Portugal Halfway Through!

Posted on July 14, 2015

Well, after a few days we are now well settled in the unique surroundings of the Dom Jose Beach Hotel, in Quateira, Portugal.

I say unique, as it is a little bit like Little Britain goes abroad with a host of odd types, including, a family with their mother who keeps speeding off on he wrong side of the road on a mobility scooter, a family from Belfast beset with internal disputes, an elderly man who keeps wetting himself and shouting at kids to shut up and, just for good measure, a trio of overtly camp homosexuals on a golfing holiday.

Then of course, there is us, probably known as the father and son who like to play sunburn roulette by administering lotion but always missing a patch on the leg, lower back or abdomen. The rest of the place is made up of Portuguese holidaymakers from the suburbs of Lisbon, preferring the relative peace of Quarteira rather than Vilamoura, which is just up the road.

On Sunday, we decided to take in some traditional Portuguese culture by visiting AQUASHOW, a water park about ten minutes away. It was there that it dawned on me that the last time I went to one of these places, I was a young parent, rather than a middle aged one. It is depressing to discover that youthful exuberance is now engulfed by irrational fear.

We went on one slide that looked quite tame but had me gasping for breath, followed by a roller coaster type thing that crashed through the water at an alarming rate as I watched on in fear. As we snaked up and down the queue to the entrance, it was soon apparent that I was the youngest person getting on this thing by at least 20 years. A sign saying ‘Do Not Ride if You Are in Poor Mental or Physical Health’ did nothing to quash my inner fear that I was about to discover a miscalculating heart valve.


Water Ride: Frightened me transparent

Then I saw him, a man of my age, Portuguese I think, eyeing me up and down, not through physical attraction but empathy. He too looked frightened but seeing me was giving him solace, for if I could do this without ending up attached to a defibrillator so could he. The respect became mutual and without speaking, we were definitely communicating, soul mates without words, who, by a quirk of fate, were about to ride this thing together.

As the carriage trundled up the rails, seemingly too heavy for the acute angle it was embarking, the fear intensified, then without pausing for breath or contemplating when I had last updated my will, we were hurtling around this thing at such a rate that whilst my heart appeared to be coping, that strange part of my anatomy that sits between my testicles and anus, felt like it was about to cave in.

Rather than facing a sympathetic death on the end of a defibrillator, was I now going to be facing the humiliation of lying prostrate and semi-concious on floor, with the ride temporarily shut down whilst the attendants at the park cleaned up the hideous remains of my sphincter?

Fortunately, I survived in one piece to see the day out, occasionally seeing my soul mate, who was now walking like John Wayne and exchanging, with a grimace, a mutual “I thought my arse was going to cave in” look. This was definitely my last trip to a theme park and probably his as well.

So, yesterday we relaxed a bit, swimming, playing sunburn roulette and taking in some of the backstreet’s of the town, visiting some obscure bars that were predominately used by the indigenous.

It is here, just a few hundred yards from the sea front, where you get to understand what it is all about. This is a country that has been absolutely smashed to pieces by the world economic crash in 2008, that rampaged through Europe. A hike in VAT from a Europe low 7% to 23% to pay off EU bail-outs, has decimated the Portuguese economy and if ever there was an example of the tragedy of austerity, Portugal is it.


Taking in the Backstreets

As one chap told me, Portugal’s source of GDP used to be construction and tourism, now it is tourism. The construction industry shut down almost overnight and there remains thousands of incomplete empty or boarded up apartments across the Algarve. The hotel behind us is overgrown and vacated, it looks like something post-holocaust.

It was seeing all this that made start falling in love with our humble little hotel, with its pleasant and non-oppressive attitude, their ageing guitarist who does his best to entertain, playing ‘Sultans of Swing’ with his eyes closed, reminiscing the gay abandon of his youth, when he thought he would be an international star.

Last night, we took a stroll to Vilamoura which is about half an hour’s walk and we were instantly overwhelmed by people trying to get us in to bars full of Guinness, keg bitters and noisy grown men in football shirts; it was a real shock to the system, so we retreated back and sat and had a few beers in a back street bar surrounded by curious locals, stray animals and the smell of fresh fish and summer heat.

Everyone to their own I guess and I am not going to be a critic of how people choose to holiday, but as I sat with Harry, chatting to locals about music and seafood, I felt far more happy than I would be stuffing my face at a 5 star all inclusive, spending my evenings talking about my job, car and the size of my house with some bloke in a West Brom shirt and an imitation Rolex.

There was a time when I could cope with all that, now I just want to be left to my own devices and well out of the way…Quarteira, a humble, underdog of a town, allows you to do just that.

Two more days to go.

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