“Take the E4 to the A22 and then the N125 to the EN537 and follow it all the way to the beach,” said the rental car clerk at the Faro international Airport. “It’s a nice drive. Why are you going there again?”
The route to Salema Portugal is like an hourglass. Slowly but surely the path dwindles down from a major freeway to a side road to a country road to a dirt road, transporting you to a place where time seems to follow different rules. Nestled among the beautiful cliffs on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal, Salema is a true hidden gem. It feels like a small taste of the way Portugal once was (I think, but then again how I would know :-).
Salema, Portugal (Click for more images)
Free from tourists, English breakfasts, hotel chains, and tacky beach resorts, Salema just is. One small market, two dive bars, three fish restaurants, twenty sun chairs and the feeling of absolutely no connection to the outside world.
I arrived in Salema midway through a marathon working session. After three weeks offshore, 10 days in a work conference, a flight from Salt Lake, to Denver, to Frankfurt, to Faro, followed by a 3 hour drive to Salema I was tired and a little stressed. My mind was on the perpetual “high” of modern day work: emails, phone messages, responsibilities and the general notion of being “productive.” I was wound up like a spring asking myself, What am I going to do here for five days? I’m in Portugal, there’s a lot to see. I can walk though this town in five minutes. What am I missing?
Then, as Europe has always done for me, I was fortunate enough to have my mental model tested as I was afforded a glimpse into another way.
It was 9:30 on a Tuesday and I decide to take a leisurely walk down to the beach. As I strolled down the main (and only) street, I passed a small home no larger than a one car garage. Faint sounds of Portuguese music and voices from a family inside drifted out though the soft white curtains of an open window. It sounded like a mother, father and a couple of kids chatting and laughing. It made me happy. As I continued to walk, however, my mind drifted off and I started to think about their situation. Why aren’t they working? Is their a preschool near by? It’s Tuesday at 9:30 after all… Maybe if they were working they could get a bigger place, move to the city and buy a car…I made the assumption that they needed to be working, progressing forward, getting more done to live a “better” life.
Main Street Salema (Click for more images)
It could be that the family valued time over money, a very simple and real prioritization that many people have come to realize and enjoy.
This outlook on life is still foreign to me, but not because I am in Portugal. Europe in general seems to value time over money. In Scandinavia, Swede’s have a government mandated four weeks of vacation per year, which does not include sick days, or national holidays or “squeeze days.” People as a whole seem to value time with family, friends or even just a quiet walk more than the monetary rewards from working. Swedes often work an extra hour per week in the winter to have more days off in the summer. Notice that they work more for time off and not for extra pay. The concept of less is more, quality over quantity and the appreciation for the little things makes Europe a great place to live.
After my time on the beach, I walked back down the main street as the family of four emerged from their small home. Mom and dad were taking the kids for a walk. They were not well dressed, but not poor either. I started day dreaming about the father working as a fisherman that decided to take a day or three off to spend with the family. His tucked in shirt, cap and leather shoes remind me of a 1950’s Italian man from New York. Mom was wearing a homemade dress and the boys wore plaid shirts, pants with belt and shined shoes look just liked Dad. I wondered to myself whether they made this decision to prioritize each other over money or whether it is their culture that has ingrained them with these values. Perhaps it is as normal to them as breathing, something that is not thought about, but just done. Either way it makes me feel warm and sentimental. Not everyone wants to live a capitalist lifestyle. Not everyone strives for more in the land of plenty.
Clay pots used to catch octopus (Click for more images)
Needless to say, I enjoyed my time in Salema. I sat with a book and read during the day, ate fish with the locals in the evening and spent one night drinking one to many beers with an Australian backpacker who was passing though. Salema is a small vestige, reminding us that the way we choose to live our lives is not universal and that preserving what is old can sometimes be quite progressive.
Fish stew at the “local” restaurant (Click for more images)