Today I saw an old man walking down the street carrying an octopus in his bare hands. He was holding it like a bowling ball (candlepin, of course), tentacles hanging down. I know the fish market bags their goods, so I’m pretty sure he got it straight from one of the boats.
It probably wasn’t a remarkable sight for people who have lived here for a while—after all, this town is famous for serving up fresh octopus (polvo). In fact, next week is the Festa dos Pescadores, when the village honors its fishermen, and the town is getting into gear to welcome visitors. The route I walk every morning has a lot more people on it, walking, jogging, bicycling. A new sign is going up welcoming people to the village. The public works people have been repairing some of the cobbles in the plaza by the ferry.
There’s already been in uptick in tourists. The other night young people were singing almost into the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know if the GNR came by or it was just closing time, but the noise stopped about 12:30. Normally cars don’t honk and people stop making noise by 11:00 pm. Our biggest traffic jam is when five or six cars have to wait for 20 seconds while passengers get into or out of cars near the bakery. People honked this week. They are not the norm.
In August, it seems all of Europe goes on vacation. That’s because EU countries mandate a minimum of four weeks vacation a year (see how well that flies with your boss in the US), and kids’ summer vacations are only about six weeks long. Everything gets jammed into August. COVID is, of course, affecting travel plans. People coming from outside the EU need to be vaccinated and have a European vaccination certificate. Everyone flying needs to take a COVID test. People seem to be more compliant with masking here than they are in the US, which makes me happy. I was vaccinated ten days ago (with the one-shot J&J) so I am still keeping a wide berth when it comes to holiday makers. I’ll probably keep doing that for the next year or so. I don’t know if the turnout for this year’s festival will be lower than 2019, but I am very sure it will be higher than last year.
My apartment is on the main street of town and when I moved in, I knew that July and August would be busy months. Santa Luzia has access to two of the prettiest beaches along the Ria Formosa (or at least we like to think so, but really, they are!). Fortunately, the village is recommended as a “day trip” for tourists, not a place to spend a week or two. They come, they visit the beaches, have lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants, and leave again, heading for their hotels or AirBnBs in nearby towns. I have spotted a few AirBnbs here, but no hotels. We are not a late night town.
My plan for next August is to be traveling when the festival takes place and the town is thick with tourists. So this year I will drink in everything I can about the festival, from the blessing of the fishermen, watching the procession (I suspect I will have a front row seat!), to the nightly music. There are rumors of a fireworks show and I hope I can see them from my balcony. The festival takes place at one end of town where the fishermen’s huts are. It’s only a few blocks away, which might be the perfect distance for listening to music without being blasted (I am so OLD. When did that happen?)
I think about the balance of tourist dollars vs. the spread of COVID a lot. Tourism makes up about 20% of Portugal’s GNI. Last year was a disaster for tourism, of course. This year will be better but nowhere near what it was in 2019. For Santa Luzia, many of the tourists are Portuguese, so the testing at the borders doesn’t affect it as much as maybe some of the bigger tourist areas. But if the Delta variant kicks up much more, traveling restrictions between municipalities will be reinstated again which will definitely have an effect on the towns that make their money in the summer months.
Now that I’ve found this spot, I want to keep it to myself. I know it’s selfish and I know the people here have to make a living. Twelve or more hour workdays are the norm. Jobs are hard to come by. I won’t begrudge the eight or so weeks a year when this village welcomes visitors, feeds them well, and then sends them back to their hotels. And in truth, the constant parade of people is my now my favorite form of entertainment.