2011 was the year of “The Great Epiphany.” It was the year we decided we wanted an alternative to the life we were living. It was the year we realized that the “American Dream” was no longer our exclusive priority. We wanted something different …
2012 was the year we put our finances in order, sold everything, formally said goodbye to a steady paycheck and left the country to pursue what we once thought of as a pipedream: full-time travel. Over the next three years our dream has taken us through Mexico, all of Central America and several countries in South America as well as many islands in the Caribbean. We’ve traveled by bus, by ferry, boat and luxury ship, plane, train, taxi, collectivo and tuk-tuk.
And in 2015, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Spain, with visions of wandering across Europe dancing in our heads we decided that, while the nomadic life has been all that we wanted and more, it was time to tweak our travel dream a bit and set up a base. A place where we could leave that extra suitcase as we leisurely explored Europe without worrying about the 90-day Schengen tourist visa and journey to North Africa, Turkey or the old Eastern Bloc. A place where we could make friends without the constant goodbyes and even buy our own honed kitchen knives, coffee cups and pillows. In short, it was time to find a place like home.
It was a toss-up between Spain and Portugal. Both countries welcome foreign retirees, are relatively easy to obtain a residency visa and offer much in the way of culture, history, art and architecture, big cities and small villages, beaches, good medical care and all the needed amenities we might want. And while we loved the small part of Spain that we visited, when we moved into our temporary abode in Ferreiras, Portugal we knew that the Algarve Region was the place for us, a place like home.
Our friend, Luis said, “If you want to live in the Algarve, here are the cities you should check out.” And so we spent our time traveling back and forth across the coast by train and, like Goldilocks, finding one city too small, one too hilly, one too quiet when the summer tourists left, …
But Lagos, as Luis described it, was a city of “living history.” A place where the cobblestone streets connect to the principal artery along the waterway leading in to the marina with benches for people watching, a place with a breathtakingly gorgeous coastline along the Atlantic, buildings from the 15th, 16th and 17th century, a city center that is relatively level for ease of walking on daily excursions to the fish market, the restaurants and vegetable markets as well as well stocked supermarkets. Long popular with the British, Lagos has a large, English-speaking expat population and many of the locals also speak some English which would make settling in to the community easier. Upon further investigation we found that there’s a language school where we can learn Portuguese, doctors, and dentists, pharmacies to meet our medical requirements, et cetera.
A part of the dense history clustered in Lagos is in the historic city center. Located here are the Ponta da Bandeira Fort and the original city walls – part of the complex of defenses to protect the nascent voyages of discovery – the slave market, the Governor’s Castle, and numerous ancient Catholic churches.
Near the entrance to a church were two women, possibly widows, who, dressed head to toe in traditional black, whiled away the day in gossip, subtly indicating their bowls for alms. We later noticed these women leaving the historic city center in the late afternoon as we enjoyed a gelato waiting to taxi to our train back to Ferreira; the women, like ordinary workers, heading home at the end of another shift. Life, so it seems, has a rhythm that transcends national boundaries.
In the hills above Lagos are numerous villages and neighborhoods, none perhaps more picturesque than Praia da Luz. A small vertical town whose east-west streets side-hill the slopes rising out of the Atlantic while the north-south land drops precipitously on to the beach for swimming, snorkeling, boating and other aquatic opportunities. Here is a place to enjoy a cup of strong coffee, a mid-afternoon snack or simply watch the children and adults frolic in the surf.
And as we hop-scotched across the Algarve region, playing our real life version of Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe the decision played out quite naturally and logically in the coastal city of Lagos. Here we were, are, betting that we will find a place like home. A place to settle in, study a new language, volunteer and teach English, become a small part in a large community and a place to serve as a travel base for further exploration, a place to return to and a place like home. Time with tell. Our application for a long-term visa is wending its way through the Portuguese bureaucracy and we await the country’s blessing on our request to reside in the Algarve. For now we’re practicing patience while we wait, living out of our suitcases as we continue to travel and crossing our fingers.
By Anita and Richard