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Category Archives: Portugal
You may have noticed less exploring in this blog of late and more mooning around in cafes, wandering the pleasant streets of Spanish and Portuguese towns, vino verde at sunset and long strolls on the beach. Let’s be serious – not really the stuff of adventures! Well, let me just say … All that is about to end!
We are presently in the town of Sines on the southwest coast of Portugal. Yes, I know ….not exactly a remarkable escapade …but wait. Finally we have reached our last stop in continental Europe and are about to turn toward the vast unexplored tracts of Africa. Indeed the last weeks have been spent stolidly preparing for the coming adventure and the highlights are …well … Rather low.
In Lisbon we ran helter–skelter around the crumbling remnants of the empire to get the required visas, to take liberal samples of the dogs blood to double check that she is not rabid (accompanied by a pitiful whining yelp that made our knees go weak), had our own shoulders jabbed by various needles full of inoculation (the dog looked amused) and stocked up on various odds and ends to keep us going over the next few months.
We did manage to have some fun on the way. We met a lovely couple who invited us to a fantastic Portuguese meal in their flat overlooking the harbour. Actually … they really invited the dog who happened to be born on the same day as their Jack Russell pup, but we were allowed to tag along. I almost got arrested as an innocent bystander in a Lisbon drug bust (apparently I was ordered to stand against the wall and submit to a search but my non-existent language skills left me standing with a confused look on my face – the officer took pity on me and ignored me). We also roamed around the city in pursuit of various odds and ends and emptied our wallets to pay for the privilege of tying up to the ancient stone wharfs of this beautiful city.
But all this is now in our wake. After a final day of preparation we will soon wave goodbye to Europe and head south to Morocco where camels, sandy savannahs and my seventh continent await. And from there we will head to the Canary Islands, Senegal, the Gambia and then Guinea Bissau. Since I was a child I have always dreamed of Africa … It has taken a while to get here but I can’t wait. For those faithful readers who have borne with us through our rather dull ramble through Europe we can promise a return to our initial focus of wildlife, wilderness and high adventure … we hope you’ll be there for the ride!
We are not particularly used to being too much in the spot-light, but about a month ago the folk from the magazine “blue” flew to Ireland to interview us and take our pictures. Mind you … While talking of our adventures we also managed to have a few on the way. If you look closely at the cover photo of the article you’ll notice that we both have a rather distracted look … bear in mind that after hours of make-up, primping and posing the shot that made it to press was snapped quickly as a security guard bore down on us screaming “GET AWAY FROM THAT CLIFF!!!!”. For those interested, the article can be viewed online at https://www.vontobel.com/INT/EN/blue (also available in German).
We keep meaning to continue our headlong rush south … but the Portuguese weather has been basking us in sunlight that has proved irresistible after the long Arctic summer. While we are still moving a little further south each day (tomorrow we plan to cross the 40 degree mark which is the halfway point between our furthest North – 80 degrees – and the equator!) we have been adopting a more relaxed pace to fit in with the locals. Thus we have opted to spend at least a few of these beautiful days enjoying the endless beaches, tawny sunsets and sparkling waters of the Atlantic coast rather than rushing forward blindly.
Mind you, the relaxed pace of life on land does not seem to extend to the ocean itself… Lazy days on the beach are a little too much to hope for when you are a fisherman struggling to feed your family, and with less fish in the ocean the Portuguese solution seems to be to simply lay as many nets as possible to ensure a better catch. Sailing from these Atlantic ports is quite a challenge simply due to the constant dodging and duckling and weaving required to avoid the hundreds of buoys and other fishing paraphernalia which are often hard to see during the day and invisible at night. Running the gauntlet as we head for deep water I start to feel a little like a fish myself as we struggle to move more than a few minutes without a close call with yet another net. For us a close shave would be a nuisance at worse, but the fish seem to be facing a maze of invisible nets that can only spell doom. Even the dolphins which occasionally keep us company are not immune to these death-traps and the sight of a drowned short-beaked common dolphin bobbing just below the surface was one of the most horrific sights of our journey thus far.
We love our seafood – but surely we need a little more restraint if we hope to be able to feed our children from the bounty of the ocean?
Finally we have made it around the notorious Cabo Finesttere and into the Promised Land of Portugal. Here the air is redolent with the sweet nectar of Southern flowers and the warm breezes fan our bare legs as we stroll in shorts and t-shirts through the narrow winding streets of Viana do Castelo. Mind you … having recently read of the confirmation of the Higgs Particle’s existence in 2012 we have another suggestion … apparently bare feet and hairy legs (both of ours) are very heavy in Higgs Particles (a unit that stands as a proxy to gravitational potential) – simply let loose an ugly pair of Australian hoofs clad in thongs (flip-flops to the Yanks and Poms) and suddenly eyes are dipping down to the force of these errant particles and lips and eye brows droops into uncontrollable frowns.
But as we dodge the occasional disgruntled local (clad in several layers of wool) we have both been amazed by this part of the world. Perched on the hill above us is the temple of the Santa Luzia which looks very grand from afar (though the festoons of Christmas lights lend it a slightly comical air at night) but is spectacular once you clamber up the several hundred step that lead the way from the town centre. Of course you could take a cable car, but where’s the fun in that? From the high eerie of the temple you can see the land of Portugal unfold to the south over the river that wends its way through the city. The city itself is composed of grand sandstone structures that echo a past age of discovery and nautical dominance, with statues holding model ships aloft as testimony to the Portuguese power over Poseidon’s realm.
Our own nautical dominance is somewhat circumspect after the pirate Poseidon stole our cherished inflatable … we are also set to venture forth into unknown territory. A short voyage to Lisbon is ahead and from there we launch south towards unexplored shores and the mystique of Africa…