The Little Proprietor
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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Market day: the ususal things you'd expect plus a whole array of freshly picked fruit and vegetables, herbs, spices, pulses, home made piri-piri sauces, animals scuffling about in cages (some of them stuffed in six or seven at a time), marinated olives, fresh chillis and all kinds of everyday things brought in by everyday people trying to gather some kind of profit from the day.
As small scale and simple as this is we were bowled over by it. The old fella thought it was exceptional and that kind of made it for me, to be integrating (albeit loosely) in a brief but valuable part of these peoples lives.
While Lagos appears to be a lot bigger than it is, it has a noticeable air of peace and quiet and a warm genuine hospitality usually found in much smaller communities. I don't think our time is finished here just yet.
The next chunk of accessible coast lies north of Sagres, and takes the form of a couple of bays just off the small village of Aljezur. Upon reaching a hilly summit you get the choice of two beach roads, one taking you to Arrifana, the other to Monte Clerigo - both of them hotspots for surfers, windsurfers and adrenaline wallers alike. We opted for Monte Clerigo and were not disappointed.
On our descent we were blown away. It was such a contrast to the vacant tranquility of the south coast beaches. This was angry. The Atlantic was kicking arse. I loved it. It was out of control, pounding the cliffs beneath us like a woman scorned. It was that the whole bay was uninhabited. Gimme this anyday of the week.
The road north took us out of the Algarve province and in to Alentejo territory. The scenery on the way surprised us all: vast blankets of green rolling hills and forest stretched for miles either side of us, the roads twisting excessively and traversing huge undulations in the terrain. It was North Island New Zealand, nothing at all like the dried and cracked sparseness of inland Andalucia and something we never expected to see given its close proximity.
We decended deeply in to Odeceixe, a small village just off the coast. While it was exceptionally quaint, colourful and very pleasing to the eye, it could have passed for a ghost town. We never saw a soul other than the two elderly villagers sat beside a wall and the local drunk who suddenly lost his footing and lurched forward into a no-hands head plant, smashing his skull clean into the cold cobblestone. We stood for a moment and considered the pain. Odeceixe is where we dined. The staff behaved gratefully as if they hadn't seen a tourist in a looooong time. The food nonetheless was grand: barbecued belly draft of pig with scented rice, nice.
From there we took the small N120 road, a much longer route but one which passes through the National Park, giving us the opportunity to take in more of Portugal's coastal countryside.
Passing through the town of Cercal we eventually reached Sines, a huge working port which occupies the large chunk of headland which juts out on the west coast up towards Lisbon. By the looks of things we'd got about ten or fifteen minutes to make it to the sunset. The parentals think I'm mad - like I'm chasing tornadoes or something - but seriously, to me there's nothing like it.
There's a small sandy track just off the main highway five or ten minutes south of Sines, which provides access to one of the most desolate beaches I've seen to date. I can't for the life of me remember the name of it or the area but it was a move that was well worth having the old fella question the life of his shock absorbers. Again, we just made it, and as we stepped out of the car we were greeted audibly by the resident family of stray dogs who came belting over all guns blazing before cowering like puppies on arrival. They were eating out of my hand in seconds. I left the parentals with the dog family and hopped over the fence, through the muddy rocks and straight into the sea. The sun dipped down to eye level moments later. It was perfect, infinitely better than last night's and so so personal. Apart from a lone fisherman further up the coastline I was completely alone. It was just the sunset, the Atlantic, and me.
As Sines doesn't offer that much in the way of accommodation, eateries or watering holes, we ventured south a little to a place called Vila Nova de Milfontes. There we met the first real character of our trip, the proud owner of a small but immaculate hotel in the heart of the village. He spoke no English and minimal Spanish, and it was only the basic structures of Michel Thomas that got us through and won us a couple of rooms for the night. He was a fiery little old chap - couldn't have been more than five foot tall and was extremely put out by any of our humble requests, however small. I asked to see the rooms and he gave us the full tour sarcastically, demonstrating the on and off-ness of the water, stripping back the beds in preparation for sleep and a full excursion through the range of football channels on the TV. He was legend material within minutes and only enhanced his stature by getting more and more excitable the more we spoke.
Vila Nova de Milfontes by night was just about as dead as it can get. We sunk a few 'Super Bocks' in what appeared to be the Portugese equivalent of a British Social Club, before checking out the remainder of the town. Vila Nova itself didn't really spring to life until after 11pm when car loads of young locals turned up outside to pile in to the one and only night club. We watched from the glowing insides of the 'Buddha Bar' as we sunk our teeth into crisp hot 'tostas indianas'. By midnight we were minced and headed off back to the hotel, quietly though, so as not to arouse the boiling blood of the excitable little proprieter. He shot us a glance as we walked in, and we tootled off carefully to our rooms..
Where I stayed
Vila Nova de Milfontes