Montes Mourinhas – spring has arrived

Wild poppies grow everywhere here – including in my garden

After a pretty miserable week of on-off rain, it was wonderful to wake up to sunshine and blue skies here in Montes Mourinhos.

On the bright side, the constant downpours have kept my newly planted garden well-nourished and I now have flower beds full of wild poppies, marigolds, nasturtium (until I checked my seed packets, I inadvertently ‘weeded’ several of these believing them to be tumble weed!) and all kinds of other plants as yet unidentifiable. I am no good with leaves; we have to be at the flowering stage before I can recognise anything!

Creating a garden from nothing during a pandemic

My little orange tree is still clinging to life despite losing most of its leaves and its two tiny fruit, while the adjacent mango is growing well and is about to burst into bloom. I have basil, oregano, thyme and mint, plus a lone raspberry bush. My tomato plants were put in far too late to expect any fruit, but seem to be flourishing nonetheless. Another plant which is doing well after several near-death experiences (know anything about that Moses?) is my beautiful camellia, a gift from our lovely friends Denise and Mike (who we met in São Martinho do Porto last year).

I’ve re-purposed several potted plants left behind by the previous owners Nick and Jane  and scoured local meadows for anything that looks pretty, hence the succulents.

My camellia bush has survived numerous cat attacks

The absence of an open garden centre has been challenging and I’ve accepted I’ll have to leave the tiling of/seating for our patio area a little longer. It’s a long way from the garden I hoped for; however, I’ve done what I can to introduce some much-needed colour ‘out the back’. The end result is a little ‘flat’ but is a huge improvement on when we viewed the house in October. On Monday, I returned from a run with the bright idea of re-landscaping the entire garden to create a ‘natural’ dip in the middle section with steps to the raised beds along the wall, It was only when I went outside to start planning I remembered the two large drain covers that sit immediately under said wall. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

It’s not quite balmy but we’re getting there

While lcck down is gradually easing here in the Algarve, we remain a little confused to what we can actually do … and what we can’t. Face masks are definitely the order of the day now and are mandatory in supermarkets and on public transport (where you can be fined for not wearing one). We were able to see our accountant for a pre-booked appointment earlier in the week, albeit with the three of us wearing masks. Marinas, golf courses, and car hire companies are open (with strict guidelines in place) and cafes and restaurants can open on Monday with 50% capacity, masks for staff, tables at safe distances and reduced opening hours.

So close to the ocean but not allowed on the beach

I try to keep up to date with things via some excellent websites – Safe Communities in Portugal, Portugal News and Portugal Resident – however, the beach situation has been confusing. We understood that beaches were out of bounds throughout the State of Emergency and only open to surfers and beach anglers during the State of Calamity (why else would there be barriers preventing access). Then we walk along the promenade (which is permitted) and see lots of people walking along the waters’ edge, despite the barriers remaining in situ.

People will be able to check how busy a beach in advance

Now it’s looking like the beaches will reopen on June 6, albeit with a lot of new regulations and an Infopraia app to enable tourists and locals to check the status of their chosen beach before they set off, i.e. red (full and not advisable), yellow (almost full) or green (accessible).

We’ve felt extremely safe here in the Algarve during the pandemic – there have been just 14 deaths in the region attributed to COVID-19. Unfortunately, with tourism driving the economy there has been a lot of pressure on the government to reopen hotels, campsites, rental accommodation, etc. What happens when there are tourists everywhere again is anyone’s guess. I do know we intend to stay clear of busy bars and restaurants throughout the summer season.

We keep our distance from the bee houses

It’s hard to believe but I haven’t been out walking since last Sunday. I did run on Monday but then we had the accountant on Tuesday and then either one of us was working or it was raining (I only escaped the downpour by minutes on Monday).

After days of wearing long trousers and a jumper, it was wonderful to set off in shorts and a sleeveless top. During lockdown, we’ve mostly headed west towards Porches and Porches Velho. Depending on our route, this generally involves crossing the shallow valley running south towards Armação. There are various paths leading into the valley – the two main ones being stony and easy to follow – ; however, today Harri wanted to experiment with a new path he’d spotted on Google Maps.

Harri disappearing into thick vegetation

It started off so promising as we meandered past pastel-coloured bee houses and breathed in the pungent smell of wild thyme. The path underfoot wasn’t exactly distinct but it was there … just about. It soon became clear that this was the kind of steep descent that Harri relishes, i.e. stony, uneven underfoot and overgrown in large parts. You need good shoes for this kind of descent and I’m afraid my 18-month-old Asics trail shoes are a little bit worse for wear with very little tread left on the soles.

Harri waiting to help me

I managed to make it to the dry riverbed in one piece, but only because Harri kept holding out his hand to steady me. He clambered up the steep bank opposite, only to conclude it might not be a great idea for me to follow. Neither was he overly keen on descending again, which is how we ended up with me scrambling over fallen trees in the riverbed while he walked along above and out of sight, keeping a lookout for a relatively safe ascent for me.

Eventually we were reunited and headed up to Vale de Olival, though sadly not along the beautiful valley footpath Harri discovered back in April. Our first inkling that the land owner was going to prevent access was about five weeks ago when I was walking alone and found the wider part of the path completely blocked with cut branches. A few weeks later, and sign had been erected. Curiously, after the large letters spelling out ‘Privado’ someone had added a heart. Whatever emotion it was meant to convey, they clearly have no love for local walkers.

That little heart doesn’t make up for closing a delightful valley footpath

Vale de Olival boasts the kind of landscaped gardens which we mere Lidl seed-planting mortals can only dream about. (The swimming pools are, of course, tucked out of sight around the back.) Ray, someone I know whose home is not a million miles from here, told me he was quoted 100,000 euros by a landscape architect for creating terraces and interest on his hilly land. Needless to say, he looked elsewhere.

You can keep the houses, it’s the gardens I love

We eventually emerged on the wooded lane from Porches which I’d so loved when Harri brought me here for the first time. Porches itself was deserted, apart from one set of builders.

I love this wooded lane leading to Porches

We left Porches on a track we’d not previously followed, but which linked with a narrow road I frequently run along. Not that we were sticking to the road for long. Soon, we left the tarmac to head across country. Once again, Harri’s plans were thwarted … this time because a property owner had blocked access to the footpath he was hoping to follow.

This cyclist was the only person we passed all morning

During the State of Emergency we encountered people out walking and cycling everywhere; now, we’ve moved to the more relaxed State of Calamity it seems everyone is back in their cars. We walked nearly ten kilometres today and were out of the house for two-and-three quarter hours. Yet we did not pass a single person and saw just one masked cyclist.

If we’d hoped the pandemic was gong to be the catalyst for a walking revolution here in Portugal then we were sadly mistaken.





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