I wake early. Today will be a 22km hike and I want to have the time to enjoy it. There are seven of us hiking the same sections of the trail. A group of three university students who picked up a fourth the second day. They had difficulty finding the start of the trail the first day so I helped them. But they made it clear they were a trio and didn’t even want passing conversation with me, so I just leave them to their own company. There’s a guy a few years younger than me who is walking a long way behind everyone. We shared a dorm last night and he is walking to clear his head of personal matters and leaves late every day, arriving at his destination just before dark. And there’s a woman a few years older than me who I bump into in the early afternoon every day, either because she passes me at lunch or I pass her. She’s walking a seven day trail down to the south of Portugal. We say hello but when we pass each other one of us is generally a ways off the trail eating or taking photos while the other is on the trail. Oddly enough, later today I will take a photo and won’t notice until later in the evening that she is in my photo. I was so engrossed in the nature that surrounded me.
Today will turn out to be my favourite section of the trail. I am in a rhythm and want the hiking to go on forever. The endless sea views, the soft red sand, the rugged green shrubs, the sound of the waves crashing constantly against the shores and the sight of birds has already become my world, even after just a few short days.
The trail meanders through a pine forest. It’s a massive change of scenery after walking so far along the beach. It feels almost warm to be in the embrace of the trees rather than exposed to the elements. It’s not a big forest but still it encloses me. Pine cones dot the ground and hang from the trees at awkward angles. There’s no wind today so it’s quiet in the forest. The trees almost even block out the ocean’s roar. Not quite but almost.
Sand dunes greet me as I leave the forest and make my way back to the cliffs. The landscape in this part of Portugal most reminds me of home. It feels comfortable and familiar. The warm winter days. The soft sand with grains that are a rainbow of colours when you look at them up close. Pine trees and wattle flowers in bloom.
The trail again leaves the sea to take me through a tiny village. Houses are scattered around in the fields around the village. As always, washing flaps in the breeze in front of the houses. I love the white walls and the way they make all the other colours in the landscape pop.
I walk past a pig pen. The pigs are at the back of the large open air pen. They hear me and come running. It’s very cute. I guess someone walks here and feeds the pigs because there’s no way they are this excited to see me, a random stranger. They snuffle and snort around the fence. I find them as cute as buttons.
Leaving the village I pass some run down shacks and walk towards the light house. Once back at the cliff-tops I notice this area is being developed with boardwalks and look out platforms. The platforms are situated well back from the cliffs in anticipation of further erosion. This whole region is currently being renovated. The streets of many of the villages are being dug up. New carparks and boardwalks have been constructed at many of the view points along the way. Always there’s the EU FEDER sign nearby so money must have recently been injected into this area.
The cliffs start to grow higher and steeper again. You can see how tall they are in this photo because that speck on the edge of the cliff is a man. He is like a speck compared to the power and enormity of nature.
This is spectacular country. The sea has carved the rocks into teeth and blades. A fisherman sits half-way down one of the cliffs. I cannot work out how he got there. But he’s there waiting for a bite. In my experience, men and women of the sea are like this. They are comfortable in this landscape just as I am comfortable in the bush (and definitely wouldn’t find my way down to the ledge he’s sitting on).
Storks make their nests on the tops of the rocks and in the cliffs. Apparently, this is one of the few places in the world where the storks build nests by the sea. There aren’t many nests here though compared with the land where we drove a few days ago. Perhaps it’s too windy this year. I’m not sure why not. But the storks that do live here seem quite happy to drift around in the air seeking food or inspecting walkers passing by. It’s just a pity that I only have an iPhone camera and not something with a good quality zoom lens or I could have taken a better photo of this red beaked specimen.
Coming to the end of the day I drop down a steep path into a small fishing village. It’s barely a few shacks that look quite rough and ready. The fishing boast are all pulled up on the shore out of reach of the waves crashing into the small harbour.
A lazy dog watches as I pass, barely lifting his head to consider my presence. There’s no wag of the tail or bark or whine. The dog just looks up briefly and goes back to sleep. From the look of the shacks, life here is rudimentary and focused on the fishing season. The shacks are tiny, there’s fishing equipment everywhere, water containers stand on tall racks next to the houses and there are no streets, just a collection of shacks cluttered around in the dirt.
From here it’s a short 3km (2 mile) walk along the road to Zambujeira do Mar. I arrive around 2:30pm so have to wait for my hostel to open. A patch of warm yellow sand in the sunshine atop a cliff with a view over the ocean below makes a fantastic place to relax and wait. I take off my shoes and tip the beach load of sand out of them. This is living.