A big COVID scare and a scenic drive-thru
The guy at the drive through testing station was so surprised by my Portuguese answer that he asked me again in English.
“No, I was asking if this your first COVID test?”
“Sim,” I nodded.
Eighteen months into the pandemic this was indeed the first time a stranger had shoved a long stick up my nostrils with the apparent intention of scratching the back of my eyeballs and all I could do was giggle.
We have been very lucky with the low rates of COVID in Alentejo and although Ana had a test a few months ago ahead of a hospital appointment, I’ve never needed a nasal probe until now.
I felt quite guilty given all the tests our various international visitors have been having just to come and see us.
And we were even luckier to have been treated to what was the most stunningly beautiful drive imaginable to a COVID testing station.
We had brought Simon & Garfunkel on a road trip for a family birthday lunch just outside Lisbon and were staying with Daniel, an American refugee and our neighbour-to-be in Vale das Estrelas.
He has a beautiful place in Bombarral with plenty of room for animais and Garf really likes him…which is becoming an important consideration for our travel planning.
The big lad is gradually recovering from his knee op and enjoys riding in the back of the car… which is lucky because Millicent the Land Rover is currently in need of close protection.
So used to a safe summer rural life, she has now decided she no longer wants to lock any of her doors and likes having her back window fully down – both issues I have currently been unable to persuade her to rectify.
And I’m so used to leaving the car keys in the ignition that when we stopped at a big shopping centre on the way north I did just that.
I don’t really know why Millicent wasn’t stolen…
I’m not sure if it was the scary-looking mud-covered car with the off-road wheels, the 60kg guard dog in the back…or the fact it was a Land Rover.
I have written at length about my gradual transition into a country bumpkin, but I have nothing on Garf, who is the very definition of country bumpkin.
Also used to a rural life, he’s happiest sitting on his quiet Alentejo hillside, making a little nest under his favourite cork oak tree, sleeping outside under the stars and barking at the occasional wild boar (wild boar).
Take him to the city and he freaks out.
Simon the LA dog likes nothing better than the smell of diesel, tarmac and the wee of a million dogs, but to Garfy the pavements, traffic and people-filled streets are a big scary adventure he could do without.
And the feeling is apparently mutual, with pedestrians giving our horse/dog the widest possible berth.
We forget how large and intimidating he looks as he turns heads in town as much as Millicent’s pink eyelashes raise eyebrows in the country.
So, it was lucky that Garf was sleeping in the back of the car when we went through the COVID testing drive-through.
And Millicent was far less intimidating after Daniel got up at the crack of dawn and washed her from top to bottom.
“I owed it to her,” he told us. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know what colour she was when I started.”
(Thanks Daniel…what a difference…she looks fabulous!)
We were just reminding ourselves that Millicent is black when one of our recent visitors called us early to say she had tested positive for COVID-19 and so we should get ourselves checked.
Our plans to join Nuno’s celebratory birthday lunch were obviously shelved, as we didn’t want to risk passing anything on to the family.
We shall have to wait to give our brother-in-law his present…carefully selected from the aisles of a fishing equipment shop.
Nuno taught me to fish last summer and I’ve been waiting since then for him to accompany me on a shopping trip for fishing kit, so I can catch our supper from our local cliffs and beaches.
And so began the call-around on the search for a testing station.
Daniel has been vaccinated and we were staying in his house, so we bubbled for the 40-minute drive to the place…but what a drive it turned out to be.
Google maps took us through vineyards and forests of pine and fruit orchards, past historic towns and small rural villages.
And Daniel’s route back took us along the coast through the beach town of Nazaré where all the big surf waves surge in from the Atlantic.
It reminded us of the Central Coast of California and the cliffs and beaches around Big Sur.
We went through the beautiful Roman walled town of Óbidos which we reached via the Óbidos lagoon – a stunning wide beach of warm water and pools protected from the surf.
The whole Portuguese coastline is stunning…although we still prefer our bit of coast further south – it’s more rugged and wild and has far fewer tourists.
We didn’t feel sick – and Nik Millard who had been visiting us tested negative twice on his way back to the UK, so we were hopeful…if not overly confident.
If we’d been infected it would have been a real shame…but we have been so lucky here, especially when compared to so many friends around the world who can’t visit loved ones, who have suffered loss, and have had a torrid pandemic.
We’re so grateful to Nik for spending hours of his reconnaissance trip helping us out and to Richard and Pauline for teaching us how to use car paint to spray and protect our wooden windows and shutters from the relentless sun.
Yes, we’re taking visitors…but yes, they’re working for it! There’s lots to do in the valley and the guesthouse is almost finished.
The interiors of both apartments are now both beautifully white – even the really high corner bits we wouldn’t have been able to reach without the famous Millard wingspan.
And the quality of food I was banging on about last week just continued…with Nik’s lamb and Daniel’s fabulous hospitality.
I mean we could have brought him wine and COVID…but then that’s the world we live in.
The great thing is we have been booked in for our vaccine…now Portugal is accepting the over-45s.
For me that is; Ana’s only 29 (or so she keeps telling me).