The southern part of Portugal has a generally milder climate than the north. A variety of citrus fruits can be grown and it’s a popular destination for Portuguese vacations. Portugal even grows a large banana crop but that’s misleading because the plantations are on Madeira, a Portuguese island at a latitude 300 miles south of the mainland.
South of Lisbon the road stays inland for quite a distance. The countryside isn’t of any obvious interest as it’s mainly commercial and agricultural. Eventually the route returns to the Atlantic coast with occasional ocean views.
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I stop for the night in Almograve, at a hostel run by the same management as the excellent one in Gerês National Park, the site of my dramatic phone loss and recovery over two weeks ago,
As I had hoped the lodging is just as excellent if not quite as inexpensive as the prior one. I have to pay a whole $20 for the night. Having dawdled through the day, I arrive late enough that I stay in, cooking dinner in their kitchen from the meager supplies I’m carrying and sacking out fairly early. I’m in a 4-bed room but I have it all to myself.
In the morning, there is a very ample buffet breakfast with lots of selections. I fuel up and spend the first part of the day working in the comfortable surroundings, later driving to the beach.
In addition to a busy beach bar, I encounter a steady trickle of backpackers.
It turns out the popular long distance Fisherman’s Trail follows the Atlantic coastline. It follows the waterline with constantly changing views of coves and bluffs. It’s the first I’ve heard of it.
Saturday morning, I fuel up again at breakfast and prepare to continue south. First I drive and walk the trail to a named beach just to the north. It’s interesting because a sandbar at low tide allows for both brackish and salt water bathing within meters of each other.
I’m there in the morning and have the place to myself. Heading back south, I find that the coastal hiking trail is also a road. Good walking, horrible driving. I follow this for about 15 miles, always on the bluffs high above the surf, passing hikers and powering my way through periodic deep puddles, rocky washouts, and sandy stretches, glad I have the 4WD in reserve although I never actually engage it.
Eventually the trail leads back to the highway. In the town of Zambujeira do Mar, I take a break at a small beach with tilted layers of sedimentary rock.
I’ve spent so much time dawdling along the water that I decide to stop only 25 miles south of where I started. Leonor, my Lisbon BeWelcome host, urged me to stop and see her brother in Odeceixe. I haven’t heard back after contacting him but since I’m going to stop there anyway, I send him one more message. I book a hostel bed in town, atypically expensive at $26 without breakfast, at the Bohemian Antique Guesthouse. On arrival, I find it unstaffed. Fortunately, the front door is open and some of the guests help me get oriented. Finally, a staff member arrives, I think by coincidence, and she tells me I should have gotten an email with instructions from booking.com. I have not, so she gets me straightened out. The email arrives the next day — big help.
Odeceixe is some miles from the beach and in the off season most businesses, including hotels and restaurants, are closed but the central plaza is far from deserted.
The food choices are pizza and a closed all you can eat Chinese restaurant. I text the latter and at 7 PM get a response that they are now open. I constantly forget that Iberian businesses are generally closed during midday then open again into the night. While talking to other travelers at the guesthouse, I’ve met a Lithuanian named Julian. He’s also interested in all you can eat so we walk across the street together.
The restaurant isn’t buffet style. Instead, for a flat price, you write the numbers of each portion you want on slip of paper and it’s made up to order. Julian and I spend a couple of hours eating a wide variety of items while having an equally wide ranging conversation. It’s a very pleasant evening.
Just as we’re finishing dinner, Leonor’s brother, Fernando, texts me apologizing for the long delay and inviting me to meet him just a block away at 11:30 PM — Portuguese social life runs late in the evening. At the appointed time, I knock on an unmarked door, thinking it’s Fernando’s home. There’s no response but the door is open so I walk in to immediate confusion. I’m in a very upscale, small hotel. Hearing voices, I penetrate past the empty reception desk to find several people talking in the inside courtyard. As that conversation breaks up, Fernando introduces himself and two of the women with him, one as his wife and the other as his “other wife”. I’m momentarily nonplussed until I figure out that all three are goofing on me. He explains that he has been hosting a holiday party for the employees of another company and it has just ended.
This is his hotel! He gives me a tour of the elegant premises, all in white, which he designed and built over several years. At the end of the tour, he shows me a guest room and more or less insists, even though the hotel is closed for the winter, that I spend the night there even though I’m already settled into the guesthouse. Yielding out of politeness, I move my things from a dormitory bed in a simple but convivial hostel to a fancy double room in Fernando’s deserted but doubtless very expensive inn. He asks me what time I’d like breakfast and says he’ll see me then. Literally disoriented by the sudden luxury and unexpected change of environment, I sack out between clean, soft sheets.
Emerging from my room in the morning, I find Fernando heading outside to shop for groceries. On his return, he prepares an elaborate breakfast for me and me alone. We spend an hour or so talking about his family, his hotel, and other ventures. After a while he says he has commitments but encourages me to stay as long as I wish. All in all an amazing amount of generous hospitality from someone whose only knowledge of me is a referral from his sister.
The quiet and comfort of the hotel reinforce my natural laziness and I don’t hit the road until 3 PM. The highway runs south parallel to the Atlantic coast but generally not in sight of the water. In the surfing town of Carrapateira, I come across an impressive 275 foot wall mural. It’s much too long to capture in one photo.
Further south in Sagres, I stop to admire a pair of araucaria. They’re favorite yard trees along the Portuguese coast and come in a variety of uniquely recognizable shapes. They always attract my attention because they’re so out of place, having been introduced from South America, where they’re at various levels of endangerment from logging, development, and climate change.
In the same way that the quinine taste of tonic water immediately evokes my 1984 experiences in the Suriname jungle, every off appearance of araucaria sends my head instantly back to the Andes mountains.
As sunset approaches, I veer off again to Cabo São Vicente, a cape and lighthouse perched at the very southwestern corner of Europe — another “land’s end” geographic feature. One of the first things I see is a monument claiming the start of the Atlantic Coast Bicycle Trail – Kilometer 00. Although it seems appropriate that it begin here, the marker is, in fact, a lie. The terminus of the trail is actually at the other end of Portugal, far to the north. Maybe the local tourist bureau has created this believable fraud to attract attention here.
This is a popular place to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean and there are quite a few local and international vehicles gathered there. The lighthouse has a very prominent Fresnel lens and I hang around until the light comes on and the sun is below the horizon, taking photos and talking to various travelers. Lighthouses in Portugal generally have their light platforms shrouded in curtains during the day which are pulled back when the light is operating. This is to prevent the lens from focusing daytime sunlight to damaging temperatures and destroying the lighting element, or worse.
While crowds are gathered there, the cape is afflicted with modern disturbances to scenic appreciation. A noisy ultralight aircraft circles above the crowd and the marker lights and buzz of tourist-operated drones are seen and heard.
As it gets dark and the moon rises, I drive back to the highway — eastward because I can’t drive any further south without plunging into the ocean. Economical lodging choices are few here along Portugal’s southern coast so I settle for a nice but uninteresting single room in a simple guesthouse in Lagos. It sits at the end of a one lane dead end street.
As I leave Monday morning, my only challenge is backing up the narrow street for about 200 feet while scraping neither the parked cars on one side nor the building walls on the other. Heading into Lagos, I cross a cable stay bridge, reliably one of my favorite types of architecture.
I’ve arranged to have lunch with a BeWelcome member further east along the coast. Her schedule isn’t allowing her to host me overnight but we do spend about 5 hours together, having lunch, walking, and talking in her house before I move on. Maria João is very interesting, a dynamic, ambitious woman whose job it is to help stores sell a line of perfumes. She also has side gigs that keep her very busy — and the longest name I’ve ever encountered — even more unusual in that she’s never been married and thus has no add-on names of that sort: Maria João Gradim Rocha Casais de Oliveira. I think we both wish we could spend more time together but continuing our lively conversation will have to wait for another opportunity.
Leaving there, I head inland, north and east, again into the oncoming night, through hill country of southern Portugal.
A final stop for cheap fuel and then across the border into southwestern Spain. My destination is the small town of Cortegana where another Servas host is awaiting my arrival. I texted her to say I’m running later than I had planned but she assures me a 9 PM arrival is no problem.