Algarve — One of the world’s safe destinations

Once again the US is in a tizzy over another mass shooting, this time in downtown New York City in broad daylight. It must be terrible to live in a country where fear of your own personal safety is so prevalent. I live most of my year in the relative safety of Canada. And each time I visit the Algarve I am struck by how much safer I feel there than anywhere else.

Even single women can feel safe wandering Algarve’s beaches

Not that anywhere there are lots of people one is ever totally free from crime, but in the Algarve and Portugal there really isn’t a big worry about personal safety, nor food safety for that matter. If you are someone who likes to party hearty, heading for the local bar scene and staying out ’til the wee hours of the morning, the threat might increase slightly. There is something about the mix of youth, drink, and drugs that begets violence I find.

But except for that, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who visit the Algarve who have horror stories to tell. Not like my friend who has a permanent scar on her lip from being assaulted with a machete on a beach in Barbados. At some places, usually parking lots near very popular beaches, you might have your car broken into, but that’s about it in my experience. And even that is relatively rare given the volume of tourists who visit this tiny region each year.

I recommend a purse that drapes across the body for safety and so you don’t get a pinched nerve in your shoulder

A friend was visiting me recently and the Algarve’s safety was very much on her mind as she considers a visit this winter. She was extremely pleased to know that there is so little violent crime. She was also extremely pleased to know that you don’t have to wash, peel and cook fruits and vegetables before eating them. Remember, this is both a first world country and one that is not tropical so parasites and critters are no more common here than elsewhere in Europe. She was also liked hearing that cockroaches are not a big issue either, nor is heavy spraying common to keep them down, as it is in Mexico and Caribbean locations.

Some locals having a chat after their visit to Loule mercado

So if you are looking for a safe place to enjoy a relaxing time, I can recommend Portugal and it’s sunny Algarve region very highly. Mind you, you can’t be an idiot about it. Put valuables out of sight in the trunk before you get to your destination. Lock your car. Keep your passport & credit cards in a safe place. Don’t walk down a street you don’t feel comfortable about, day or night. And don’t wander the streets late at night under the influence of drugs & alcohol. Pretty much the same rules you’d live by at home.

Come for a visit and rediscover how to truly enjoy yourself!

The High Cost of Roaming

Silves Town Square is a Delightful Place with Free WiFi

We all need to remember to pack our smarts when we leave on a trip.  I always think I do, and sometimes I’m surprised to discover that I only brought my brains – my smarts got left behind.  And nowhere is this more true than being aware of the high costs of data roaming charges for international travel.

Like on my recent trip to the Algarve.  Before I left home I downloaded a whole bunch of apps for my beloved iPhone.  I can now turn it into a flashlight, play a bunch of games, find free wi-fi spots, listen to CBC radio ‘live streaming’.  I even got an app that allows me to take pictures and then have them inserted into a map so that family, friends and clients can track my progress.  How wonderful!  What I totally forgot, despite being warned about the high cost of international data roaming charges, is that most of these apps use data transfer in order to function.  Duuh.

So I merrily explored the Algarve once again, vaguely aware that I was using my iPhone more than in the past but secure in the knowledge that I had all these new apps and had pretty much figured each of them out.  Roaming charges didn’t even register in my mind.

Now I’m not a stupid person.  I made no phone calls ‘cause they were $2.00/minute.  I sent no e-mail (but I did download my inbasket regularly, alas) and I was very prudent with my texting, using it only a dozen or so times at a cost of $.75/message.  My carrier had kindly reminded me to pay attention to these International travel pitfalls.  But I wasn’t very smart.

The penny never dropped that each time I searched for free wi-fi’s I was sending and receiving data.  The one or two times that I tuned into CBC Radio it never occurred to me how much data was flowing.  And that great picture taking/tracking app that I kept testing has been sitting unused since I got back 3 weeks ago.  Too much else to do.

My bill arrived yesterday.  My heart attack thankfully didn’t arrive, but the palpitations I received from looking at that bill are still echoing!  $600 in data roaming charges for a 2 week trip.  I doubt that I used my iPhone for more than 5 minutes a day.  Oh Lord, why didn’t I just go and pay €10/hr at an Internet café instead of trying to find something ‘free’, at a much higher cost.

So next time I’ll definitely remember my smarts.  I might even try to find an app that tells me how much I’ve spent in roaming charges!  My advice to you is put those wonderful electronic devices away.  Bring a laptop, go to an Internet café or one of the many town squares with free wi-fi, connect with people at home via Skype.  Enjoy knowing that you won’t receive any post-vacation surprises in the mail!

Let the waters flow

Even in fog the vistas can be spectacular

This is my first Algarve trip in low season and it is definitely different. The locals are quite distressed because there has been so much rain. And indeed, it feels quite odd to be here without sunshine a major feature of each day. But fear not. Even with overcast skies for much of the time the sun can’t help but peek out with great regularity. And the temperatures remain in the high teens so a light sweater is all that is necessary to be comfortable.

On the up side things are incredibly green. Greener than I’ve ever seen the Algarve in my many visits. There are moments when I almost wonder if they haven’t scooped up a bit of Ireland and dropped here in southern Portugal!

I took a drive into the Serra de Monchique yesterday and was well rewarded for my troubles. The trip up to Foia was very interesting. I hit low-lying clouds about half-way up and continued the rest of the way in very poor visibility. When I reached the top I was within a few feet of the tourist information centre before it loomed out of the fog. Fortunately I knew the country road on the back side that I was looking for, although it did feel a bit intimidating to head downwards into countryside I couldn’t see. Never fear, though. Before long I was in sunshine, passing through old farmland, herds of sheep and tiny valleys of oak and citrus orchards. The small mountain streams were swollen with rapidly flowing water. I regularly passed waterfalls spilling off small cliffs. Quite delightful I must say.

So although the Algarve in January isn’t the warm, sunny place I’ve grown to expect, it has other delights to offer the intrepid traveler willing to get away from the beachfront. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience what I gather is a rare occurrence in these parts. Flowing mountain streams and waterfalls happen very intermittently and are experienced by few. Lucky me!