Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Turning Portuguese?

In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, she’s palling up with all creatures great and (mainly) small.

cat with lizard
Just call me Doctor… Doctor Dolittle.

It’s not that I’m lonely (I am) and I know I’ve mentioned before how quiet it is around here. Did I mention it before, or was it simply an echo bouncing off the silent hillsides all around, making me think that I had someone else to talk to when in fact it was just me? Again.

This morning, this guy wandered past the door. A new face in town.

green chameleon
To be honest, I’m not sure if I was more excited that he was someone different to talk to or because he is super cool, despite the 37°C heat. He (could be she) doesn’t seem too fussed about the blistering temperature, but then he’s mastered the knack of moving pretty slowly so as not to build up a sweat.

You don’t see a chameleon jogging down a dusty track at 6am. Well, you don’t, since you’re all tucked up in bed, being sensible, but trust me, when I’m up at that hour running/stumbling along, the place is full of them dashing about.

Even at their usual pace, they outrun me while simultaneously mixing and matching their birthday suit wardrobe. I struggle to breathe and run at the same time, so respect, colour-changing dudes. Although it is fair to say that I do transform into a rather fetching shade of purple in pretty swift time, but all I could camouflage myself as would be a massive sweaty fig. In case you were wondering, these photos are of the same chameleon, not a green one and a brown one.

brown chameleon
Having decided that the time to take up ferocious amounts of exercise is the time that the mercury in the thermometer is begging for mercy, and with the number of showers I take in a day exceeding the number of meals I eat (yeah, six. Impressive, eh?), I still have plenty of time for hanging out with my ‘friends’. Once I’ve exercised into my daily smugness quota before the sun comes up, the remainder of my daylight hours are mostly spent trying not to get bitten or stung by something. Pals, tsk, who’d have ‘em?

I know I spend too much time watching the doings of various bugs and creatures that trundle past because frankly, they’re all the entertainment I have and are better than Portuguese TV. Given the choice between staring at them or at the German naturists up the hill through my binoculars, I’m plumping for the bugs. Trust me, I have thoroughly investigated the options: they are more interesting, less hairy and their penises are less visible.

“We cheer the ants on and groan in frustration as they repeatedly fall back to horizontal ground, only to make endless more futile attempts, to the sounds of us shouting, ‘Go round the side, you fool!’”

Then there are the cicadas who make such a racket that I had to interrupt a work call to go outside and bang on a tree to shut them up. Try explaining that to a client in Birmingham: we have different ‘signal’ problems out here, sir.

The ants in their many sizes and guises are a constant fascination. When visitors arrive and we tell them about how much we love looking at the ants, their faces cannot conceal their utter boredom and disbelief that this is how we now spend our days. After a couple of days, however, when they have relaxed into Portugal Time, they too become addicted to the comings and goings of the soap opera of garden ant life.

ants moving an objectWe watch, as enthralled as we would be in front of a movie or football game, as the ants attempt to carry unfeasibly large objects – olive stones, leaves, other ants – up vertical walls. We cheer them on and groan in frustration as they repeatedly fall back to horizontal ground, only to make endless more futile attempts, to the sounds of us shouting, “Go round the side, you fool!” You know you’ve lost it when you’re shouting at an ant.

We give them World’s Strongest Ant tests to see how large an object they can transport by dropping pasta and crusts into their midst and viewing the ensuing effort. We watched one solitary ant trying to drag a dead snake back to her gang, teeth dug in, legs flailing in a hopeless quest. There is a woman after my own heart. Always go for the biggest portion and kill anyone who tries to take it off you.

insect squareWe see fights, allegiances and tussles to rival any Hollywood blockbuster, all for the small price of being nipped every now and again when one picks a fight with your toe or your genitals. Yes, they go for your bits.

I don’t want your pity. These guys are my friends. It’s true that some of them vomit on my dinner, eat my cushions and shit on the kitchen worktop, but hey, life is all about acceptance, right? All I know is that they are there for me and they won’t ever leave me. Mainly because I keep them in a jar.

Read all of Sarah’s Portuguese tales here.


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.