We have hit the rainy season here in The Algarve and no one dares to complain—we’ve been in drought for far too long. The days are a tad raw. Without sun, Portugal is like summer camp in the New England mountains, colder than it should be and everything is damp, no matter how long you hang it to dry.
Jekyll and Hyde Weather
A storm came through the other day, knocking down the just-put-up Christmas decorations, ripping the top layers of advertising from billboards, swamping the smaller boats. Tuesday, the weather was gorgeous with bright sunshine and temperatures to match. I could finally stop apologizing to my house guest for the weather. It’s pretty much been raining since my friend arrived. I was happy to have real-time proof of how lovely it usually is here. We made the lengthy walk out to Praia Barril and got in a lovely glass of sangria before I had to go back to work.
And now, I am sitting in my favorite café in Tavira, killing time before my Portuguese class starts and hoping the rain will stop long enough for me to walk over to the school without getting soaked. I am not giving myself good odds. (Note: I was right.)
On days like this, I might miss the Florida temps and sunshine. I remind myself that the town I lived in was hit two months ago by a Category 4 hurricane and I count my blessings.
And Then There’s Mold
One of the most common complaints about living in Portugal is the mold issue, especially farther north. I have heard people complain about the humidity, which, after living in Florida for over 30 years, is enough to make me snort coffee out my nose. In the summer, humidity ranges 50% to 70%. In Florida, humidity starts at the 70% level and stays at over 90% for months at a time.
The difference is that most of the houses in Florida have air conditioning and heating systems. The beauty of both is that they take moisture out of the air. (I remember putting bowls of water on top of radiators during the New England winters because the air would get so dry.) Many of the homes that I have been in here in the Algarve have neither heat nor a/c. Heating consists of space heaters; air conditioning means you open the windows. Another factor that adds to the problem is that many of the houses don’t have good insulation. Drywall turns out to not be so dry. The dampness seeps in. It also hangs in your clothing and towels and furniture and carpets.
The heat in summer seems to bake the moisture out of the buildings. But then the rainy season hits and you realize how spoiled you’ve been. Getting rid of moisture is key to preventing and lessening mold growth. Doing things like squeegeeing (that’s a word!) after you take a shower or doing routine checks for leaks (and then fixing them). Clorox makes a damn fine mold and mildew killer product for surface mold, but it’s an ongoing battle.
Mold is Not Exclusive to Portugal
I have seen mold in Florida start to engulf walls within days of a water leak. It is not uncommon after flooding to have to strip all the drywall and treat all the studs, bring in big machines to dry everything out, before putting up new drywall. EVERYTHING gets taken out of a mold house, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up to have to do it all over again.
Florida is just a natural growth area for mold. It’s hot. It’s humid. The rainy season in Florida comes with the summer heat: There are late afternoon deluges almost every day. Things dry out in winter, the opposite of Portugal. So, weather conspires to grow mold in Florida.
I lived in two different condos in Florida that had major mold issues. So much mold that at one point I was throwing up blood. (Such a pretty picture, yes?) The only thing that cured it was moving to a place without mold, without curtains, with great ventilation, and all tile floors. (Tile and granite are my friends.) I can walk into a building and tell you if there’s a mold issue. My lungs have a memory like an elephant.
The area I live in, The Algarve, has less of a mold issue than areas like Porto and Lisbon that are a bit colder and wetter. But really, it depends on the property and how well it is cared for. I have tile floors which are cool in the winter and the summer. I am fortunate that my landlord took care to make sure there were no water issues. I would be more fortunate if he had left the heating system in, but you can’t have everything. (Electricity is expensive here and many landlords take out the heating system.)
Put on Your Sweats and Grab a Blanket
Last year, I would run the space heater for a few hours at night. This past week it has been unseasonably cold and the rain has made it a wee bit miserable. So, the space heater goes on for ten or twenty minutes at a time during the day to take the chill out of the air. I know by this time next week the sun will be out and our daytime temperatures will return to normal. For now, I appreciate the sun as it darts in and out of the storm clouds.
One of the things I worried about before I moved here was the fact that I have spent my entire adult life avoiding cold weather. I knew Portugal would not be nearly as warm as Florida. But because of the difference in humidity, I have gone for my morning walk in 55 degree weather wearing shorts and a t-shirt and I’ve been quite comfortable. So, while I experience a bit of discomfort every so often when the sun stops shining and the temperatures drop, being able to go out in the summer time and not immediately wilt in the heat is a nice plus.
So on the chillier days and nights, I put on my sweats and fuzzy socks, and curl up under a blanket with the space heater nearby. It took me months to remember that this is what we did growing up in New England. (Yes, I lived in warm weather for so long I had forgotten that we always had a “throw” on the back of the couch.) I have to tell you, sweatpants are really comfy AND allow you to eat more cookies. #winning
Anywhere you live, you take the good with the bad. It’s much easier to do so here, where the good is very, very good and the bad is not so bad. I can work with that.