Évora, Portugal - Polarsteps

In our last couple of days in Lisbon we took a little commuter ferry across the Tagus River to climb through the Almada neighbourhood up to the giant Jesus statue that looks over the city (a copy of the one in Rio), and to get the best view looking back over the water to Lisbon. The streak of good weather we'd had finally broke towards the end of our time in the city, and we spent a rainy day walking across town to the National Tile Museum (there are walls of painted tiles all over the city; it was neat to learn more about their history). Our missing bag finally showed up intact, and we packed the bikes up for the first time in weeks and bumped our way along busy cobblestone streets to the river. The waterfront bikeway took us west through town and toured us right past the Belém Tower, a defensive structure from the 1500s that's iconic to Lisbon. After the path ended we were taking directions from the Eurovelo 1 route, something we'd felt great about before we actually got on it; we'd met other cyclists across Canada who'd told us about their Eurovelo experiences touring, for instance, up the Danube on a beautiful, easy, designated bikeway. Route 1 is classified as 'easy to moderate', and designated as a route that's complete and signed. Leaving Lisbon, following the route was immediately difficult; it involved turning every few minutes and was completely unsigned, and we had to rely heavily on a phone GPS to stay on track. There was a stretch where it suggested we take the train and then left us without directions, and we ended up alternately riding and walking a narrow cobblestone sidewalk at the side of a busy road along the water; in another place it sent us the wrong way on an incredibly narrow one-way street through a congested town centre. We'd planned to make it to a campground in Guincho, just outside the bounds of the city, but we covered less than 20km over the course of several hours. As the day was ending, it thankfully turned out we were near a hostel on the waterfront, and we rolled in and got a couple of dorm beds-- good to have a safe, cheap place to spend the night in the city, and one that came with a good breakfast the next morning, but we came up really short on a full night's sleep (I'm going to leave it to Kini to write about our roommate situation; it was exceptional). We kept following the water west through the town of Cascais with its quaint harbourfront and little, winding alleyways, then north into some high climbs through lush hills in on-and-off rain. We moved slowly and it was another day where we spent many hours doing a short distance, ending at the campground in Guincho, where we'd meant to be the previous day. We've loved the campgrounds in Portugal. Tenting costs us less than half what it did in Canada, and it's priced as the sum of a small fee for every person, tent (differing by size), and vehicle-- so, the opposite of the one-size-fits-all system back home that would charge us the same as a family in an RV mega-bus (the main reason we mostly avoided campgrounds and wild-camped our way through the second half of Canada). Hot showers and laundry are a given here, and there's usually a nice indoor common area, the biggest possible improvement to a camping-in-the-rain experience. We'd planned to do a slow ease into doing some wild camping again, aiming for campgrounds in the beginning while we got a feel for the coast and for how easy it might be to tuck away. We didn't anticipate just how slow we would be on the coast. Between needing to stop frequently to check our Eurovelo map to stay on track (the route stayed unsigned, and the roads we needed to turn on often didn't have street signs, so writing directions on paper didn't get us far), moving up and down steep capes-- sometimes on muddy, rocky hiking paths that we had to walk-- and also working with limited daylight hours as we near the winter solstice, we were struggling to make it more than around 25km a day. Which didn't get us to the next campground after Guincho, and landed us instead at a high ocean viewpoint at the edge of two tiny towns at the end of the day. We climbed uphill into one of the towns to ask in at a place called Quinta Verde-- it was listed online as a hotel, and reviews complained about it being a bit run-down and having a shared-bathroom situation (totally our style, and a good sign that it might not break our budget). It ended up being a big house down a dirt road, and the older man who answered when we knocked was very confused to see us; it pretty clearly hadn't operated as a hotel for a while. We got some cross-language-barrier mimed directions to another house down the road, but didn't go down to keep knocking on doors; we headed instead back to the lookout point, where some sandy trails snaked away from the ocean, up a scrub-brush-covered hillside, and pitched our tent in a small hideaway just as it was getting dark and the rain was starting. A note on wild-camping in Portugal: as far as we've been able to find out, it's in a legal grey zone right now, having been allowed for years and then entirely banned due to what, in Canada, we've become really familiar with as the iOverlander effect-- the app that helped us so much with finding legal public-land camp spots especially through northern Ontario also leads to overuse of certain sites by RV campers who, incomprehensibly, feel fine about leaving those sites strewn with trash and toilet paper, a problem that was apparently escalating along the Portuguese coast. In 2022, wild camping is on the way to being legal again except in certain conservation areas. We've been doing it, generally out of necessity in stretches where we can't make it to a campground, taking advantage of the ability of the bikes and our small camp set-up to fully tuck away and (so far) not be found. As we always have, we try our best to avoid ecologically sensitive areas, we never have a fire, and we pack out all of our garbage and carry it as far as we need to to dispose of it. That first night camping in the bushes was, seriously, the hardest we've been rained on on this trip; the tent got completely pummelled for most of the night, some big winds came through, and when it thundered each peal rolled on for a long, long time. Making our coffee at the lookout point the next morning, at one point we saw some hikers emerge from the bushes with their big backpacks on the neighbouring hillside and slowly disappear on a little trail over the ridge; later on we stopped on a cafe patio for a while and ended up talking with a Belgian hiker named Wiebe, who had also been tenting in the bushes on one of the bluffs. There's a whole trail system that winds its way up the coast, and even in December, a number of travellers walking it; it tickled us to think how many of us may have been quietly dotted through the hills that night. We kept cape-climbing along the coast; the hard, vertical hikes were rewarded with amazing views and descents through beautiful old villages with painted tiles, terra cotta roofs, winding cobblestone streets, and occasionally someone in their yard who would exchange "bom dia"s with us, or laugh and wish us "boa viagem." We stopped at a campground in Ericeira (a bigger town with lots of condos and a Florida vibe; the residents we crossed paths with were American and German) and ended up staying an extra day to do our laundry and make a plan. The west coast was amazing, but we were moving along it at under 30km a day; we had a date set to meet my dad and Brenda down on the south coast for Christmas, and if we kept our cape-climbing pace, even though we were barely out of Lisbon it would already be time to turn around and go back. Either way we had to start thinking about getting south, and we didn't want to turn around and head back into the traffic through Lisbon. We made a plan to change course and do a wide loop inland around it, and went a step further and planned our way to Évora, a city more than halfway to the Spanish border with old Roman ruins and a chapel made out of human bones-- a perfect, morbid destination for us to chase across the countryside. The rewards in the five days it took us to get to Évora were: -Flatter land and gentler climbs so that we could cover a bit more ground (though with winter daylight hours, the long days we did crossing Canada are far, far out of reach now). -Really lovely little villages along the way. Public taps in the town squares to fill our water. Fresh, ripe oranges lining the streets (Kini's signature move these days is swiping fruit right off a tree as they pedal by). -Lots of sweet farm animals; sheep with clanging bells hung from their necks so that a field of them grazing sounds like windchimes. Baby lambs and goats, herds of cows that watch us go by, and big, black pigs grazing in orchards. -Solving (we think) the cork mystery. We were passing kilometre after kilometre of these big trees with all of the bark peeled off the lower half. They were usually behind fences, and they all had numbers painted on the trunks. We wondered if they were orchards of some kind, either all with grafted trunks or some method of disease control. And then, finally, we passed through the town where the bark was being processed; there were industrial yards filled with piles and piles of it as if it were lumber. We picked a piece up off the ground, and it was a sheet of cork. We remembered the souvenir shops in Lisbon, which all sold handbags and wallets made out of cork; it's apparently an industry here, and we stumbled into the middle of it. -So many quiet backroads; getting passed by one car every few minutes or more is the norm. The struggles in getting to Évora were: -The rain -The rain -The rain -The rain -Also the total absence of any campgrounds. The only one on the way was in Vila Franca de Xira, and it was closed to tenters for the month of December, something we only found out after following the signs for it up a steep hill at the edge of town. We slept in these places: 1. In some bushes off a dirt road at the top of a hill in the middle of some park land (quiet, comfortable, hidden, had some very spiney brambles that, we noticed too late, were piercing through the bottom of the tent; we cushioned our air mattress with clothes and it somehow survived unpoked). 2. In a little grove of eucalyptus trees tucked right down beside the bridge out of Vila Franca de Xira (so much less than ideal, trucks passing on the bridge all night, but a quick fix after the campground in town turned us away at the end of the day. A farm fence and a creek meant that the only access was down a little path from the pedestrian walkway on the bridge; despite the noise, it felt private and tucked away). 3. In some unfenced woods off a quiet country road (perfect). 4. Under some big trees off the end of a dead-end road just up the way from a truck stop, tucked between a farm field and the highway (also loud but felt safe and private. Also a bummer; we'd been looking forward to making it to the campground in Évora that day but didn't make it before dark. Not-a-bummer was the little 50-cent cappucinos at the truck stop the next morning). It rained all the days and all the nights. Some days we would see the sun for a while; some days we wouldn't. Some evenings we caught enough of a break to cook dinner; some mornings we caught enough of a break to make coffee in the dark before we packed up at sunrise. Sometimes it came down absolutely brutally. Sometimes the wind blew it like needles in our eyes while we were riding, or through the tent vents at night so that it misted our faces while we lay awake wondering if this was unusual or if we'd seriously midjudged what winter bike-camping in Portugal was going to be like. We're in Évora now; the campground here offered cheap tiny cabin rentals, and we took one for two nights; there isn't enough sun to dry out everything we own, and the indoor space is saving our things and also our sanity. We're taking today to catch up on some things and plan our route south. Kini's bike has a loose headset that's been needing twice-a-day tightening, and they're out in the city right now trying to get that sorted. We're saving the bone chapel for tomorrow; we're going to stay in the campground but move back into the tent for one more night before we start heading on to Salema-- hopefully with dryer weather, though the forecast doesn't give us a lot of hope, but at least knowing that in a week we get to move inside again, and that we'll swipe some juicy oranges and see some new places along the way. Notes on some photos: -The white dog is Cora (she let us read her name off her collar), who was guarding the path when we rounded a corner and ended up being sweet and coming with us for a while. Not the case with all the loose dogs we've met; we've had to use our outdoor voices a few times, and have had a finger on the trigger of our new road weapons (since the Airport Pepper Spray Incident, we're carrying a tiny cannister of hairspray-- burns the eyes-- and two little squeeze bottles of extremely hot burn-your-skin piri-piri sauce. Kini also cut a switch from some dry bamboo to replace the two riding crops that they eventually lost off their bike while crossing Canada). -The abandoned house with the tile floor was a welcome roadside shelter when the rain intensified on our last day riding to Évora. ~Sara
  1. derailed
  2. 🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
  3. Évora