Mertola (Alentejo, Portugal)

Mertola is a couple of hours drive from my aunt’s house so we make it our destination for today.

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Along the way we see many many storks nesting on top of everything they can find. The storks do not leave this area to migrate anywhere for the winter. Rather, they stay all year round, making their huge nests year round.

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The landscape on the drive to Mertola is different to what we drove through yesterday. It’s drier and more rugged. There are gum trees and red soil farms that remind me of home. I can’t help but feel a little homesick.

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Mertola is a wonderful historic village on the banks of the Guadiana River. The river cuts a deep valley through the hills and the villages just perches on the banks like it is clinging in fear of slipping away. The village has been here since the Phoenicians settled it. At various times it’s been an important river port for the district of Beja but today only 2,800 people live in the district, making it the second least populated area in Portugal.

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The village is rich in history. It has a castle on top of the hill. The castle is now little more than a shell but the shell is still impressive to look at. Along the river are the ruins of the old river tower. This was used as a defensive post for the old port that once stood here.

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The Moors were here too, as you can see from the shapes in the church. And there are Roman ruins below the village’s current buildings. A museum in the basement of the town hall shows the archaeological findings that were dug up right in that very spot and all over the village. It’s proof of the impermanence of all human social existence. And a reminder that it’s important to live a good life because the riches and power will simply become dust but the energy we put into the world create everyone’s tomorrow.

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The village has many pretty elements, such as flowers and lemon trees. It’s obvious that it has set itself up effectively as a tourist destination because you can tell there’s some money here. A car park on the banks of the river is overflowing with campervans and there are many restaurants (though almost all are closed for the winter).

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There’s even a small free museum dedicated to the artisans of today and the past. Here you can see how wool is spun and woven. These balls of scrap fabric will later be transformed into brightly coloured scrap cloth towels. Apparently it’s a thing here; my aunt has a few such towels at home.

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As we walk around a dog barks at us from his porch. I stop and let him sniff my fingers. He seems happy now and grabs a sponge that is obviously his toy. He plays with it and drops it near me. I flick the sponge with my umbrella (I’m not touching the slobber). He chases it and we play a while until he decides he wants a pat. But pats aren’t enough … he sticks his nose under my arm and settles in for a bit. It’s kind of cute. Funny thing is that dogs almost always like me. But not usually this much. Haha.

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