Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On the Road Again

Ian and I are leaving Porto Cǒvo tomorrow for Evora, a walled Roman town in the central Alentejo (the region where we've been). It's been a well-appreciated gift, this eleven nights, for free, at a little country house on the Atlantic coast. We did laundry not only when it was needed but also when we felt like it (that is, when I felt like it. I'm a pretty liberated woman in lots of ways, but I trust very few people to do my laundry the way I like it.). We shopped at a supermarket—the same one more than once! We eased into a comfortable schedule of breakfast outside, a stroll around the country or the shore, work for Ian and whatever I felt like for me (the aforementioned laundry, or reading, or writing, or riding), lunch, an afternoon nap, another stroll, dinner, and a stroll to town to make use of the WiFi in the main square.

But the most appreciated benefit of being in a home for awhile was that we were actually able to have guests, instead of just being guests! My friends A&F, from Lisbon, came down for the weekend and joined us in our leisurely lifestyle, and gave us a much-needed infusion of conversation topics. They're European, our age, and have traveled a lot and lived all over the world, and even though I see them on average once every three years and this was Ian's first time meeting them, we all got along immediately. The great thing about keeping in touch with people all over the world, of course, is that you have an excuse to visit them (we'll spend four days at their home next week). The thing that sucks is that I know all my friends would love each other . . . but it's so hard to get everyone together! I'll just have to make it a goal sometime in the future—Internation House Party at the Taylor's. Has a nice ring to it.

In addition to the Buffet de Gelato, there are a few other things we've enjoyed about being back in Portugal and here in particular. One is, of course, the bafflingly cheap wine. I bought two bottles of red at the supermarket the other day, both from the Alentejo, both very drinkable, for €1.39 each (which is around $1.95 each). We've got a herd of cows just outside our house, and their bells in the afternoons are a charmingly musical accompaniment to Ian's snores (ha ha—no, when he snores, I poke him until he stops). Two nights ago, one night after full moon, we took a late stroll along the beaches. The tide was out, so we felt our way along the dark, wet tunnel to our little private beach and splashed around for a few minutes, then climbed back up over the bluffs and down onto Praia Grande, the big beach. We went around one headland, between the cliffs and a wet pile of boulders glistening in the lights reflected from Porto Cǒvo and from Sines up to the north. I convinced Ian that we should return on the water side of the boulders, where I thought I could tell, from the splash of the waves, that it was shallow enough to make it even though the tide had turned. “We're either going to get very wet or dashed on the rocks,” Ian informed me, making it clear that those were our only two options and neither was a very good one, but he started off gamely enough anyway. About midway along the boulders we decided it was, in fact, too dark and too deep and the danger of dashing too great, so Ian turned and started over the top of the boulders. We were, of course, barefoot, and I'm sure I stepped on any number of things I wouldn't have considered touching with my bare foot if I could see them. In fact, I stopped in the middle and, balancing precariously on the dark, rough, and mysteriously slimy rocks, put my shoes on. But nevertheless, we made it, and had a good time.

Unlike Portugal's leeward coast, in the Algarve in the south, the Atlantic coast is pretty empty. There are no major resorts, and certainly no golf courses. The Lonely Planet calls the Alentejo “Portugal's poorest region,” which it is, sure, but only because it's primarily agricultural; not because the people are in poverty as we've come to think of it in the US. It is much more our speed than the flashy Algarve, and most of the tourists we've seen here have been Portuguese, which makes me feel more like a local than a traveler, somehow.

We'll be sad to go, but I know that the Capela dos Ossos in Evora will make up for a lot.

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