Category Archives: Portugal

On the move again

On the last day of April I left Faro and cycled to a campsite a few kilometres past Tavira. It was only a short ride, because I had promised  myself to go slowly as part of a rehabilitation program I had doctored out myself. That meant doing lots of stretches, short distances  and lots of resting days. The knees are still not alright, so I keep matters on the safe side.

Shortly after I  had arrived at the campsite, a lot of teenagers were dumped by their parents on a plot near me. They casually set up their  tents nearly on top of each other, clearly as a pretence and certainly not disguising their true intention to do some serious partying. The first of May was a holiday and they had a long weekend.

I already regretted having left Faro.

The next day I visited Tavira. I followed he ecovia, but as usual and I got totally lost. I had downloaded some Google maps from 1996 apparently.

In Tavira I made some pictures of the Moorish built castelo.

Moorish wall in Tavira with Bougainvillea

Moorish wall in Tavira with Bougainvillea

The next day I revisited Tavira after I had moved my tent to another plot. On the way back I visited the picturesque ruin of a fort. It was built a long time ago by some people who wanted to defend something against some other people. It was very nice with wild flowers.

Exploring the fort

Exploring the fort

The following day I crossed the border into Spain. This time not on my bicycle but on the ferry. As a result I entered a different timezone which meant some serious jetlag the following day.

Camping life

Camping life

Glad to be back in Spain!


Nautical times

Some days after my stitches were removed, I teamed up with Alexandru from Moldova, to visit  the so called Ilha Deserta. We took the ferry to this Island, which comprises the most Southern tip of Portugal, and it was fantastic: The sun was shining, the sand was white and the sea was crystal clear. And even though the water was freezing, it was wonderfully invigorating to swim in. Alexandru had brought snorkeling gear and a video camera and soon he was laying head down in the water, whereby he  much resembled a beached whale, while filming a tiny hermit crab that he had found. He was sputtering in Moldovan to add much needed commentary to his footage. Not very National Geographic, but quite entertaining.


In case of shipwreck this life buoy can be a life saver. Unfortunately, there were only two on board.

I know. I need to work on my tan...

I know. I need to work on my tan…

For obvious reasons I have had a lot of time on my hands and hence I have resorted to some intellectual pursuits, which were greatly facilitated by the FNAC in the shopping centre, selling Wordsworth classics for 3.90 euro, and so enabling me to stock up on English literature.

In regard to the bucket lists, it would perhaps be a good idea to make separate lists for intellectual endeavours like reading books and seeing movies (where there is no need for travel) and others like seeing art in museums and architecture (that do necessitate travel).

James Joyce – Ulysses
Reading this notoriously difficult novel was an ambition I have cherished for some time and I have already gone through several aborted attempts. Even now, I must admit, I leafed through some sections that I felt were completely bonkers, but I think I’ve read enough to tick this one off.

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness & Other Stories
Maybe the most nautical author in English literature.

And, very appropriate in the light of my recent boat trip to desert island, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The original title was: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. A title which, I feel, gives away the plot.


Bucket lists and botany

Five days after my knee surgery, I rode on my bicycle back to the hospital. Doctor Pessoa told me the stitches had to remain there for another three days, otherwise ‘everything will come out of your knee‘, This seemed undesirable, and so, yesterday, I took my bicycle out to the hospital again, but there must have been some misunderstanding because the doctor wasn’t there and the nurses maintained that I had to come back next Monday as it was too early for the stitches to be removed. After consultation with another doctor, I condoned,  and so I have to wait another four more days…

Colourful mural in Faro

Colourful mural in Faro

Meanwhile, my knees feel good and therefore I have high hopes of continuing my cycling trip soon, although at a slower pace than before and not being altogether sure as to it’s destination. At the very least I want to make it as far as Gibraltar, which is mostly flat terrain and seems for that reason quite feasible. After that I will reevaluate my experiences and decide if I want to carry on travelling in this way or revert to a more conventional mode of travel.
Up to now, my journey hasn’t come up to expectations and if I look at my experiences so far, I have to acknowledge they rather pale in comparison with those from my previous exploits. Riding a bicycle through the rain, while dodging heavy traffic, doesn’t compare very well to trekking to the Everest Base Camp, nor does having knee surgery in Portugal compare favorably to snorkeling with whalesharks in the tropical waters off Mozambique…

It is for the above reason that I’ve started contemplating alternatives for bicycle touring and putting together a bucket list of things to see or accomplish during my future travels. This last objective was not as easy as I thought it would be, because some entries would be rather ambitious if not extremely expensive. Some items I thought it might include:
– Snorkeling with Scarlett Johansson, whales or dolphins.
– Climbing, or witnessing from up close, an acitve volcano.
– Observing the Holi festival in India.
This list is very much a work in progress, so any suggestions to expand it are welcome.


Decoration in Igreja do Pedro in which some ugly woman pulls a rope. The scene is puzzling me.

The ubiquitous orange trees in the city have blossomed and to my surprise the smell was very much like the smell of jasmine which I always find noticeable because they remind me instantly of the fragrant temples of Bagan and the fond memories I have of traveling in that area.

Next to the hostel stands a fig tree and recently it has started to regrow its leaves. More remarkably, It’s laden with figs and I am told they will soon be ripe. Trees bearing fruit in the spring is new to me, though there is a biblical reference to this fact (which you may feel free to google).

Cycling and thinking

On one of my cycling trips I visited the Ria Formosa National Park at Olhao.
It was a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped to see a chameleon, a rare species in Europe, believed to have come from Africa. Well, I didn’t see it. Either, it was very well camouflaged, or it had gone back to Africa. Another species I was hoping to see, was the fiddler crab, but unfortunately, it was still in hibernation.

Otherwise, I have now made several cycling trips and it’s beautiful, the swamps, the ocean and the dazzling sunshine. Often, I now spend the mornings reading on the rooftop terrace and the afternoons cycling. On my way to São Lourenço I passed a swamp field where I counted no less than 30 white storks.

Sea urchin next to my footstep

Sea urchin next to my footstep

When I walk along the beach I have made it a habit to pick up some plastic. I wonder if I am the only one doing this kind of thing. Most of the time it is a water bottle because it’s the kind of rubbish I hate the most. I hate it, because it’s so redundant, so unnecessary. If you have to take water (and you don’t, believe me, you are not going to die from dehydration in just a couple of hours), bring it in a reusable container. Or better don’t bring water at all. Bring whisky. That comes in a glass bottle. Glass is not harmfull, it’s after all made of sand. It could be harmful to surfers, though: broken glass on the beach, drunks hurling  bottles into the sea and other kind of mischief.

Often when I ride my bicycle I think about these things and so I thought it a good idea to write about it,  so the reader can have an idea of my train of thought…

One of the reasons I didn’t pick up plastic before is that I thought I’d look foolish. But then I thought, look at it this way: what would you think of another  person picking up that piece of plastic? He / she is a hero! A brave person that protects the environment, regardless of what other people think. You will love this person, you might even consider having a relationship with this person. Have children with this person!
Another resason why you wouldn’t pick up plastic is, that you don’t want to clean up the mess of someone else, Especially, not from someone as careless and brainless as to pollute the environment! This is not reasonable though. This person will be typically unaware of the fact that the plastic he or she so carelessly discarded, has  been taken care of. So, if this person doesn’t know about the fact what you are doing, moreover, is even unaware of your very existence, than how could this be of influence on your behaviour?
And the last reason: What difference does it make? Well, think of a dolphin suffocating in that bottle of plastic that you didn’t pick up…

Anyway, I have to go because I have an appointment with an orthopedist.
His name is Fernando Pessoa, which is also the name of one of the greatest poets of Portugal..

Hopefully good news in my next blogpost…


People die

Neither a good wind nor a good marriage ever comes from Spain

This is a Portguese proverb and there seemed to be some truth in it. The weather was overcast and somber.

I cycled to the hospital where I would have a consult.
Now, tell me what happenend, the doctor said.
I decided to do the short version, which goes along the lines of, well, you know, I cycled 4000 km  and now my knee hurts.
He examined my leg.
This is your leg?
Um.. yes.
Does this hurt?
No, not really.
He looked at my leg to find out how he could make it hurt.
Yes, that hurt, I said when he had found out.
I thought you would explain the MRI scan to me.
The scan is very complex, he said. You have many problems.
I have?
Yes, the meniscus, the arthritis, the inflammation and the ligaments. He twisted my leg.
I remained silent.
Well, the ligaments seem to be okay, he said.
Oh, good…
He looked at me. You’re a young man, he said.
I failed to understand.
I want you to try another medication. If that doesn’t work we have to do an arthroscopy.
How long will I have to take the medication for, I asked.
Two or three weeks,
Okay, two weeks, he said, when I tried to jump out of the window.

A little setback, I said to myself as I cycled back.

Trying to be positive. It could have been worse. People die.
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in preventing you to achieve it.

me reading

Reading The Alchemist, looking like Bear Grylls. Photo by: Diogo Marçal

I walked at the waterfront and picked up a pebble. What had Paulo Coelho said?

You don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.

I looked at the pebble. Paulo Coelho must have better eyes than I have.

I continue to meet an endless array of people in the hostel and have some intense conversations. Some even get very emotional when they leave and want to hug me.

I met a young French cyclist who was lovesick.
Let’s go to a bar, he said.
Okay, I said.
We ordered drinks and we talked.
He told  me about the woman he loved and how she loved him. But they couldn’t be together. It was a sad story.
After his second glass of wine, he giggled.
I think I’m a  bit drunk,  he said.
It was time to get back to the hostel.

Later, I met an Australian. He started travelling because he couldn’t stay with his girlfriend anymore. She was an alcoholic.
After eating the food I had cooked, we sat on the balcony. We had finished our bottles of wine.
I’ll  get another bottle of wine, he said.
We talked politics.
Chiang Kai-shek had to leave China, I said.
But I think it’s gonna be okay, he said.
What, Chiang Kai-shek leaving China, I said?
No, Laura, he said, eventually I wil get back to her.
Oh, yes, sure, I said.
We need another bottle of wine, he said.
I think we do, I agreed.

I cycled through the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve and saw flamingos and spoonbills.


The City

The MRI scan of my knees is made. I now have to wait for the consult.

When I walk through Faro, I often think about a poem of Cavafy, called The City
His words sound like a dark prophesy:

You’ll find no new sea or land
This city will always dog you
You’ll roam the same streets
Go grey in the same houses
You’ll always end up here
Forget anywhere else
You’ve no ships, no road
The life you’ve wasted here
You’ve wasted everywhere.

This is the translation of Desmond O’Grady, which I like much better than others I’ve found.
Of course Cavafy’s poem is about Alexandria and I first read it when I found it in a small leaflet I bought when visiting the Cavafy museum in Alexandria.

Not many days later I bought a copy of Arabian Nights in the bookshop of the American University of Cairo. Since then, I have read this collection of tales several times, always delighting in Burtons erudite translation.

So, when I finished reading The Alchemist, I was intrigued at the plot: I had the feeling I had read it before and, after googling my suspiscion, I found I was right. It was stolen from Arabian Nights. Tale 14: The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream.

Reading books and killing time

Waiting for the MRI scan of my knee, I have a lot of time to read.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – by Daniel Kahneman. This is a book about behavioural economics which is the field of economy which tries to explain why people make stupid decisions. This is something I am very interested in.The book offers some surprising insights in the irrational way our brains work and I would highly recommend reading it to anyone. While reading the book I tried to relate it to my personal life and experiences.

hostel entrcance

The entrance of my hostel

It was in this course that I found out that my life hack of making money in the West and spending it in developing countries (Portugal, sic), has a sound scientific basis as the following quote from the book illustrates: Brain scan studies suggest that making purchases at very low prices is a pleasurable experience.  A major scientific breakthrough made possible with expensive MRI technology. It seems suitable here to point out that MRI scans are not only used for silly knee injuries, but also for the advancement of science.

The book mentions furthermore an interesting thought experiment concerning holidays: Imagine that at the end of your holiday, all your photos and all video material will be destroyed. Besides, you will get a magic potion that will erase all memory of your holiday. The question is: How will this affect your holiday? How much do you want to pay for it? Do you still want to climb that mountain or walk through that jungle?
Personally, I think not. I would lay on the beach and drink cocktails. It has long been my philosophy that travelling is all about collecting stories.

Another book I am reading is The Alchemist of Paulo Coelho, in a French translation.
I am doing quite well, allthough the French verb conjugations are giving me headaches. The book is very inspiring and it taught me a lot about sheep. It’s also full of blatant lies and ill advice…
I’ll give an example. In English, because the diacritics in French writing are driving me crazy:
It says somewhere in the text:  And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
This is not true. It sounds nice. It sounds inpiring. But it is not true.
Afnother example: There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
Not true. Think only of a mountaineer whose dream it is to climb a moutain. He tries to summit it, but in doing so, he stumbles and falls to his death.
No fear, but death nonetheless.


The hostel in Faro

The hostel I am staying in was built by the owner of a tuna factory. It was originally a country house as Faro was much smaller back then. The mansion was divided in four apartements for the four brothers of the family. But these days the tuna factories are long gone and the house has become a place where travellers can rest their weary heads.

Other tidbits.

Facebook makes people unhappy according to a study of the University of Missouri. Professor Margaret Duffy found that heavy Facebook use (a survey under students who used Facebook on average two hours a day!)  can lead to feelings of depression etc… Regrettably, Professor Duffy did not research the feelings of happiness of people regularly visiting my blog, which, I feel, would be far more stimulating for most people and which is, moreover, very unlikely to raise any feelings of jealousy.

Portuguese food constitutes an Intangible Cultural Heritage according to UNESCO. Together with the cuisines of countries like Italy, Spain and Greece, it is listed as Mediterranean Diet, which propagates the question if Portugal is a Mediterranean country. A dubious proposition given the fact that it borders absolutely nowhere on the Mediterranean Sea. Most of my knowledge of the Mediterranean Diet is from microwaved Portuguese food which I eat in front of the television.

On that same television I watched Ultimate Survival which could easily be assumed te be  about cycling along Portugals roads, but was just Bear Grylls being dropped in some wilderness.
So I watched him survive.
Bear Grylls is descending into dark caves, climbing rocky peaks and traversing frozen waterfalls. It seems ill advice to the average office employee who finds himself in a typical survival situation, as Bear Grylls would call it.