It’s my final morning with Mum. She’s heading back to Madrid after lunch and then flying home to Australia. We spend the morning out walking together in Grandola. It’s a small town that doesn’t have much to see, but that’s partly what makes it so nice here. We’re just in a random town in rural Portugal taking a walk.
I’ve enjoyed traveling with Mum and will miss her company once she goes home. We always have a great time together because we like the same things.
After Mum and my grandmother leave, my aunt takes me out for a drive around the Alentejo. She has lived here for twenty years and is married to a Portugese man so can tell me about the things I see. I am not stuck trying to work out what things are. Like this ruined old house. Before the Carnation Revolution of 1974 this house was a nobleman’s (for want of a better title) farm. Like all these places, it was pretty much a village unto itself. The main house was the home of the farmer and his family. Small outlying houses were homes to the workers. There would have been a barn, a chapel and storage sheds. Today, structures like this are falling into ruins all over the Alentejo (and probably all over Portugal). They make fantastic photographic subjects though.
My aunt takes me to Alcacer do Sol. It’s an old village on the banks of the now swollen River Sado. On a sunny day it must be absolutely gorgeous to sit at one of the cafes drinking coffee or lemon peel tea (made here from fresh lemon peel and water, and costing just 60 Euro Cents). Today it is overcast and cold so we take a walk through the village instead.
Stories of the sea are immortalised in a tiled image behind this crucifix. perhaps there was once a church here. Or maybe the crucifix has always stood alone. It’s impossible to tell because there is said to have been human occupation in this area for over 40,000 years. The Romans, the Moors, the Crusaders, the slave traders and later residents will all have left their marks on this place.
There’s even still an old outdoor laundry that looks like it is still in use. The water is murky from laundry detergent and the ribbed edges are worn from the washing of clothes. It’s not just a look into Portugal’s history but also the relative poverty of it’s people today, where the average household income is about 15,000 Euros a year including tax credits and allowances. To put that into context, the average household income in the US is 37,000 Euros, the Netherlands is 36,000 Euros, Spain is 22,000 Euros, Greece is 17,000 Euros and Poland is 8,000 Euros (but Poland still operates on the Zloty so costs are slightly less inflated there than in Portugal, which uses the Euro).
There are some pretty houses in the town too though. Places that are cared for and freshly painted. They would look amazing if the sun was reflected off them.
Our next stop is the fishing village of Comporta. This tiny village is famous for its fresh seafood and, my aunt tells me, for the fact that fishing is not only the realm of men here. Women take boats onto the sea too.
The tiny fishing harbour makes me think of Indonesia. There are tiny brightly coloured boats, may with long sweeping curves in the bow. The timber walkways that lead to the boats is rickety and I tread very carefully. The water looks cold and deep. I realise just how brave fishermen and fisherwomen are as a breed. They rely on the sea and risk their safety to catch their income. The sea can be warm and delightful in summer but also cold, grey and immense.
To my eye as a visitor it’s a pretty place vastly removed from my own home, despite the similarities of being by the sea. My aunt tells me that it’s crowded here in the summer when people come from all over to eat seafood in the little local restaurants. But today we have it all to ourselves.
Our final stop for the day is a nearby beach where I watch a lone fisherman casting his line as heavy clouds loom out to sea.