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Living a Local’s Life in Nazaré

Customers shopping in a local market in Nazaré
Mercado Municipal da Nazaré (photo by author)

People often ask me what sights I am going to see as I head to a new location. While it’s always tempting to be a tourist, my goal is to live as much like the locals of each place as I can. I strive to get to know them and learn about their local shops, cafés and restaurants while settling into their pattern of daily life.

Nazaré, a town of 15,000 residents, was the perfect place for that. Outside of being a beach town that also attracts people during the winter who are trying to see the big waves, there really aren’t any tourist attractions. 

At the halfway point of my time in Nazaré, I was settling into local life nicely!

The Local Market

If you are going to talk about local life in Nazaré, you must start with the nerve center of it all: the “Mercado Municipal da Nazaré”. Here at the market in the center of town, locals come to buy the fresh fish, fruits and vegetables they will need for today’s meals. There is a butcher on one side of the market if fish, the main attraction in most local meals, is not your thing that day. A café sits on the edge of it all, where you can have your morning coffee while watching all of your neighbors pop in and out, doing their shopping. 

While most of the fruit that you can buy includes your basic apples, oranges, and bananas, there were a few surprises for me. It made me reflect on the time when my bike tour guide in Bogata, Balthazar, stopped in the farmer’s market and introduced us to all the unknown tropical fruits. Unfortunately, I did not have a Balthazar here in Nazaré so I had no one to identify the mystery fruits in the market.

A loquat fruit with large seeds
Mystery Fruit with Large Cockroach Seeds (photo by author)

Attack by the Mystery Fruit!

Back in my apartment, the very nice man who rented me the space, had left a beautiful mix of fresh fruits from the market. I had eaten my way through most of it when I came upon one of the unidentifiable fruits. They were tiny little treats that looked tasty enough but as I picked one up, I wondered how to start. Do I just take a bite? Do I peel it? Do I slice it like an apple?  

I turned to my trusty app that allows me to take a photo of something and run an internet scan to identify the item. The search identified the fruits as a “loquat”. The recommendation was to peel it and then cut it in half to remove the seeds in the core. That seemed easy enough. I quickly peeled the fruit and began to slice into the center when 5 big seeds the size of cockroaches burst out and flew all over the place. It felt like a cockroach invasion and completely freaked me out. I expected a few seeds like ones found in a much bigger apple, but these were massive in comparison.

After I got over the shock of the “Attack by Massive Cockroach Seeds”, I knew I must give the fruit a try. Despite the trauma it caused me. It was quite delightful, with a lightly sweet flavor, between an apricot and a peach. I just could not stop looking at the remaining half I had not yet eaten and wondering how all those big seeds fit in that small center. It must be how mothers feel when they know they are about to deliver a baby estimated to be 9+ pounds.

Let’s just say, after I consumed those three loquat, they did not go in the regular rotation. I do think “Attack by Massive Cockroach Seeds” could be a work of art worthy of hanging in a local museum as a sort of slice of local life. See what I did there?  

Diners at outside tables and a lady on a bike stopping to chat
Life in the Back Alleys of Nazaré (photo by author)

Life in the Back Alleys 

When I first arrived in Nazaré, a beachfront community, I always walked along the waterfront to reach other parts of town. However, I quickly became curious about what was in those tiny little alleys that extended out like long fingers from the sea. You couldn’t drive a car down 90% of them and for some it could be a struggle to get a decent-sized wheelbarrow to pass. 

One day, I decided to skip the beautiful waterfront and began winding my way through these back alleys. I had to zigzag, as there apparently was no concept of a grid system when these first came to be. It was like another world back there, very peaceful, calm and cool compared to the tourist-filled waterfront with the sun blazing down. It was full of little shops and restaurants mostly catering to locals. It was my kind of Nazaré heaven.

Becoming a Regular

As I wandered the back alleys daily, taking different routes and discovering new local gems, I became a fan of a local restaurant in these hidden corners. The first night I ate there, a friendly, multi-lingual man greeted me, inviting me to sit at any table I wanted. I chose one in a corner up against the wall that allowed me the best people-watching inside the café. Most people want the window table but I always prefer the table with the “dinner show”. 

That night I ate a good meal of fresh fish that I chose off the daily specials. That became my go-to menu as I wanted to try all of the various specials. My third time there, I was welcomed by the friendly staff and took my favorite spot in the corner. The owner came over with the daily specials list and said “Ah, you chose your usual table.” I must say that in all my years of travel, and all the many things that have delighted me, I still find it very hard to top the joy I get out of finding a great local spot and becoming a regular.  

Outside tables with a few customers and a covered area
The Patio of the Look Pool Bar in Nazaré (photo by author)

The Big Day Arrives: The Portuguese Cup

Finally, it was time for the biggest game in Portuguese Football: The Portuguese Cup! My team, Sporting, who had already won the league, was playing Porto. Fans here usually pull for one of the big teams along with their local team. The big teams include Benfica and Sporting, two teams from Lisbon, and Porto from the city by the same name in the north. You can imagine how that can create fierce rivalries.

I arrived early to get a good seat at the local “Pool Bar”. At first I thought this was just some spot trying to attract the tourists with a pool theme but instead it is a bastion of all things wonderful about a bar. They have pool tables that you can always find some of the local youth enjoying, tables inside where you can watch your game on rainy days or find the local men playing card games for coins, and tables outside for nice weather. 

When I arrived, I grabbed the best table outside with a good view of the TV. Quickly the place filled and I invited two locals who had taken the only remaining table which was out of view of the TV to join me. They happily took me up on my offer. Everyone had their 20cl beers which is about 6 ounces. Portugal is not a hard-drinking country which is quite refreshing. 

The crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of Sporting but of course there was one Porto fan that kept trying to rile everyone up. There is always one guy in every crowd and our little gathering was no different. Largely he was being ignored.

Brawl In the Sports Bar

It was a chippy game at best, with a few questionable game-changing calls that largely favored Porto. Then, there was a very obvious handball by Porto. Everyone waited for the call for a penalty that did not come. That would have almost guaranteed that Sporting would tie the game which was obviously not what the ref wanted. He had given a red card to the Porto coach, ejecting him from the game but he was still right there coaching the team. The desired outcome was so obvious I began to wonder if I wanted to invest my time into following Portuguese football if this is how the big games were going to be handled.

All of sudden, they showed a replay of the obvious handball. Suddenly, it was incredibly clear to me why they don’t show replays of questionable calls inside stadiums.

A Sporting fan who had been watching the game inside, came together with the Porto fan who had gone inside to rile up the fans as no one outside was paying him any attention. They went right at it in an epic battle that took them all over the bar inside, taking punches at each other, throwing the plastic chairs and lashing out at the people trying to restrain them which included the man from my table. 

Alone at my table at this point, I got up and walked out of the strike zone until the brawl spilled onto the outside deck. I just wanted to pay my bill. Finally the waitress took my payment, refused my tip and apologized, hugging me. Honey, I am from NYC. I am fine but I would like to see the end of the game.  

As I was heading to the other bar nearby, the Sporting fan got on his motorcycle and started revving the engine and yelling as the Porto fan was still resisting his ejection from the bar. I had had enough. I yelled back in a voice that rang out over Nazaré East, “YOU TWO JUST RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE!”. I walked off, annoyed that these two had spoiled what could have been a fun sporting event, despite the outcome. 

I guess even when on the little beers, an asshole is still an asshole.  

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