Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal - Polarsteps
*A note from Sara: If any of these photos, or the next ones from Spain, make you think, "Wow, that really doesn't look bikeable"... we agree, and you should think twice before attempting the Eurovelo 1, a designated bike route designed by a reputable organization. Thanks, Eurovelo, for the forded streams, the pushes through mud and deep sand, the bushwacking through thorn tunnels, and the three or four trespasses onto private property and working farms (and the adrenaline-fueled escape under a locked gate from one of them). It's been an adventure (and also, never again).
Here's an update Kini wrote at the end of Portugal! We might be slightly behind on the blog.
We have been slowly but surely trekking our way through Portugal. Beginning with delayed luggage, which was a bit of a hassle because we knew there were only two flights to Lisbon from Montreal per week (through Air Transat) and the associate at lost baggage not only identified the bag incorrectly on the form but filed it under Air Transat instead of Porter (our original flight). In the end we got our bag back a week later and saw security had gone through it and removed a dangerous item; I thought they'd taken the camp stove that Sara had spent hours deep-cleaning but that was untouched. It seemed that our Bic lighters were gone, which we had inquired about and got a green light to travel with. So, our bag had been delayed over a few lighters.
On the other hand, we were able to spend some more time in Lisbon on Air Transat's dime (hopefully; we are filing our claim), exploring the city. We walked what seemed to be the entire city: down to the waterfront, to Rossio Square, across the water to Super Jesus on the hill and up to the Tile Museum. It was amazing seeing the limestone cobblestone called Calcada (Portuguese Pavement). It is a national identity to Lisbon and the Portuguese, being compared to the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. The mosaic patterns in this limestone are stunning and such an intricate process. It is, though, rather difficult to walk on these surfaces, especially when it has rained and the limestone becomes very slippery, and this is coming from an able-bodied person. There is a huge lack of accessible curbs because the city is older, and there are quite the steep, cobblestoned hills.
Getting out of Lisbon is easily our record for longest time getting out of a city; two days. That's right, 30km in two days. Between the labyrinth of streets, bumpy cobblestone roads and trying to stay off of high traffic roads it was a bit of a feat. We ended up having to stay at a hostel on the beach the first night.
It continued to be slow-going for a couple more days; the Eurovelo through Portugal I believe has been fused with a camino of sorts so the routes quickly became very rugged and steep. We started joking that we were doing a camino but one where we push fully loaded bicycles just for the fun of it. It was very sweet to pass through the small villages here; they are very quaint and humble. Lots of white on blue painted tiles of different designs marking the different residences. We ended up wild camping the first night after leaving the hostel. Our plan was to find a guesthouse to ease into things, as wild camping is in a very grey area right now in Portugal. We went to said guesthouse via Google and it was now just a residence, with a very kind elderly gentleman who was caught off guard by our request. We ended up just heading back to the shubberies on the hillside, near the Atlantic Coastline, and setting up right before sundown. That night we had a very loud, very windy thunderstorm. Thunder in Portgual (at least where we were) rolled on in a manner I have never experienced; it was hella long to the point were I was questioning whether it was thunder or something else. We had coffee the next morning at a cafe where we met Wiebe from Belgium. He had been travelling for a while at this point, waking up and deciding to do so one morning. Either go to work or go travel. He chose to go travel. He was headed to the Canary Islands next. He was a very sweet person.
We made our way to Ericeira and spent a few nights in the campground there. It is definitely a huge surfer campground during the summer; we spent time walking down at the beach and planning out the next portion of our route. We were at odds with trying to boot it to Porto or start heading towards Evora; we had covered much less distance than we expected because of the rugged landscape. We were meeting with Dave and Brenda in Salema, pretty much the most southern tip of mainland Portugal, and we had to be realistic about how far we could go north and still be on time to meet them. We decided that the coast wasn't going to get any quicker, so we headed inland towards Evora (plus there is a chapel made of human bones in Evora. Won't lie, this helped in our decision making). It took us 4-5 days to get there; with a consistent downpour of rain (which we found out was much more than average) that slowly got everything we owned wet. There were also no campgrounds or hotels along this rural stretch so we slept in forests, under a bridge and beside a highway. This may sound sketchy but it really wasn't; no one was getting out of their cars on these rainy nights and we were hidden well unless you came very close to the tent. After wild camping for a few bike tours, especially when crossing Canada, you get a good sense of what is a good spot and what is not. Experience and getting out of the comfort zone of being in house every night can shift that.
I was so happy to arrive at the campground in Evora and rent a small cabin; we got out of the wet weather and were able to dry everything off properly. We explored the old city, drank very cheap beer (Super Bock!), restocked at Decathlon and rested up well. The chapel made of bones wasn't as freaky-feeling as I thought it would be; don't get me wrong, it is a super weird project by the Franciscan monks but it didn't come across to me as grotesque.
Seeing Dave and Brenda was so trippy! I couldn't believe how far we had cycled since last seeing them in Prince Edward County and that they had travelled so far to see us again! So nice to see familiar faces again. We had such a great time relaxing, taking in the beach, some small hikes along the coastline (sorry about the cliffs, Brenda), eating so much great food, being given a port that was from our birth year (1987. This gift felt really special to me), stocking stuffers ( I was in dire need of a cool shirt) and excursions to a salt mine, the Lagos Zoo (coolest zoo I had ever been to. Many of the animals were rescues and given a very open-concept idea of "cages" (the monkeys were alloted their own islands where they could free range but obviously wouldn't go into the water and swim off their island). I felt very spoiled and can't express how much I appreciate that. That and I think Dave is hilarious (I'm talking to you, Dave!). Example : I take a sip of my drip coffee and say "this is spectacular " (compared to the instant coffee I have been drinking) Dave looks up from his computer and says " It isn't spectacular, it's drip coffee. There is no way that it can be spectacular." I appreciate this. Or that at the zoo both him and I saw a 12-year-old tease the free-range pelican once and were ready to sternly talk to the kid if he teased the pelican again. Or joke about the next door neighbors being wild, drunk party animals, the bad wifi and lack of tp from the airbnb host (only permitted x amount of poops a day).
The week spent with Dave and Brenda was my favourite part of Portugal (even more than the bone church). This time went by way too quickly and it was hard getting back onto the road after this. P.S. I heard how easy it was for you two to mail off a package from Portugal..... I have no words. Even when I did manage to get everything sorted out form-wise the post office was not able to take my credit card and I had to cycle like a bat outta hell to an atm one km away (the one outside the bank wasn't working) at the post office's closing time (the clerk was kind enough to wait, but was very clear she just wanted to go home. When I returned under 10 minutes later she was very impressed). At least the rush of adrenaline made me feel that if I ever lived in a big city I could have a go at being a ((n) old) bike courier.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
Vila Real de Santo António