Discovering Portugal - Wild, generous and welcoming!
Our experience in Portugal in video
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Half excited, half nostalgic, we crossed the first border of our adventure and left Portugal. First country of the 17 we will walk in across Europe, Portugal has welcomed us as our grandmothers would have done: warmly, with a kiss on our head and a hot meal, wherever you are, you always feel at home in Portugal.
From our first steps at the Saint-Vincent Cape’s lighthouse we are now 750km away, but that’s not the onlything: we have also crossed 3 regions as well as 7 natural parcs, swalloded dozens of pasteis de nata, collected about 40kg of rubbish, spent an average of 16,50€ per days between the two of us, and have been joined by no less than 5 hikers… We had lunch in a retirement home, slept in a fire station, rested in a sculptor's workshop, found shelter in a caravan, and enjoyed the amenities of a small cabin...
Beyond the numbers, we have lived our journey across Portugal as an intense experience, immersed in a beautiful country which we have mainly crossed through its rural area. A country with a sometimes hard climate but graced by such welcoming people! We have spent 42 days in Portugal and have been welcomed 18 times for the night by people we did not know but who didn’t remain stangers very long! After few hours, a deep and close bound was created even when portuguese was our only means of communication. The next morning, we often left each other with tears in our eyes.
Usually, travel creates this kind of quick and close relationship. The traveller is just walking by, so the time to get to know each other is really short. But we would like to believe that it isn’t just that. That beyond this feeling of urgency, there is also a real temperament which have given the people we met in Portugal the curiosity to come across and meet us.
It is confusing to see how connexions can be build up this quick while our rhythm is so slow. After 7 weeks of travel, we are quite in tune with our walking condition and have the impression of going quite fast. Yet, when the sun goes down around 5pm and after walking 15 to 35 km, we are asking someone on the road if they know where we could find a place to spend the night or to have a drink. When he happily directs us to a coffee shop 6km away without understanding our vexed looks, we have to come to terms with the gap between us and the people around! We also understood it when we walked along the road: Portuguese people drive really fast!
And walk along the road we did, quite a few times, in Portugal. It made us realise how hiking wasn’t perceived the same way everywhere. In France, we are lucky to have this hiking culture and access to very wide walking pathways. In Portugal for many people, especially the oldest one, walking is the transportation mean of the poorests, the ones walking are those who can’t do otherwise. Everything is changing though, thanks to the Rota Vicentina, le sentier des villages de Schistes, the Via Algarvina and many others. Although, some places in Portugal are deprived of hiking paths. That’s why we ended up changing our first itinerary to cross less agricultural areas bordered by roads and more natural parks and mountains.
From Algarve to Centro region passing by Alentejo, we discovered various and amazing landscapes. In Algarve, we were stunned by the ground where nothing grows and where the wind blows without rest. Obviously, the Vicentine coast which is going to Alentejo left us speechless. In February, we were just in time for the storks returns to their local nests. By the way, this is the one and only place where you can observe storks nesting on the atlantic seaside cliffs.
We had the chance to hike one day with a guy passionate about the region and we learned a lot from him. Rudolf Muller fell in love with Portugal and Alentejo 35 years ago. Since first encountering the region, he never left it. 10 years ago, his wish was to develop the region’s economic along with nature and culture conservation, something he achieved with the Rota Vicentina. We tell you everything you need to know about this trail in our article WHAT YOU DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE ROTA VICENTINA. You can also watch Rudolf’s interview.
With him and ten others volunteers, we contributed in clean the beach. Plastic wrappers, fishing nets, surfboard polystyrenes, we found everything! In a few hours, tens or hundreds of rubbish kilos were collected and carried to top of the cliff through a little winding path.
On the beach, along the country lane or by the road we did not expect this much waste. Our project 1KG FOR THE PLANET took off at full throttle! Some say that you can learn a lot by looking at someone rubbish, we have mainly discovered portuguese passion for liquid yoghurts!
As soon as we entered into the lands, further than the coast where the wind winds down, we were dizzied up by trees’ essences. Not just any: eucalyptus as far as the eye could see. Gone our first wonderment at their slender shape and perfume, we realised that eucalyptus is not in its natural environment in Portugal. It covers 10% of the territory already (source : Institute for nature and forest preservation ICNF) and above all, paper paste, which it used to produce, represents almost 5% of the country exportation. If it is very bankable as it is cut every 10 years, it is also a real environmental disaster: a real water-guzzler to feed its rapid growth, its roots digs very deep into the ground to find water and ends up drying out the land. Its bark, its leaves and most of all its oil are highly flammable. During summer and autumn 2017, eucalyptus plantation combined with pines, a lack of rain, a ground dried out by this intensive cultivation and a highl temperature turned into deadly wildfire in June and October 2017.
We crossed the devastated lands from Centro region, with rain and fog giving to this landscape a desolated atmosphere. As if to give us hope though, we met Pedro who lived through the wildfire but above all, decided to react.
What we discovered with pleasure were the antic, mythic, typical cork oaks from Portugal. These odd twisted trees look like old wise men watching on Alentejanes hills. Every 9 years, their bark is striped from the trees to produce corks and isolation material worldwide. Portugal is the first productor in the world and these cork oaks are protected by a very old law. It is strictly forbidden to cut a tree without an express authorisation giving by the authority responsible on this matter.
We really fell madly in love with portuguese food. We found all that we like : diversity, good local product from sea and soil, good bread, family kitchen like at granny’s house… Since we are in Spain, we couldn’t find an equivalent to the fantastic pastel de nata that we had almost every day like clockwork at the end of our long walking days (and sometimes also at the beginning).We also discovered the percebes, push-foot in english, a crustacean which grows hillside, which is extremely dangerous to pick, nestled as it is in the nooks and crannies of the sea cliffs visible at low tide. They look like fingers’ witch but are absolutely delicious.Among our most memorable food memories there were Victor’s Alentejan pork in Zambujeira do Mar, Fernanda’s sardines with potatoes and onions in Ramalheira and all those oranges that we were offered along the road. These were all beautiful sharing moments!
We left Portugal knowing we will come back, perhaps to spend a little slice of life there. This is just a goodbye to beautiful landscapes, to this language we were just about to grasp, to these families which are a little bit ours now and to all these dishes which we already miss dearly!
Spain is waiting for us and we have to go, lots of beautiful surprises are still waiting during this European thru-hike.
Talk to you soon!
Marie & Nil
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