17 May Algarve, a journey to the end of the world, and then some
by Alvin Pastore from Italy
Our road trip began in Faro, in the Algarve region of Portugal. We decided to rent a camper-van and this turned out for the best because it allowed us to explore southern Portugal on our terms and in great depth. Our first stop was Praia de Benagil. This beach is famous for the nearby natural cave (Gruta de Benagil), accessible only by sea. The cave has two openings on the sea and a large circular skylight hole in the roof, which lets a natural spotlight in. We woke up early in the morning and bravely ventured into the cold water. The cave was empty and we enjoyed running around and observing the swallows diving from the walls to catch flies. Later on we walked along the cliffs above and took some great shots of the beach below. The paddle boards looked like a more convenient way to get to the cave, saved in the notes for future sea caves exploration.
We next stopped in Sagres, a charming and lively town in the south-western edge of the Algarve coastline. While on a hike on the cliffs above the port, the wind was so strong we almost joined the seagulls in their dance above the fishing boats. Our daring walk was rewarded by some astonishing sights of the deep blue ocean. The wind diminished and we stumbled upon a man and his friend, fishing on top of these really high cliffs. They seemed like the best people to ask for directions to try the famous Cataplana, a mix of seafood and fish cooked in a traditional copper cooking device traditional of Algarve. We often follow the suggestions of locals we meet and this time we made no exception. The food was so tasty and flavoursome.
That evening we followed another suggestion of the local community and headed towards Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) to witness the sun die spectacularly above the ocean. There we were joined by a multitude of tourists coming from several different countries. The crowd observed this natural phenomenon quietly, with respect and soaking the last warmth.
Sunset in Algarve by Alvin Pastore
At the end, when the sun was truly gone, the people broke into loud applause. Almost thanking nature for the beauty it gifted us with. We were struck by this strong feeling of connection and belonging and did not mind the long queue to leave the cliffs and get back on the road. Praia de Odeceixe is insanely huge. In the morning the tide is so low that water is down to your ankles for meters. Surfers enjoy the powerful waves while two lifeguards keep people in the swimming lane with frequent whistling. The southmost end of the shoreline is a less busy beach with a small nudist community. North of the sandy dunes the waves flow into a natural river, where children and adults alike enjoy the pulling stream. Later in the day, when the tide comes up, beachgoers who settled too close to the waterfront have to move back and retire onto dry land.
So far we totally enjoyed our trip but the best was yet to come and it would come as the result of a mistake. When in Faro, some local friends indicated we should visit Silves, but possibly due to bad handwriting we instead ended up in Sines. This city, birthplace of the great explorer Vasco da Gama, is quite industrial and apart from the castle does not have much to offer. Luckily, while visiting the castle, we came across some workers setting up the stage for an event. They told us the event they were getting ready for was now in Porto Covo and would move to Sines only in three days. We decided it was time to leave Sines and head to Porto Covo. After some trouble with the sat nav first leading us in the middle of a field, we finally arrived and were surprised by the number of camper-vans and travel-trailers parked around. We had a great deal of luck in finding a parking spot after only 5 minutes and then let our ears guide us towards the music.
The main square was packed with a huge crowd dancing to the funk-rock notes of a Malian band called Bamba Wassoulou Groove. We let the good vibes and African sound take over and merged in with the rest of the mass. We were in the middle of the Festival Musicas do Mundo (FMM), a great event showcasing artists from all over the world. The little town was literally taken over for three days by thousands of hippies and families. Taking turns, impromptu equilibrists tested their abilities on human held slack lines. On the other side of the square a street performer was literally playing with fire while the audience looked amazed the captivating dance of the flames.
Departing from the main square, multiple streets were swarming with nomad artisans selling their products, rigorously homemade. Bags, bracelets, necklaces, some of which were masterpieces of craftsmanship and patience.
The morning after, many were still sleeping in their caravans, after having partied all night long. We moved along the rows of tents with feet peeking out and searched for the best spot on the beach. We moved three times and each time we found a better place. The last one was called Praia do Espingardeiro and was accessible only via a tiny wooden ladder on the rocks. We found this very symbolic and romantic. People on this tiny strip of sand and rock enjoyed their day while the restless waves crashed on the shore. At some point in the afternoon a saxophonist walked along the cliffs above us and intoned “When the Saints go Marchin’ in” and got a massive round of applause in return. In the evening, the same musician was joined by a group of ten or more in the main square. The jam session was the perfect celebration of the diversity and good vibes of the event. Everyone in the main square clapped and sang along. The spontaneousness and the universality of music and arts reminded us that this is what life is all about. Stay human and be nice to each other. Portugal on the road continued for us but that is another story. We mixed our souls and lost them in the crowd in Porto Covo.