A few months ago, when it was still too cold for camping, one of my roommates told me about the beautiful coast of Algarve, the Southernmost region of Portugal.
I had hurried back from my Hitching East trip to do an interview a job in Korea. After a day of rest and unbearably crowded streets, due to Sevilla’s Semana Santa celebration, I grabbed my bag and walked out the door again after checking my Email one last time, hoping to hear back about the interview.
Sevilla, like most other cities, are hard to get out of so I caught the M163 to Bormujos and an older hippy woman stopped in her roller-skate of a car, which was packed with everything needed for a few days at the beach. Before I realized it we were in Ayamonte, where my roommate if from, with the Portuguese border only another couple Kilometers further down the road.
There wasn’t much movement at the gas station along the interstate, where I was left, so i messaged my roommate thinking that if I couldn’t get out I might stay with her family since she had gone home to visit them.
I was sat on the cage that secures the butane tanks in front of the gas station. i saw a couple pull up but didn’t get too excited to ask, giving them time to make a judgement about me. When I asked if they were headed into Portugal the guy said sure jump in and that he and his wife had already thought to ask me if I wanted to ride with them nearly as soon as they saw me.
They were a German couple living in Loule, Portugal and had crossed the border to do some shopping and fill up their cars tank, avoiding higher Portuguese prices. The woman had lived in the US for a year and had quite a lot to say about her experience, things that now after living abroad I can also understand. The husband seemed eager to find a place to leave me. I’m not sure if he was annoyed or what but though I insisted he pulled into a gas station and asked me to talk to a trucker, which I have found to almost never take hitchhikers. I asked a few other people if they were heading to Faro but no one seemed to be moving so they left me where the A22 and the N125-4 meet. It should be mentined that when the A22 crossed the Guadiana River the A22 becomes a relatively expensive toll road and there isn’t as much traffic as the N125.
In only 4 hours I had made it about 200 Km smoking fast for Iberian Standards of Hitching. As we crossed the border my phone notified me that I would no longer have a data connection and that I would be charged more for service. but luckilly for now my GPS was still working. as i hopped out of the German’s Hatchback Seat my half full metal water bottle swung and smacked the card taillight with a klangy thud, provoking the driver to understandably say, in an irritated tone, ” watch out man, don’t crash the car”. I try to be careful with peoples cars and though I felt bad for a second , I did no damage and inside I was laughing at the translation.
I was in a rally bad place, cars were going too fast to stop, and the majority of cars were going who knows where with so many variables so after a while standing around hoping the grey sky wouldn’t let lose. I still had quite a few hours of light left so I walked on hoping to find a better place but kilometer after kilometer of nothing but freeway left me no other option besides me feet.
All of the sudden i needed a restroom urgently and all that was around were fenced in orange and olive groves, I made it to a tractor store but the guy said the restroom was for employees only, if ewould have seen where it was I may have gone anyhow. I kept walking and a few minutes later there was a mechanics shop with bay doors open and a few guys standing around. someone had given me the tip earlier to speak English instead of Spanish, saying something about Spanish-Portuguese animosity. The guy laughed a second and pointed me to the bathroom yelling that there was no light and asking if I wanted a candle
Most of you reading will not be able to imagine how relieved I was to see that sign. 14 Kilometers walked with a 15 Kilo backpack. I wasn’t sure what I would find in Faro and for just a minute, considered trying to just keep going all the way to Lagos.
Walking into the city was pretty sketchy feeling. there were lots of rundown buildings and people looking my way. One guy in particular seemed quite interested but I walked past without too much attention, glancing back as casually as possible to see if he was following me. I heard him say something a few times but ignored him. finally I heard it again but from slightly closer so I turned around to him this time saying, “Marijuana, do you smoke”. When I said I don’t smoke he turned around.
At about 9 I strolled into a youth hostal which was pretty nice. I met a french couple who have been Bike touring for 10 months, a kid who lives in Sevilla who was obsessed with hot peppers and was going to bring back some from Portugal to try and grow them in Sevilla [it is really difficult to find fresh hot peppers in Sevilla], three polish girls who were going to try and hitchhike to Sevilla the following day, and a twin sibling pair of travelers, he has long hair and was soft spoken and she had a buzz cut and was playfully loud and cheerful like a first time backpacker yet they had both lived and traveled in quite a few places and were born in Indonesia and various other characters.
I took my time eating breakfast, with my feet not really ready to hit the road yet. around 10 everything was packed back up and I walked out of town sort of unexcited about having to see the same road again. The same 5-10 Kilometers depending.
About an hour after leaving I walked past a shady spot on the ground that was stained blackish purple and looked up at the tree. After watching Into the Wild I am not quick to assume i know what something is just because it looks like something i recognize. i was inspecting the fruit, the smell flowers , texture of tree bark , leaves and a guy walked past and says something in Portuguese, grabs one and pops it into his mouth. assuming he didn’t just tell me his last word, I followed suit and couldn’t stop smiling.
the last two times I was home my tiny mulberry tree didn’t have any fruit and apart from simply the fruit the tree and fruit hold a special memory. some of my friends from university who are into the urban and sustainable food movement had one of these trees in their yard and introduced me to the lovely violet finger stains that these tasty little things cause.
I stood around for maybe 5 minutes plucking them off and eating them one by one. as i reached up i noticed two cyclist coming towards me and a French flag waving behind one. my friends had caught me. I waved the down and showed them the mulberry tree and offered them a few, Before proposing a race, we were all heading to Lagos. Who will win, hitch hiking or cycling?
For every stride I took they gained 5 and quickly they disappeared. After 20 or 30 minutes I saw a couple parked oddly in front of a closed shop. Both were standing by the car smoking cigarettes. The girl walked up to me in a pretty direct manner and said that they wanted to take me a ways back but couldn’t stop until where they were. The Lithuanian couple like the majority of people who stopped for me had hitched but since they didn’t have more than a week for vacation had decided to rent a car. They couldn’t figure out how to get us on the interstate so we spent about 20 minutes going in circles before finally getting it right. despite being slightly annoyed with each other they were both in good spirits laughing at one another.
The Lithuanians left me at the N270 and N125 Juncture, only 30 Km from where I started but you have to be thankful for every Kilometer that you aren’t walking. I took a restroom break across the street since a dump truck was temporarily parked in the spot where cars could pull over. When I came back out the dump truck was gone. I pulled out my sign indicating that I was headed to Lagos, another 60 km down the road.
20 minutes of waiting and a little white car from the 80’s rolled flew over to the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust as it came to a stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A few days earlier I was talking to a guy saying how I didn’t think a car of girls would ever stop for a guy hitch hiker and there they were; three polish girls in their early twenties running around the coast of Portugal and I was invited to join them.
One of the girls, Kornelia, studies in Portugal and the other two Karolina and Dominika, were visiting for spring break. they told me that they weren’t actually heading directly to Lagos but were planning to go first to some caves near Lagoa. After some explaining I was convinced that those were the same caves that I had read about and wanted to see but had passed on thinking I would never be able to hitch to them since they were way out of the way on some smaller roads.
I sort of invited myself to join them on the cave tour but when we got to the beach where the boats departed there were only two more boats and each one only had two seats so we were bummed about having to split up. after a minute the girl selling the tickets came back and had worked out some way to get us all on the same boat.
Afterwards we went up to the car and and ate lunch on the sidewalk while we waited on the car to air-out and cool off. I offered some of the chorizo picante that I had and Karolina loved it. Kornelia made cookies and asked me to try to figure out the secret ingredient. It wasn’t what my first thought would have been but immediately the texture gave it away. Instead of flour she used dried bean paste.
We packed up and headed to Lagos, passing some small waterpark. I guess I was spoiled growing up in Florida. Karolina seemed really excited at the possibility of going there the following day. just as we were about to enter the town of Lagos, I saw my two french Cyclist friends and we honked and waved as I crossed the imaginary finish line just seconds before them. We stopped to See praia Dona Ana and then they drove me off to the main road.
It was only around 6 and there wasn’t much distance left before Sagres and it didn’t look like Lagos was a place to try and camp; too many rich condo owners and vacationers by the looks of it. After a bit of walking another German couple picked me up as they were headed to Vila do Oboispo, about 10 from where I was trying to go. Actually I didn’t know nor did they. I only knew the name of the beach where i was trying to go but not where it was specifically.
As we are driving along I saw a sign for Praia do Beliche and a number of km until the beach. they figured they wouldn’t be bothered by driving a few more km so they dropped me off in the parking lot of the beach where they were a few days ago but had apparently forgotten the name. They offered me a liter of water and I hiked down the steps to the beach.
It was still too light out and there were still too many people on the beach to set up my camp for the night so I used the rest of my energy bouldering a really fun section of the cliff trying to link together the moves and avoid getting sand in my shoes.
As it got darker and everyone disappeared I started setting up this time the sand would be soft enough to sleep on so not hammock problem to solve but I had to get really creative to make a roofing structure from my tarp. I managed to find a few notches in the cliff where I could tie the guy lines and wedged one of the tent stakes into a crack in the wall and tied into that.
Once I was all set up I tried to make a small Dakota fire pit which I was going to use just long enough to heat up my food but between the wind and humid ocean air I was unsuccessful so I buried everything.
There was a full moon that finally peeked over the edge of the cliff around midnight. I woke back up around 4am and the tide had come up a ton and was only 3 meters from where I was sleeping. I listened anxiously to the waves washing against a small boulder, not far from my tent, thinking about that one rogue wave that is always a tiny bit stronger than the others, expecting it to come and wash away all of my stuff and leave my sleeping bag soaked.
After enjoying the beach for a while I hitched back to Faro and from there caught a bus the following day to Sevilla.