I awoke at 7am, rather hung over and tired, and bid Lorraine a sleepy farewell. The first part of my journey was an early morning boat crossing over the Rio Tejo to the train station. Supping a coffee in a bar I observed what fast became a familiar site – men in bars drinking beer at 8 in the morning. I suppose if the UK’s licensing laws were the same we’d see them too.
Catching the train gave me a chance to take in parts of Portugal that most tourists probably miss. Trains are slow and most people travel by coach, but trains offer so much more freedom and adventure, I think. As I’m sure you are aware Portugal is a poor country, and a train ride through the countryside is testament to this. Many of the train stations we stop at are tiny affairs, surrounded by patches of sun-baked fields and crops, and quite often run-down to the point of beyond repair. Miles and miles and miles of brown dirt and the odd thirsty tree and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little sign of life across much of Portugal, and as I head south so the atmosphere (weather) becomes more oppressive and the sign of life less obvious.
And then we entered the Algarve. If ever a country demonstrated a distinction between the north and the south then Portugal must surely be the most extreme. The north, mountainous, green and lush is dominated by tradition and culture. It’s very poor. Since the 60s, however, the Algarve has attracted large numbers of tourists, which makes it more affluent than the north. It’s hot pretty much all year round and is, as described earlier, quite barren outside the towns. For my part I hung round the south coast whilst in the Algarve, which is almost ruined. I say almost since some of the towns that dot the coast have managed to grasp onto their tradition and culture. Even so much of it is dominated by concrete, Brits and Germans, though I suppose this does provide a very wealthy income for the locals. One wonders, however, if they’d have preferred the Algarve before all this development took over. Certainly the locals are rather more hostile – the assistant in the tourismo looked like he wanted to commit suicide , whilst the woman in the bus ticket office acted like she was having the menopause of ten women.
For any sailor wishing to cross the Atlantic Portimao and Vilamoura are the last proper marinas one visits before starting the journey towards Cape Verde, the Azores or the Canaries, and I had heard that anyone looking to crew should check these places out. This was my reason for staying in Portimao, which the Lonely Planet slates unnecessarily. It was to become my home for a week since the youth hostel was cheap and had a swimming pool. I grew rather attached to this town.