Although in my head I believe there are great destinations to explore in the Algarve, I reluctantly relinquish my spot on Praia Nova in order to venture on a day trip to the ‘end of the world’ as it is called – Cape St. Vincent, the most southwesterly point of Europe.
We packed for all contingencies, including the possibility of more beach time. Remembering from our Italian sojourn that Saturday is market day, I became hopeful about what I might find along the way.
The early beginning in the convertible was delicious. The air is so clear and comfortable. My amazing race partner and I team up in our ideal roles once again – me the driver, able to react at a moment’s notice, albeit with some heat at times (admitedly), and My Beloved starring as navigator, GPS hero, expert map reader and sundial affectionado.
Since we are heading to Sagres, where Henry the Navigator (Henry I) brought together the keenest explorers, cartographers, sailors, geographers. He brought together a community of scholars to develop navigational techniques. The likes of Magellan and Vasco de Gama apprenticed with Henry before setting sail on the ‘Sea of Darkness’. Within 30 minutes they will be joined with my GPS loaded with European map wielding sweetheart.
We hit a few tense moments along the way as the Garmin route (Why does it always have to take the ‘shortest route’?) puts us in cobblestoned towns so tiny that if you exhale you will scrape paint off the car. Apart from a few anxious missteps we are able to make our way nicely towards our ‘School of Navigation’. One of the best things that can possibly happen during a routing error is discovery of a spice and silk route, such as Vasco de Gama’s discovery in India. Our discovery yielded a local market in the middle of nowhere. We found 60’s style vans and well worn umbrellas protecting the weathered locals from the sun selling everything from freshly picked oranges, to salt cod to girdles (the likes I haven’t seen since my Mom’s!),
We photographed old men gathering for refreshment and the all important time in the week where there’s a break from their labour, where they can sit, wait and hope their work produces some additional euros to ease their economic hardship.
We found a lady selling shoes which drew my attention rapidly. We selected a pair for My Beloved for 20 euros, which she assurred us was a ‘good deal’. We didn’t have the heart to bargain. Her very being told us that every cent of the price of the shoes was desperately needed. It felt more like a donation to her next meal.
We moved along to the melon stand. We met the kindest man selling freshly picked fruit. You could see the sunshine kissed strawberries were candy disguised as health food. We couldn’t even begin to understand his Portuguese song, but we held out a few euros (no more than what we believed our selection might cost) and he took a few coins. A sugar baby watermelon so large for 2 euros! One half the size would be triple at home! We ventured back deciding on strawberries. His Portuguese confounded us, but like a patient grandfather using sign language, he gave me an on the spot lesson in money. No surprises here – the Portuguese have impressed us as gracious and patient people. We meandered in the fish shack and marvelled at the varieties, thinking of how my mom loved a good piece of salt cod.
Deciding to give the available ‘WC’ a try – again, no to be too personal, I have to assert these people have such great pride and work so hard – that even the bathrooms in the country are as clean as a whistle, with carefully folded (piece by piece) tissue at the ready for anyone who needs it.
With anticipation we press on toward the desert land of Sagres. Feeling hungry and ready for lunch, upon our approach to the vila, we found a welcoming restaurant with shade for the car, airconditioning for us and free WIFI in spurts. We coffee-d, caught up online and munched on grilled sea bass and omelets. The fish was light and flaky – perfectly grilled. With a connection to the ‘new world’ via the Playbook, we continued through the arid desert noting ruins and forts from a place where knowledge ruled and fierce defense took place.
Our destination was the Farol de Cabo Sao Vincente (lighthouse at St. Vincent). The point where it all ended or began. How familiar the craggy cliffs look to us. Newfoundland’s shores are the next port of call and the majestic points are the reminders. We took photos of couples and families who would have one face absent in most ‘must have shots’, indulged in a churro dredged in cinnamon sugar and resisted the souvenir vendors, knowing the ‘Paleozoic’ rocks they are selling for 4 euros are readily availableon Praia Nova – only a 100 foot stair climb from our condo.
I tried on ponchos and we toured the lighthouse area. It’s a marvel that in such a desolate place – people were there creating light for unaware sailors into the Sea of Darkness.
My souvenir is a free rock that I am certain was part of the path that Vasco de Gama’s descent to his ship. My Beloved put the camera away because the battery died after 1000 photos and we make our way back towards home.
We thought cliff walking might be the next activity, but in 35 degree weather, opted to explore ‘Algarve Shopping’ – a place where Square One and Heartland Centre converge. Thinking of our families we had much discussion around small mementos. We make some ‘packable’ choices, bought some dinner add-ons (shrimp and pasta in garlic ail oli) and pack it in for the day.
We enjoyed the evening meal as the sun pinked the sky promising yet another delightful day in the Algarve.