This Algarve blog is intended to keep you in touch with the latest in Algarve affairs. Now that I'm living here,
I'm trying to keep you
updated with what's going on in the Algarve and around those wonderful beaches.
So, here's my regular take on occurrences in what used to be my favourite vacation spot...
but is now my favourite place to live.
Leap Year Blog - "... nor any drop to
When I lived in UK, I never bought, and
seldom drank, bottled water. Even when we lived in the
Aberdeen countryside and had water from a well, I was
content to boil it, let it cool and then store it for later
course, when holidaying abroad, I did tend to drink bottled
water. Received wisdom from tales of 'Delhi Belly' and
'Montezuma's Revenge' ensured that I didn't trust the local
supply on offer in foreign parts. But, even so, I did make hot
drinks from whatever came out of the tap.
When we moved to Algarve, I began to buy
bottled water and to decant it into smaller containers so we
could take it with us when out and about in the heat.
Gradually, I started to add some tap water, and now we
probably drink a 50/50 mix. If we suffer no untoward
effects, this will eventually become 100% tap water.
Of course, if you shop around, bottled water
need not be expensive in the Algarve. You can buy 5 litres
for as little as 38 cents - still expensive compared to tap
water, but pretty cheap by 'rip-off Britain' standards.
So, I was amused and amazed to read that the
authorities are now decrying the consumption of bottled
water, which, in the last couple of decades has progressed
from a fad to a fully-fledged billion-pound phenomenon.
Neither, it seems, do the Portuguese trust
what comes out of their taps. No amount of reassurance from
health experts will persuade them that it's safe. Probably,
that stems from the relatively recent provision of mains
water in some parts of the country. Or perhaps they're just
hankering after the sophistication promised by those
designer water suppliers.
Either way, I can't help reflecting that
transporting water from places like Fiji can't be
good for the planet. And the amount of plastic that goes to
landfill is staggering even to consider.
Sooner or later, there'll be a reckoning, I
suppose. In the meantime, I'm considering the purchase of
one of those in-line water filter cartridges that's supposed
to take all the nasties out of what emerges from the tap. At
least that way the landfill in my own area might be slowed
Friday 29 February
The Backward View
One way to get a country into economic
growth (so my favourite economists tell me) is to keep
commerce flowing. Yesterday's blog about the old Arade
bridge is one example of where Portugal (and Algarve) fall
down in that regard.
But it seems to be symptomatic... Early in
the year, blue plastic piping of around 75mm internal bore
appeared along the Estoi/Moncarapacho road. This is the
inevitable precursor to traffic disruption, so we braced
Sure enough, a few days later, the work
started, restricting traffic heading for Moncarapacho from
Estoi. The works covered around one kilometre and were
controlled by temporary traffic lights. Once the trench had
been filled, we looked forward to the resurfacing of that
bit and the start of the next.
No chance! The next kilometre or so was dug
up, with traffic dodging about trying to avoid the rough and
muddy bits of the filled in trench. Then another kilometre
was dug up, with the second stretch being filled
inadequately to accept serious traffic.
Around then, we began to think of
diversionary tactics... We could go onto another road and
rejoin the messed-up route just before Estoi - Not! They
only dug that road up at the same time! (And it must be very
bad, because they put up a diversion sign directing traffic
along the Moncarapacho road!)
Who thinks this stuff up? It's too
unbelievable to be a comedy script.
The brilliant pincer movement (red) that
scuppers any chance of using the detour (blue)
In addition to the inconvenience, there's
the safety aspect. After the last rains, heavy wagons
had sunk into the filled-in trenches and made them
impassable for normal cars. Now, there are stretches where
the road is useable over only half to two-thirds of its
already narrow width.
Which means that, when you drive toward
Estoi on the right side of the road, you are approached by
desperate drivers in lorries, vans and smaller vehicles, all
driving on your side of the road, so as to avoid the
Somme-like trench that constitutes their own half of the estrada!
Sooner or later, someone will be killed on
that stretch. It's the proverbial 'accident waiting to
happen'. Why the filled-in bits can't be resurfaced so that
only the stretch being piped up is impassable, I can't
Whether it's the fault of Faro Câmara or of
the contractor doing the work is hardly the point. Once an
accident has taken place it's too late to apportion blame.
Something should be done now. However, the general consensus
at my tennis group was that no-one was holding any breath
waiting for a resolution of this matter... They didn't wish
to chance asphyxiation!
It all adds to the high risk of driving
in Portugal - and it's entirely avoidable.
Wednesday 27 February
Quotations are easy!
Orçamentos (quotations for
jobs) are relatively easy to arrange in Algarve. You just
telephone (or email) and someone turns up, possibly even at
the agreed time.
Work may even start fairly quickly after the
agreement is reached...
... But the completed job is an elusive
It's now some four months since I blogged
about the closure of the old bridge crossing the Arade river
and guess what?
That's right, no discernible work has taken
place! Considering the disruption and inconvenience visited
upon the poor folk who need to get into and out of Portimão
every day just to earn a crust, that's pretty disgraceful.
I understand that the bridge needed to be
closed for safety reasons, but it must benefit the town's
economy to have it in use again as soon as possible; mustn't
It now looks doubtful that it will be
carrying traffic again in March 2009 as promised.
At least I'm reassured that it's not just me
that can't get any action out of tradesmen once they've
started a job and would be difficult to dismiss!
Tuesday 26 February
We have heard from various sources that the
electrical supply in Portugal can be 'rough'. Which
apparently means spikes and troughs in the supply voltage.
We had brought an overload protection
extension socket with us from the UK, which was easily
converted to work over here in Portugal simply by changing
the mains plug. That is used to protect the TV and hi-fi.
Which left the PCs unprotected. It's not too
bad on the laptop that Nev uses to work on Algarve Beach
Life... It's got Windows XP, which is reasonably forgiving
if the power suddenly disappears - but we weren't so sure
about the effects of a voltage spike. And, of course, if any
harm came to the machine, it would take a lot of work to
recover the web pages...
So, yesterday we bought an uninterruptible
power supply (UPS) unit, which will enable the saving of
work before powering down the laptop, should the power fail
in the mains network.
Thus far, so good: except that the UPS will
plug into the mains socket, but its outlet plug is not right
for European electrical equipment. We need to buy a suitable
replacement lead that will enable us to use the UPS to
protect the laptop.
Today's Sunday, so we thought we'd find the
required lead tomorrow, while Nev updated a few pages
Then, BOINK! - out goes the supply to the
entire area. We checked, and none of our neighbours had
When it came back on, we powered up the
laptop, hoping that nothing untoward had happened; and we
were lucky this time. But it reinforced the need to ensure
that the 'iffy' voltage can't cause us major disruption,
with lost files etc.
'Alternating current' in Portugal seems to
mean: Now you have power, now you don't!
Sunday 24 February
How It Should Be
There's much in the local news about the
trial of five Portuguese police inspectors. They are alleged
to have beaten a confession out of a woman who was
subsequently convicted of murdering her baby.
the outcome of the case, it's worth remembering, especially
given the international criticism of the national police
force last year, that they're on trial for the right
That is, they're suspected of breaking the
Compare that to many areas throughout the
world where the police operate pretty much however they
wish. And the only time they end up on the wrong side of
things is when they upset the people in power.
Thank heavens for the rule of law!
Saturday 23 February
During 2007, traffic police in Portugal
detained more than 8200 drivers who had no valid licence.
The GNR (national guard police) arrested more than 2100
drivers for the same offence.
It's a small country, and not terribly
populous, so that figure is rather worrying. Most of the
miscreants were Portuguese citizens, but there is an
increasing contingent of immigrants from non-Schengen
countries in those statistics.
Sadly, few seem to realise that they are
uninsured when they are at the wheel without a valid
On the plus side, the police now catch more
of them by dint of using in-car laptop computers that enable
them to check the database of vehicle number plates.
The sobering bit, of course, is that not all
those drivers without licences are apprehended, so who knows
how many of them are out there?
If you're going to visit Portugal on
vacation, then do take the opportunity to read my page of
driving tips and information about driving
in Portugal and the Algarve.
Better safe than sorry...
Friday 22 February
Eyes Wide Shut?
I read where they expect the Algarve race
circuit to be ready by sometime this year (we'll see).
And, even though I'm something of a follower
of F1 racing, I wondered whether, given the planet's
problems, this is the wisest move. I understand that it's
important to boost the region's tourism...
... but aren't there more ecologically-sound
ways of doing that than a high-octane burn-fest?
Of course, we expect that, in the future,
we'll have sorted out alternative fuels that will mean we
can continue to enjoy the personal freedoms of motoring and
international flights. But I can't help wondering who
exactly is going to bring it about, when all I ever read
about are new ways of consuming fossil fuels.
Just to give myself a little righteous
feeling, I bought a second-hand bike last week. It cost me
40 euros, and was a bargain, having Shimano gears,
mudguards, a rear parcel shelf and even front and rear lamps
worked from a dynamo. (Almost any kind of lamp on a bicycle
being a rarity in Algarve!)
I can't actually claim to have travelled far
on it yet (it's still done more kilometres in the back of
the car than it has on the road with me aboard), but my
intention is to use it as much as I can. It won't be of much
help when I do a 'big shop', but it's the start of my
personal effort to save the planet.
Wish me luck?
Wednesday 20 February
Better Late Than Never...
Yet another of the never-ending lists of
surveys and statistical findings that abound in the printed
media landed on my breakfast table the other morning.
This one was about average heights in
various countries. Apparently, the Portuguese, who are a
small race, are beginning to catch up in the human altitude
stakes. This is put down to an improving lifestyle (rather
than traces of growth hormone in meat products).
The reason for it being mentioned at all was
that the phenomenon occurred later in Portugal than in the
rest of Europe where the end of WWII saw a spurt in average
heights. It wasn't until 1960 that the Portuguese decided to
A couple of things occurred to me when I
read this stuff: firstly, since older people tend to shrink
with age, doesn't that mean that countries where affluence
assures an aging population should be shorter on average?
And secondly, with global warming promising worldwide
flooding, won't relative height (or ownership of a boat)
mean a better chance of survival?
(Of course, having a property at the top of
a hill - like this one in Castro Marim - would also help,
whatever one's stature).
Either way, an article telling me that
things happen more slowly in Portugal didn't constitute
Tuesday 19 February
Portugal's broadband service is one of the
fastest in the world, I read the other day. Apparently, the
average speed on offer is just under 13 Mbps.
Of course, they use the words 'on offer'
advisedly. My own 3G cell-phone-based service from Vodafone
is a nominal 3.6 Mbps. I recently compained to the customer
service department about the poor connection speeds I was
experiencing. In fairness, they were pretty slick about
trying to sort the problem and even upgraded my software to
operate at a nominal 7.2 Mbps.
But it is decidedly 'nominal'. I just
downloaded a 13 Mbyte podcast so I could listen to it later,
and the average download speed was less than 60kbps, which I
count as considerably slower than it should be. (I know
download speed is slower than upload speed, but really -
only 60 thousand bytes per second, when it's supposed to be
Fortunately, the government has a plan. It's
a Technology Plan, and therefore probably undecipherable to
the man in the street, but at least it's a plan. Its
3-pronged approach to help Portugal benefit from its
Internet future consists of education, technology and
Unfortunately, since the claimed connection
speeds are a tad optimistic, it's easy to see that the
technology and information bits are being supplied by
Orwell's Ministry of Truth. It's the opposite of what it
1984 may have arrived late, but it's
definitely with us.
Saturday 16 February
Somebody must pay...
... and let's hope it's not the hapless
tourists of 2008!
The Lisbon-Dakar rally has been cancelled
this year due to threats of terrorism. The French organising
authority decided it was too dangerous and called it off at
Now, it seems that some local authorities in
Algarve ( Portimao in particular) through which stages of
the rally would pass, are seeking compensation for money
already spent in promoting and preparing for the event.
I was struck by two thoughts when I read
this news: firstly, aren't rallies dangerous by their very
nature? I thought the whole point was the threat of thrills
and spills? And secondly, why wouldn't those who were
spending out on preparations have covered the financial risk
with insurance? Surely there was some premonition that
terrorism (or the threat of it) would affect the Dakar end
Whatever the outcome, it would seem that the
investment has proved worthless and will likely be
I just hope that it's not recouped from
residents and tourists in the form of higher prices. Why not
make up the shortfall from the pension funds and bonuses of
those responsible for taking the uninsured risk?
After all, tourists have to insure before
they travel, so why should they take a double-hit?
Thursday 14 February
Shop 'til you drop...
They're planning a huge new shopping complex
at Guia. It will bring about 2000 extra jobs,
they say, although there can only be so many people
available for retail jobs, you'd think?
The thing is that the new complex is going
to be right opposite the one that's there
already! I don't know how the existing entrepreneurs will
feel when they're outgunned by the new boys.
I suppose the theory is that more shops will
attract more shoppers from a wider area. I'm no town planner
and no shop owner either, come to that, so I suppose we'll
just have to wait and see whether it works out.
Depending on the type of outlets it
attracts, it might be yet another yawn-athon, vanilla-flavour
... or they may surprise us and offer a
rewarding choice of retail therapy.
These things take a while to build, so I
suppose we shouldn't get too excited just yet.
I'll report back when there's anything worth
Wednesday 13 February
We went to see the finals of the Ladies'
Open Tennis tournament at Vale do Lobo club today...
... And the standard was fabulous!
Unfortunately, we only got to see half of
the last set, as Nev had been playing tennis himself -
elsewhere - and didn't finish in time.
But he agreed that those girls could
certainly hit a ball!
The crowd wasn't huge, but that was probably
down to it being low season for tourists.
We'll certainly put aside the time to watch
the next tournaments, which takes place in Albufeira and
Portimao respectively (see Algarve
Events page for details).
Sunday 10 February
Spot the misp
As mentioned in last month's blogs, this
year's Algarve Carnivals were held earlier, from the 2nd to
the 5th of February, depending on location.
That's taking a chance with the weather, in
my opinion, and sure enough, last Sunday was something of a
washout as it rained on the parade when we were enjoying the
goings-on at Moncarapacho.
I had enjoyed the Friday Carnival Parade for
the Crianças (Children) at S. Brás, but it was predictably
short, with the poor wee darlings becoming fractious and
objectionable within an hour of the start.
we tried to see the happening at Quarteira, but it seemed
strangely quiet. Enquiries at the Turismo revealed that
there'd been a misprint
in the dates published! Quarteira would happen on Sunday,
not Saturday - so we went to Loulé instead. While it may be
the biggest carnival in Algarve, this year's was probably
the slowest, too, with the floats stopping inexplicably
every 10 metres or so.
Fun was had, despite the halting progress,
but last year's shindig was better.
Then it was Sunday in Moncarapacho, and the
heavens opened, finishing off with Monday at S. Brás, where
the adults outlasted the Friday children by a good few hours
(probably fortified by the stronger drinks that were in
I hope the weather is a little kinder for
next year's Algarve
Carnivals... but now I'm looking forward to this
year's Mãe Soberana festival fortnight at
Wednesday 6 February
The spirit is willing, but...
read in a Portuguese newspaper that medronho, the
fiery spirit brewed in and around Monchique
is being marketed as the 'new whisky'.
Now, I've never tried the stuff, since
strong drink is more than my poor head can handle, so I am
definitely in a position to make a sober prediction...
... It's going to take some amount of hard
work to overhaul what is (and has long been) a
world-renowned commodity - Scotch whisky.
Not to say it can't be done, and there are
many enthusiastic imbibers of medronho. But, in a
country where things happen slowly enough to try one's
patience, it's hard to see the correct level of effort being
applied with any consistency.
Watch this space and learn whether I'm
Friday 1 February
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