Central Algarve: lockdown in Montes Mourinhos

Wild poppies growing through the cobbled pavement

This morning, the biggest decision facing me here in Montes Mourinhos was whether today’s ‘outdoor moment’ should take the form of a run or a walk. I have opted for a late afternoon walk (I ran a fair distance yesterday and my ageing legs co-operate better when they’ve enjoyed at least one day’s rest between bursts of energetic activity). I decided against going out first thing. My reasoning was delaying my exercise until later in the day would surely: a) increase my morning productivity, and b) revive my flagging energy levels (and spirits) later in the day, thus decreasing my likelihood of reaching for a glass of wine.

More and more of my runs are ‘cross country’

Harri went out for an early run and headed down to Armação de Pêra. Just as there’s nothing more tragic than a British seaside resort in the middle of winter, the scene which greeted him was distressing. At the time when this little Portuguese resort should be coming to life with Easter holidaymakers, all the cafes and restaurants are boarded up and the main access points to the beach (and car parks) in the resort itself are blocked. Clearly, this doesn’t mean people cannot access the sand farther east; the beach itself continues for several kilometres towards Galé and for much of that is backed by nothing except dunes. Despite this, the majority of people are treating the beach as out of bounds (us included); it just feels like the right thing to do.

Armacao would normally be welcoming Easter tourists

Sitting here in my home of four-and-a-half months, I know we are luckier than many. Harri’s work has been sporadic but at least he still has work. I am still writing for Tomorrow magazine, although my output is reduced and interviews are now necessarily being done by email and phone. The April issue of the magazine was produced in digital format only, the first time in its eight-year history. We writers must also be particularly mindful of the topics we cover and words we choose.

A Facebook friend pointed out my new path is P-shaped (my subconscious at work?)

Fortunately, our new house has adequate outdoor space – front and rear gardens, plus two first-floor terraces – and though there can be no visits to the garden centre for the foreseeable future I managed to pick up some seeds, bulbs and a raspberry bush at Lidl. Our little orange tree – bought at Paderne market back in mid-February – at last seems to be thriving (for a while it was touch and go). The soil is better than we imagined after being covered under fake grass, plastic sheeting and horrible uneven cladding for years, and my makeshift path (created with stones removed from elsewhere) doesn’t look too bad. I hope everything continues to grow and I can keep my plant family alive during the parched summer months.

I pass these beautiful succulents regularly

The strange existence we are all currently living has clearly ignited Harri’s creative side. Last week he made me a compost bin out of a large plastic dog carrier he found a few weeks back. We can finally recycle our food waste as we used to do in Wales.

So we are absolutely fine here in Montes Mourinhos. My biggest concern is for my family and friends back home, where the lockdown started much later than in Portugal and the mortality rate remains frighteningly high. I keep in touch with everyone as much as possible, but it’s desperately hard not knowing when I will be able to return to Wales and hug my girls again. My proposed March/April trip was cancelled and now it looks like my re-booked mid-June trip will not be happening either. Cyber hugs and kisses are something so many people are having to get used to right now, and it’s tough on everyone.

The husks are growing on the almond trees

In the meantime, my day-to-day life is about distraction therapy, keeping as busy as possible and trying not to become addicted to 24-hour news updates (I’m the worst culprit). Having moved here so recently, we don’t have an attic to empty, cupboards to clean or a garage to clear out. We brought with us to Portugal only what we could fit in our car and have bought very little since in terms of personal belongings or items for the home (come on, a panini maker is essential!). Our home was bought fully furnished but without all those little items you accumulate over the years.

Now tarted up for our bedroom, this chair started life outside

Thus, whilst others are having a field day rediscovering long-forgotten belongings, I’ve been reduced to moving the furniture around. Two weeks ago it was the lounge and this week our bedroom. Who knows, if the lockdown goes on long enough, I may have to dismantle some of the kitchen units and re-arrange the layout (those who know me well will know I’m not joking!). It’s either that or paint the house orange from top to bottom (the previous owners left a very large tin of orange paint!).

I stumbled upon Alistair Campbell’s blog this morning and enjoyed a bit of a reading spree. Whether you agree with his politics or not, nobody can deny this man well-placed to talk about mental health issues and the emotional effect the pandemic is having on all of us. I rather like his idea of taking a photograph/short video of a tree every day. I feel that’s something I could join in with, having started a tree board on Pinterest a while back (before getting distracted by decorating pins). There are some beautiful old cork oak and fig trees around here which I think I’ll share.

Cork forest, Bensafrim, Via Algarviana, Algarve
Harri walking through a cork forest (pre-Covid-19 picture)

Things are going to get a bit stranger around here from Thursday. Up until now, the restrictions have been similar to the UK, in that we can only go out for very specific reasons, i.e. to buy essentials like food and medicine, assist a vulnerable person, go to work if you are an essential worker and cannot work from home, and to exercise once a day.

We live close to the border of two municipalities: Silves and Lagoa. While our house falls inside the Silves boundary, we tend to walk and run mostly over the border in Lagoa, simply because it’s easier to keep off main roads and away from other people in that direction. We also love walking in the beautiful countryside around Porches. From Thursday until next Tuesday (the entire Easter period), residents will not be permitted to leave their own municipality, which means we will have to head in the opposite direction for our ‘outdoor moments’. While I understand the rationale for containing people within their local area, for us the restrictions mean we’re more likely to encounter other people, which kind of seems counter-productive.

Enjoying the ecovia west of Porches (pre-Covid-19 picture)

In other news, I’m still submitting new routes to Walkingworld. I’m not doing anything improper, honestly, but in my enthusiasm I clocked up rather a lot of routes earlier this year and currently have quite a few in my ‘reserve’ folder. My hope is that when the pandemic is finally over and life returns to some semblance of normality, my walks might play a small part in luring walkers back to the Algarve. Who knows, my efforts might even encourage existing Walkingworld subscribers to venture to this underrated walking area for the first time?

Well, that’s it for today. I’m off for a cup of Earl Grey.

Take care everybody. Heed your government’s advice, remain at home if possible and stay safe.







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