We have taken things quietly since leaving Lisbon, needing a break in the countryside and visiting the coast. As usual we took the quiet rural roads and stayed at an Aire at Lousal, a remote ex Pyrite mining village where there was a museum with information in English, several displays, and a large building housing hospital equipment and old mining engines.
In the countryside we saw ewes with new born lambs and cows with very young calves, seemed odd to me but perhaps the breeding cycle starts after the summer when it is cooler here. Driving along empty roads we were lucky to see a flock of around 100 stone curlews (rare and migratory in the UK), they were circling having been alarmed buy a bird of prey, they soon settled on the ground again and became almost invisible against the soil. A shepherd moved his flock of sheep around us on the quiet road, several horses and an occasional donkey grazed in the fields edged with stone walls and we passed under a shady eucalyptus avenue.
By the roadside there were fields of cork oaks that had recently been harvested, their thick, rough trunks now a smooth, a bright chestnut brown colour to the height where branches began, the cork having been peeled away in great sheets to be processed into goods and wine corks.
On the Atlantic coast at Zambujeira we enjoyed a few days walking, admiring the rugged cliffs, pretty bays and watching the big waves rolling in. The colours were amazing and the Ice-plant covered much of the surface with its fleshy triangular spikes. It is not a native plant to Portugal but was brought in to stabilized the sandunes where it quickly proliferated and is now everywhere. There were reflections on the wet sand of the cliffs and buildings above, small rock pools and I even paddled in November!
On one walk we saw the cliff nesting white storks standing on old nests and circling above us with their amazing wingspan of approximately 6 ft (2 m). Strangely we passed a field with many exotic animals, quite weird to see so many different species peacefully grazing, further along the lane we realised they were from a wildlife park.
In the village there were white houses with colourful paintwork and a house covered in shells a small village square, with sparse numbers of tourists it was peaceful and relaxing.
At the tip of Portugal on Cape de São Vicente there is an old fort with a lighthouse perched high on the vertical rocks, very picturesque in the sun. It was extremely windy up on the cliffs made me nervous with the vertical drop to the sea far below, and the waves were very loud crashing into a cave below the lighthouse. The gift shop had some great pottery sculptures of sea life that was for sale but I only took photos, they wouldn’t look right at home.
The low flat limestone slabs that covered the area provided habitat for some low growing flowering plants as well as small bushes. Far out at sea we could see gannets diving, yellow legged and black headed gulls flew over the cliffs while crested larks, sparrows and numerous stonechats inhabited the windblown clifftops.
Gradually making our way east, stopping for a few nights at a very good camping site at Turis Campo at Espeche, an easy 2 mile walk to the resort of Praia de Luz where you can watch the surfers from the beach. Although it looked cold everyone was wearing wetsuits, hair plastered to their faces and fighting against the waves. So much energy, lying on their boards paddling with their arms to catch a wave and balancing to ride the wave in.
Stopping briefly at Lagos we wanted to walk the headland to see beautiful coloured rocks dropping steeply to the sea below. A gravelled pathway and boardwalk lead across the flat cliff tops allowing good views of the geology, rocky stacks and archways below, it really was not to be missed.
In Portimão the wonderful reflections of the yachts in the marina with colourful apartments behind really seemed to glow in the sunshine. Rain kept threatening but thankfully we were lucky and walked the length of the promenade with a brief stop for refreshments.
With arrangements made to meet friends at Olhão east of Faro we enjoyed tapas together with Sara and Chris at a local restaurant. The town has some narrow streets and squares with some attractive buildings, a church and tree lined avenue up the centre. There are also two lovely market buildings with fish, meat the produce, bars and restaurants line the pedestrian area overlooking the harbour. At each low tide the busy clam farmers gather the harvest in back breaking work, bent double and working by hand with small rakes and forks to collect a sack full. It is one of the main industries in this area, small ones sold locally and the quality larger clams abroad for the best money.
We had a trip out around the islands and water channels seeing loads of birds; godwit, whimbrel, ringed plover, little egret, grey plover and lots of spoonbills among others. A short walk on a deserted island over the sand dunes gave us good views of 100s of curlew resting on a sand bar, showing the diagnostic long, down curved beak. On the long narrow island of Culatra was where we saw the oyster boats, the fishermen were busy unloading the days collection having collected them from mesh sacks held horizontally on staging out in the sea. We enjoyed a late lunch with the small group of French people also on the trip, many oysters were consumed by them, but we had large fresh prawns followed by Golden Dorada (sea bream) which was delicious. Returning 2 hours later than expectedthere was a magnificent sunset, a perfect end to the trip.
We have been staying at a campsite under pine trees where we regularly saw azure winged magpies, jays and a hoopoe, and the local nature reserve with fresh water and salt water lagoons added a few species to our growing list of birds, with a total of 94 seen since the beginning of our trip. For our last night we walked around the town to see the Christmas lights and the Bom Sucesso boat all lit up. The boat is a replica of the ship sailed by 17 sailors to Rio de Janiro in 1788 to inform their exiled King that Portugal was now under Portuguese rule, the fishermen of Olhão had rebelled which eventually resulted in the French leaving Portugal.