Just south of the city of Lisbon along the Atlantic coast is an area called Costa da Caparica. Costa da Caparica is one of the longest contiguous beaches in Portugal stretching for over 30 kilometers and boasting gorgeous views along the way. The beaches are dotted with tiny fisherman homes, many of which are remodeled into beach houses. These simple and brightly painted wooden houses are utterly charming. It was the perfect place for us to start off our multigenerational trip to Portugal.
Our house is white with blue striped trim and white shuttered windows. It sits directly on the sand and offers a magnificent view of the Atlantic. We open up all of the windows and feel a cool ocean breeze come through the house. We watch and we listen to the continuous hum of waves crashing on the shore. And soon, we notice small piles of sand start to appear on the concrete and wooden floors as the grains sneak in through the imperfect wooden walls of the house.
Behind the house are the tracks of a narrow-gauge train. They too sit directly on the sand. It’s hard to believe it is real until you hear the toot of the whistle and see the vintage machine roll by. It turns out that the string of beaches along Costa da Caparica are connected by this miniature train.
We wander to the shore and we watch families and friends soak up the sun and play on the sand and in the surf. Umbrellas in every color of the rainbow are scattered on the sand, providing refuge from the summer sun shining down. The sun is strong and our only relief is the Atlantic itself. We run into the surf and the waves crash onto our legs – it is immediately refreshing. The water is cool and crisp, providing instant relief from the heat.
As our first day comes to an end we watch the sun begin to set. The horizon turns a deep ombre orange as the sun slowly disappears into the water. In the distance, we see traditional Portuguese fishing boats hauled onto the shore by tractors. These boats have the day’s catch and a crowd of adults and kids start to grow around them. We make our way across the sand toward the boats and watch eagerly as the line of rope slowly finds its way back to the boat. We know that the end of the rope holds the net with treasure from the sea. As the rope comes in, we watch a fisherman carefully folding it into coils looping each set of coils neatly over the other. Children hang off the sides of the boat watching in wonder as the rope is neatly put away.
The net finally appears and it is full of fish shimmering and moving in the fading daylight. Now the fun really begins with merchants, chefs, and locals calling out and purchasing fresh fish directly from the fisherman. All the while seagulls swirl, swoop, and chirp overhead. We stand and watch in awe. We have never experienced anything like this before.
And just when we thought the magic of the day was over, we spot a group of five clad in wetsuits holding long-tined rakes in their hands. They make a beeline to the water’s edge and immediately get to work. These are the clammers. They are literally raking the low tide area to harvest shellfish. We watch as they methodically labor. They move in unison criss-crossing the shore, side-to-side, back-and-forth, coaxing the shells out of the sand with their simple tools. It’s beautiful and I am mesmerized by the rhythm of their movement.
A smile spreads across my face as memories from my childhood flood into my mind. As a young girl, my mother and father would take my sister and I clamming in the Pacific Northwest. We would stand on the beach during low-tide looking for the signs of their presence, clusters of air holes in the sand. My sister and I would plunge our hands into the cool wet sand and scream in delight as we pulled out clams and mussels.
As the memory fades and my thoughts return to our reality, I take a deep breath and I feel the tension from our day-to-day life back home fading. I look at my family and watch. We are all quiet because we are all taking in all of Costa da Caparica. We look at each other and smile because we know we are going to have a wonderful experience in this beautiful place.
Dorothy Hoffman is the creator of the travel blog, Squirts and Seniors. She is a Gen X-er who writes about traveling at home and abroad with her young son and aging parents.