We are in the town of Sagres. It is the furthest that you can go South and West in Europe, and the coast of the Americas is next. Well that was clear a few hundred years ago. Its strategic importance then means that it has a very large and imposing fort that guards the entrance to the Mediterranean. Today, with the EU and the Eurovision song contest, the boundaries of Europe are much more uncertain.
That Portugal has strong links to the Arab world to the South is clear from the architecture and the swapping of mosque for church and back again in many of the town squares. There is also a curious legacy to be found when you get in an elevator.
Arab culture picked up the concept of the number zero and negative numbers from Indian mathematics, a very long while ago. The Roman numerical system never got to grips with the concept of zero one little bit. Come forward many hundreds of years and there is still a divide when it comes down to the ease that people accept zero and negative numbers. Roman influenced culture has ground, basement, P1, P2 and so on. You will not find zero and negatives. I thought that was quite interesting.
We left Faro on a quiet Sunday morning heading just about North on the N2. It was 19’c at 9.30 and after three months or so off the bike, we were struggling to find our legs on the 4% and 5%.
Sundays and Thursdays are the hunting days here as in quite a bit of the rest of Europe. The quite valley rang with gunshot every ten minutes or so. Hunting is big here, and magazines with dogs on the cover take up a disproportionate length of shelf in the news agents.
The world over, Sunday is also cyclist club run day. Dressed in what I would call ‘full winter bike gear’, they were out in surprising number. On the N270 to Loule we ride past gypsie families in horse and cart. They are dark, tough as nails and all singing.
Swallows spin around our bikes. It is now 24’c and would be called ‘a heat wave’ in Scotland. We ride into Loule, and into the middle of the carnival. We ride in the middle of runners of all shapes and abilities. Some look like Olympic hopefuls, but I am not sure if they are warming up for a 10K or taking part in a marathon.
We have a coffee and cake in a local bar. We know already that this will become a theme of our journey here. On we go along narrow roads now. The Almond trees are in blossom and the air smells of heat already.
We are just a few Kilometers from the coast and can still see the sea, but have gone back 40 years or more on these quiet roads. We ride into Alte just as its Carnival begins. It is a stunning little village. We stay a couple of nights with Esther’s aunt, just outside.
On the road again, we rode the small roads and lanes to Silves. This is wonderful cycling, and with this climate could not be more perfect. Local cyclists were again dressed for winter, some even had over boots on. They would die in Scotland.
We took a cheap hotel and went exploring the narrow streets and castle. This may be a nightmare in high season, but at the moment it is unexpectedly warm and we have it almost to ourselves.
On the road early the next morning and we are passed by what will become a regular sight on the road. Micro cars, three wheel two-stroke vans and scooters. All are driven slowly, by design or poor maintenance. All leave a trail of strong tobacco and petrol.
There are so many dogs here. The towns are full of them. They take themselves off for purposeful walks and then spend hours in the shade, watching the world. In the countryside they are remarkably calm as we pass. There is of course the occasional rogue on a chain. Driven mad by their circumstances, they act as if they may rather like to taste the tangy flesh of cyclist. We listen for their baritone barks and sound of chains snapping into tension.
Xanadu by Olivia Newton John and ELO is in my head as we ride along the N125 to Lagos. Not a good thing and it will take some shifting. This minor road is a bit of a nightmare, full of tight fisted drivers avoiding the toll road that runs parallel. In the way of such things, it is virtually empty. Another cheap room, we stay in Lagos for the night. It was once the cultural and scientific capital of the Algarve and has the architectural legacy.
We have come in a small arc along the coast and are now once again by the sea at Luz. Avoiding the busy main roads, we weave in and out of golf courses and time share developments. Portugal had a mini boom which went bust about 10 years ago. Turkey and Bulgaria have taken its trade away in huge numbers. The worlds slump has come on top of this and now many of these building sites will remain unfinished till the end of time or our overthrow by Apes.
Again the temperature is up to 25’c. The Algarve has had no rain for over 2 months and is bone dry. The old wells that dot the fields may be needed this summer. Most look in quite good order and just need a willing donkey. Water will be a big problem here in 2 months time and already there are wild fires further North.
We end the day in a Pastelaria, the cheap bar, come bakery, come drop in center. We are just outside Sagres, the most South West place in Europe. This will be the start of our ride as we touch the sea here. Portugal, even here in the Algarve is a wonderful place to cycle. Just a few Kilometers inland and you could be in another world. Hop on a plane and bring your bike here and you could tour these rural roads going from cheap ( €25 for a double ) hotel to cheap hotel.
With much of Europe further along our route still under deep snow, you will not be surprised to hear that we are staying in Portugal for a while and you can not blame us for that.