Moving to Portugal

Algarve Life - Amanda Gleaves
6 min readAug 5, 2023

I was thinking the other day about when I came to Portugal to live.

It was 1989 and I was 21. The only plan I had back then, was moving over to Portugal. I bought a one way ticket and off I went!

My mother was already living here, so it wasn’t too hard because I could stay with her. I got a job in a local restaurant called ‘The Manxman’ and I was set! My transport was a mountain bike.

It wasn’t long until I met somebody, João. I had actually met him on holiday previously, and it looked like things were evolving into a more serious relationship.

Mum wanted her place back to herself again and she gave me her caravan. João said that we could put it on his parents’ land.

Caravan on the land

It was only a small caravan, but it would do for the both of us.

The plot of land was beautiful, it was actually a few plots making up a total of 17,000 square meters. It was spring, so it all looked fresh and green. Yellow flowers and poppies were spread out and it looked like something out of a ‘Cadbury’s Flake’ commercial.

There was an old house on the land and João’s mum had suggested that we moved in. It looked like she was eager for her son to move out too!

It was getting hotter and the caravan was becoming unbearable. Thinking about it now though — it all happened very fast! Maybe a little too fast.

João´s mother came round, and like a whirlwind, she cleaned the place from top to bottom. She dragged out old furniture and anything else she could find to burn and built a fire. She even came round another day and whitewashed it all.

I offered to help her, and even thought I hadn’t been their long, I understood her response:

‘Ela não sabe’ — ‘she doesn’t know how’, she said.

Yes I did, we used to whitewash our back yard! She wouldn’t have any of that and insisted on doing it her self. She was like that. You could never really help her do anything. A very strong willed woman.

The old part of the house

Above is the house before it was cleaned and whitewashed. In actual fact, this side of the house was the original house, which had to be demolished later on, as it started to fall down.

We were living in the part to the left, which you cannot really see in the picture.

After the big clean, the inside and the outside of the house looked very different. Before it had been just left, like time had stood still. There were even still onions on the side in the kitchen. Like people had left in a hurry. Previously João´s grandparents had lived there, on his father’s side, but they moved in with his mother as they were no longer able to take care of themselves. So his mother had her hands pretty full.

The house itself was very basic. It had two bedrooms, a very large kitchen, a sitting room and an outside toilet. That was it.

There was no running water and we had to get the water from the well — or the ‘cisterna’. Which is basically and underground storage tank. I was fascinated by this, as the water was collected into the tank in the winter months from the roof, using a gutter system. I thought this was genius, and couldn’t help thinking about all that free water!

Bedroom window and cisterna with a pump, after we got electricity.

It was such a new experience for me and it was so exciting.

The house sat right in the middle of the land and we were surrounded by trees. Fruit trees; figs, almonds, pears, apples, plums and even grapes!

My brain was on overload. I grew up in a city and in my younger days and I hadn’t really appreciate nature too much. Only for walks and camping — but not actually everything it has to offer.

Now here I was living in a paradise! Picking figs off the tree to put in my breakfast! All this — rent free!

Almond tree in blossom

It was June and we still didn’t have electricity, so at night we would dine by candlelite and chat into the early hours. (like you do when you are young!)

The walls were really thick and the house had very few windows. In the earlier part of the 1900, when houses were build in the Algarve, glass was expensive, so windows were not really a thing. The fewer windows, the cooler the house. We had one very small window in the back bedroom and a larger window in the front bedroom.
The front door was metal and had a kind of window you could open too.

The kitchen door was wooden and had a little hatch. It was quite dark inside and a little depressing. There was no sink or cupboard, just a tiled work surface. We had a little stove for cooking on, with just two burners, no oven.

The door to the kitchen on the right and the door to the outside toilet on the left.

The roof was made with bamboo canes and clay roof tiles. Newspaper and cement were used as the insulation between the canes and the tiles, it worked very well too!

There was a sloped slab built into the wall outside, at the front of the house where I could wash clothes. It was the only place I could really wash dishes too.

During that summer I met a lot of people and we would seem be to constantly going out to local gigs, in Estoi and Bordeira. Back then (in the late 80s) the amount of bands playing live was insane. We used go and see IRIS play, frequently. Their Pink Floyd covers were amazing! It was lots of fun.

I started studying my Portuguese — every day from a book. I was learning, but not letting anybody know. It was great because I was hearing lots of conversations with friends and words and phrases would just get stuck in my head! After that it was just a question of finding out what they meant.

Next came the electricity and running water. The ‘running water’ was plumbed in from the ‘cisterna’, (see photo above) not from the mains water. Not many people in the area had mains water, or even waste water at that point, they hadn’t installed any of the infrastructures. (This only arrived 20 years later, when I moved out).

The nights were getting cooler and we got a TV.

There were only 2 channels back then, but I swear the choice of programmes was better than now! MTV every evening at 6pm and filmes every night. Films in English with Portuguese subtitles!

This helped with my Portuguese. I used to watch ‘Roda da Sorte’ too (the Wheel of Fortune) and learned so much from that show and the Brazilian soaps, which were a lot more easy going back then, and often very, very funny.

It all helped to build up my language skills.

As winter approached we decided that a fire place was in order. I was told it could get cold in the winter months (I had no idea just how cold it could get — but I was to find out that coming winter!)

The fireplace was great. A little man from Vilarinhos, a local village, came and built it over a weekend! It didn’t let out even the tiniest bit of smoke either!

The days started to get shorter and a lot colder than I expected. It wasn’t long before we were lighting the fire.

My first winter here was horrendous!

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Algarve Life - Amanda Gleaves

I have been living in the Algarve in Portugal since 1989! I have been teaching Portuguese to foreigners for nearly 20 years! https://portugueseinsixweeks.com/