There’s this place in the Algarve called Sagres (same name as a local beer — and it’s delicious), which has a couple cool things going for it. First it has Henry the Navigator’s famous navigation school, built right on the cliff’s edge of the peninsula. Think back to those early Age of Exploration history lessons and remember old Henry, the patron of Portuguese exploration. The guy who either directly or indirectly helped launch Magellan, Columbus and co. Perched on a windswept cliff’s edge, the school gazes out onto an impregnable Atlantic, full of secrets of new lands locked behind the seam of the distant horizon. It’s possible to imagine those early cartographers and astronomers gathered hear, peering into the heavens and scribbling down their latest discoveries: treasure maps with their promises of gold, spices and slaves. Sagres is the most southern point in Portugal. Drive just five minutes over to the next peninsula and you arrive at Cape St. Vincent, the most Westerly point in Europe. Wave to America, let the vast size of Europe, the ocean and the world sink in for a moment. Process this as you will. However, realize that the most significant point to be grasped from your current geography is that this is the last place in Europe to buy an authentic German Bratwurst before America. I don’t make these things up.
We did some random and wonderful things while in the Algarve. Like visit ruins of a prehistoric settlement (it’s nice having an archeologist in the family), ogle intricate sand sculptures, and shop at roadside pottery emporiums tiled with, you guessed it, pottery. We even picked up a few quirky Portuguese phrases, like Boa noite e sonhos cor de rosa, which means “Good night and pink dreams.” I love that. Of course you’d want to wish someone pink dreams. Of course the best dreams are pink.
It wasn’t long into the trip that Luke and I started talking, at first jokingly, and then — dare I say it? — with some seriousness, about one day living in Portugal. Why not? Well, for many reasons. At the top of the list is the fear of being those expats. The Algarve is full of them. There are some really lovely expats who actually learn the language, contribute to the economy, and integrate into the culture, but that is not the norm. Sadly. The Algarve offers slightly more economical holiday packages than other Mediterranean countries, which tends to attract a crowd that doesn’t bother with “Obrigados” and “Se faz favors.” It’s actually really easy to be an English speaker in the Algarve. Most everyone speaks flawless English and, while they’re happy to speak Portuguese when you attempt it, they’re equally happy to carry on in English. Ironically this phenomenon appealed to us as much as it disgusted us — how were they not resentful about having their country invaded by the English? And yet, because of this gracious attitude, we reckoned it would actually be fairly easy to learn Portuguese for the simple reason that most everyone we met was happy to speak Portuguese with us when we attempted.
The people and the language aside, you can see the appeal, right? Cliffs, beaches, mountains, fertile countryside, history, seafood… And while Portugal is supposedly a recessed country at the moment, we didn’t see too many signs of this. In many ways, they are leaders in inovation: 60% of their energy comes from wind, solar and wave technology. Even their gracious response to the flood of tourists and expats — of embracing them rather than resenting them (for good of for ill) — seemed markedly different than other countries. In spite of myself, gosh, I couldn’t help myself — I left that dusty country thinking it wouldn’t be such a bad life being just another Anglo expat.