Reporting from Portugal

Hi again, I know it’s been awhile but, hey, we’ve been busy. Wandering around Lisbon, hiking the Rota Vicentina down half the Costa Vicentina, checking Google News every 10 minutes or so. Not sure if you’ve heard, but there is a nasty virus going around these days. It seems like everyone is getting it. Just when it seems like one country might have it under control – boom! – it starts spreading like wildfire somewhere else. Try googling “coronavirus” – that’s what they were calling it at first because, you know, that’s the kind of virus it is, but eventually Corona beer convinced people to cut them some slack and find a new name. So now it’s going by COVID-19, all in caps, I guess to emphasize just how serious it is. I have to admit, it now it has a more end-of-the-world sound to it, plus it includes a nice specific number so we can easily keep track of all the different super-mutations down the road. Anyway, the point is, you might want to be careful these days, stay home as much as you can, wash your hands, like, all the time, “socially distance” yourself from the handful of people who actually enjoy your company and, obviously, avoid going shirtless and bouncing around in a heaving concert mosh pit. Unless there are only 49 people, of course, then it should be fine. You’ll want to stock up on enough food and essentials so that you don’t have to go to the grocery store everyday but there is no need to go overboard, experts have assured me that so far the virus has little to no effect on bread, vegetables, cows or certain kinds of sentient bananas. And if you’re thinking about clearing out an entire Costco toilet paper aisle, maybe first have a family meeting to discuss ways you might change your wiping habits so that you won’t blast through several hundred rolls over the next two months. Or maybe look at installing a gentle, soothing bidet.

Anyway, as for our situation, we are currently in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. On Monday we moved into an apartment with everything we should need to ride out the storm – kitchen, wifi, nearby grocery store, couch, sunny balcony, mediocrely partial sea view, crappy Portuguese tv, in that order. Our plan is to hang tight here as long as it takes, hoping that “as long as it takes” actually equals late April, beginning of May. Portugal is currently a shockingly unaffected blip on the end of pandemically-challenged Western Europe, like one weirdly healthy pinky toe at the end of a disgusting, gangrenous leg. Sure, it’s heartening to see, and you admire it and everything, but deep down you know it’s only a matter of time. So we are braced for the storm to hit over the next few days and should have no reason to come in contact with anyone other than the cashier at Intermarché and a couple fellow Canadians who are staying nearby while waiting for their Saturday flight home (and even them very carefully, probably BYOB happy hour on the beach all sitting safely two sneeze zones apart). With no set schedule, no perfect option for isolation if we came home, a serious aversion to the current messy, contaminated state of European airports,  and no desire to become the focus of carrier speculation when ol’ COVID inevitably starts running rampant through Saskatchewan, we are opting to take our chances getting home in a month or two. And, if none of that works out, well, then I guess this is where we live now. I’ll still never cheer for Ronaldo, though.

So, enough about us. What’s new with you? Just kidding, this blog is very much a one-way conversation, as you may have noticed. But at least it might be more interesting to talk about what we’ve been doing instead of what we’ve been thinking. Can’t be less interesting, right?

Lisbon

We love Lisbon. And we particularly loved it this time around for some reason. Maybe because it is so easy to visit Lisbon on a budget. Maybe because we were so surprised to find a bunch of cool new places again even though we’ve already been there twice. Maybe because we’d just come from Lake Atitlán, where the closest we get to a city most weeks is the town that actually has a consistent source of milk. There’s not a lot to say that can’t be better explained through the photos as we spent almost our entire visit wandering from scenic building to scenic viewpoint to scenic funicular to scenic alley. And we didn’t even have time to go see the magical castles of Sintra again this time like we had planned. We did take a short break from all that to eat an iconic “pastéis de nata” custard pastry from (apparently) the original source, Pastéis de Belém. Not surprisingly, it is located in the Belém neighbourhood, not far from the amazing Tower of Belém (it’s the one in the photos that looks a whole lot like a tower). We had a great apartment in the Cais do Sodre neighbourhood, one of the most interesting areas to stay in Lisbon, where we retreated occasionally for rest and sustenance and to continue waging an ongoing battle with jet lag and also took advantage of an amazing deal that allows you unlimited access to all forms of public transport in the city for just €7 per person for 24 hours. Trams, baby, so many trams. New trams, old trams, full trams, empty trams. But always yellow, that’s for sure.

Rota Vicentina / Fisherman’s Trail

10 days, 180 km, give or take. We’re not quite sure because we didn’t always follow the recommended route; sometimes because we wanted to stick as close to the coast as possible, sometimes because we didn’t really know what the hell we were doing. But, wow, what a photogenic trek! From the start – a wind-swept beach just outside the port town of Sines – to the dramatic cliffs between Cabo São Vicente (St. Vincent Cape, the southwestern-most point in Europe) and our end point in Sagres, every day featured stunning coastal scenery, quiet little off-season beach towns and a fair bit of exhausting sand walking. With manageable days averaging 20 km or so, none of the crushing steep ascents and descents of the Tour du Mont Blanc and none of the high-altitude oxygen deficiencies of the Nepalese Himalaya, this was a relatively easy trek, at least in the scheme of 10-day journeys. But at least 1/3 of the time we were walking through soft, sandy coastal dunes which upped the difficulty level considerably. Although we quickly learned the trick – treat it like walking on ice, slow down, take short steps, don’t push off and waste energy shoving your foot back through the sand in your eagerness. We passed through beach towns and charming villages of Aljezur, Odexeice, Zambujeira, Almograve, Carrapateira, Vila Nova de Milfontes and Porto Covo along the way.

Of course, a lot of people pass on all the strenuous walking and simply visit all the great stops along this beautiful stretch of coastline via one of the best European road trips. To each their own.

Rota Vicentina, or (Saint) Vincent’s Route, is the name for an entire network of trails. The Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores), on the other hand, specifically describes a nice 4-day stretch between Porto Covo and Odeceixe, plus some coastal variations here and there further down on the way to the lighthouse at São Vicente. So, what we did could accurately be described by either name, or as “that time we walked in the sand in Portugal”, which is likely how we’re going to remember it in years to come. Besides the hiking end of it, the towns along the way were enjoyable, with good restaurants and, most importantly, our own normal, heated hotel room every night – very different from the chaotic dorm rooms of the Caminos and TMB, or the frigid plywood coffins of Nepal. Bottom line, a really great hike with a very impressive comfort to exertion ratio. Cheap, too. Portuguese may be one of my least-favourite languages to try bumbling through, but at least this place is always very affordable. Anyway, since we have since written a detailed guide to the Rota Vicentina, I won’t get into it any more than to share a bunch of photos. Here are those photos:

Well, that’ll do for now. In summary, we left Guatemala early to hike, which we did a bunch of, then we were going to travel through southern Spain and finish our trip with another visit to Morocco. Instead we have an apartment on the outskirts of Armacão de Pera in the Algarve region of Portugal. To be continued…

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