Monthly Archives: December 2014

Slowing down

Lagos to Albufeira

On my way to Albufeira I got lost in Portimão, not a city to care for. It was all ugly buidlings and heavy traffic and I had a hard time finding my way out of there.
Albufeira must be horrible in summer, with throngs of package-tourists in the streets and on the beach. Now, in winter, it was nice and quiet. I strolled along the beach barefoot, picking up interesting shells. Later I sat down  in the sand and read a few chapters of Life of Pi. The afternoon sun warmed me up nicely. I examined the shells and wondered why I thought they were interesting. I threw them back into the ocean.

Albufeira to Faro

Not far from Albufeira I stopped to have a look at my map. Someone whistled and I looked  up. Some men were cutting a tree at the roadside and one of them gestured to me to get out of the way. The tree might fall on me. That wouldn’t look good: Bicycle tourist killed by tree.


The Cathedral is rather small as cathedrals go. It’s built on the location of what was originally an old Roman Temple, then a Visigothic church and after that a Moorish mosque.  The cathedral was destroyed in the 16th century by the Second Earl of Essex, who seemingly didn’t like the architecture. After that came the Lisbon earthquake wreaking further havoc. For the sum of three euros, you can see what is left of it.


The Faro Cathedral

Another sight is the Capela dos Ossos, a chapel made of the bones of dead monks. At the entrance two old ladies are selling the tickets for the chapel. Unannounced, the smartphone of one of the ladies starts blaring hip hop and she fumbles unsuccessfully with the device to make it stop.
The chapel seems to miss quite a few bones and even some  skulls. Back at the entrance I ask one of the ladies after the missing bones, but she blames it on humidity. I think some tourists have come out with some dead monks skull in their daypacks.


Faro – Capela dos Ossos


Close up

In Faro my cycling is grinding to a halt, the day after I arrived I can barely walk because of my knees.

Three reasons why the Algarve isn’t the worst place to be hold up:

– It’s affordable.
– The climate is tolerable
– It’s still in the EU, so no visa restrictions…

I continue to meet interesting fellow travellers. They seem to have a certain bias towards conspiracy theories. Someone I spoke to last night mentioned the expression Hegelian Dialectic, which I thought was a mighty useful term in this kind of discussions and I decided to label it for future reference… Next time someone starts about World Domination and the sort, I’ll just ask them to stop with that kind of Hegelian Dialectic.

In the afternoon I decided to eat a prato do dia, but the tepid spaghetti was served with chicken that was flavoured with too much salt.
– Do you like it, sir?
– Well, I must say the chicken is a bit too salty for my liking….
– The people here like it this way, the man said.


The Land of Serpents

From Lagos I cycled to Cape St. Vincent as a day trip . There was not much to see or to photograph, except for the lighthouse, so I took a few pictures of myself. No trees grow here and the landscape is barren. The Greeks called it The Land of Serpents. Presumably, they saw a snake here. Cycling back was a long, slow and uphill battle with a strong headwind. At the end of the day I was pretty worn out.

Cape St. Vincent

Cape St. Vincent

Me and the lighthouse

Me and the lighthouse

The promontory belongs to a Natural Park but apart from a big bird and some dogs, I didn’t see any animals, even though there were hardly any trees for them to hide.

In the town of Lagos, I stay in a hostel and there I meet a musician. He’s from Hungary and he’s been here for over two weeks. He finds it hard to leave. He travels with a hair dryer.

Later, I meet a magician. He’s from Austria. He’s clearly done a lot of thinking, but  unfortunately he’s not very good at it. He believes in karma, aura and energies and for some obscure reason he has neither bank account nor insurance. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of money either. To get money he does card tricks.
He shows me a few card tricks, but I find them hard to follow.
You see this card?
Good. Now remember the card.
Then he starts to quickly move the cards from his one hand to his other hand and back, while he talks to me in a somewhat inchoherent way. Then he shows me the card again.
Was this the card?
Yes, I say.
He smiles triumphantly. What do you think?
It’s a good card trick, I say, but I’m lying.

On one of my walks in the town, I meet a wise man. He’s Czech, but he lives here.
People are not spiritual, he says, they consume stuff, they buy stuff, they drink, they smoke, they use drugs.
But you smoke, I say, noticing the little cigar between his fingers,
Yes, he says. Hashish, marihuana. A few days ago, on the beach, a black man gave me coke. I took it. I didn’t sleep for three days. Then my friend gave me a pill to help me get calm again. I took the pill. Then I went into town and had a few drinks. Next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital. He shows me a plastic label around his wrist.
A woman walks past us and smiles at him. You are out of the hospital, she says.
Yes, the wise man replies, and they exchange some words in Portuguese.
After she’s gone, he tells me she’s an Indian.
Sorry, she’s a what?
An Indian.
An Indian? I ask, quite suprised.
Yes, AN INDIAN, the wise man said in a louder voice. CAN’T YOU HEAR ME?
Yes, yes, I replied, it’s just that she doesn’t look very Indian.
They live in an Indian village, the wise man explains, they live in tipis. And she’s Indian, she has good eyes. She has seen this, and he points at the plastic label around his wrist. All Indians have good eyes.
I cannot deny that.

From Lisbon to the Algarve

I had stayed in Lisbon for too long.

It was just that I had no inclination to cycle or to move about in any other way. I diagnosed it as possible travel fatigue.

In the kitchen I was talking to a German girl. She was half my age, and I tried to explain to her what travel fatigue was. Much to my surpise she recognised the condition and told me sympathetically that she had suffered the same affliction.
It was when I travelled in Thailand, she said. I got sick and tired of the sweating, ALL THE TIME, and the sun lotion, and the mosquito spray, it was sticky. It was just TOO MUCH.
How long were you travelling for? I asked her.
One month, she said.
Maybe you should have spent more time at the beach, I suggested.
We were staying at the beach, she said.
You were staying at the beach, I said, not reallly knowing how to respond. That, uhm… must have been hard…


Alfama viewpoint

Next day I packed my bags and left for the Algarve. The first bit was easy: I took the ferry to the other side of the river: no hard work involved and fine views of LIsbon. From there I headed south to Setúbal, an easy 30 km ride with a few hills. In Setúbal I took another ferry to the Tróia Peninsula, a long sand bar that consisted mainly of a nature reserve. In Comporta I cycled past rice plantations, a crop that was brought here by the Arabs in the 8th century. For some time after the Reconquista it was forbidden to grow rice, because the irrigation led to a proliferation of malaria mosquitoes, but in the 19th century the production had grown rapidly and malaria was rife. Today, the Portuguese consume three times  more rice per person than the rest of the continent. Some Portuguese don’t like rice, but they are kindly asked to leave the country. Maybe they can live in Norway.

The following day  I woke up and it was very cold. The cycling was easy that day and I passed a lot of cork oaks. In Portugal cork oaks cannot be legally cut down and they live up to 250 years, so if you find one in your garden, you just have to live with it.
In Vila Nova de Milfontes I found a campsite where I pitched my tent.

After breakfast the next morning, I decided to try to get toLagos in one day. It was going to be a long day, but I thought I could do it. The weather forecast for the day after was rain and I didn’t want to get wet again. There was an Italian guy who had cycled all over the Iberian peninsula and he said it was about a hundred kilometres. It was mainly flat, he said. His eyelids twitched and he fumbled with his beard. Some hills before Lagos, but mainly flat, he repeated. His eyelids twitched again.

It was not flat.
It was hard work and my opinion of Italian cyclists reached an all time low.
I was completely exhausted, but I made it before dark and the next morning I was listening to the rain in my cozy bed in a Lagos hostel.

Lagos rocks

Lagos – Ponta de Piedade


Lagos in the Algarve

The Belém Rhino

In 1515  a rhinoceros arrived in Lisbon. It was the first rhino to have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. The animal was a diplomatic gift from the Sultan of Cambay to King Manuel I of Portugal. Later that year, King Manuel sent the rhinoceros to the Pope, but the ship wrecked and the rhino drowned. It was the end of what must have been an exhilerating life for a rhino.


Rhino in Belém

The arrival of the animal coincided with the building of the Torres de Belém. It is portrayed as a gargoyle, as the photo above illustrates. Interestingly, the Torres de Belém was built in the middle of the river to defend Lisbon, but because of the earthquake of 1755, it is now situated on the banks of the Tagus.

In the kitchen of my hostel three people were loudly discussing how to overthrow the government. In an obvious effort to mislead me, they spoke Portuguese, but it seemed to me that the bearded one was the intellectual, seeking a theoretical approach, while the other just wanted to kill them all. The third was a girl. she must have been in love with the belligerent one.  Kill them all, I heard her say.

Lisbon trams

At breakfast I met Fernando, a Brazilian philosopher, and I decided to accompany him to the flea market in Alfama, where he hoped to find an antique camera for his collection. While we walked I remarked how Portugal to me seemed to have a non-European quality. Fernando nodded and said that when Portuguese go to France, they say they go to Europe. He waved at a domed building and told me it was the Portuguese pantheon. It was originally  a church. It took them over 400 years to build it, he said, but everytime there  was money, it was stolen. That’s why it took so long. Now, it’s the pantheon, but many famous people are not  buried there. The explorers, they died oversesas.

Next day I visited the Pantheon and Fernando was right. There were empty tombs of Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Alfonso de Albuquerque. Da Gama was the first to sail around the African continent to India. On his return he was made Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia, India and all the Oriënt. The title didn’t leave much room for the other admirals at the time. When he returned to India, on his second voyage, he negotiated with the Zamorin of Calicut, but his brutal behaviour didn’t produce the desired results. Consequently, it was only many years later that he was apppointed Viceroy of India, though it must be said that most Indians were quite unaware of the fact.

Cabral was the first European to set eyes on Brasil. He stayed eight days and sent a ship back to Portugal with a message of his discovery. No Portuguese is spoken in these lands. Albuquerque was another famous explorer. There was a text to help remind people what he was famous for, just in case they had forgotten.

The text completely failed to mention that it was Albuquereque who sent the rhinoceros to King Manuel I of Portugal.

Walking to Belém.

Lisbon is not meant to be cycled in. Huge motorways connect the different districts and it’s hard to find your way when you’re riding a bicycle. I asked a few people how to get to the city centre and they looked at me quizzically. Some pointed me to the motorways, which I refused to accept as an option, because riding there would mean certain death. Eventually, I decided to get down to the Tagus and follow the river to the city centre, a cunning plan that worked wonderfully.

Like so many other cities, Lisbon is built on seven hills and is therefore called the City of the Seven Hills. It could be confusing if you actually use that name. People might think you mean Rome, or Athens, or Istanbul. And so on. Obviously, these claims are not true. As a city grows, there will be more hills on which the city is built, so the claim has to be reformulated as the city was built originally on seven hills. But even that is not true, because it seems unlikely that people in ancient history started to build houses on seven hills at the same time…

To avoid all seven hills, I decided to walk along the river to Belém,

Selfie in Lisbon

j Selfie in Lisbon


Bridge over the river Tagus

In Belém I visited the Berardo Musuem of Modern Art. I was intrigued by a canvas of the artist Ad Reinhardt which at first glance seemed to be simply painted black. At second glance, however, it still seemed to be simply painted black. I took a picture of the canvas, but that didn’t work either, and I had to photoshop the painting. This is what it looked like:

Painting by Ad Reinhardt

Painting by Ad Reinhardt (photoshopped version).