It’s a nightmare driving around Ericeira. The streets are narrow and cobbled with a one-way system that only seems to apply to foreigners, while locals are permitted to come racing the wrong way and then face you down – anda tourist! – until you reverse back up. We rattled around for a while in circles, trying to find our new place. On one particularly tight corner we get properly jammed in, with Menna out in front of the car, alternately beckoning eagerly forwards then and squealing ‘Stop! Back!’ until I have see-sawed my way right into the bend and am revving and farting diesel smoke into the faces of all the brunch-eaters outside a vegan café. Eventually the owner came out and helped extricate us before I scared all her clientele away.
Once we find our apartment and ditch the car, Ericeira becomes a pleasure to stroll around. The houses are all built in the traditional style: gleaming white walls; contrasting blue fascias and architraves; burnt orange roof tiles with ornate chimney and gable work. Walking the streets is a tactile experience, the limestone mosaic calçada are warm and slippery smooth underfoot. It makes me want to go barefoot, though no-one else is doing this, and dog shit still exists, so Menna makes me put my flip-flops back on. The centre is traffic free and home to boutique surf shops and organic cafes, restaurant tables and the overspill from bars. Bougainvillea features heavily. There is noise and movement everywhere until there isn’t. You turn a corner and hit a pocket of stillness.
Our apartment here is tiny and opens right out onto a street that is too narrow for cars to park in but serves as a pedestrian thoroughfare down to the sea front. We leave the door open when we are home. Sometimes we sit out on the step with a beer and chat with passers-by as if we’ve lived here all our lives. Sometimes I play the guitar badly. Menna makes a worrying friendship with the Brazilian surf instructor who lives opposite. The kids rattle around on their bikes or play shouty games and try to climb the lamp posts.
There is a small port which we walk through to get to the beach that gives a glimpse of old world Ericeira. There they dry-dock all the fishing boats, then pick them up by tractor and tow them back out to sea as needed. It smells like a port should – of brine and sea-weed with an oily undertone of rotting fish – and it is full of weatherbeaten old sea dogs sitting around playing cards. It is messy and real, contrasting with the postcard town above. The gulls fight over huge spiny crabs that have been discarded there in the sunshine.
Life here feels easy. We get fresh fish from the mercado. We settle into our tight space and have a well-coordinated furniture rotation routine, so the table is prominent at mealtimes and the sofa comes out in the evening. We leave our surf and skateboards propped up outside the front door and hang our washing on a pulley system out on the street, until someone steals our wetsuits from the line one night and we get more cautious. We surf most days and there is an epic skatepark where Arthur is desperate to spend all his time (politely waiting his turn at the ramps as local street rats muscle in and pull impressive aerials). We wander down to the harbour wall most evenings to get an ice cream and watch the sunset. I find a charming old-school barber and have my first haircut since lockdown. He cheerily ignores all my styling requests and sends me home shorn and brutal. Menna makes a Portuguese caldeirada fish stew, dark and spicy, with squid, ray, conger eel and prawns.
After some days we are more attuned to our new town and start to pick out the weave of the social fabric here. We are part of a large and transient tourist component that stay in hostels, camps and short term lets. Entwined with the tourist group are the seasonal visitors who have come here to surf or are on retreats, working as instructors, yoga teachers or masseuses, and have a slightly longer-term legitimacy. Then there is a tribe of settlers who, drawn by the waves and the liberal vibe, have moved here permanently, put down roots, started businesses, formed a little artistic community. They live in shorts and flip-flops with flexible work patterns that accommodate tides, swell and good living. They frequent each other’s restaurants and cafes and chat on the street and in the surf. One day when we finally settle somewhere, I think, it would be good to be part of a vibrant and committed scene like this. Close-knit, stress-free, fun. A group of like-minded people, living outside where possible and tuned in to the rhythms of the ocean.
Then there is the local young no-fear generation, big aerials in the skatepark, aggressive carving in the waves, World Surf Tour aspirants with flamboyant surf-skate moves and great tattoos. And of course you have the older Ericeira locals who have been residents here for generations, moving slowly in time honoured circuits around the port, town squares and the market. A soberly-dressed, polite, churchgoing people, passing their twilight years on benches around the city, impassive observers of an ongoing sea-change that relentlessly reshapes their landscape. I think I would also like to grow old like this.
For now though we are content to be in the floating tourist group and wander round aimlessly, absorbing the vibe. Nothing very exciting happens to us in Ericeira but we feel happy and lazy and well-fed. By the end of the week we are starting to get twitchy again though and we talk about heading off somewhere wild.