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A most photogenic chair.

We had a rest day in Castro Verde. I must say, on the subject of not pushing on too much, we are enjoying this slow pace. Walking around the town for the second day, we came across an open door and inside a vacant barbers chair.

Perfect, As I need a haircut and this may be the most photogenic chair in Southern Portugal. The place where the barber should be sitting and reading a two day old news paper was deserted. Half an hour later and we return to the same empty scene. A guy walking past assess our dilemma. He does a mime for us so that we understand the situation.  It had been a long time since he was at school and had been asked to do any sort of mime. So, to conclude. The barber was busy at the moment either getting hopelessly drunk in a local bar, or had gone down the street to the dentist. Such a shame either way.

The Basilica - a must see.

The wonderful interior of the Basilica.

Our stay in the little town had coincided with the closing times of the one ‘must see’ thing in Castro Verde, the Basilica. A late start in the morning and we were at the door just after it opened for business. Where the churches we had seen so far featured blue painted tiles on many surfaces, this took it to the logical extreme. Every surface that was flat enough to have a tile, had a blue painted tile.

The silver head of Pope something.

It managed not too look the horrible mess that you may have expected and there was an added attraction that will be one of the highlights of our time here. For €1 you could have a look in the treasure room, and I would suggest that you should. There are things that would normally take pride of place in fancy museums that have catalogues that cost much more than €1. The most amazing being a beautiful ornate silver head, inside of which is the skull of Pope something.

The N2 - we are starting to look quite good now.

We head South on N2, with a strong tailwind hurrying our progress. The last traffic island has several rows of benches, all occupied by village elders. They put in hours every day here making sure that they don’t miss anything and keeping up to date with news. There must be 25 of them, maybe more. If an accident happens here, the witness statements will take weeks to sort out.

A massive articulated truck comes past us at quite a speed. I wave, thanking him for giving us lots of room. Unbelievably, in what would have made a uTube viral hit if I had managed to film it. Just 20cm from the back of the truck, and with a stream of traffic close behind him, a local road cyclist his legs spinning in the big chainring. One touch of the brakes from the truck or a hole in the tarmac and this man is dead. We pull up, just to confirm with each other what we have just seen.

A rural chair for sitting and watching.

The N2 is fine enough, though perhaps a little narrow in places, but we want to go the scenic route to Salir. We pull onto the quiet roads at Almodovar and start to climb. These are the hills that you can see at the back of the Algarve as you look North from your ‘Time-Share’. They rise steeply from sea level, and had put the fear of god into two unfit touring cyclists when we caught sight of them on day one. The road performs a succession of 10% ups and downs from our direction, with tight curves as well. The temperature is now 27’c and for the first time, this could be described as real climbing. We have over 750K in our legs now, and with Spain, the hilliest country in Europe ahead we need this to go well.

Climbing - this would not have been nice 3 weeks ago.

Beautiful quiet roads - we have found so many in Portugal.

A car every 20 minutes.

Old men dressed in tweeds and caps that had been their grandfathers, tend their gardens. Each takes the time to lean on hoes and wave as we slowly pass on our way up the climbs. We stop for our third coffee of the day at a remote bar. Looking across the valleys we can see a feature that we recognise from our time here a few weeks ago. The prayer flags and brightly painted buildings of a Buddhist Monastery. We had no idea at all that we were on this road and decide to see if we can stay the night at the Temple.

The Stupa of the Monastery.

Pulling up to the main buildings.

It is 571m above sea level and we pull our heavy bikes up to the Stupor to take in the panorama. Inside there are hundreds of Buddhas and sacred items built into the structure. We go in search of someone to ask about staying the night. Twenty minutes later we give up and go back to the last cafe to find a telephone number for the place.

Back up the hill we come and have one last look around. No one, so we phone. Within a minute someone comes out of one of the buildings we have just been knocking at, having got our call. “Sorry I didn’t hear you at all, I was studying”. We feel more than a bit responsible for interrupting and Esther tries to apologise. “I guess you can lose yourself studying something so deep and absorbing as Buddhist texts”. “Oh it’s not that, I have my Theory Test for my driving licence next week”. Which just goes to show that you should not jump to conclusions.

Descending the next morning.

The full moon and the sound of a hundred dogs or more giving voice to a primal urge fills the evening and night. We have the best view in Southern Portugal and settle down to try and get our the full 12 hours of sleep that we seem to need after a hard day on touring bikes. Life is good and we get away with another day without a plan.

This is cycle touring heaven. Going down at least.

Part of the consequence of not planning too much is that we only have a packet of nuts for breakfast. We head down what would be one of the finest but stiffest road biking climbs anywhere if we had the misfortune of coming the other way. We pull in at the first cafe for a breakfast of cheese and ham sandwiches and a plastic bag full of cakes. This is going to be the hottest day yet and we still have to do some climbing.

Cafe table football. the local rivalry of Lisbon teams in miniature.

Nearing Maya's house Alte, Portugal.

We go to Salir to have a look at yet another castle and then make our way to Alte in what has become a hilly 31’c day. By early afternoon we are back with Esther’s aunt and trying to describe our travels through Portugal. “Do you know the book about a guy who hitched around Ireland with a fridge?” She didn’t but got the concept, “Well you could do that here and no where else in Europe I think”. She had a bit of a think about the proposal. ”  Well I hitched around Germany with my Cello”. Well we didn’t expect that. “I needed to keep up my practicing so I took it with me”. I don’t think a fridge would work in Germany but a Cello is a different beast.

Hello again auntie Maya.