Our week of cycling through The Algarve in southern Portugal was fantastic. It is clearly spring here as the countryside and peoples' gardens are exploding with colorful flowers and the powerful scents of lilac and orange blossoms make me want to inhale continuously and never let them out.
We alternated between riding along the famous, bustling coastline and turning inland to explore the quiet rolling hills. Our first stop was the town of Sagres with its spectacular beach, presence of surfers from dawn until dusk and abundance of camper vans clustered together in parking lots in the dunes. After being told by the tourist information lady that we couldn't camp on the beach, only in the campground, we decided we'd check out the nearby camper community. It turned out they park (a.k.a. camp) there for free for as long as they please so we made ourselves at home for a couple of days amongst the dozens of campers from all over Europe, most of whom spend the winter months basing in the Algarve sun to escape the cold up north. We were immediately befriended by a British couple, Bob and Patricia and a Swedish woman named Gisela. Bob and Patricia ventured over just as we got our tent set up, laughed at the cheap beer Mike was drinking and offered me a glass of delicious wine. Several times a day they would holler over to us with a friendly wave to make sure we were doing well and didn't need anything.
Cari on the beach in Sagres
Gisela turned out to be one of the kindest people we have met so far. Probably a dozen times she came trampling through the tall grass to get to our tent to bring us a jug of hot water ad a huge basin so we could take a “bath” rather than our baby wipe wash that we usually take, show us her map of Sweden and point out interesting and beautiful places we should visit if we ride that far north, show us pictures or to just sit down in the grass and chat. When we left Sagres she gave us her CD of AutoRoute, a mapping programs showing nearly every street in Europe. Our computer doesn't have a CD drive and our attempt at copying it onto a jump drive failed so she sent us on our way to a town on the other side of Portugal with directions to go to a specific computer guys she had met, see if he could install it and leave it there for her to pick up later. It was a successful mission and with our bad luck at finding wifi anywhere, therefore being unable to look at detailed online maps, this program has saved us on many occasions already. I love meeting people who understand the desire to wander, have once been in our shoes and are anxious to approach and help out travelers as a way of returning the good karma they once experienced. I look forward to day we will both be “Giselas” who don't turn away from a couple of young punks who look funny, smell funny, are not living a typical lifestyle, help them out and make their day just as Gisela and so many others have done for us.
Cari, Gisela and Mike
From Sagres we found a Couch Surfing host to stay with and though we originally planned on sticking mostly to the coast, we were not disappointed to find Jorg's house quite a distance from any town along hilly, winding, beautiful country roads with very little traffic which was a nice change from the coast highway. We had a lovely stay with Jorg's family, were clued in to which beaches we should not miss, told about an alternative eastward route that would take us through the hills instead of the coast and were sent away with an armload of the sweetest, juiciest oranges from their tree. We tried to ration them and make them last a while but we couldn't resist and they were gone within a few days.
A pannier full of oranges
From Jorg's farm we rode back out to the coast to see Marinha Beach which, just as we had been told, was breathtaking. From the cliffs above we could look down at a white sandy beach with many little coves carved into the red rocks and rocky islands scattered along the shoreline that glowed vibrant yellow against the clear blue water when the sun hit them just right. We then headed back inland and cycled through the rolling hills with tucked away little quintessential Portuguese farming villages that very much contrasted the modern tourist spots along the coastal towns. We ended the day back at the coast just as the sun was setting, set up our tent on a cliff where we clearly weren't supposed to camp (but that's never stopped us before and we didn't have much of a choice) and drifted to sleep to the sound of waves crashing below.
Camping on the cliffs
Fisherman at sunrise
Our final stop in The Algarve was the city of Faro where we once again had a Couch Surfer to stay with. Joao was a wonderful host, made us feel totally at home, cooked us a delicious mushroom risotto and taught Mike how to make a typical Portuguese cup of coffee which involves instant coffee, sugar, the slow addition of hot water and a LOT of vigorous stirring. It was a question that had remained unanswered ever since we met a few Portuguese guys on our Galapagos trip who made coffee in such a way but there was a major language barrier so we had no way to inquire. So finally the answer and technique on how to make instant coffee “good” has been disclosed to Mike.
Cari and Joao enjoying mushroom risotto.
Joao teaching Mike how to make a Portuguese coffee.
We spent an afternoon running errands, visiting camera shops searching to no avail for someone who would be able to fix my camera which somehow got a piece of debris on an internal lens that now leaves a black dot on every photo I take (maddening) and wandering through the “Old Town” section of the city. There we found remnants of life from several hundred years ago, cobblestone streets, parts of a wall still standing that encompassed the city, a chapel make of human bones and an ancient cathedral whose stone stairs were grooved and worn smooth from centuries of use. We also used the opportunity of being in a decent-sized city with a bike shop to do some maintenance on our bikes, neither of which had been working well recently. We diagnosed the problem as being worn out cassettes, which we learned typically last for about 5,000 miles. We've ridden ours for over 8,000 and were both pleased to have completely expired a major metal component of a bicycle due to extreme use for the first time in our lives.
Door to the cathedral.
Bell on top of the Cathedral.
View of Old Town, Faro from the bell tower.
A chapel made of human bones. We counted 42 skulls.