Twenty sunburnt toes dig into the sand. The giggling stops as two little bodies tense then crane their faces up over the dune grass.
“Shhh!” The heads drop down close to the sand. “She’s looking!”
Above them a taller girl, long hair blowing in the wind, scans the horizon – across the beach, out to sea, then back sweeping the dune paths that lead to her spot, her commanding spot. Around her clumps of children hug their knees waiting to be saved.
We walk the edge of the drama, shoes awkward with pale sand as we clamber on to the decking of the beach restaurant, Nortada.
It’s late evening in Martinhal and a light sea haze wraps the Sagres peninsular. The wind turns cool.
We take our seats on the covered, wooden verandah. It’s simple – filled with families, and the soft rush of Portuguese. An occasional shriek patches through from the dunes – the hunt is still on.
Fish is on the menu, nothing fancy or pretentious – just fish – fresh. There are also home made pizzas, chips, salad – family catering alongside a seafood pedigree that pulls in the locals. Next to us three generations of locals order quickly – plates of seafood are delivered and tucked into.
We hesitate over the plastic menu. Our waitress waits, and waits, encouraging, translating, explaining, never flinching. Eventually decisions are made – three fish of the day, red snapper; two sword fish; and one pizza. Beers, white wine, garlic bread and shrimps are ordered for starters.
We relax as conversation and customers ebb and flow and ink spills from sky to sea. Warm yellow lights flick on above us and across the bay. They shadow the sunned skins, the barefeet, the flipflops, the silver rush of the waves.
The fish steaks fill our plates. They are simply cooked and delicious. We have had red snapper before but never in steaks of this size.
As we finish our final drinks Luis, the owner, clears the table next to ours. He is strongly built and direct. We talk about the fish. He enthuses about the private catch he has arranged with the fishing boats across the way. He describes the size of the red snapper we have just eaten and when it was caught – fresh as the wind but deliberately never cooked on the day it is taken from the sea.
Luis tells us that his beach bar restaurant has been on the same spot for 13 years. His warm eyes flash with a touch of iron as he explains that Nortada was tucked in amongst the dunes long before the comforts of the new resort of Martinhal opened behind him.
It’s not easy to leave, to step away however complete we feel. We have spent around £20 a head and enjoyed hours of Portuguese hospitality close to the setting sun.
We leave the beach and walk back up the empty pavement alongside the manicured, lightly-scented gardens of the new Martinhal resort. There is the end of a full moon. The hiders and seekers are in their beds.
All seems quiet until the quiet starts to move, to hum up behind us. We turn.
“Boa noite,” salutes a neatly dressed man. He purrs up the tarmac through the dark standing proud on a Segway. “Segurança” beams at us from the back of his jacket.
“Boa noite” we struggle to repeat.