Forgotten villages

No hotels, no shops, not even a café. Located less than 10 minutes by car from the busy coastline, the tiny place feels like it’s from another century. Villages like Carriços are a product of old agricultural traditions and show a completely different Algarve than what’s displayed on tourist travel brochures. But as the houses are crumbling down and the original inhabitants are getting older, this rural Portuguese way of life is slowly fading into extinction.

Pictures by Vitor Pina

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016

“What would make this place change for the better? Why do you ask? Who’s going to change it? Are you? Are the politicians?!” Maria (68) shrugs. “Oh, you just want to know. A bar? No, not a bar or a restaurant. Who would come and drink here?!” She laughs, recalling a time when some English people on bicycles turned up in the village, expecting to find a café and leaving pretty bewildered after realising there wasn’t anywhere they could buy a cup of coffee. Then she ponders and takes some time to think about the question. Her eyebrows wrinkle as she looks around the street, the tea towel she was mending forgotten in her hands. “Some young Portuguese people would be nice,” she says eventually. “I’m 68 years old and I’m the youngest in the village. However, I don’t believe this will happen.”

It might be hard to believe, but Carriços is located only 7kms north of Tavira, a town with over 26,000 inhabitants and a big shopping mall. In the ten minutes’ drive inland that it takes to get there, the landscape changes dramatically: once the coast is out of sight, so are the hotels and apartments. Flat fields are replaced by hills, rocks and trees. After passing a little aqueduct, the road gets worse until it’s nothing more than a dirt track. It feels like time travelling; with each kilometre, the clock goes back a few years. Carriços itself consists of a handful of houses, half of them crumbling down, some still inhabited and the rest bought up by foreigners. The name of the tiny village is displayed on the signpost on the M508 north of Tavira, but only between brackets, as if to say ‘it exists, but it’s not that important’.

Still, for Maria and Florentino it’s the place where they’ve lived almost all of their lives. Maria was born and grew up in Carriços, whereas her husband Florentino came from another nearby ‘monte’, as these rural communities are called. Montes get their name, which means ‘hill’, from the place they’re built. In the Algarve, fertile ground is only found near the rivers. Thus the agricultural settlements are built on top of hills, leaving the good soil free to grow vegetables. Once, all the hills surrounding the village were cultivated. Full with cows and vegetables, the place was thriving on agriculture. Now, only small single patches of farmed ground can be seen. The rest is taken over by nature again.

Maria and Florentino have always made their living in agriculture, and even now they still plant tomatoes, beans and potatoes. Around their house, lots of chickens run around, as well as six dogs. One of them is a hunting dog, fiercely barking on a chain, waiting until he can collect shot grouse again; the others scuttle around the courtyard; their behaviour a mix of aggression, fear and longing to be cuddled. In stables in the back of their house live a couple of donkeys which are used to plough the field the traditional way; Florentino points to the piece of land they own and explains how the donkeys carry a piece of wood which pulls forward the plough. Florentino never went to school; he worked as a shepherd instead. Maria followed classes until she was 11 years old and then started working in agriculture as well. For 11 escudos per day, she’d get up at 5am and spend the day in the hills, collecting almonds, carob beans or whatever was in season. “Then, the escudo was still worth something,” she recalls.

Throughout the decades a lot has changed in the Algarve, but not so much for the inhabitants of Carriços. Instead of escudos, there are now euros, but still not many of them as the couple lives on a small pension. Maria and Florentino don’t own a car. There’s no need, as they are mostly self-providing and every two weeks a minibus, arranged by the junta de freguesia Santa Maria, comes to take the villagers shopping in Tavira. Someone visits Carriços two to three times a week to sell fish and there’s a person coming on Wednesdays with groceries. Nowadays, cooking is mainly done on gas instead of on wood, but bread is still baked in traditional ovens and washing dishes is still done outside the house. Water taps in the streets, which were installed about 30 years ago, mean that the villagers don’t have to walk all the way to the river to wash. However, Maria and Florentino still don’t have a tap in their house. “It’s not necessary and we can’t afford it.”

Manuel Fernandez (75), who lives on the other end of the village, was the first person in Carriços to have a bathroom in his house. “That was 28 or 29 years ago, about the same time we got electricity here,” he proudly recalls. “Before that, we washed in buckets and got the water from the river. If it was cold, we’d make a fire.” The river, the reason why Carriços was built here in the first place, has always played a big role in the life of the inhabitants. They still remember a big flooding, 26 years ago, which broke all the bridges and cut them off from the rest of the world. But even now, with the river being reduced to merely a stream, the place feels isolated.

Every house has guard dogs. The inhabitants are still familiar with Salazar’s regime and wary of unknown visitors with cameras and notebooks. Some are downright suspicious of foreigners. Luis Antonio and Maria sit outside their house in the sun, in front of their bread oven, and don’t talk much. Their clothes have holes in them and half their teeth are missing, but their eyes don’t miss a thing. They refuse to tell their age, which must be close to 80, but do reveal that they have lived in Carriços from the day they were born. “When I was six years old, I started to help my father in the country,” Luis Antonio recalls. “We worked with cows and grew wheat, which we’d use to make our own bread. Some days there’d come people from other villages and we’d trade our bread and chickens for fish. Back then, the entire valley was producing food.”

Now, not so much anymore. From the fifty Portuguese couples who used to live in Carriços, only five still remain. All are above 65 years of age. Walk through the streets and you’ll see a broken bath tub, as well as other trash, lying around. A wood fire is slowly burning and a pig can be smelled in a shed, but apart from these traces of life, the atmosphere resembles one of an abandoned ghost town. The houses that aren’t inhabited anymore are either left to fall apart or bought up by foreigners and easily recognised by their new looks. Maria and Florentino point them out: “There’s a French couple living, that house belongs to English people, that one to Germans and over there lives a Russian doctor.” What do they think about non-Portuguese people in their village? “Most of the foreigners, we don’t like them too much. They don’t work on the land or bring anything to the village. Some of them even want us to change our ways; they don’t like us raising animals here.”

Still, the French Jose-Manuel (63) and Huguette (62) have successfully managed to integrate. They are the first foreign couple that moved to Carriços, about 15 years ago. Jose-Manuel’s parents originally came from the Algarve; like many Portuguese, his father left for France in order to escape prison under the Salazar regime. They’ve now returned to Jose-Manuel’s East-Algarvian roots and are happy in the countryside. Huguette explains: “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. When looking for a place to live, we got offered apartments. But when we saw Carriços, we knew we wanted to live here.” They only spend the winters here, but unlike some other foreign residents they have fully adapted to the village life. “The Portuguese people are great; they’re very friendly.”

Contrary to the locals’ living places, the house of the French couple is modern, equipped with all the facilities one might need or want in daily life. Still, for a long time Huguette did her washing up outside on the street, like the Portuguese villagers do. “Small things like that go a long way towards getting adapted here,” she explains. “Now, they bring us vegetables from their land and home-baked bread. In return, we give them things we buy in the shops in other towns. It feels like living with family.” Having integrated here, what does the couple think about the future of the village? Huguette: “In a decade or so, there probably won’t be any Portuguese left here, only foreigners. It’s a pity.” Jose Manuel adds: “People here are old, they’re dying and there’s no future in this place. Their kids don’t want to live here so traditions get lost. It’s sad.”

Carriços isn’t the only place like this. In the last decades, young people all over the Algarve have moved towards the coastal areas where the tourism creates jobs. Tiny rural settlements are either slowly turning into ghost towns or bought up by rich foreign people who turn them into villas. Bigger towns like Cachopo have found a way to deal with this and focus on embracing their rural traditions. They’ve developed museums, honour the rural expertise of saddle making, medronho brewing and working on the land and thus make a living of showcasing exactly the skills that are otherwise forgotten. But Carriços and the dozens of other villages scattered around the Algarvian countryside are too small to do this. The roads aren’t in good enough condition and with the village lacking a café or restaurant, tourists won’t even consider a visit. One day, the place will probably just die out. “I have a daughter and a granddaughter, who’s already married. They all have their own life, but every Saturday they come back for lunch. They won’t come back to live here though,” Manuel Fernandez says about his family.

Also Maria and Florentino have children. Although their son comes back regularly, none of their kids want to live in the village permanently. For their part, the parents don’t care about city life: “We have two daughters who live in Tavira, in an apartment. When they close the door, they are locked inside. I couldn’t live like that. Here it’s quiet, more free,” says Maria. With a couple of adaptions such as better roads and internet connection, Carriços would make an ideal living place for people working in Tavira; fresh air, quietness and other benefits of countryside life, with the city being within commuting distance. However, without any change, in a couple of decades the village and its original inhabitants will be forgotten, along with their rural traditions. As a result, the land will lose its identity. Maria and Florentino seem to have already accepted this as a fact. They shrug. “Life changes. That’s the way it is.”


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016

Posted in Features, Places.