Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Turning Portuguese? Road to nowhere

In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, she’s travelling a heck of a long way for her first swim of the year.

Still room for a few more Tunnocks, we reckon.

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when my chap and I make the long journey south with our car, taking it on its own little holiday for the summer to get a spot of colour and a burgeoning alcohol problem from sitting about in the sun with not much to do.

The added bonus of this annual trip is that we get to load up our car with all of the things that are impossible to find, expensive or crap in Portugal and therefore stock up our supplies for the coming months.

This is not strictly necessary as there are British shops in the Algarve and even an Iceland, where you can buy all manner of homeland delicacies, such as pork pies, Lambrini and Yorkshire puddings, but we prefer to avoid such establishments out of pure snobbery.

Our southward bound car bows under the weight of couscous, decaf teabags, coconut oil and biscuits – all essential items for the overseas immigrant. At least leaving the EU won’t leave us with a biscuit crisis: them there Europeans have never produced anything worthy of a dunk, IMHO, and so taking our own supply is a matter of cultural imperative rather than preference, much like life-saving medication.

“Once back home in Portugal, it is sickeningly time for my first swim of the year in next door’s pool – in March.”

We routinely take the ferry to northern Spain which is an adventure in itself as it takes 24 hours to make the trip and about 11 minutes to exhaust all of the entertainment options on the boat. There are only so many times that you can look in a shop which only sells Toblerone, die-cast models of Tower Bridge and fudge.

Luckily, there is also the ‘Look, it’s a dolphin! No, it’s just a wave’ game to play for several hours until it gets dark and your eyes ache. If you can find a plastic chair in a particularly sunny spot you can pretend you’re on a cruise ship as long as you can filter out the noise, vibrations and the unremitting smell of diesel and sick. Other than that, it’s the QE2 personified minus all the ladies in leopard print.

We rock up in Spain with a lack of sleep, headache and a 600-mile journey ahead, making sure we leave enough room in the couscous-laden car for the odd chorizo gathered on our way through. Portugal produces a huge range of different chouriço but (whispering here for fear of offending the locals) we haven’t found one we like, so we sneak them in from Spain. That’s not an illegal ‘sneak’; it’s a culturally sensitive sneak.

open road and countryside
The ride across Spain is long and largely uneventful. The roads are empty; the scenery changes from snowstorms to brilliant sunshine, through mountains and endless plains. You never quite appreciate how big Spain is until you drive from top to bottom. That’s a lot of hours of Spanish radio and Europop.

We park up for the night in some super-cheap hotel in a nondescript town and hope that no one steals the bench/table/canoe from the roof of the car that each year someone (me) took a shine to in a secondhand shop without measuring the aperture of the boot-to-size of the object ratio, thus turning our respectable people carrier into a very fuel inefficient Steptoe’s wagon.

More fun usually ensues when we get to the house and realise that we can’t get said object through the door.

Once back home in Portugal, it is sickeningly time for my first swim of the year in next door’s pool – in March. I stop my swimming in November each year as it’s about then that I can no longer feel my legs.

Last year, I started screaming for Keith because I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pain in my chest. I was fine; it was simply a combination of two things: the water was too cold, and, as my daughter once informed me, I always think I’m dying. Once you’ve stepped over the dead geckos on the bottom, it’s really quite invigorating.

summer landscape
With stocks high and no danger of a Redbush drought for the coming months, we wait for the summer: for the figs, the olives, the port and the carob, all of which will make the long journey up north when we take the car back to England in the autumn.

They are to remind us of days in the sun in the midst of a British winter. Our border crossings therefore involve a kind of modern-day Silk Road trade exchange of native items from far off lands: I bring you lemons ripened in the heat of the Algarve sun; you bring me Tunnocks made in a warehouse in Glasgow.

Vacancy for International Cultural Ambassador for the UK? Oh go on then; what are the holidays like?

Read all of Sarah’s ex-pat dispatches here.


  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest

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.