The Spring Beaches of Portugal

Guincho, Portugal

The old man and the sea. Regardless of the season, or the weather, or the day of the week, he will be sitting on the big rock between the shore and the endless ocean. Just sitting. Watching. Resting. Contemplating. Nodding.

Like most Portuguese people, regardless of age, he wears sunglasses and a typical hat. Yet he can’t help winking and shielding his face with one hand from the sparkling sun; the other hand clutching yesterday’s newspaper, which might have been wrapped around a fresh flounder just this morning.

The air is pregnant with the scent of salt and moisture on this magnificent morning of blue skies as I walk onto the sand near the old man and the sea. I hear him murmur, so I turn my eyes to his weathered form.

A leathery and wrinkled face beneath the same type of hat has joined him. Together, the two men gaze at the blinding reflection of the sun against the horizon of the ocean. Unpacking fishing gear and bucket, they exchange a few words. Then the conversation ends. Patience and contentment take over the scene.

The silence and the sun’s comforting warmth lulls me into a deep revelry – and then, wham! – icy drops of cold water yank me from my peaceful state. Tall, unruly waves roll against the sharp rocks nearby, breaking against the small boats anchored at the dock just feet away. Brushing away the intruding wetness, I move back from the sea and continue my observation.

Buoyed on top of sleek white surfboards, youngsters in black suits crawl across the water towards the horizon, eager to catch the next Big Bad Wave. Due to the constant exposure to sun, their long wet hair has more highlights than most other locals, for Portuguese hair is usually quite dark. I watch as surfers on the shore, wearing colorful Hawaiian shorts and shirts, shout with glee as they run to meet the eager waves.

It is just another typical spring day on the shores of Portugal.

Before making my home in the seaside village of São João do Estoril, I had imagined that the beaches would be deserted during this season. But in fact, the opposite is true: During summer, the walkway is empty, as everybody is sun-bathing in a horizontal position on the sand, while in spring and spring, people get their daily significant sun time in a vertical setting, either jogging, bicycling, walking their dogs, fishing, rollerblading or simply ocean-watching.

Just the other day, I watched a mother and her little girl have a picnic right next to the water. With her mouth still full of food, the girl pointed her finger at the horizon in total joy at a school of dolphins passing by.

The spring brings it own special beauty. While summer is a time for beach-lovers to focus on themselves and others, nature takes center stage during the spring. For it is in spring that nature shows her authority, her power.

That strength is ever present. My friendly, elderly neighbor has warned me on various occasions not to approach the water too closely, as powerful waves have sucked people into the vast waters, never to be seen again.

There is something compelling about the spring sea. I am mesmerized by its movements, its rhythms, and its strength. The constant roar of waves is a song to my ear, and my eyes grow weary watching seagulls overhead swoop and soar.

Such sights and sounds are regenerating food for the soul, a massage for the body wrought by inhuman hands. Best of all, the relaxation, the sights, the endless beauty come at no charge or expense. Nature’s best show costs nothing at all.