In October, what I call the wet season begins. I come from Manchester where it can certainly rain, but until living here in Guimaraes I don’t think I had ever seen rain quite like this. The Portuguese call this area of the Minho (Guimarães and Braga) the piss pot of the North and the rain this month has been, for want of a better word, incessant. It will no doubt continue for six months but locals will easily forget three or four weeks of continual downpour in the light of a few, sporadic sunny days. Grumpy, however, does not. Still it is very green here in the Minho and I can save money not having to water the lawn till next May.
My son arrived back from four years in Windsor at the beginning of October with a truckload of belongings. His bedroom floor and most of the garage are filled with huge cardboard boxes. There is a general sense of upheaval.To add to it, my Australian cousin’s daughter Lisa (so that would be my second cousin? For ease I shall call her my niece – she is so much younger than me) is due to arrive mid October for a week. I am secretly hoping she will bring some rays of sunshine, real not metaphorical, in her suitcase.
I get the sofa bed set up in the guest room whilst battling with tumble loads of damp towels, sheets and extra washing. Nothing seems to be drying except my skin.
It is a Thursday evening, a few days before Lisa is due. I am getting drenched in a deluge of sheeting rain, no other way to describe it, because the electric gate refuses to open when I arrive home.
Apparently the near tropical storm during the night has blown the motor (and now the insurance company refuse to pay unless we produce the original bill- don’t ask, it could be under a cardboard box somewhere, growing mould) Anyway my cell phone rings as I drip through the door and I realise it is Nanci. Nanci is a close Portuguese/Brazilian friend of mine and was my first business partner.
She now lives and works in Rugby. I suddenly realise that she had mentioned coming on a road trip from the UK to Portugal around October and that she isn’t calling me from the UK. She is actually here with her English partner in Guimarães. Could they stay with us for a few days? My thoughts quickly turn to how I am going to get the sheets washed and dried before the imminent arrival of said niece from Australia but I am, obviously, thrilled.
I work Fridays and Saturdays (it has to be done I suppose) so I hardly see them but on Sunday under grey skies and drizzle Nanci proposes to take us out for the day to the coast. Hubby would rather stay at home in his slippers watching X Factor and tries to get out of it. He loses and off we set. Soon he is lulled into certain calmness by the hypnotic window screen wipers and English conversation. My friend wants to revisit a seafood restaurant in Castelo de Neivo that we used to go to, albeit in the height of summer. No one remembers the way exactly and the persistent rain is disorientating but finally we get there. Hubby is still sulking. There is only one thing for it. I suggest around of caipirinhas.
Now for those uninitiated a caipirinha is a Brazilian drink made from cachaca , fresh lime juice , crushed ice and sugar, very popular in Portugal and extremely refreshing on a hot day. It does, however, contain enough alcohol to raise the spirits on a wet day. Soon we were tucking into plates full of fresh prawns, cockles cooked in garlic and olive oil and other yummy delicacies. Even I almost forgot the weather.
Castelo de Neiva is essentially a small fishing village and the tiny beach area outside the restaurant is strewn with gaily-painted fishing boats shrouded in mist. As we walk back to the car we see one being hauled up the sand by two portly ladies incongruous in oddly patterned thick tights and stripy woollen cardigans. I look out at the churning grey sea. The two fishermen at the water’s edge seem so frail by comparison as they struggle to hoist the boat onto the pulley. We waited, curious to see the catch. The older fisherman peered out from his oilskin, his eyes twinkling as he approached, and pointed to two enormous sea bass still flapping and flailing on the bottom of the boat. My friend turned away. Twenty euros a kilo he said. A pittance considering the battle involved and the petrol burnt in the process.
But we were full, and besides my friends were leaving the next morning. As we drove away I wondered if Lisa would arrive whilst they were still here. Would I have time to change the sheets?
October is coming to an end now and Lisa has been and gone. The sheets and towels are hanging in the garage dripping over the cardboard boxes in an attempt to dry off the excess ready for my next visitor (yes, I have another visitor)! Lisa didn’t bring any sunshine with her. While forest fires raged back home in Australia, she spent drizzly mornings snug in bed and evenings in front of the telly or at the cinema.
My son, Marco, bravely took her on a few forays round our beautiful city to see the sights. Sadly they were forced to spend most of their time in cafés on a “pastel de nata” tasting and comparison tour. Pastel de nata is that exquisite little custard cream type cake that was born in Lisbon and has made a huge impact on the North, if not globally.
There are even patisseries in London selling them nowadays I hear.
However every cloud must have a silver lining and when a weak sun finally poked its head out briefly in the middle of Lisa’s visit, off we went to show her one of my favourite beauty spots, the Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Needless to say, as we drove up the narrow winding road above the small town of Geres the spectacular views were shrouded in gloomy clouds and drizzle. This gave giving me ample reason to grump but did not deter Lisa. Arriving at the high point“ Pedra Bela”, roughly translated as beautiful outcrop, she ventured out of the car to take photos and we followed. There we all were standing on top of the world, or rather on top of the Serra, looking down on the valley of Geres and the Caniçada dam. We were silenced buy the grim magnificence of nature and momentarily the wet season was forgotten. Then the heavens opened and we had to dash back to the car. Oh to be at home now with a cup of PG tips even if it meant suffering the X factor I thought at the prospect of the long, dismal journey home.
Christine lives half way up a hill overlooking the historic town of Guimarães the birthplace of Portugal. Although Christine has lived in Portugal for most of her life she is still a Brit at heart.
Until recently Christine ran a trading office working with top high street fashion names like John Lewis, Henry Holland and Ted Baker (where she also managed the production in Portugal for a number years). She now works at the British Council teaching part time, works freelance as a translator and, in between, writes.
To connect with Christine via Twitter and Linked in and find links to her e book and other written work visit her "about me"".