Reverse Culture Shock

It’s been a long time since I posted. I spent almost 2 months back in the U.S. before returning back home to Estombar, Portugal. Here’s a quick synopsis of my time in the U.S.

  1. SoCal and Idaho trip
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Charleston
  4. Finger Lakes, New York
  5. Portland, Maine
  6. Boston, Mass.
  7. Cape Cod & Returning home to my vineyard!

This first post in the series will recount my initial time in SoCal, a quick trip to Idaho and my initial shock at the difference in everyday costs.

On July 14th, arrived at the Faro, Portugal airport about 8:00 to take a COVID test. I passed and boarded my British Airways flight to London Heathrow and to my final destination in Los Angeles. I arrived later that same evening, albeit after 20 hours or so of travel.

Lunch near Praia da Rocha – restaurant ‘A Casa da Rocha’

First a little background. In December 2020, I applied for my Portuguese D7 visa through an online portal. In January of 2021, I visited the VSF office in San Francisco and turned in my documents live. Later that month I left Southern California for a cross country road trip to Charleston, South Carolina. In February, while in Charleston, I received my visa and departed the U.S. on March 1st. I arrived on March 2nd and came straight down to the Algarve. I stayed on the vineyard which is now my new home, but at the time my place wasn’t ready yet and I was occupying another apartment on the vineyard. Because of the delays caused by COVID, the certificate of occupancy for the new villa wouldn’t be available until August 2021, but I didn’t know that in March. Portugal was in a lockdown when I arrived and slowly started to open in mid-April. I had my immigration appointment in late June in Lisbon. I passed and was authorized to stay in Portugal as a resident. Yeah! My residency is valid for 2 years, until June of 2023. Very exciting. I toured Lisbon that same week and then spent 2 weeks in Porto before finally taking a trip back home to see friends and family. Since I wasn’t sure when the occupancy permits would become available for the villa, I decided to stay in the states a couple of months.

My base in SoCal was a very nice condo in Mission Viejo rented through a friend of a friend. The owner of the condo was in Idaho, which we will visit later.

I ended up renting a car through Turo because the traditional car rental companies were asking about $100 USD per day due to the car shortage experienced as a result of COVID lockdowns and the damage it did to infrastructure and business in general. The rental through Turo was about 1/2 the price and this included a bit of extra insurance I purchased through Turo. In case those reading are not aware of Turo, it’s sort of the “Airbnb” of the car rental world. It’s a car sharing program in most major U.S. cities as well as Toronto and London. Not getting any kickbacks but I had a great experience and would do it again depending on how competitive it is relative to the car rental companies when I visit the U.S.

Rafting in Idaho

Primary purpose of my time in SoCal was to visit family and friends but the side note of that was also to get a bit of travel in. The first was a short 3 day trip to Idaho. I’d never been to Idaho before, not even flying through. Southwest had a great non-stop from Orange County to Boise. The friend that owns the condo in Mission Viejo picked us up on Boise and took us back to her place about 2 hours north of Boise! So she drove down 2 hours to get us and then drove the 2 hours to get back to her place. She also did this when she took us back a few days later. Super nice.

Lake Cascade – front yard

The cabin we stayed was right on Lake Cascade. We had a great time at the cabin; talking, drinking wine and munching on tasty nibbles. Something we did which did not involve relaxing but having fun was a river rafting adventure. I had never done this before but I had a blast. It’s not something I would have done on my own and I was glad it was arranged for me and I just had to go along. We also went to The Cutwater on Payette Lake and had a great lunch.

Price per gallon, Southern California, in USD – July 2021

It was great seeing family and friends. It was SHOCKING to see how much gasoline prices were in SoCal as well as the high price of everything compared with Portugal. I must say, gas in Portugal is more expensive than in the U.S. Gas here is about $1.50 USD per liter and it’s almost 4 liters to make a gallon. But, I don’t have a car here yet so this one doesn’t get me that much. Plus, the whole country of Portugal is about the size of Indiana so the distances are not that much. My biggest expense in Portugal is my mortgage at about $550 USD per month and after that, is my luxurious spend on food and booze. Typically about 50 Euros a week or about $65 USD. I don’t like to go out that much as I normally like the wine and booze I bartend and my own cooking vs. eating out, but when I eat out in the Algarve, I spend about 20 Euros on a nice lunch. This typically includes a couple of glasses of wine and a nice meal. This also normally includes kick ass views of the sea. If I didn’t have the sea view, I’m pretty sure I could spend closer to 10 Euros. As in most places around the world, a view will cost you.

That $30 California Rib-eye

But back in the U.S. while I was staying at the condo in Mission Viejo, I spent almost $30USD (35 EU) on 1 steak! (today, $1USD = 1.17 EUR) or roughly 1/2 of my whole week’s worth of groceries in Portugal. We should also note that I am in one of the most “expensive” parts of Portugal. The first is Lisbon and then one could probably argue that the Algarve is more expensive than Porto. I certainly think that most of the year the rents are pretty equivalent but I found that the restaurants in the area of the Algarve I am located (Portimao/Estombar) are also pretty equivalent to what I spent in Porto. At least in the types of restaurants I like with either a view, in the Algarve, or nice setting/modern, in Porto, the restaurants seem to be pretty close in price.

I paid 30 Euros for that rapid COVID test I took at Faro airport in Portugal and would later pay $200 USD for the rapid test in Boston before returning. Just another example of the price differences between the US and Portugal. It’s one reason I chose to relocate but it was shocking to see it in action.

Next week we’ll go to Vegas, baby!

Benagil Cave/Cliffside Boat Ride

There are a gazillion (true word – fact checked!) tours from many parts of the Central and Western Algarve to the Benagil Cave. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the Algarve and our boat tour operator tells us, the default photo for Windows 95! Dating ourselves, are we?

It was a pretty warm, humid day in May. Portugal has just opened up I went on Airbnb Experiences and found a boat tour from my current hometown, Portimaio, Portugal, to the coves nearby. The Benagil Caves are world famous. Most of this Southern Portuguese coastline is lime cliffs, coves and surf. I am not a particularly sporty person. I love being by the beach, hearing the waves, looking at the coast, cliffs, etc. I’m not a good swimmer and somewhat fear the ocean. So, you are not going to find me surfing or swimming. I would go out on a kayak as long as I have a life jacket!

This tour only cost me about 20 Euros, or just under $25 USD at the time of this writing. Well worth the cost. The tour departed at 11am and was roughly 2 hours total. Just enough to see what you would like to see. It also gives you an opportunity to see the coast from the ocean perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must point out that the tour company was Atlantis Tours, I want to give them some props. They were very professional and, as almost everyone I’ve come in contact with in Portugal, very friendly.

Check out my quick film of my day out.

Thank you for your SERVICE!

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S.A. Vice President Kamala Harris sent out a Tweet on Friday and people went ballistic. I suppose given her station/title/position within the U.S. system, she should have thought twice about the post but regardless, this is a holiday to celebrate, and maybe more poignantly, remember that many have died and are currently serving or have served in the Armed Forces to help further the belief that people have certain freedoms, or what on the U.S. Constitution are “inalienable rights”.

I am a child of the 80’s and remember when I couldn’t travel to “Eastern Europe” or “Russia” because they didn’t want to allow it and their citizens were not allowed to travel outside the “Bloc”. That luckily ended in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell. I have since only been to a couple of former Eastern Bloc countries and I can tell you, those that remember the restrictions are not fond of that time when Communism ruled their lives.

What do I want to say about this? First, 2 of my 3 my brothers and cousins served in the U.S. Armed forces. One of my brothers went to the Air Force, one to the Navy and both of my cousins served in the Army. One of them made the 82nd Airborne and nearly made Ranger status. What did I think when I was young and saw this? I was one of those “elitist” that thought you went to the military because you didn’t have other options. I was wrong and that elitist idea is still around today. I suppose as you grow older and rely on your own wits and try to succeed, you realize that the world does not revolve around you and that you need to consider other points of view.

Our family is white, Cuban immigrants and although my aunt had a good job in the U.S., she was fluent in English, albeit with a heavy accent which she has and is proud of to this day; my immediate family grew up on welfare. We were a one parent household, my mother did not speak English, I had the tickets at school for lunch, we didn’t have a car and I didn’t have one until I was 26 since I just didn’t have the money for a car and my priorities were to go to college and travel in the summer. Towards the end of my high school it was just my mom, my grandmother and myself since all of my brothers and cousins were gone. They were all serving during the whole Muammar Gaddafi Mediterranean “conflict”.

So, in a round about way, I want to thank my brothers, cousins and my “brothers and cousins” in the military that serve and give me the luxury of the life I’ve led and continue to lead. Thank you for your service!

Silves – Moorish Stronghold in the Algarve

Today was the second day that monuments were allowed to reopen in Portugal. In honor of being able to go do some touristy things, I went to the town of Silves which is about 20 minutes door to door from my spot at the Quinta dos Vales. The town of Silves was settle by the Romans but the influence of the Moors is evident in its most famous attraction, the Castle at the top of the old town. The Moorish stronghold had its heyday in the 1100s during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.

Parking is easily accessible. It’s located next to the public market which lies by the Arade River just south of the old town. Or just have Google maps tell you where the Lidl Silves is and the public parking is almost right in front of that on the river side. From the parking, if you are an able-bodied individual, you should get up to the castle in probably about 10 minutes. My iWatch said it was .30 miles. I turned on the exercise app and thought I was going to get a half mile or more in and was sort of disappointed. 😦

Castle interior
Castle interior

The cost to enter was just 2.8 euros. A very reasonable price for such an imposing fortress. Within its walls the structure has a bar, not yet open as of this writing, bathrooms, these were open, a nice garden area with several fountains several benches and also an area which appears to be currently under archaeological excavation but which I believe is no longer being excavated. And, impressively, there is a cistern which currently is holding an exhibit on the Iberian Lynx. The views as you might expect of the surrounding area are pretty impressive.

As this was the second day of Portugal opening its monuments, I was one of very few people in the structure. On my visit I only saw about five or six other tourists. On my way back down, I stopped over at the Cathedral da Se which unfortunately was closed for lunch!

I meandered through some of the streets. There were several restaurants allowing outdoor seating and of course the groups were small, as per regulations. Before departing, I took a nice walk along a riverside path which was adjacent to the parking area. In the parking area there is a municipal market, exposition center, campground, a skate park with a couple of skate ramps, and a few cafes along the river. Again, the cafes along the river and the municipal market were following current protocols and only allowing outdoor seating. As not much was still open, I only spent a couple of hours in the town before returning to my home base at the vineyard.

If you want to learn more about Silves, it’s history, and the Algarve, check out some of these links: