouTube talking about the draft. You could tell they were trying to be funny, and sometimes they were, but not usually, and the one guy never pronounced the middle “t” in important, which got more annoying as I drank more beer.
Our neighbours were pretty good, they just kept to themselves, which was nice, because the woman was the one collecting our rent every week. She really didn’t want to be around foreigners, I guess because all those Chinese people got sick, so even though we were neighbours she made me leave the rent money in the mailbox downstairs. Our bedrooms shared a wall so it was good that they didn’t seem to have sex very much, just the one time that I noticed, but, boy oh boy, they made that one count. Another time we heard them get in really late at night and the next day we saw their keys still hanging from the doorknob in the hallway until, like, 4 in the afternoon.
Since we weren’t really supposed to walk on the beaches any more, and because we weren’t really sure about the trails along the cliffs so we still walked on them but just stayed really alert and had a plan for if anyone stopped us, we’d say we didn’t know anything and didn’t speak Portuguese and smile a lot and stuff, because of all that, we did a lot of walking in the fields behind town. But even with all the times we walked in those fields, I only just about stepped on a big snake the one time and Laynni screamed and I kind of jumped halfway through my step and got a weird twinge in my hip. It was all pretty exciting.
Sometimes we both went in the store for groceries but sometimes just Laynni went, you know, if we only needed bread, so I didn’t have to put on my mask and that, and those times I waited outside and played Pokémon, or sometimes just looked around at stuff. One time I saw a woman with a dog on a leash and the dog stopped and took a big dump, really straining and concentrating, right on the sidewalk, then they just walked away together like nothing happened. But you could tell just by looking that something had definitely happened. I also saw a couple guys working in the back room of the grocery store sexually harassing a mailwoman. They seemed to know her, though, so I think that made it funny.
Our apartment had a pretty nice balcony but we didn’t really use it that much. Laynni did yoga out there sometimes in the afternoon, and that’s where we dried our wet clothes and towels and such, but even though we weren’t using it that much I still wasn’t too pumped when one of the seagulls started showing up with grass and sticks and stuff. You could tell she really wanted to start working on her nest and I even got the feeling she didn’t want us around. So we chased her off because if we let her build her nest and take over our balcony then what happens after I shower, where would I put my towel? And if we gave up our balcony I never would have seen that woman in the apartment across from us stand out on her balcony topless, taking selfies and looking really cold. She was a long way away but I could still see her boobs pretty clear and all, so I think they were pretty big. And, see, if I hadn’t chased that seagull off I would never have known that.
Most of this coronavirus stuff pretty much sucks but one good thing, I think, is that people won’t ask me to take photos for them anymore because, you know, they won’t want me to touch their phone. Which is nice because, to be honest, I never really wanted to touch their phone, even before I thought I might die from it.
So, you know, even though we had not planned to stay in the Algarve so long, and even though we had never heard of Armacao de Pera before, and I still don’t know if we were saying it right, overall, we had a pretty good time. We didn’t really talk to anybody except for the grocery store ladies who I think knew us by the end – the roast chicken and butter guy, they probably thought – and probably liked us well enough, since we always said “bom dia” even though it probably sounded weird when we said it so they could tell we didn’t speak Portuguese. It’s a super-nice place, though, and was maybe nicer because there were hardly any people around, so I guess we should thank those Facebook people for scaring off all those awful Lisboners. Except we really liked Lisbon, too, so now we don’t really know what to think.
See you later, Portugal. Hope to see you again someday soon.
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