Today marks the end of our second week of self-isolation here in Montes Mourinhos. The Portuguese government announced a State of Emergency on March 18; however, most people we know had quite rightly decided to stop socialising – and small businesses close – long before they were forced to do so, Schools have been closed here since March 16.
We’re among the fortunate ones. Apart from the inevitable decrease in work (and our very real concerns about family and friends in South Wales), our lives haven’t changed enormously. After a day or two of panic buying, the local supermarkets have returned to normal with no notable shortages of toilet paper or pasta (the number of customers entering at any one time is, of course, strictly limited). We haven’t been living here long enough to establish a busy social life to hastily abandon and only ate out when we had visitors.
In these hugely worrying times we are tremendously grateful to have beautiful, accessible countryside on the doorstep of our new home in Armação de Pêra. The proximity of such scenic landscapes means we are able to head outside for what the Portuguese government (or their translators) refer to as ‘outdoor moments’ and wander happily for miles without encountering a soul.
Harri has explorer genes in his DNA and is forever looking for new routes when he’s out running. If he spots so much as the faint markings of a footpath, he’s off to discover where it leads. He will pour over Google’s satellite images for ages trying to work out just what is possible in terms of off-road hiking. One of the main reasons we returned to the Algarve after our three-month stay in São Martinho do Porto (apart from the weather) was because we love how the towns and villages here are connected by an intricate network of footpaths, historic lanes and trails. Simply put, you can walk anywhere without ever needing to walk along a main road. The Silver Coast is very beautiful but the various towns and cities felt isolated from one another on foot.
Harri’s love of exploration means our walks – even local walks – are never dull and we rarely cover exactly the same ground as on a previous walk. This morning’s 10km was no exception.
We set off across the open field in front of our house. The owner speaks a little English and told me earlier this week how he only uses his land for dumping green waste like cut branches. We’d heard about an annual pilgrimage of goats across the field so I asked him about this. I think something must have got lost in translation because he studied my goat impression carefully and started talking about cheese (queijo).
On Tuesday, we discovered a municipal swimming pool (and children’s pool) at the end of ‘our’ field, which any other year would have been cause for celebration. We think the pools – which look very clean – are for local residents/members only because there are no signs anywhere. This is definitely something we will be looking into when the current situation ends.
We passed a few houses where we received a friendly ‘Bom dia, como esta?‘ from a local woman and joined a sandy lane leading into the countryside. As per usual, I stopped to admire the empty villa at the end of the lane with sea views and a large garden just begging to be planted. Sadly, it also has grafittied walls and broken windows. It’s a mystery why anyone would abandon such a beautiful property in such a lovely spot, yet someone clearly has. Sometimes, Harri and I allow ourselves to dream about buying and transforming the house … though obviously a lottery win would be required!
Something that has really hit home since the pandemic began is just how many houses in our local vicinity are shuttered up and empty, i.e. they are second homes. Our Portuguese neighbour told us most are owned by French, German and Dutch people. It would seem the grander the property, the less likelihood of it being occupied year-round.
We headed into one of my favourite landscapes, full of meandering footpaths and tall pine trees. Everywhere the spring flowers are blossoming – the poppies are my personal favourites – and the vines and fig trees are beginning to leaf. The white blossom of the almond trees has long floated to the ground and now the green outer hulls of the shell fill the branches. On the carob trees, the green pods dangle like the green beans my late mother was so fond of serving up.
Oddly, we seem to be seeing more people (in the distance) since lockdown started than the ‘old days’ when everyone was free to go out and about. Harri’s theory is people are now exploring their local area more, whereas previously they’d probably have jumped in the car and headed to the beach or shopping mall.
Our route took us along a favourite historic lane and on towards Alcantarilha where we rented a room for two months last autumn. We rarely go there now, unless it’s for a shipping trip to Aldi; even in these times of reduced mobility, there are prettier areas to walk and run closer to home.
There was a bizarre moment when a plane passed overhead and we stopped and stared up at the sky (later there was even more excitement when we spotted a helicopter overhead!). Our childish delight in such occurrences is undoubtedly a consequence of normal life shutting down.
We skirted around Alcantarilha and joined one of the few footpaths I can take credit for discovering. Beehives are a common sight here in the Algarve countryside; however, we were a little bit alarmed by quite how many bees were buzzing around outside. Keeping a wide berth, we continued ahead passing sprawling, fenced vineyards and eventually emerging on another deserted road.
The local campsite was full of caravans and motorhomes despite a government ruling on March 22 that there should be ‘an orderly and peaceful departure of users’ (with the exception of permanent residents). Judging from the high number of vehicles lining the perimeter, there are a lot of permanent campsite residents.
We were nearing home, but knowing Harri, I guessed I wouldn’t be putting my feet up anytime soon. He generally has a final ‘detour’ up his sleeve! I was right because we were soon veering off downhill towards the apartment blocks of Armação de Pêra. As in the UK, some of the Government’s instructions have been a little ambiguous. We know social gatherings are no longer allowed on beaches, but we remain uncertain if members of the same family are permitted to walk along the beach. Until we have the definitive answer, we’ve been steering clear of our lovely local beaches.
We arrived home at 11.30am. Throughout our 10km walk, we’d never strayed more than a few kilometres from our home and yet we had enjoyed a variety of landscapes and terrains. Our half-day jaunt lifted my spirits on a day they might otherwise have plummeted – I was due to fly home to Wales today to see my family. It also brought home more than ever just how lucky we are to live in such glorious surroundings with the countryside and beach on our doorstep,
Everything sucks at the moment, but if you look hard enough, you can still find beauty in the natural world and the changing seasons.
If any local walkers are interested in following our route, here’s a link to the mapping.
Stay safe everyone.