Beach baby

My life has always been inextricably linked to the beach, the sea – one way or another. I’m a true “Beach baby” like the song by First Class I heard back in the seventies.

I was born in a city by the Indian sea, and I have photos of my first years where I am dipping my toes into the sea water with a look of delight in my face… years later, when I was twelve, I remember another day at Costa do Sol (the beach of our city, Lourenço Marques) when my friends and I smoked our first cigarette and then I – who was terrified my grandparents would notice it in my breath – gargled with seawater so that it would disappear – and almost vomited in the process!

While in Mozambique we often went to South Africa and my favourite beach there was in Durban – in fact it was more precisely in Umhlanga rocks. The beach was huge, with golden-white sand, and a beautiful turquoise sea…fortunately I never saw any sharks! We still went back a few times after coming to live in Lisbon and I remember the incredible feeling of being in the summer when in Portugal it was wintertime…and one day, when I was coming out of the beach with my cousin Robbie, the sand was so hot that we had to stop every few metres and stand on one of our towels so that our feet might cool off a bit and we could resume our race to the street…

During my teens we’d go to Costa da Caparica, on the other side of the Tagus Bridge. We’d usually go to a beach with an inspiring name – the “Siren’s beach” – and a big group would gather there. We would dive in the waves, we would go for long, long walks, we would hide in the dunes when we wanted to be alone with a certain special person…we’d take our cassette recorders and listen to our favourite songs (such as the appropriately called “Dunas” by the Portuguese rock band GNR)…we’d rub on indescribable suntan lotions and ointments; back then the real issue was how to enhance your tan, there was no talk about sun protection. Back in Mozambique we used to rub our bodies with Coke as it was said it allowed for a perfect tan…I wonder we were never attacked by ants! But in my teens the fashionable sun products were some Spanish ointments that we knew by their original titles “té” and “”zanahoria”, as they were respectively made of tea and carrots. And according to the one we used so was the colour we got: if we used the tea ointment we would get a brownish tan: on the contrary, if we used carrot our tan would be sort of orange…I much preferred “té”, of course. The brownish tan looked much nicer!

When the days were very warm we’d stay on the beach almost until sundown and it was lovely to just sit there talking and looking at the seagulls that landed on the sand. There was a nostalgic feeling in the air, of the day past, but also a promise of the evening to come and of other summer days when we would return…and of course the promise of a long traffic jam back to Lisbon as even then it was an ordeal to cross the bridge!

During our family holidays in Madeira it was much more the sea than the beach, as there were no sand beaches there. But the Savoy hotel, where we stayed, had a fantastic access to the sea and we swam a lot. We used to swim from our hotel to the Sheraton – a few hundred metres away. We’d triumphantly go for a swim at their swimming pool and then swim back. Or we’d take a pedal boat and go as far as we could and then swim in the open dark blue sea – it was exhilarating. Or we’d get together with our friends and pay for the expensive 10 minute boat ride (on the water ski motor boat), where we would explore the rocky shores of the island and ask the driver, who had known us since we were children, to extend the ride so that we could have more time on the boat. And how we loved the speed!

There were also the beaches on the Algarve where I used to spend a few days in July with my father, stepmother and some friends and relatives. The sea was mostly warm and very calm, so we spent hours in it talking to each other and just letting ourselves be rocked by the soft waves.

Then as an adult, my favourite beaches were those of Arrábida (some 40 kilometres south of Lisbon), where the sea water is still like a swimming pool’s and cool, very cool. I was fascinated by those beaches and by their surroundings, the mountain of Arrábida, where an old monastery beckoned to us with its long ago mysteries.

For our honeymoon we chose a very different beach, that of a Croatian island where all the women went topless and I would spend hours in the warm Adriatic water listening to the sound of the bell of yet another old monastery in the midst of the trees that came almost to the sea…

After Afonso was born we rented a small house near the cooler, rougher Atlantic beaches around Sintra, where the mornings were shrouded with mist and some – only some – of the afternoons were sunny and warm. Afonso first came to these beaches when he was two and at first he was so afraid of the sound of the waves that we could not approach the sea – he has come a long way from that to the surfer he is today. As for Pedro, he was practically “born” there, as we began taking him to the beach at 6 months… we have an incredible photo of Miguel with all the paraphernalia we needed to take two children to the beach – the baby stroller, the beach buckets, the little inflatable pool, several bathing shorts to change, diapers, baby food, extra towels to cover them while they were having their nap…

We kept going to that beach. Exceptionally, we went on a holiday to Brazil – where the boys were crazy about the warm water – and to Cape Verde, where again they had the same feeling. But they really loved the waves of the beach they had been going to since they were small and, as much as they liked going to new places, they always wanted to come back “home”, as they said.

We still go to the same beach, the “big beach” as it is called, of the long strand of sand and the huge strong waves. The beach buckets have been substituted by surfing boards or playing cards in the boy’s case. In our case we now bring our chairs so that we may comfortably read our newspapers and books. We have now taken to going to the beach in motorbikes, as parking a car is almost impossible – or quite expensive. So both the young and the more mature – meaning older – all arrive in their motorbikes, making a somewhat difficult balance between bags, towels, sun parasols and beach chairs…then we stop at the beach café for a coffee and the inevitable “bola de berlim” (a Portuguese traditional cake that is very popular on certain beaches). And then we go down to the sand for another afternoon on the beach …yes, that beach still features some misty mornings, which is great for people like me who enjoy sleeping until late…

I could go on and on talking about the beach, or the beaches of my life. But no more. I can still remember a Saturday a week ago – one of the most wonderful days on that beach – the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the sea was very calm (green flag, very rare!), there was a low-tide…we left the beach at 8 pm with a similar feeling to that of so many years ago when we were the last to leave with the exception of the seagulls of course.

As I write this I think going to the beach is undoubtedly one of my greatest pleasures in life. And now I’m already thinking of the next weekend, and the approaching holidays, when again I will arrive on Nuno’s motorbike and sit down at the beach café sipping my coffee and looking at the beautiful beach down there, and feeling happy because there is no other place I’d rather be in the world…than on the beach.



The love letter