“I’m on the lookout for thieves,” the woman patrolling the cork forest next to our house told us.
I hadn’t thought of the area where we live as having a high crime rate.
“Oh yes,” she continued when we voiced our surprise. “They come here and steal cork bark and pine nuts from the trees.”
This is petty crime rural Portugal style.
When Andy posted the back cover blurb for her upcoming book, The Banana Road, on social media, a friend commented he didn’t realise life had been so dramatic at our house on Tenerife. This house was a former animal shed on a finca (a type of farm) and was squeezed between banana plantations, a pitch ‘n’ putt golf course, and a cat sanctuary whose cages were designed to hold crocodiles.
There was no reason why he should know. Whilst we’ve written reams about Tenerife over the years, most of it has been travel related rather than chronicles of our everyday life, however extraordinary that may have been at times. We used to say whenever we stepped out of the door we’d come back with a story to tell; that’s the sort of place it was. That’s the sort of place much of the north of Tenerife is. These weren’t necessarily big things, mostly incidents that made life a little bit more colourful. It might have been women from a nearby row of houses hugging the shade of their cottages as they played street bingo, or the time goats made off with Andy’s favourite cardigan … things like that. But sometimes events could be quite momentous, hence the book.
Now we live on a small farm on the edge of a cork forest in Palmela. A typical walk from the door will involve seeing storks, hoopoes, a buzzard or two, and maybe mongooses, or even pine nut thieves. That sentence would sound normal for the people who live around here, but maybe not to people who don’t. On Sunday I opened the sun umbrella on our back terrace to find a bat had moved in. Stuff like this happens on virtually a daily basis.
Whenever we travel, little oddities regularly fall into our laps. Like the time we found ourselves involved in a missing piglet search in the hills of El Hierro. An expat living on El Hierro commented that had never happened to them in all the years they’d lived there, as though we’d made it up. What can I say? When you walk the less well trodden paths these things happen. As I’m a photographer I usually have my camera in tow, so most of the time there’s photographic evidence to prove there’s no poetic licence involved.
I mentioned that whenever we left the house in the north of Tenerife we’d usually end up with a quirky story to tell. However, when we stayed in purpose-built resorts on the island, or purpose-built resorts anywhere for that matter, that was never the case. There would be stories, but they wouldn’t be quirky ones, or anything to do with traditional life on the island – like the time in Playa de las Américas touts tried to tempt us into a bar by promising there wouldn’t be any Spanish inside as Spanish weren’t allowed. Or the British compère in a bar warning its visiting British clientele to be careful of their handbags and wallets as there were ‘foreigners’ outside. Resorts are ideal for fun in the sun, but not so good for quirky insights into local life. Head ten minutes into the hills behind the resorts and it’s a different world.
It’s not just to do with travelling to off the beaten track places, it’s also about being inquisitive, aka being nosey and asking questions. We treat travel much the same whether it’s for work or for pleasure. Out of these four – dining with a count in Northern Portugal; spending an afternoon at an illicit konoba on Hvar with two old friends discussing the Croat-Bosniak war; sharing wine with a sea captain/wine producer in a cellar in Dubrovnik which had already closed to the public when we stuck our heads around the door, hoping to buy a bottle of wine; and drinking vino del país (country wine) with a family of potato pickers as part of their harvest party in a field in the upper Orotava Valley on Tenerife – two were work, two weren’t. The two that weren’t just happened. In both cases because one of us asked a question. People who are interested in their surroundings will have interesting experiences.
But the travel stories you end up with in your suitcase often do just depend on the places you visit, it can be as simple as that.
Where you live can deliver similar results. If we were in an apartment in Albufeira it’s unlikely we’d find the same cast of quirky characters as there is in this area of farmers and fishermen south of Lisbon.
So, as anyone who has relocated to a location which is away from the main tourist drag anywhere knows, there’s absolutely no need to exaggerate stories when life unravels its rich tapestry on such a regular basis.