The Fisherman’s Trail, the easy wayApril 30 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C
Following more of Evelien’s footsteps in Portugal we finally reach one of the areas of Portugal that we have much looked forward to to visit: Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. The North part of this nature park still being Alentejo, the South part ending in the Algarve. A 100 KM stretch of Europe’s best preserved coastlines, known by surfers for its waves and ecologists and biologists all over the world for its unique flora and fauna. No mass tourism, no mass development - and hence the best way to explore this nature park is by foot while following a multiple day hiking trail through areas no car can reach. We come by four wheels, however, and therefore only partly follow the footsteps my sister and brother-in-law took on this trail some years ago. Doing the trail the easy way, one could say, although we do face some challenges of our own in there next few days. But more of that later.
We take it slow and follow a similar route from town to town, while stopping wherever we can along the way to walk up to the beaches and cliffs from a parking lot. A couple of times we take longer hikes on parts of the trail, and other times we watch other people hike past us with their walking sticks and packed backpacks while we chill on the beach in our swimwear. The temperatures have finally risen more consistently and we enjoy the feel of summer on our skin and in our minds. Tim calls me crazy, but I even fancy a swim in the (chilly) ocean! The cooling sensation followed by a light nap in the sun feels like freedom.
Our first day on the trail starts at Porto Covo, a small fisherman’s town with again little whitewashed houses decorated with blue or yellow borders. Mom, you asked us the question whether these colours have any meaning. We hadn’t given it much thought before but since you asked we start to share your curiosity as to why these towns consistently have similar looking houses across a wider region. We haven’t been able to find a conclusive answer though: some say it is symbolic to reflect the sky (yellow for the sun, blue for the sky that apparently looks more blue in Alentejo than anywhere else, something to do with the way light is reflected in this region in combination of good air quality). Some have heard that it’s protecting residents from malifice (be it spiritual or flies). Our camp ground owner shrugs her shoulders when we ask her the reason: “it is mandatory by government rules to do so in Alentejo, to protect the traditional landscape”. At least it explains why the tradition lives on even today.
Still in Porto Covo, a first challenge arrives. The display of our car suddenly lights up: “check transmission”. We experienced some vague display warnings before, that after a call with the owner appeared to be solved by simply re-opening and closing the doors (it’s like when IT asks you whether you have tried to reboot your troublesome computer yet), so we try a couple of things but the warning text and beeps stay present. Looking at Google and the car’s instruction booklet it could mean a number of things: small to big, cheap to expensive, quick fix to long waits for specific parts… We aren’t getting any wiser. Thanks to some helpful suggestions of family members and another call with the owner, we eventually drill it down to a probable defect break light switch causing the cruise control to be out of order and more importantly, the break lights to not work. Instead of driving to an automobile repair shop 70 km away we try our luck at the local shop for automobile parts. It’s so small that it’s hard to spot and while it should be open according to the time table we find the door closed. Looking through the window and walking around the building we ponder about what we should do next. Right then, a car pulls up. Some neighbours must have warned the owner about two customers at the door, as the guy steps out of his car and welcomes us inside. And luck we find: of the specific part we need he has exactly one item in store and we can buy it from him for a decent €22 only. We replace the item ourselves and like that, are on our way.
From Porto Covo we slowly make our way down (via trails and beaches) to Vila Nova de Milfontes where we have one of the best dinners we have enjoyed this trip at a small local restaurant. The owner is super friendly and welcoming, the food is even better. The guy isn’t particular about sharing his culinary secrets: when we compliment him about the mushroom dish he explains exactly how we can make it at home (“it’s very easy!”) and a little while later we hear him go into detail about another recipe at one of the tables. Thanks to the vibe and hospitality it feels like we are having dinner at a friend’s place. I am sure the owner is a good friend to have! At the camp ground we make another friend, feline this time. I meet her somewhere between the sanitary building and our van when she cheekily follows me “home”. Requesting cuddles and staring at us from a small distance when we’re getting ready for bed, it is hard to close our curtains on her. In the morning a surprise awaits when the first thing we see outside is the same two piercing eyes. The whole morning she stays right with us: chilling, sleeping, cuddling. The little charmer almost tempted us in getting Musang a sister cat, if it wasn’t for her fat belly and shiny fur showing us she is already living her best life.
On day two we include a longer hike. It is on these cliffs that we witness one of this region’s unique natural features: this is the only known site worldwide where storks nest in cliffs. On various cliffs and sometimes in groups of three or more, we see nests inhabited by one or two storks. The breeding season usually starts in April, but we can not spot any chicks yet at the time of our visit. It is very special to see these giant and beautiful creatures against a backdrop of dramatic cliffs and waves. Nature continues to amaze us later in the day when we walk, swim, and relax on probably the prettiest beach of entire Portugal. Thanks to not being easily accessible it is almost deserted (except a few naturists scattered here and there) which adds to our joy. We end our day at Zambujeira do Mar.
Day three takes us all the way to Odeceixe, where we enter the Algarve and continue our rhythm of hike, beach, repeat. The only two incidents to disturb our zen takes place in Odeceixe on the way to one of the beaches. The first happens a little bit by our own caused misfortune of missing the correct turn and getting stuck into town. The hill town of Odeceixe is a little over 40 square meters with less than 1000 residents. This translates to: tiny narrow one way streets that twist and turn up the hill in a steep manner. No place for a camper van like ours… we are lucky that the one choice of direction we have somewhere midway allows us to skip a street with a warning sign about its width being “>less than two meters<“ (we are more than 2 meter wide), but soon after, our luck runs out. At the final turn to the top of the hill, where we will be able to resume our way on a normal road, we find ourselves in a tricky situation.
The turn ahead has a rough 90 degree angle to the left after which it’s a 20 meter long steep slope up (our estimate: at least 15%). To our immediate left are houses, to our immediate right a thin little wall at the height of our knees is separating us from the valley below. In front two old local men who see us coming and by the look on their faces they too foresee the trouble we are in. They pause their walk to witness how we make a first attempt to go up. Making the turn, we realise furthermore that the road is only half paved: big chunks of loose gravel slip under our wheels. Pressing the gas pedal does nothing more than spinning our wheels echoing a loud noise against the whitewashed houses, and letting it loose for just a little bit the weight of our van immediately pulls us back down. Tim has to react quickly to react on the van losing grip, jerking us dangerously close to the side of the houses, and manages to keep us straight but not up. Midway the path we have to give up trying to make the van move, and pause to restrategise.
Partially out of strategy and partially out of worry, I get out of the van (I actually thought to take my phone with me in case I’d need it). I help direct Tim to drive back down in reverse avoiding walls on both sides, the two old men still standing at the corner down below, and not the least of my worry: avoiding the fast way down behind the thin little wall. Having backed up as much as possible, the two men walk past us up the hill we try to conquer and say something to Tim that sounds like an encouragement. Tim hits the gas to try again. My heart stops once when before moving up the van drops backward even more - using every little inch possible without touching the wall - and my heart stops twice when again, the van skids on the gravel midway the road. I can see the front wheels spinning and I can hear the engine roaring, while Tim tries to get grip and make a move. It all takes way too long for both our liking and just when I think it’s an impossible task… The wheels suddenly find solid pavement to get grip and our camper van reaches the top of the hill. A well deserved thumbs up from the two elderly men confirm our success. Ronald, it was a good use of the anti slip training you and Tim once did together! The residents of Odeceixe may find traces of our challenge for a little longer in the black coloured stripes we leave on the road… (yes - we checked the tires and they were still in good shape! :-)). We take a deep breath (perhaps a few!), laugh off our nervousness together, and leave the little town for the beach…
The second less so zen moment is when we return from the beach to our parking lot, although we are actually lucky this time. A lady who just arrived in her camper van busted two guys smashing in the windows of multiple cars parked right next to us, stealing people’s belongings. Thanks to this lady arriving and bravely starting to shout and take photos they fled before they reached our van. Luck is on our side! With police on the way and some other locals staying with the lady until they arrive we leave the scene and find our camper ground for the night for a good night of sleep, fortunately not reliving any of the challenges of the day…
These few days were some of the best of our trip (despite the setbacks) and we will long remember the beauty and peace this park brought us! We highly recommend it to all nature lovers, avid hikers or not.Read more