“Ohh, how fantastic to be biking again!”, I think to myself while spinning on a completely empty asphalt road through the narrow Tróia peninsula. The conditions are ideal: it’s beautiful here, the sun is shining, and the route varied but not difficult. But the best is… we have lots of time to reach the Algarve. This causes us to breath deeply and watch the surroundings with curiosity.
The euphoric mood had not left me since we’ve embarked on the ferry in Lisbon, even though Marcin was being moody and we mistakenly took a wrong ferry adding about 10 km to our route. The earlier part of the day had been spent riding through boring suburbs, but now we suddenly were enveloped by the beautiful Arrabiata natural reserve, with picturesque mountains and a sunset so pretty, it made me constantly stop and take photos.
We’ve entered Setúbal, where Fernando was awaiting us. He lives on the sixth floor and has no garage, so we had to carry each item of our stuff up the lobby stairs and into an elevator. The bikes wouldn’t fit whole, but removing the front wheels would do the trick. Fernando told us that once he hosted a couple who traveled the world on a tandem and they had to lug it up the stairs to the sixth floor…
While having the dinner together and chatting with Fernando’s daughter who’s planning to go to Poland on the Erasmus program, we’ve realized that for the first time in our travels we’re hosted by a traditional family, that is a couple with two children. Hosts tend to be originals or younger people, while those who’ve settled down and started families don’t typically have a go at putting up strangers. Thus the experience of spending time with a Portuguese family was all the better since we could see the openness of the parents, who taught it to their kids early on.
Let’s go back to the Tróia peninsula though. We’re riding on in euphoric moods, over a road that’s amazingly straight and empty. We caught another ferry in Setúbal to get here, so the amount of cars that reach this remote and narrow piece of land is pretty limited. Our Balkan and Greek experiences make us balk at a prospect of a flat and completely straight road with no cars on it. On the right, behind the dunes, hides the ocean, on the left — a bay. In the middle — us. We stop a few times, to enjoy the view from the dunes. Later we enter the quaint village of Comporta and cycle on, to finish the day camping into a cold night.
Since coming to Portugal, sun had been our daily companion, while most of night were rather cold. Yet now the forecast changes and rains are coming. While in Sines, we attempt to find a host but don’t manage to find even a roof that would help us through two days in a wet tent. Too bad!
We cycle on, a bit thoughtlessly, into to natural park that protects the Costa Vincentina. The views are staggering: emptiness and space, wide dunes overgrown with succulents, dark blue skies, huge waves and wind that manages to make our hands cold and hot at the same time. When we look back toward Sines, we see somber ships and dreary chimneys of a power plant. We’re at a beach called Sao Torpes, which with current weather makes for a comical comparison to San Tropez. What a place! The evening and the rain are upon us. We break into laughter in this forlorn wasteland — an excellent place to camp, for sure! Every once is a while we pass a small surfer’s shop or a restaurant, but they are closed. Then we come across a place that’s open and, in a last ditch effort, ask about a tent, hoping they’d let us use their roofed terrace. Instead, they direct us to a camping site nearby, beyond the dunes. What to do? We start pushing our bikes down a narrow, sandy path. Lo and behold, indeed, there is a camping there, to which we proceed, with Alentejo cows watching us silently from a nearby field.
Camping sites mean to us inadequate conditions to the price, a rather unappealing surroundings and neighbours too close. If we have to camp in rain anyway, it’d be much more fun to pitch the tent in a more beautiful and quiet place. But we’re in a natural park, so camping site it will be. After the first, rather wet night, I make use of the privilege of a long hot shower, leave my stuff at the tent and decide to go to the cantina/recreational area, just as the rain starts really pouring. In about two minutes I am as wet as under the shower, only it’s not hot at all. There is nothing else to do but laugh again. We order wine and get online. Just like the Alentejo cows outside, we decide to care nothing for the weather. I go get my camping cooker and start making lunch, under the canvas roof. I’m chatting on skype, the food is happily bubbling, when a man comes over. He walks up and down the cantina, gives me looks and appears to be waiting for somebody. I don’t really mind him and chatter on, but he does not go away, even after 15 minutes of being ignored. I then finish the conversation and say hello to him. He explains, that we can’t be staying in the tent in this weather and it will be easier to cook in his house, too. I’m suspicious, so he tells me he’ll talk to my ‘boyfriend’. After a while he comes back with Marcin, who is a bit surprised that a man was waiting for him at the shower stalls with an umbrella, and further more, that man tried to convince him that we really ought to sleep and cook at his place. After numerous protests, not entirely sure about the true nature of this proposal, we give in. It quickly turns out that João is a gardener here living in a small trailer-house and he is another good soul on our way. The new friend gives up his bedroom for us and teaches Marcin how to cut tobacco leaves for cigarettes.
The weather soon gets better, so we bid farewell to João, and over the next several days travel along the Costa Vincentina. We walk along cliffs and on the beaches and can’t help but be amazed. This park definitely deserves a separate story. Later we take a turn and head inland. Cycling through Portuguese countryside, we make slow progress climbing a series of hills. When we reach the top, eager to make our descent, we feel something special. It’s wonderfully quiet here — the feeling of genteless and beauty. Maybe it’s our spot to spend the night? We get off the main road and approach a house. It’s quiet all around, the gate is open, there is a car in the driveway and a dog is sitting on the front porch, not making a sound. Marcin knocks on the door and a woman appears. She speaks English. It’s not a problem to pitch our tent in her yard. Here we will stay for the night, in the gentle place, wandering what magnetism had brought us here and makes us want to stay. Maybe it’s all a sign we should settle here? I don’t know. In the morning, when I open the tent flaps, everything is enveloped by mists and condensation, and the sun is lighting it all up in golden. Pure magic. Lima keeps playing with the other dog without end, with easiness that’s not usual for her. The power of this place can change even characters. We get up and pack our things very slowly, over the course of several hours, not able to get ready, or not wanting, to be on our way. As we exit the side road onto the asphalt, we see a signpost telling us there is a place for sale in the area. Later we’re regretful we didn’t approach the village to even have a look at the plot.
We’re close to our destination but still have two more days until scheduled arrival date and another storm is brewing. There is a town on our way, São Marcos da Serra, and we enter it pushing our bikes up a very steep road. The houses on the sides of the hills are glued to one another. The night had just fallen. In a cafe we ask about a place to sleep. There supposedly is a hotel somewhere on the outskirts of the town, by the highway, but it’s difficult to understand exactly how to get there. One of the elderly fellows sitting at the bar gets up from his wine and tells us he’ll lead us there. He pulls out his gearless bike from around the corner and off we go. The way has a ton of ups and downs and costs him a lot of effort but he seems to be very happy that he could help. We feel grateful and moved. At a lodge, called Lisboa-Algarve, under the care of the female proprietor and her daughter we wait out the rains. When it clears we head off to São Bartolomeu de Messines. There, in her aging, tiny Peugeot, awaits us Susan — though a grandma, still wild at heart. But this will be another story.