A new life 1: A New Life?

It was the middle of our holiday and a very hot September day. We had decided to go for some lunch at Maria's pastelaria in Lagoa; not only does she and her mother serve great toasted sandwiches, but its a clean, cool place with air-conditioning, never too busy and they are nice friendly folk too!

After lunch, we went for stroll in the nearby park; though small, its pretty with colourful flower beds and shrubs and we found an empty bench on which to enjoy our ice creams. We had just finished these, when a large white dog came bounding up to where we sat. I was a little apprehensive as he was very large, but I needn't have been as he was very friendly and was soon enjoying our petting and fussing.

A mans voice suddenly called out; the dogs head went up in response and the chap walked over to us accompanied by his wife. We soon fell into conversation, mostly about dogs! But then Hub asked them if they were on holiday but they replied they were living in Lagoa; had been there for 6 months. I counted back the months to mid-march and remembered that it was about that time of year that we had moved out to Algarve 10 years previous.

They had been teachers back in England but had taken early retirement. They had taken holidays mostly in southern Spain but after just one visit to Algarve they had fallen in love with the place. So, they had sold up in UK and settled to live in Lagoa.
I couldn't help noticing that as they spoke, they both looked a little downcast. I ventured to ask what they were doing now? They looked at each other then replied, "nothing much at all really"
It was then I knew the reason for their rather 'lost look'. The first excitement of living in Algarve had worn off! Those first wonderful weeks and months of the glorious warm sunny climate, relaxed way of living, friendly people; all this was beginning to pall and I knew how they were feeling. But I'd had my work to help me through those days of uncertainty and homesickness. Not just my garden work but helping Hub with the business and I also had a schoolboy son to care about too, which hadn't left me with too much time on my hands to feel redundant.

Hub asked if they had considered going back to teaching? But they were adamant that they were looking to go into something entirely different, something new but so far, they hadn't come up with any ideas.
We spoke for a little longer and after we said goodbye to them, we went off for a walk round the town. Our stroll took us towards the small area, a tiny park that houses the ' Nossa Senhora' shrine. From there, I looked upwards and at a top floor apartment just across the road; an apartment that had been our home those 10, almost 11 years ago. My mind wandered back and I recalled the very first time we had set foot in Portugal! I say we, but Hub had been there briefly for a few days to view and buy the carpentry business.

We had taken the ferry from Plymouth to Santander. Then motored across Spain, taking the route via Burgos and Salamanca and crossing the border at Badajos into Portugal.
We had only driven for about half an hour when we heard the wail of a police siren and coming up on our left, the blue flashing light of a guarda patrol car, it soon overtook us and Hub had to pull over to a lay-by. We sat there; hearts beating wildly waiting to see what was wrong. It couldn't have been speeding; we were loaded down to the gunnels and we weren't even approaching 70 mph!

The two young policemen came over to us and Hub got out to speak to them. This turned out to be a difficulty as they had no English and our Portuguese was pure phrasebook, but they were very polite and one took out a piece of paper and leaning on the bonnet proceeded to draw a diagram. He began drawing arrows but was speaking so rapidly; we couldn't follow his meaning at all! Then Hub turned to me and said,
"I think he wants us to follow him. Maybe there's something wrong back home and they've been searching for us!"
That moment I thought I would die from worry. Thoughts of my son and daughter back in England filled my head. My son had started an army career and my daughter was in her final exams and living with her grandparents. We suddenly became convinced that something had happened to one of them; that there had been some terrible accident.

When Hub managed to ask if we should follow them, the policeman threw back his head laughing, smiling, his white teeth immaculate against the handsome black moustache. He shook his head and once more went over the drawing, but this time with more hand movements. At last the penny dropped! We had gone over a white line! Driving over a small bridge we had gone way out to the left. This was our crime! Within 10 minutes or so we had paid the fine (2,500 esc. £10). We were given a receipt. The policemen saluted us, wished us 'Boa viagem' (good journey) then drove off. This was our first introduction to Portugal and we suddenly became very apprehensive as to what further 'events' lay ahead of us on the way to our destination...Lagoa!

We had been travelling all day, having left Salamanca very early. It was now early evening and the sun beginning to go down. Although we'd stopped briefly for some lunch whilst travelling across the Alentejo region we were all tired, especially Hub, who did all the driving. We decided to pull in somewhere for the night and soon we the sign for 'Grandola' looming ahead.

We never got to the town centre as on the outskirts we saw a B&B sign painted on side of a small building. The hotel though small looked immaculate and had the clean smell of fresh paint. It seemed very quiet and we doubted it was open but as I turned the handle the door opened and we found ourselves standing in a large dining room with bar area that seemed packed to capacity. The air was filled with smoke and Portuguese chatter! I froze. Suddenly feeling nervous hearing the strange language and all the people. I felt like leaving but before any of us could move we were approached by a tall sandy-haired man who genially welcomed, then guided us to a long central table. He heard our English voices and beckoned a young teenage boy over. He was proprietor's son, spoke excellent English and asked what we would like to eat? He took our order but they had no 'tea'! We were gasping for a cup but meanwhile we had to settle for beers.

For the next hour we sat there sipping our cold beer with growling stomachs and seemingly the 'centre of attention'! What I recall most is the noise, very loud voices; people acting out their conversations; gesticulating here and there, doing little dance steps, roaring with laughter and all seemed to be for our benefit!
I just wanted to eat and go to bed.12 hours we'd been on the road and waiting for the meal was agony! I watched in envy an old couple at next table, tucking into a pot of stew. They ladled the thick soup of meat and vegetables into their dishes. As they dipped large chunks of crispy bread into the gravy I was almost drooling!
At last our meal arrived. A large silver platter was placed on the pristine white table cloth;3 large grilled fish for each of us, the son said it was 'cavala' which I later found to be 'mackerel'. Next to this was placed a huge dish of golden crispy chips and a large bowl of green salad in vinegar, garlic dressing. On side plates, fresh bread rolls and butter. We enjoyed every mouthful and food had never tasted so good! But, I was slightly distracted by the staring eyes all around us; everyone seemed to have stopped talking, observing us with a friendly curiosity as we attacked this feast with hungry appetites.

At last, with hunger satisfied and yawning our heads off we asked to see our rooms. It was just after 10pm and had a long drive ahead in morning so we needed a good nights sleep. The patron led the way upstairs, as he did so, I noticed him look at his watch with puzzled expression. The rooms were sparse but very clean and beds were comfortable. So, we settled down for the night but before I turned off the light I glanced at the small clock over the fireplace. It was only just after 9 pm! No wonder the patron had looked puzzled; we'd forgotten to alter our watches!

The next morning we woke to sunshine, blue skies and rising temperatures. In an hour we would be on our way to our destination Algarve!