So…what were you doing last Thursday?
Not that I like to gloat or anything.
Hah! Suffer in your jocks! Yah boo sucks to you! Ner ner ne ner ner….
And, now that I have that juvenile piece of shameless conceit out of the way, I can readily admit that although this may look terribly glam, in fact I stunk really, really, badly, as we found the restaurant before we found a shower. Not that we cared. Food is far more important than being clean, after all. And wine is far, far more important than both of those things; and if the waiter had to peg his nose in order to serve us, that is his problem.
Suddenly, it is warm. T-shirt wearing, factor thirty, zip the legs off your trousers, Portuguese coast warm. It may still be snowing like Santa’s hideaway up there in the hills, but out here the beaches are clean and deserted, the sea spectacular, and the weather superb. Even better, the campsites are actually open. Life is definitely good.
Not long after Aveiro, we stopped at a really nice little coastal town called Mira; so nice, in fact, that we decided to have a day off. Which was a stroke of luck, as we ran into a couple there from Cornwall, Nikki and Martin, who were great company. They have been down on the South coast of Portugal surfing for the last three months, living out of their van. They seem to have life sorted out beautifully – they are just heading back to England with the intention of surfing the summer months away, and plan to head to Morocco next year. The only downside is that they were heading in the opposite direction to us!
We have had some really good days walking, and some strokes of luck, too. Gary has been wearing in a new pair of boots since Porto, which means a lot of blisters and pain. One day we had been walking straight down a main road for about twenty kilometres, and had decided we would have to stop, no matter what, as his feet were ripped to shreds. Unfortunately it was one of those areas with a lot of commercial developments and no homes to enquire about camping, or convenient patches of forest to duck into.
On the side of the road, though, there was an “Albergaria” – we had heard they were an expensive type of hotel, and had never bothered enquiring about them. We decided we may as well go and ask anyway; luckily, as it turned out. Just as I went in the receptionist was on the phone taking a cancellation from a conference which was to have booked out the entire hotel that night. She now had an empty hotel, and it was four o’clock in the afternoon in the off season, so the prospects of filling it weren’t great. And thus it was that we found ourselves in a four star hotel, with breakfast and a pool, for twenty euros. I got to curl up and bond with Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Sometimes vagabonds can live as kings.
Thankfully our time on the main road was short lived, and we found ourselves back on the coastal road – and, truly, in paradise.
We have had day after glorious day walking down isolated, peaceful roads, forest on one side, and stunning ocean on the other. The beaches really are amazing, great long swathes of white sand and crystal clear water, with not a soul in sight. For quite a long stretch, we even had a perfectly flat cycle path to walk along, complete with bench seats at regular intervals to rest our weary bones! Sad as it may sound, on such things as these does the quality of our day depend.
We had one stretch however, which wasn’t so easy to navigate – a combination of new roads, old map, and lots of intersections – and it was a good thirty five kilometre day when we limped in to our destination, only to find that the campground was shut. It’s the kind of thing that happens a lot, and we try to be philosophical about it, but nonetheless it’s never too much fun, and inevitably happens on the long hard days rather than on easy ones. But there was plenty of forest and so we set up camp and ate some packet pasta and felt grateful that at least it is warmer now. The next day, however, we were really hoping for a relatively short and painless day, and looking forward to a good campsite with a shower, and a cook up.
It just so happened that it was about as perfect day as we have had. A long, straight road direct to our destination, overlooking the sea all the way; brilliant sunshine; and then, just as we entered the town, we found the restaurant you see me beaming from at the top of this page. Up on the cliffs, overlooking a beautiful little beach, it had “Paula’s idea of heaven” written all over it. It was right on two o’clock, the end of the lunch period, so we decided to sit down and hoe in, even before we found the campsite.
Two hours later, fed, wine-d, and totally at peace with our little universe we toddled the last five hundred metres to the campsite. Which had hot showers.
Like I said – the perfect day.
The next few days were just as beautiful - albeit minus the restaurant experience – and we had intended to just keep marching for another five days to Lisbon. But yesterday we came into a small village, and suddenly found ourselves overlooking this quite spectacular view.
When we wandered down, it was to find the most beautiful coastal town you can imagine, full of winding cobbled streets, beachfront wine bars, and old men playing classical guitar on the footpath. Nazare is just big enough to have all the things we need for a good rest stop – like an internet café and campground – and small enough to walk everywhere. So we have stopped here for a day and are carrying on to Lisbon tomorrow.
We had planned on coming inland near Lisbon, and cutting back into Spain. But we are so in love with this coastline, and the magnificent, CHEAP food and wine all along it (we are just coming into the major viticultural area of Portugal) that we have decided to keep on going all the way to the Algarve, the entire way around the Portuguese coast. So it takes a bit more time. So what?
For those whom we stay in contact with by phone, please excuse our lack of communication. The phones here cost an absolute fortune. I am also still using the Spanish sim card which means I run out of credit a lot quicker on the mobile (particularly after I send all the texts gloating about the sun, sea, and food whilst you are all working. Sorry about those.) We will be back in touch more in Spain.
We are planning a very short stop in Lisbon as we don’t like big cities, and want to get down the coast to where it is even warmer as soon as possible.
We are so glad we came through Portugal – apart from the gastronomic delights, it is an incredibly friendly country, and we rarely go a day without someone stopping to have a chat and offer us a lift (which, of course, we decline. Dammit.) It is a country we did not know a lot about, but one which we would love to return to – everything from the architecture to the landscape is truly beautiful. Increasingly, as we get further south, the Moorish history of the country becomes evident in the “azulejos”, the patterned tiles, and the intricate tile mosaics, the “azulejaria”. It is a wonderful thing to have a sense of walking into Morocco from afar through the gradually changing cultural patterns; walking helps the transition from place to place make much more sense.
On a final note, a very quick response to the many comments we have had by email and elsewhere about the weight we are carrying. Without going into detail, we are carrying a lot of technological equipment which would not normally be carried by hikers. This is to enable us to keep this diary going, and also to pursue our own interests regarding photography and writing - it means we are, on average, three to five kilos each heavier than a normal pack. And as to the big tent (3 kilos) - if you are living in it day in and day out, a hiking tent just gets a bit depressing. Ours also gives the option of being a self standing mozzie net in tropical climates. But I am leaving the rest of this stuff to Gary, as when the new equipment page goes up in the next few weeks, he will be keeping his own blog regarding the practical side of things (so there, Jo and Lisa, you can finally get your male perspective...he is looking forward to bagging the hell out of me so that should be fun!) Having said that, we hugely appreciate all of the interest shown and are grateful for the input and advice written to and about us.
If we manage to walk away from the wine bars we will be in Lisbon within the week. I’ll have another glass and think about it.