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Driving in Circles (6)


The "Carnaval" parade in Canas de Senhorim was two hours of elaborate floats and costumed dancers, accompanied by popular and traditional music.

Huw and I have been racking our brains, trying to think of someone who would prune our 250 grapevines, 45 olive trees, and 25 apple, pear, plum, orange, lemon, persimmon and loquat trees.

Before we arrived, we thought that we would find someone in the village. It seemed so obvious to have someone who knew the soil, the climate and vegetation of the locale. However, since arriving, no one has approached us for work. No one. In August, we figured that people were biding their time before presenting themselves. It is February now, and we have come up with zero.

Our alternative was for us to approach someone in the village. We have been told about someone who grafts new grapevines onto old stock. However, we do not know about the health or taste of our vines. Are they fine? If so, we do not need new stock, even if it is from our renowned Dao region. We are not planning to sell our wine. We will be producing it for our own consumption.

All along, we have cut back and weeded carefully to preserve the plants on our land. It has made the job of clearing that much harder, but I get such a good feeling when I free a grapevine from choking bramble. Rejuvenating our land will take some time. After pruning, we will see what the grapevines produce in terms of quality. Also, we will be able to judge whether the grapes are suitable for eating or making wine.

Ask a young person to do the job, suggested a friend. I had to think about that. The truth is that I do not see many men and women in their 20s in our village.

So, we found ourselves in January with rain falling, grass growing, flowers blooming and buds appearing, still looking for a pruner. Now, nature was raising its head and making the job a priority.

There is an expatriate website for our local area called www.e-beira.com. The website advertises markets, meetings and classified advertisements. On it, I found Dr. Stephen McKay and Vanessa Moreton (www.eco-dao.blogspot.com).

Steve and Vanessa have been here for six years. They have established links with the national forestry working at the famous National Forest of Buçaco as well as for Portuguese, British and Dutch quinta owners. They try to preserve natural species. As we spent more than two hours discussing each of our trees, Steve pointed out two plants which he said were disappearing from Portugal. Keep them, he said. Lemon trees also are vanishing, he said. Keep it. This is exactly the expertise that Huw and I were hoping to receive from whoever pruned our vines and trees.

Steve pointed out that the grapevines and olive trees are budding, which is early. He and Vanessa will return mid-February to prune the grapes before the vines mature too much. At the end of the month, they will return to prune the olive and fruit trees.

Steve and Vanessa live in Santa Comba Dao area, which is where we had found the well-cultivated land overlooking the river and the unattractive cement house. They mentioned several friends and asked if we knew them. We did not. We may be living in a 20-mile radius, but we do not meet other expatriates often. They told us about an Englishwoman and her children who lived in Fiais da Beira and left for Britain about the time that we moved here. They said she was hankering for British friends in the village. Ironic.

*** *** *** ***

I have a New York drivers’ licence. I want to exchange it for a Portuguese one. Legally, I should make the swap six months after living here.

There is a treaty between the United States and Portugal that allows the exchange. In October, I began researching the required documentation and gathering it. By January, I had everything. Each piece of documentation swallowed up time and energy, and gave me bellyfuls of frustration.

I started by looking at expatriate websites such as www.expatportugal.com., which gave me mixed advice. Sometimes, the threads on these sites derail and end up talking about side issues that are not relevant. Sometimes the advice is outdated. For example, by the time I sought a doctor to fill out the required health form, the very form had changed making the one that I had found on the expatriate website invalid.

In the autumn, I felt complacent. I knew that I could exchange my licence. It would just take time and focus to assemble the paper documents. According to my reading, I needed proof of residency, my driving record with the official seal of the state, a doctor’s form validating my health, two photographs, and 30 euros.

Proof of residency, I thought that I had sorted out in September with my Atestado de Residencia from my local junta of Ervedal da Beira. Huw and I had been told by Peter and Ute that the driving school in Oliveira do Hospital could help with the licence exchange. We went there twice to ask questions. In fact, it was there that I found that the doctor’s form had been changed and was given a new one in November. When the gentleman there saw the Atestado in January, he shook his head and said that I needed a Certificado de Registo de Cidadao da Uniao Europeia stating that I am a citizen of the European Union.

Huw and I walked over to Oliveira’s Council, took a number and minutes later, were sitting in front of a now recognisable clerk who asked for the Atestado and my United Kingdom passport and my fiscal number document and maybe some other documents – I have become lost in the fog of documents – before printing out a factura, or bill, of 15 euros for this new document. The president was at a meeting and unable to sign it on Thursday, so we returned the following Monday to pick it up.

When I read that I needed my driving record, I flinched because I did not know that I could acquire any such thing. On the United States Embassy in Lisbon website, I was directed to obtain an Abstract of my Driving Record with a state seal. The site said that this would be sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the Portuguese Instituto da Mobilidade e Transportes Terrestres (IMTT), or driving authority.

The New York DMV, or Department of Motor Vehicles, pleasantly surprised me by telling me that I could obtain a certified copy of my record with a seal by paying $7. I hit a snag, at first, because I could not pay online with my credit card as I did not have an American zip code. I asked one of my sisters to order it for me. In October, she posted me my record. I thought that I had ticked another box.

The doctor’s form, I took to Ervedal da Beira’s health center. There was one person waiting at the desk and another who came in after me. I thought that it was not busy. Twenty minutes later, when someone came to the desk from the other side of the surgery, she said that the doctor was not in that day. When was the doctor due in, I asked but never received an answer. She seemed to direct us to the pharmacy in Ervedal. We went there followed by several people. The pharmacist said that the doctor was at the surgery on Tuesdays.

Going online, I read from an unofficial source that the doctors assigned to Ervedal came to the surgery when they came. I read that the future plan was to close local surgeries like Ervedal and have mobile surgeries. The following week, we went to the health centre in Oliveira do Hospital.

The receptionist called to the front someone who spoke English. He explained that only some doctors could authorize such forms. There were two doctors there and another at Seixo da Beira’s health centre. He gave me the doctor’s name and the name of his colleague there. A few days later, we went to that health centre. I checked in with his colleague who asked me to take a seat. It was about 10 in the morning, and I saw only three other patients. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of a waiting crowd.

There were two old women, one who kept closing her eyes and not speaking to anyone. The other women sat with folded arms, seemed hale and hearty and talked with the old man opposite to her. The health centre in Seixo seemed a convivial place. Soon, I realised that there were other patients who were standing and waiting on the other side of the building. They floated in and out of the main waiting room. Another patient checked in.

I counted more than a dozen people waiting for the appearance of the doctor. Fifteen minutes passed…30 minutes…an hour…then two hours.

The doctor’s secretary came out from behind her glass window. She announced that the doctor would not be coming that day. People accepted the news with resignation; one person complained that she was in pain. Everyone else walked out like zombies. They knew that this might be the result of their morning. The hale and hearty woman slowly dragged herself out of the centre, grimacing as she took each step. The patient who came in after me suffered from severe back pain; she moved carefully.

I was enraged by their pain and inability to see a doctor. Didn’t the doctor know that he would not be coming that morning? Weren’t there set times for him to be there? I still do not know the answers to these questions.

We tabled the issue of finding a doctor. Eventually, in early December, we asked Peter and Ute. Peter, kindly, gave us the name and telephone number of his doctor along with directions to his office in Oliveira do Hospital. Because of the planning for our impending trip to the U.K., we decided not to act on the information until after the Christmas holidays.

When we returned, I had the map and directions to Dr. Abilio Soares Vales’ office somewhat fresh in my mind. Even so, Huw and I drove around in circles for awhile before we parked in the recently moved lg Supermercado, or supermarket, car park, telephoned Ute, and then walked across the road to the new office and apartment complex lining several city blocks. I decided to take one block at a time. Many doctors had offices there. In the second block, I found Dr. Vales’ office by chance. His name was not displayed in the glass window, but I decided to ask for help there.

Easy.

His secretary told me that he was not there at the moment. I could make an appointment, she said. We agreed on quarta-feira at 5:30 p.m. We were speaking in Portuguese. So, I wrote the time on the Thursday square of my diary and showed it to her, She nodded her head yes.

It was not until later that morning when I repeated quarta-feira to myself, reminding myself that quarta-feira, the fourth day, is Wednesday, not Thursday. Monday is segunda-feira, the second day. Tuesday, terca-feira, is the third day. I do get my days confused. At the most relaxed of times, I have to begin with Monday and count my way through the weekdays. Next time, I told myself, I will write down what the person says so that I can translate at home.

I decided not to telephone the office and assume that the appointment was on Wednesday. I find talking in a new language on the telephone to be one of the most difficult tasks. I cannot read facial expressions or shrugs. The success of the conversation hangs on my understanding and speaking of the words.

My second thought was correct. Wednesday was the day, and Dr. Vales arrived on time for the appointment. He checked my blood pressure and breathing. He wrote my blood pressure on a card that he said I always should take with me to the doctor. He asked me whether I was a good driver. We laughed. Yes, I said. He said that New York’s Class D would be Class B in Portugal. Dr. Vales filled out the form and charged me 35 euros as I was seeing him at his private practice, not the government health centre.

As I stood to leave, I asked whether he could be our family doctor at Oliveira do Hospital health centre. Yes, he said. I simply had to go to his office there and fill out a form then and there. He said that he was in his office all day. “But,” he said, I hope I never see you.”

We both laughed.

Now, as far as I was concerned, I had all the required paperwork for a driver’s licence exchange.

A visit to the driving school in Oliveira proved me wrong. It was in January when the gentleman there told me that I needed a Certificado de Registo de Cidadao da Uniao Europeia.

He also looked at my New York Abstract of Driving Record and shook his head. They will never accept this, he said. You need the corroboration of the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. I showed him my letter from the embassy which said that the national government does not issue licences and, therefore, cannot comment on them. Individual states issue driving licences. The letter was not a required document. The U.S. Embassy was kind enough to write it for me, although it should not have been necessary.

The gentleman at the driving school was convinced that I could attain a document from the embassy that would validate my license. He elaborated this second visit by saying that he had obtained the documents for a licence exchange for a Portuguese American who had returned to live in Portugal. For 50 euros, he would hand in the paperwork at IMTT in Coimbra and attain a Portuguese licence, an initial temporary one which would be followed in the post by a permanent licence. Seeing that the price for his work was 20 euros, I thought that it was well worth it. However, my paperwork was incomplete as far as he was concerned.

So, after leaving, we went to the Camara for the European citizenship document.

A few days after we received my most recent document, we drove to Viseu, which we had visited several times. There is an impressive craft workshop there, Casa de Ribeira, where people knit, sculpt and make pottery. Beautiful pieces, such as typical black Tondela earthenware, can be bought there at good prices. Also, in Viseu, there is a huge shopping centre called Gelo, or Ice. And on Tuesdays, there is a market, which is well worth a visit. We felt confident driving there and visiting the IMTT office.

We left home after Caladon left for the school bus. Viseu is an hour away. After driving there, parking in the underground Gelo car park and walking to IMTT, it was 10:30 a.m. I talked to the guard in the building’s lobby who told me to take a number. My number was 68. We took a seat inside the downstairs office, with about 40 others. Would we see someone before lunch, we asked each other. It turned out that many numbers were called out for people who were no longer there.

Before noon, my number was called out. Huw and I approached the desk with all my paperwork in a plastic folder. The gentleman questioned me about my New York Abstract. I explained that it was a certified copy. In fact, I had translated everything on the Abstract and on my license into written Portuguese. He disappeared for a few minutes. Then, he returned and faced his computer in order to enter my details into the database.

He stopped typing.

Where do you live, he asked.

In Fiais da Beira in Oliveira do Hospital district, or concelho.

Ah, he could not register me at that office. He could not enter my details. I had to go to IMTT’s Coimbra office.

Unfortunately, this task which had taken me months of preparation could not be completed then and there. However, I felt elated that the clerk would have processed my application if I lived in Viseu’s concelho.

A few days later, Huw and I drove to Coimbra. Years ago, when we first visited Portugal, we had been terribly lost on our way to Pedrogao Grande and drove in Coimbra on the wrong side of a yet-to-be opened motorway. However, our fears were all for naught. We did not get lost, and we found cheap parking rather quickly by looking at the city on Google Map before we left home. We gave 1 euro to the man who said he would watch over our car. Then, we walked to IMTT.

Again, we took a number. Again, we waited. Again, we were called before lunch. This time, when the clerk disappeared, she took longer. When she returned, she called over the security guard, who spoke good English, to translate for her.

The New York Abstract was unacceptable. How did I get this document? It looks like something that I could have made myself. Also, the letter from the U.S. Embassy was unsigned. I argued to no avail. The clerk showed me a sample of what she would accept as valid. She found another application with a New York licence, which had the seal and signature of the Portuguese Consulate in New York, a consulate certificate for the amount of $16. She was convinced that this acceptable Abstract was different from mine. I pointed out to her that they were exactly the same; the raised seal belonged to the Portuguese Consulate.

So, this Portuguese Consulate document must have been the “embassy” document to which the driving school official referred on the our second visit.

The IMTT official in Coimbra had made up another required document because the New York Abstract did not have a raised seal. New York stopped issuing abstracts with raised seals long before I requested my driving record. The Portuguese Consulate requirement was the Catch-22. It is not the written law, but IMTT in Coimbra requires it. I cannot try to change it because it is not the law.

I was polite, but I was angry. I was being asked to supply documentation, which would prove nothing. At this point, I figured that I had the option of not exchanging my licence.

While calming down, Huw and I walked around the stately Coimbra University, which is built on a steep hill. I concentrated on my breathing.

After our visit, I emailed the Portuguese Consul, but the email bounced back to me. I telephoned the Consulate in New York and left a message with my email address. Then, I wrote a letter explaining my situation. It is February, and I have not heard from the Consulate.

If I lived in New York, like the person whose licence application I was shown, I would have a better chance to obtain the Consulate’s letter. I would be able to visit the office, repeatedly.

A week ago, I wrote a letter to Barbara Fiala, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Motor Vehicles. I asked her for the original document. I keep procrastinating, but I will write a letter to IMTT headquarters in Lisboa.

Another option is to ask my sister, Dorla, to visit the Portuguese Consulate in Manhattan. I hesitate because time is at a premium for her working in Brooklyn and living on Long Island with her husband and two children, next door to our mother and brother. Somehow, I know that two visits would be the minimum and frustration an inevitable component, when she finds the office closed or unresponsive.

Also, I could visit the Portuguese Consulate when I visit my family in New York this summer. Huw and I asked about the time validity of my documents, The Coimbra IMTT clerk told us that only the doctor’s certificate could time out. It is valid for six months.

Unfortunately, required documents seem to change rather frequently. Who knows what the situation will require in the summer.

After my initial anger, I felt despondent. Now, I know that I can only do what I can do. If I have done everything I can to satisfy the law, then I have done so.

It has been a learning experience.

*** *** *** ***

The museums that we have visited within a one-hour radius of Fiais da Beira have been delights, each and every one. Entry has been either free or a few euros per person. Also, all have had free car parks.

The Museu de Caramulo was the first.

Huw had read that it was an antique car museum. We almost went there on our way to live here in August. Thankfully, it was closed for lunch. Driving several days from the ferry in Bilbao through Galicia and northern and western Portugal, where we camped in our Mazda Bongo, we were exhausted with frayed nerves. We postponed our visit. On our way from Caramulo, we had difficulty finding our way out of a nearby town. Finally, after driving around in circles for 20 minutes, we drove out.

In early September, we returned to the museum. By that time, we knew that most places closed for lunch and reopened at 2 p.m. So, we took the scenic drive through the Caramulo mountains, without getting lost, and arrived fresh and ready for the visit. I had had time to do more research on the museum and knew that it was a renowned museum of art as well as antique cars, much of it the collection of one man.

So, we entered the front of the imposing columned museum and were told that the art wing was on the left side of the building. Because Caladon loves cars, I knew that we would not get to see the art if we did not start there first. There were paintings and sculptures. There were Picassos and Portuguese artists who were new to me. I was impressed and a bit rushed toward the end, but what a find!

Downstairs we walked where Caladon led, and we crossed the reception area to the motor vehicle side. The exhibits began with the oldest vehicles such as cars that resembled horse and carriages without the horse. So, we saw Mercedes vehicles, but we also saw European makes with which we were not familiar. There were Indian motorcycles and Harley-Davidsons from the United States. On the walls were historical posters and advertisements, some of which publicised the annual antique car run at Caramulo in September. One of the fantastic aspects of the museum cars is that they are all in running order.

The final showroom of the building contained hundreds of miniature toy automobiles and vehicle-related toys. Two display cases were chockfull of toys. Caladon was riveted to the floor mesmerized by the contents as was I.

We tore ourselves away to visit the second and final building of antique vehicles. There were Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs, Ferraris and MGs. Several had had famous owners or passengers such as Pope John XXIII and former Prime Minister Antonio Salazar, who founded the authoritarian government of the New State, which controlled Portugal from 1932 to 1974. Again, who would have expected so many more cars on the ground floor and first.

Museu de Caramulo was fantastic!

For all of our two hours there, we shared the space with no more than two other visitors. We had the time to read and examine and dream of what it would have been like to drive any of the vehicles. It was great to have the choice of returning to exhibits to check dates and other data. When we left the museum, passengers were leaving a coach in the museum car park. We were lucky to have arrived at the time that we did in the morning.

On another sunny Sunday, we visited the Roman ruins at Conimbraga. It seems that some museums do not have an entry charge on Sundays. Museum workers waved us in at Conimbraga, which was a major transit town between from Lisbon and Rome.

Conimbraga was quite prosperous. The ruins consisted of two baths and several rich homes, which have left behind much of their mosaic floors. They are located over a wide expanse, where we spent more than an hour exclaiming at the richness of the Roman remains.

Huw and I have been to the Roman ruins at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, which was the home of one person. At Conimbraga, we saw the remains of several houses of the rich. It was overwhelming.

At reception, the museum worker gave us a map and brochure in English, which were helpful.

In one area, there were ornate Roman houses above ground and the simple houses of the indigenous people underground. The exhibit was simply done but effective at showing the different peoples’ placement in time.

Effectiveness. This is what is apparent at museums in the heart of Portugal. The curators have planned their museums so that ideas are conveyed efficiently and easily. As a visitor, concepts are explained in more than one way.

At Conimbraga, there were a few other families. However, given the size of the ruins, it was easy to give others space and to have it for ourselves.

In the reception area of the building exhibit, there were ambitious books for sale in the display case and a few other items. Museums do not focus on selling. They do not trivialise their subjects.

We had brought a picnic for lunch and found one of several tables on the site, which was covered with buttercups. It was October! I felt happy to be in a place where the land was smiling back at me with life in the autumn.

Around another table, a dozen international students were occupying two benches, a table and the grassy area around them. They talked in Portuguese, all of them, about where they had lived and where they were living now. It seemed as though the world was emigrating constantly. The students were learning new languages as needed, using their known languages to help them grasp the basics of the other. They rattled off the names of their spoken languages, and there were a minimum of three each.

Now and in the future, I believe that a working knowledge of three languages will be more the norm. Portuguese politicians are telling their students to leave the country for work. A television news report showed a handful of matriculated medical students leaving Lisbon airport for Britain, where they had attained visas and jobs. Their families accompanied them, crying and clutching and wishing that they would be able to stay in their country if there were jobs. There have been demonstrations with university students carrying placards that say, “I don’t want to emigrate.”

I understand the desire to stay home. However, training and skills have to be in the areas that home can accommodate. In the future, more and more people will bounce back and forth, either returning home for long stretches of home or, eventually, moving back. Portuguese already do this. In the summer for village festas, Portuguese return from Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and other countries.

We had been waiting for a Sunday with good weather when we were not working on the land to visit a few museums in Viseu and the local area. Once in late autumn, we set out late at 10 and arrived in Viseu at11 in heavy rain, which did not let up as we searched for a restaurant. Finally, with sodden socks and shoes, we gave up and drove home.

In January, we planned a trip to Gelo shopping centre to look for a school bag lighter than the computer bag that Caladon had been using for his books. We also wanted a Physical Education bag, which was roomier than the makeshift bags that Caladon had been taking to school. This time, we left home at 9 and, on the way, chose a museum to visit before shopping.

Caladon picked the Quartz Museum. So, we drove the ring road out of Viseu and followed the brown signs to the museum in Campo. The signage was very clear. However, we questioned it as we turned into a village and then drove out of it before turning right into what looked like a national forest. We followed the road until we came to the museum, which looked just like its picture: new and glassy.

There was, however, one car in the car park. Was it open? I jumped out to find out. A notice on the door directed visitors to press the bell button. So, I did. A few minutes later, a museum worker welcomed me, and I went off to collect Huw and Caladon. We parked, climbed the steps and were greeted again. There were two museum workers there who were geologists available to answer any questions. We were given the English translation to the Portuguese descriptions of the exhibits.

We found that the museum was situated at a former quarry pit and planned by a Portuguese geologist. I liked that the museum did not cater to the lowest common denominator. There was a Periodic Table on display and a hands-on display that allowed visitors to combine two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen to make water. A ground display showed items that use quartz in various time periods up to the present time. A fabulous display of quartz pieces from Portugal, South America and other parts of the world took some time to wander through.

The Museu de Electridad near Seia in the Estrella Mountains was another gem. Electricity was brought to the area in 1909 at the time that donkeys were used to carry poles and tools over rough terrain. There were incredible photographs and film footage that astounded me.

Downstairs were generators and upstairs were several rooms with electrical scientific experiments set up for visitors. You could, for example, connect electrical wires and ring the bell of a moped.

Near the end of our visit, a group of owners of vintage Mercedes-Benzes arrived, giving us an amazing photograph of parked beauties.

*** *** *** ***

The 40 days of Lent, or Quaresma, has been an incredibly busy time. It seems that many of our plans have come to fruition at the same time, including the purchase of a Portuguese-registered car.

Lent began, however, after a big party. We basked in two hours of procession of Carnaval at Canas de Senhorim, which is near Nelas. In the autumn, on the advice of Professora Isabel Rosa, Caladon’s head teacher, we had visited Canas to see its medieval festival. Townspeople were dressed for the time period, stalls were aplenty, some with shoes and other leather goods, and there was cheese, ham, sweets and other food. We had a great time there, and we knew how to get there.

Carnaval was much more than I expected partly because Canas is not that large. Yet, we followed a cavalcade of cars into the town and parked where they did, on a cul de sac. Then, we followed people into town and waited where others waited on the side of a street. While I bought two candy flosses, which took some time as the vendor started the machine for me and then gave me two double candy flosses, the parade began with aerialists.

Carnaval in Canas de Senhorim was a fantastic show with enough bystanders to make it festive but not so many that we had to struggle to see or feel a part of it.

Caladon had a few days’ holiday from school for Carnaval. His birthday, the 13th of February, was one of those days. In the United Kingdom, he was often on holiday because of half-term. There are no half-term holidays in Portugal. Caladon’s school schedule resembles my own when I grew up in New York. He has bank holidays throughout the year, two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter and a 3-month summer holiday beginning in early June. His birthday felt more festive this year because of Carnaval. He turned 10!

Since we arrived in August, Caladon has been asking for birds as pets. It is not surprising. For two years, he has been reading about birds, watching them and saying that he wants to be an ornithologist when he grows up. Here, in Portugal, it is not unusual to hear the singing of canaries or chirping of lovebirds in a DIY, or do-it-yourself hardware, shop or any other kind of shop. In Fiais da Beira, a few houses from where we lived when we first arrived, about 50 doves were kept in house-high wire cages in the garden of a neighbour. And Peter and Ute have a bird. They had told us early on not to buy a cage because they had spare cages.

So, on Caladon’s Carnaval holiday, he asked for the cage and prepared it. He researched how to care for lovebirds as he had chosen these parrots. During our time here, we had visited pet shops in Oliveira do Hospital, Tabua and Viseu. We had seen a good selection of birds at Bric Marche outside Viseu. So, we went there. In one cage, there were many lovebirds, all of them seemingly paired, including Rosie and Green-leaf, whom Caladon picked quickly. On the hour-drive home, Caladon cradled the cardboard box that held them and directed Huw on how to drive carefully around roundabouts and over speed bumps.

So, Caladon takes care of the two new members of the family. A few weeks after coming home, Rosie and Green-leaf had three eggs. Caladon is convinced that Rosie is female and Green-leaf is male. It does seem that Rosie spends most of her time in the birdhouse on the eggs, while Green-leaf casts around for something to do in the cage. However, both of them fray palm fronds, which is a female habit, according to Peter and Ute, and carry them on their back into their house.

When the eggs hatch in a few weeks, we will see whether we have a few more members of our family. Coincidentally, we have met an English couple, Martyn and Sue, who have more than 50 parrots. If Rosie and Green-leaf have chicks, Sue has offered to hand rear them. It would mean that they would be tame enough to allow us to handle them.

Martyn and Sue sold us their Portuguese-registered car, a 1999 Skoda Octavia. We had been planning to buy a car since August, and we had been looking intermittently. After six months of living here, Portuguese law says that your car must be registered in Portugal. Cars from other countries may be registered here for a fee. We wanted to change our car anyway. For one thing, driving a right-hand car in Portugal is awkward.

We are all happy with the car. Both Martyn and Sue were driving instructors in the U.K. The Skoda is impeccable and only has 66,000 kilometres, or 41,010 miles.

It is good that we waited this long to buy a car. Seven years ago, when we first visited Portugal, we planned on buying a robust 4x4. We were viewing ruins that were miles from a main road. Property developers quoted us the cost of putting in roads. Sometimes, we had to park and scramble to them. At that time, we wanted to get away from it all and live in an isolated spot. I think that our feelings reflected our frustration with life in crowded Britain and the solitary beauty of the quintas.

We had a fanciful view of our life in Portugal.

Last year, when we looked for property, things had changed for us. For one thing, Caladon was in school. When we lived in Chepstow, Caladon and I walked to school. However, when we moved back to Cornwall, we were three miles from Harrowbarrow School, and it was not an easy walk. One hill, in particular, Luckett hill, was challenging to everyone. The other obstacle was the traffic. Once you topped Luckett hill, you turned onto a lovely, sinuous road from the town of Callington. Lorries and cars sped on that road, which was dangerous for pedestrians. So, for a year, before we sold our house at Middle Hampt, we drove Caladon back and forth from school everyday. It seemed onerous. Harrowbarrow Hall car park heaved with cars at the start and end of the school day. The car park often was an obstacle course. When we moved to Harrowbarrow in December, Caladon walked a few minutes to and from school. He loved the independence.

If we could not live in walking distance of school, we wanted, at least, to live walking distance from the bus stop.

Our property, located on the fringe of the village, is a 15-minute walk from the school bus stop. Yet, when we arrived in Portugal, we had not adjusted our requirements for a vehicle. In the summer, the first vehicle which we seriously considered was a 4x4 1998 diesel Suzuki Vitari with 69,000 kilometres, or 42,875 miles for 4,500 euros. It had been parked in at Ervedal Cars, a car lot a few miles from us. Unfortunately, the lot stayed locked, and no signs displayed selling prices. Two months after we first saw the Vitari, I telephoned the advertised car lot number. I arranged that we should meet there later that day. We asked the relevant questions. Although we wanted to look around more, both Huw and I were convinced that we would be buying that vehicle. If it were selling for 500 to 1,000 euros less, we probably would not have hesitated to close the deal. For us, another advantage to buying from that lot was the convenience of knowing its location and its proximity to us.

The months drifted on. Before Christmas, I began to question our need for a 4x4. I wanted a vehicle that gave us more miles to the gallon than our Mazda Bongo. I moved to the extreme of very small cars and soon realised that they would be too small for shifting boxes, bags and all the things we have been carting around in the Bongo.

In the meantime, the Vitari had disappeared from the lot.

Huw and I began looking at online websites, including the national Custo Justo and the expatriate www.carsinportugal.com. On Custo Justo, we discovered a car lot 10 miles away in Povoa de Midoes. Our second contender for a family car was a diesel with 40,000 kilometres, or 24,855 miles, on the clock. After driving by once, we talked with the car lot salesman. Advertised as 3,300 euros, he seemed to be saying that it would be 3,800 if the car lot took it through its IPO inspection, which is the MOT, or annual car inspection, here. I say seem because I am not quite sure what he was saying. What held me back was his comment that it had had only one owner, an old lady. I suppose the old lady might have liked the Rolling Stones enough to have a Stones sticker on the car. The salesman was in his 20s; she could have been 40. Anyway, both Huw and I felt that something terrible had happened to the car in its past.

One day, we drove past the lot, and the car had gone.

We found two cars on Custo Justo. The first one, a Renault Kangoo, disappeared from the website in one day. The second was a 2000 Citroen Berlingo with 150,000 kilometres, or 93206 miles, for 3,000 euros. I sent an email and never received a reply.

At that point, Huw and I realised that the chances of us getting a bargain on Custo Justo were low. If I were a Portuguese seller, I would want to deal with someone with whom I could easily communicate and who knew the process of buying and selling cars in Portugal. If I received 10 emails in good Portuguese and one not, I would respond to one of the 10.

I looked at www.carsinportugal.com. By luck, Martyn and Sue’s Skoda Octavia was advertised for 3,995 euros. I emailed them for photographs. We liked the look of it. We liked the low mileage. We arranged to see it the next day in Vila Nova de Poiares, which is an hour from here.

The car lived up to its photographs. We took a drive and agreed to buy it on Saturday. Martyn agreed to have the right window repaired for us. By Thursday, we drove back to pick up the car and pay for it.

The buying and selling of cars have to be registered at the Finance Office. So, we all drove to the Finance Office in Vila Nova de Poiares. After asking downstairs, we made our way to the top floor of the building. Registering the transaction was easy. I showed my residency paper, my fiscal number, and I paid 65 euros. Martyn showed the car registration papers. I was told that in two weeks, I would receive the car registration by post. I did receive it.

So, we have the right car for us. And we met nice people.

*** *** *** ***

CORRECTION: "Bramble, Bracken and Broom" (3) stated that there are no secondary schools in Belize outside of Belize City. This is an error for which I apologise.

#livinginPortugal #babyboomersredefineretire #Belizeculture

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