Creatures Great and Small

It was browsing on another Portugal website that made me think of the various animals we had seen during our time of residence in Algarve.
I suppose the very first experience of this kind was when we discovered that we had tiny lizards living in our apartment. I was unaware of their presence for quite some time until one evening, as we sat watching television I saw a tiny but longish shape run across the wall and go behind one of the framed pictures; for a moment I thought that I was ‘seeing things’! But as I looked across at Hub and then Jamie, I witnessed an ‘exchanged’ look between, a slightly worried one.
I remember saying something like “What was that? Did you see something go behind the picture then?”
As I spoke, the ‘something’ darted out again and I knew it wasn’t a spider and I jumped up and ran into the kitchen! Hub then explained that they had seen the little lizard a few times but didn’t say anything in case I was alarmed. I was alarmed!
There we were, in a very nice modern 3rd floor (top floor) apartment, which we were now sharing with lizards or Geckos as Jamie informed was the correct name. The thought did not go down well with me.
I remember that night well and I would not rest until Hub had captured the lizard (Lord knows how he did it!), put it in a bag and taking it down 3 flights of stairs to let it loose.


I, mistakenly, thought that was that. However, whilst I was reading in bed one night, a speck on the ceiling caught my eye. It was a fuzzy darkish shape, small, about the size of a spider. Curiosity got the better of me and I stood on the bed to get a closer look. What I saw shocked me, for it was a tiny, tiny lizard! My immediate thoughts were ‘we’re being invaded’. I went to tell Hub, who was in the sitting room watching TV. He wasn’t too happy with my request, to catch the tiny creature and get rid again! He refused, point blank. I went back to bed and as I lay back on the pillow, I gazed at the speck on the ceiling, then had a horrifying thought, ‘What if I fell asleep on my back with mouth open and……..’
I dived under the duvet and tried to push that thought out of my head.
I had to learn to live with our ‘house guests’. Hub did catch one more and again took it down 3 flights to let loose but after that he said “You’ll simply have to get used to them. Its like having spiders back home”
I have a real phobia of snakes and we did see quite a few in the countryside around the workshops but thankfully (to my relief) most of them were dead ones in the road, having been run over.
I’ve told the tale in my book of ‘Belo’, the tiny dog that belonged to the workshops and lemon groves, of how he was feted by all and sundry when he managed to catch and kill a large Adder. Our carpenter lads always teased me when they found that I was scared of snakes, or as they called them ‘Cobra’! After the Adder incident, I was never too happy about walking through the grass in the lemon grove but if Belo was around, I did feel slightly safer.
Sadly however, on our return to Algarve in ’94, to take up the reins of our carpentry business once more, on talking to old Miguel, the manager of the site, we found that Belo had run out of the open gates one day and been run down, killed by a car. We were upset at this news, in particular our son, as Belo was always thought of as ‘Jamie’s dog’ and it was strange not to see the tiny Chihuahua-type dog running around the place. It was a sad day.

Being in a top floor apartment we had fabulous views to the outskirts of Lagoa. I often went up to the roof terrace after dinner, to catch some fresh air. It was that special time of evening before dark, what we call twilight in England but there isn’t really a twilight time I don’t think, in Algarve. But the blue sky darkens slightly, just before the stars appear and I would look around me at the white minaret chimneys and then to the countryside, taking in the spicy scented air, which a Portuguese friend of mine called, ‘the smell of Africa’; she came from Mozambique.

I was told, by the previous owner of our business, that there were once paddy/ rice fields on the outskirts of Lagoa and we had noticed fields that had ridges and gulleys that filled with water. I do have some pictures of rice fields in Portugal but as they are in a book I cannot print them because of copyright.
However, when I did my evening rooftop viewing, I did see the white Egrets that visited these fields and they seemed to be feeding there, especially when there had been rain and I imagined them feasting on amphibians, frogs, toads and the like.
We did see a strange thing one day. Jamie and I were walking in the road that went past these ‘paddy’ fields. The road had recently been re-surfaced with some type of cement and was only just being used by traffic. As we walked, Jamie suddenly shouted “Look at that!” His finger pointed to the middle of the road at a large cylindrical shape protruding from the road surface. The road was quiet, so we walked over to take a closer look. What we saw astonished us. It was a huge turtle! A dead one of course and embedded in the still somewhat soft road surface; it was at least two feet in diameter. All we could see was the upper part of the shell. The poor creature must have wandered off the wet pastures of the field and subsequently been crushed by a passing car or more likely, considering the way it was buried, beneath the wheels of a large truck!
I often used to wonder what other creatures lived in those fields and what the white Egrets fed on. But it’s a pretty safe bet that a huge turtle wouldn’t have been on their menu.
On holiday in Carvoeiro some time ago, I was reading of a man, who fell asleep in his Algarve garden and awoke to what he described as, a miniature ‘dinosaur’ looking down at him from a table next to his sun bed. The ‘dinosaur’ was a Chameleon.
Apart from the zoo, I’ve seen these creatures in two places in Algarve and both of them in bars that belonged to friends of ours. The first time I saw one was when we visited a friend’s bar near to Carvoeiro. We were sitting in the bar, having a drink and a lunchtime snack. On looking up at the fan above us, I saw to the right of it something green and quite large, curled around the light. It didn’t move, it was unreal like a piece of the light fitting, when suddenly the buzz of a mosquito and ‘slurrrp’ the long, narrow tongue flicked out and the mosquito was no more. My stomach did a somersault and I said to our friend something like “Are you okay living with that creature on the ceiling?”
He laughed and said it was part of the fixtures and fittings and that you wouldn’t find a better fly or Mosquito killer! When you think of it, I suppose he was right. It beats all the smelly fly killers we buy!

After a while I did get used to the Chameleon and learned to live with it, so when I saw the second green ‘fly killer’ in the bar cum restaurant in Silves; the place where, for a brief period, I had run a tiny bookshop, I was well-used to seeing a Chameleon curled around the overhead light!
I’m not sure whether chickens pass as Portuguese ‘wildlife’ but they certainly do run wild! There was an old lady who lived about half a kilometre from the garden that I worked, on the outskirts of Porches. It wasn’t exactly a farmhouse, rather a large cottage, where she kept a yard full of chickens. Whenever I took the back roads to my work from Lagoa I had to pass by her cottage and more than once or twice it happened, that just as I was passing by, her chickens ‘escaped’ from the yard and there would be a traffic jam as the old lady scurried into the road, flapping her apron, trying to shoo her brood of hens back into the cottage yard, with various cars hooting impatiently at her.
I’ve noticed, not only when living there but when on holiday, that Portuguese cockerels crow at any time of the day. There was one in Carvoeiro that crowed day at night. This was the case with the solitary cockerel that the old Senhora possessed and it was to become a reliable alarm clock when we returned to Algarve and for a while we lived in the annexe of the villa, whose garden I worked. It was the first sound we heard very early each morning in that quiet piece of countryside.
To supplement our TV viewing (we didn’t have satellite TV in Lagoa), we joined a video club in the town. The shop was just past where the old post office was situated.

One very hot night as we sat watching a film, with the windows wide open, fans on full blast, there came a deafening noise from the kitchen. I can only describe it as a very loud buzzing that hurt the ears. Hub rushed into the kitchen with me following. We couldn’t see a thing, nothing, nada! But the noise was excruciating. What the hell was it? Then we saw it, a small white papery thing sitting on the window that separated the kitchen from the verandah… a Cicada.. it’s transparent wings moving so fast, the movement invisible to the human eye but the deafening shrill was painful to our ears in the enclosed walls of the kitchen. For some time we didn’t know what to do. Neither of us like killing living things, even the smallest spiders we scoop up and place outdoors. So I opened the door onto the verandah and with careful brushing with a newspaper Hub gradually ushered the vibrating insect towards the opening and soon it was gone, flown away into the night.
I was always fascinated by the different insects I would find during my working days in the garden. Certainly very different to that of an English garden, all shapes and sizes, none of which bothered me and I found the tiny snails that attached themselves to most plant stems equally interesting. The cicados there I got used to and I thought it quite strange how they would make the deafening noise as I sat on the lawn eating lunch, then suddenly complete silence, as if someone had ‘turned them off’!

Speaking of sitting on the lawn, another thing I noticed was that the ants were larger than those in English gardens. Well they appeared so to me and I often got a sting when taking a break, whilst eating my sandwiches
The Praying Mantis were usually to be found in the area by the swimming pool. These were new to us as well. I think Jamie considered them ‘pets’ as there was always one around him as he sat reading by the pool. He thought they had an intelligent look, specially the one that sat on his bare arm one day, the creature sat there for some time seeming to look up at him. Of course there were lots of Geckos in the garden that lived on the exterior walls and I don’t know if they had a better diet than those in our apartment but they did look larger!.
But all told, I found the ‘wildlife’ garden an interesting one. Hub enjoyed it too except during the late autumn rains and what we called the ‘monsoon ‘weather, when suddenly 100s of tiny little green frogs appeared there; that he wasn’t so keen on.
I’m just into reading Ruth Banks second book, of her life in an Algarve mountain village; ‘Wild Herbs and Happiness…the Later Years’. Some of her encounters with wildlife take some beating. The snake that dangled from the cane ceiling of her cottage as she and her husband sat beneath!
Of one of her neighbours searching for a sponge beneath her bed, only to find as she emerged into the daylight, that she wasn’t clutching a big sponge but a large damp toad!
I won’t give more of her book away. Both books make excellent reading. I can highly recommend them.
Reading of these escapades, I think we came off lightly during our time but one things for sure, when we do finally retire to the Algarve, its going to be to a modern town apartment. I think Ill forego my earlier dream of rural Portuguese living! Ill even put up with a few little lizards about the place. But snakes...never!