Celtic skin, GAA and kite surfing

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

‘Mum, they’re speaking English’. I hear this from Lily five or six times an hour every time we step off Carina. We are in the Algarve and, for the first time since leaving the UK, we are not the lone British-Irish family amongst the majority local Spanish and Portuguese. Even in Nazaré, the first tourist town we came to on the Portuguese coast, most of the tourists were Portuguese. But here on the Algarve we are surrounded by Irish and, to a lesser extent, British holiday-makers. Everything is geared towards tourism here – waiters, shop assistants and tour operators all speak English (indeed many are English or Irish); menus and signs are written in English; and the shops sell a jaw dropping array of tourist tat. In Alvor, on Saturday evening, I was drawn trance-like into an Irish pub, by the sounds of Gaelic football on the television, and watched ten minutes of the Mayo-Kerry replay before I had to leave. Football, especially at this time of year, chokes me up.

And because we are in a tourist region, prices for everyday food items are staggeringly high. Julian came home earlier today with a few bags of basics, with his wallet 45 euro lighter! If it weren’t for his foraging we would all have to go on crash diets! Earlier this week he found a roadside tree laden with ripe figs – my hero!!

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Each day we meet other families who assume that we too are holiday-makers and we find ourselves living in a strange liminal zone of not being holiday-makers but not quite being not tourists either. To Portuguese we are indistinguishable from the hordes of other short-term visitors, and gone are the pleasant conversations with locals, and the special treatment shown to Lily and Katie. We meet Irish families who have just arrived, skin white as sheets, and those about to depart, skin red as lobsters. I hadn’t realised how tanned I had become until I compared myself to my compatriots!

In Alvor, just along the coast from the large resort town of Lagos, we anchored amidst kite surfers, dreaded jet-skiers (grrrrr), and boat loads of tourists on hour-long trips along the coastline. As we came into the marina at Albufeira, we ran the gauntlet of RIBs packed to capacity with holiday-makings, speeding in and out of the harbour at a rate of one every thirty seconds.

Today, I discovered the greatest thing about Albufeira – between the marina and the town is Rua de Sir Cliff Richard!!! Seemingly, he lives here, though whether he lives on the street bearing his name, I don’t know.

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles....

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles….

...and miles

…and miles

The Algarve is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with holiday-makers. The yellow cliffs with their profusion of sea stacks and caves, the seemingly endless golden sandy beaches, the warm sea water, and the great weather – who wouldn’t want to come here. But I miss the quiet remote beaches of Galicia. Like I said before, crowds of people overwhelm me, and the noise of these overly-busy town centres quickly make me want to retreat to the quiet of Carina. Bars blaring pop music from MTV (or whatever it is people watch these days), vendors selling noisy battery operated children’s toys on the streets, drunk young tourists. I’m not turning into an old curmudgeon – I always abhorred this stuff.

Thankfully, winter is on its way and the tourists will be in decline for a few months. Maybe I should just stay home with a good book until then!

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And the patches make the goodbye harder still

Back in the spring of 1996 I bought a pair of khaki green shorts from Gap in Fukuoka, Japan. With the exception of 2010, when I was heavily pregnant, I’ve worn them every summer since. They’ve even seen a few days wear during brief Arctic summers in Arviat, Nunavut.

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They were dark green eighteen years ago. Now they’re faded to grey, threadbare and falling to pieces. But I can’t bear to let them go. Other items of clothing have come and gone in those eighteen years, but none have been as comfortable or carry so many memories as those faded old shorts.

They remind me of so many good times, and I know every day I put them on is going to be a good day. They remind me of hiking Mt. Aso and other volcanoes in Kyushu, southern Japan, with Linda, Fiona, Sarah, Sara, Brian, Stefan, Patricia and others; of climbing 3,333 steps to a temple in Fukuoka-ken with Lisa; of summer holidays with my great friend Takako and her wonderful family; and of summer Japanese barbecues.

These shorts remind me of a holiday in Hawai’i with Liliane, and of returning to Maui a few years later to volunteer on a humpback whale research project, with long days spent in the open ocean in a small boat, surrounded by giant humpback whales.

They remind me of arctic char fishing in Arviat with Crystal and of Honda/ATV rides out to Nuvuk to chat to other fishermen and women and see if there were any polar bears about.

They remind me of summer Sunday trips to Croke Park with Daddy and my uncle Tom for the Gaelic football, and of long summer days at home in Ballygibbon, keeping Daddy company as he went about his gardening chores.

They remind me of camping trips with Julian – in Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Austria; of long hikes and pub lunches; and of exploring the countryside of Cambridgeshire and Devon with Lily and Katie.

I’m wearing them as I write this.

I don’t think they’ll see another summer. They are threadbare and beyond repair. But I cherish them for their memories and I will be sad to say goodbye to them when the time comes. As Cat Stevens sang ‘And the patches make the goodbyes harder still’.