Now that summer is upon us, all the summer festivals and events that draw tourists each year have begun. Being my first summer in the Algarve, I was excited to start partaking in all the fairs and activities that I can. So when I heard about the first of the Marches Populares taking place in nearby Portimao, I couldn’t wait to see what it entailed. On the first Friday night in June, I waited to see what might begin at 10:00pm in the evening.
I have to say I was surprised that these community events include young children, but it is a celebration of community and family, after all. Not knowing what to expect, I had heard there would be a parade, so I was a little surprised to see a section of grandstand set up for viewing near the end of the river promenade instead of a more central area. Turns out, the stands were on one side of a square area soon to be the central focus of a sort of marching band-type performances.
As the various groups paraded down the promenade and towards the grandstand area, they held a banner or flag representing their Algarve city. Lagos, Alvor, Silves, Portimao and other nearby cities were represented. The costumes were colorful. Some wearing satin, some had glittering shoes or headpieces and lots of tinsel on props to be used in their later performances. Ages ranged from children to grandparents and everyone inbetween. Each city also had their supporters who welcomed them with cheers, taking pictures and waving to the participants as they entered the grandstand area.
One by one, each group performed a synchronized routine to pre-recorded music and/or live singers. Some had live musicians, as well. Others relied heavily on a drum corp or single drummer. It was fun to see the group as they showed off their steps and while not extremely intricate, the fact that they had to move continueally with no stopping takes more stamina than most people give them credit for. With large hoop skirts, the women especially, had to make sure their turns and weaving cut a wide path, so as not to collide skirt to skirt with another female performer. Groups ranged in size from just over a dozen to over 40 people, including some young ones up way beyond their bedtime.
Most performances encouraged crowd participation, asking spectators to clap along to the beat. It was both entertaining and helped keep you awake, as the last group didn’t finish their routine until around 1:00am. If I’d known that to begin with, I certainly would have grabbed a seat before 10:00 when the grandstands were almost empty. But by the time I came back from a leisurely drink before the parade, it was standing room only, three to four people deep. However, at the end of the performances, there seemed to be only some family members and friends of the last group left. I felt bad for them, as the order probably wasn’t their doing, so I tried to be as enthusiastic for the last group as the first.
While I didn’t know what to expect, I found this community celebration quaint and a nice way to spend an absolutely perfect weather evening. It lasted perhaps a little longer than I would want to watch standing, so if you make it to one of these events be sure to take advantage of the seating available. Go ahead and plan dinner or drinks before the 10:00pm start and maybe take a bottle of water with you to have while you watch. I hope I soon meet enough people that I might actually know some of the participants next year!
Your Takeaway – Anytime you get a chance to catch a local festival or traditional celebration, make time to go! It’s a great way to learn some history about the area, meet some locals and get a feel for life as a native. Everyone is in a great mood and if the weather cooperates, all the better. Step off the beaten path that most tourists follow and try something different. It will give you a new perspective, and hopefully, a better understanding and appreciation for a different way of life. Open up to the possibilities and even the simplest celebration will create warm memories for years to come.