“Four Euros!?…Is that all??”
The young guy behind the bar had just wavered the cream cake, filled up my water bottles, given me two large bottles of Sagres and a massive cheese toastie. He also advised me of a cool beach to sleep on, which promptly followed.
And so I had arrived to Portugal with the warmest of welcomes. And in English too, which is understood by pretty much everyone; a result I believe of not only tourism but the fact television is subtitled and not dubbed as in Spain. Sometimes I notice myself staring unamused at British politicians on television whilst sipping my 0.60€ coffee. Sometimes I wish it was dubbed.
I think I passed “peak sweat” in Andulacía, but it’s still pretty warm in the Portuguese “Algarve,” at 30 degrees most days. Can’t complain. Well I can actually, cycling a heavy bike in these temperatures. The white perma-sweat stain on my saddle. Those mosquito bites stinging in the eternal sunlight. Smelly socks. Though my hair is now the shape of a small to medium sized lampshade, so I am saving money on suncream.
The cycle from Vila Real took me along the south coast, on occasion utilizing the cycle route (Eurovelo route 1) through the countryside and forests, avoiding the busy N125. You see, where the Portuguese are very considerate and caring in person, all of that goodness completely evaporates the moment they step inside a vehicle. Cycling in Portugal is horrible. And at times I find it unbearable. It doesn’t help that many roads are narrow and in a poor state of repair. I mean, who wants to spend the day wondering if the next passing car will come so close that a bit of wind or a rock on the road means the end of your life? Not me.
So I took the cycle path. A bit off-road at times, and hardly direct, but it did take me to some cool spots. Like this beach on an island, only joined to the mainland by a thin pedestrian bridge.
Tavira Island is also a natural park and has won several awards for it’s beach. But who cares about that…there’s a tiny train here for the lazy tourists taking them from the bridge to the beach and restaurants!
I think it’s diesel powered. But it could just as easily be a lawnmower engine. I was going to crack a joke that I could probably overtake it on my bike. But on the way back the following morning, I did. Prompting stares from the sunburnt mob on board.
A couple of days later I passed through Faro. Boring. Apart apart from this.
I soon reached the edge of the (Portuguese) world and began cycling my way northwards into a fierce headwind where I met Antoine, a young cyclist from Belgium. What a team we were, blasting up the coast into the wind covering several kilometres with ease. And with twice the variety of food.
He was complaining of feeling lonely after only four days on the road and he couldn’t imagine how I must feel after 3 months. But I feel fine. Which makes me think I’m some sort of weirdo. But it does occur to me that people think I spend my days rolling along doing nothing but cycling and talking to myself. Well…it’s true.
We pedalled to a camp site (a first for me this trip) as Antoine got seriously busted by the cops the previous night…having to pay between 200€ and 1000€ for sleeping in his tent in a natural park! While I didn’t share the same fear of getting caught, I did enjoy the company. And so for 7€ I joined him with the pleasurable benefits of a legal campground: power showers, electricity, a café and a television where we could watch the football and gollop down a beer.
The following day yielded another sweat-filled, distance-smashing day. Where we discovered cycling through some remote villages that the Portuguese too like their siestas: between 1p.m and 3p.m all the shops were closed (come on, that’s lunchtime!). And there were no supermarkets, owing to the strangely sparse population on the Atlantic coastline south of Lisbon. So we sat and ate the little plain food we had left from the previous day before continuing up a thin spit of land, covered with trees and with beaches and sea on both sides until we made the ferry to Sebútal, where we parted ways. And there, I met my old flatmate from Barcelona and we cycled to his hometown just south of Lisbon. Where I would rest for a few days and watch Portugal in the final.
So I was in Portugal when they won the Euro. I was in Germany when they won the World Cup. And I was in Barcelona when they won the Champions League. Maybe…if I go back to Scotland…