Well, it’s certainly been a day for celebration here today. For the first time since the middle of March, we’ve been able to stroll along the beach, breathe in the salty aroma of the ocean and scoop up pebbles.
And we weren’t breaking any rules. A little over two months since imposing lockdown, the Portuguese government is gradually lifting some of the restrictions on residents’ movements. Though the country is still in a ‘state of calamity’ (which means limits or restrictions can be put on ‘the movement or permanence of people, other living beings or vehicles’), March 18 marks a significant step forward in the return to some kind of masked normality (face masks are mandatory here in many situations).
I can’t begin to describe our excitement as we approached Praia Grande de Pêra along the boardwalks and took our first tentative steps onto the sand. The beach is little more than a mile from our home and yet we felt like tourists who were seeing a landscape for the very first time. The frequently choppy ocean of the winter months had disappeared, to be replaced by shallow waves lapping gently against the shore.
The lockdown rules here have mostly been straightforward and easy to understand/follow. The restrictions regarding beaches have been slightly less clear: it seemed you could go onto the beach for certain activities, e.g. swimming and surfing, but not for others, i.e. walking or sunbathing. Last time we ventured down to Armação de Pêra – just over a week ago – it was apparent that many people were flouting the regulations and walking on the beach despite barriers being in place.
We have felt incredibly safe here since the pandemic took hold (there have been 14 deaths across the entire Algarve region), so we were determined not to do anything which might endanger ourselves or others. If it meant avoiding the beach until restrictions were lifted, then that’s what we were going to do.
In fact, our prolonged absence from the coast made today’s visit even sweeter. It was wonderful to see a small boy splashing around in the shallow water while his father looked on, amusing to watch a playful dog rushing in and out of the ocean to retrieve his ball. Though it was warm and sunny, the majority of people were simply strolling along the water’s edge, quietly embracing the opportunity to do something they’d once taken for granted but now felt like a precious gift.
My eyes filled with tears when an elderly man passed me to walk to the edge of the boardwalk and stood there in silence, soaking up the scene as if he’d never expected to see it again. Perhaps he’d been ill himself, or had lost a loved one. I’ll never know.
I spotted a dead starfish and collected some pretty pebbles to brighten our garden path (I have become such a gleaner since moving here).
We reached the fishermen’s huts at the eastern end of the promenade, where the hustle and bustle of activity among the nets was wonderful to behold after weeks of silence. I’m sure the seagulls aren’t the only ones who are delighted things are slowly getting back to normal.
The majority of cafes along the promenade were still closed, despite being allowed to reopen at 50% capacity and with stringent guidelines relating to seating, cleaning, etc. Presumably, some business owners feel it’s not commercially viable to open until there are at least some tourists around.
Tomorrow we will be walking down to Armação de Pêra again, this time to meet a friend for a beer. We will enjoy his company at an outside table and take masks with us, as we are uncertain whether we must wear them or not. At 58, I never anticipated a day when I’d be wearing a face mask to socialise with a friend, but, for now, this is the new normal and if wearing a mask means I get to paddle in the ocean again then I’m not complaining.
Stay safe everyone.
Here are a few more pics.