We really wanted to fall in love with Algarve. At least I thought so, because it wasn’t really working, despite the abundance of pretty landscapes. “Are you there?” – we’re asking our hearts but they don’t budge. It’s easy to fall victim to complaining attitude. Yeah, it’s beautiful, but “Campers, campers everywhere!”: they gather in swarms, blocking the viewpoints, staying on designated or not designated car parks, one next to the other, waiting on bare concrete for the English or Dutch winter to pass. They form these cysts with others alike. Here – us, the expats, outside – them. Them, meaning the Portuguese. It seems like the latter surrendered their Algarve to tourists. Sold all the ruins with fallen roofs for ridiculous money. They seem not to care. They seem to be few and far between. After all, the houses are sold so maybe they went somewhere else.
Our attitude is bad, so the magic stays hidden from us. Maybe we’re subconsciously rebelling against Portugal being in fashion? Maybe our hearts are still in Greece. The one that’s associated with cheap package holidays, tour buses cruising around Halkidiki and last minute to Crete? No. For us it was the opposite — this jagged piece of land never ceased to stimulate with dramatic vistas, offered undiscovered treasures, surprised with living traditions and strong character.
How to find magic in Algarve? Auspiciously, we come to workaway for Susan. She turns out to be quite a character! Even though a septuagenarian, you would have never guess it, if I didn’t tell you. She manages to ignore the cultural BS about ageing. It’s not that she rebels against it. Rather, she’s able to live beside it, while concocting rich plans for the future. Born in New York, she lived in California, England, Greece and Portugal. Currently plans to move to Ireland because the lifeless Algarve offers no market for her art. She had four husbands, eight children with six men, and during evening sit-downs by the fire, dispenses the most incredible stories! When she decided she wanted to live in Greece, alone with four kids she went to the Simi island (granted she was familiar with it already). It it all turned out well. Isn’t is possible for all of us then? She’s been residing in Portugal for about twenty years and for the last few, with the company of Mario.
Finally, a real Portuguese! Furthermore, one that loves to cook for others, and does it very well, so we finally have the opportunity to try the famous Portuguese home cooking. Susan, on the other hand, loves beauty, so the house and our cottage is filled with colors, fabrics, carpets, mosaics.
Slowly, ever so stealthily, the magic appears to us. It’s not always overwhelming, smacking the senses with its greatness. Rather, it’s the little things, that catch our attention. And each new impression I put in my little jewel-case for wonders and soon can’t help but notice that life here is beautiful!
The birds! When we’re preparing the breakfast, outside the dining room windows, a leafless fig tree becomes the playground for colorful magpies. It feels like they’re there for the sole reason of showing off their amazing blue colors and elevate the daily meal to the rank of a special occasion. Sometimes, the magpies are joined by a hoopoe showing off his spectacular crest.
The sun! Slanting rays shining through citrus trees; liquid gold spilling in stripes under cork oaks. Crazy, purple sunsets that change Marcin into a maniac running around the farm with a tripod.
The animals! Meek sheep grazing right outside our terrace, accompanied by a friendly shepherd with his band of friendly shaggy dogs. Our household furballs, all curled up on chairs and sofa, warming their bones on the car bonnet or roof.
The colors! Green hills, wild flowers, colorful tiles, handicrafts and Moroccan rugs.
I think we all, maybe not even consciously, want magic in our lives. But who has really got it? All the while, the recipe appears to be quite simple. Search, notice, be amazed. Make space for it to come in. We started finding our own Portuguese kind of magic in the backwaters of Alentejo. But that will be another story.