For seven weeks Harri has excelled himself and conjured up all sorts of interesting routes around our home in Montes Mourinhos, Armação de Pêra. We generally head west where we frequently stray into the neighbouring municipality of Lagoa just a kilometre or so up the road (Armação itself is in Silves).
This being a bank holiday weekend (Labour Day is celebrated on May 1), the Portuguese government has once again decreed that everyone must stay within their own municipality until midnight on Sunday May 3. This isn’t a huge hardship as one of my favourite places in the Algarve – Salgados – is just a short walk to the east of us.
This morning’s route was a circular during which we crossed Salgados twice, each time following entirely different tracks and footpaths. The recent rains have transformed this open landscape into a vast vibrant flower-strewn meadow.
‘Couldn’t you just imagine a herd of wilderbeest lolloping across here?’ Harri asked, as we joined one of the numerous tracks crossing the area. I could. This side of Salgados is almost completely neglected by local walkers, who tend to stick to the main tracks near the car parks. Recent rain followed by warm sunshine means everything is growing like crazy, including wildflowers … and dandelions.
When he was researching ideas for new routes on Google Maps, Harri had stumbled upon somewhere called Pista Pêra. This mysterious landmark was apparently ‘temporarily closed’; however, Harri was curious to find out what it could be? A grass ski slope, perhaps? While it seemed unlikely, this is the Algarve … a place where the strangest things can occur.
Leaving Salgados, we crossed the Alcantarilha stream and paused to look into its muddied waters. Harri was just debating whether to go for a paddle, when a water snake swam through the reeds.
It’s never a hardship to meander through the pretty whitewashed village of Pêra, with its labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets. Here, old stone houses and crumbling walls exist side by side with beautifully renovated traditional homes and modern villas. The first time I ever visited Alcantarilha, I took a wrong turning and found myself driving through Pêra; it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. This is a village to explore on foot, or even horseback, as in the old days.
I was enchanted to spot not one, but three white storks nesting high above on a crane. Stork nests are protected by law in Portugal and permission is needed to remove them, so I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen when the developers wish to resume building.
Our loop around the outskirts of Pêra would have been perfect except for one thing: barking dogs. It’s the one thing I dislike about Portugal. There are too many dogs left outside to guard properties (often chained) and, naturally, these mutts get over-excited when they spot passing walkers. Even worse are the owners who let their dogs roam freely despite their apparent dislike of humans. On Friday, I was out running when the male runner ahead of me along a quiet track actually had to turn around and coax a muzzled, barking dog away from me. There is a road on Montes Mourinhos that Harri has nicknamed ‘dog alley’ simply because it is impossible to walk there without triggering a deafening chain reaction from the clearly very bored dog population. Dog owners out there … please look after your pets properly!!
Emerging back on the main Albufeira to Alcantarilha road, we were none the wiser about Pista Pêra. We decided we must have missed it although, as we didn’t know what exactly we were looking for, it was hard to know.
Back at Salgados, our onward footpath appeared to have disappeared with the proliferation of wild flowers. Nonplussed, Harri insisted we plough on in the right general direction in the hope said path would eventually reappear on the ground … it didn’t.
By now it was late morning and other family groups – and cyclists – were out enjoying the warm sunshine. In wide open spaces like Salgados, it’s easy enough to maintain a two-metre distance and still be genial and friendly towards one another.
One of the positives about lockdown is that it’s forced many people to take a closer look at the natural beauty that’s right there on their doorstep. Who knows, in time perhaps the Portuguese will become as passionate about walking as their close neighbours the Spanish.
When we got home, I looked up what pista actually means. And it means ‘track’ … in all likelihood we’d wandered along Pista Pêra at some point in this morning’s walk without ever realising it.
In other exciting news, last week Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa announced the current ‘State of Emergency’ here in Portugal will be replaced by a ‘State of Calamity’ on Monday. This is good news because it means things are moving in the right direction, despite not much changing immediately, i.e. people will still have to respect hygiene and distancing rules. The situation will be reassessed after 15 days.
We’ve been lucky that the excellent Safe Communities Portugal has been determined to keep non-Portuguese speakers up to date with developments here.
Life won’t be returning to normal on Monday; however, some small businesses will be allowed to open under very strict conditions. For example, hairdressers and beauticians will be allowed to cut hair by appointment. Garages and libraries will also be opening, with similar restrictions. From May 18, restaurants, cafes and bakeries will be allowed to open with 50% capacity. Outdoor sports training will also be allowed from Monday, although changing rooms must remain closed. Mask wearing is going to be mandatory for many activities.
For seven weeks we resisted wearing masks and chose instead to keep our shopping trips to an absolute minimum. We’ve been shopping just once a fortnight and, other than putting petrol in the car last time we went to a supermarket, we have kept well clear of all shops and indoor places since lockdown began. For us, it feels counter-intuitive to queue outside a pharmacy and then mix with others in order to buy masks. Now, it seems like we’ll have no option but to wear them when we shop so I’ve hand sewn two three-layered masks from a piece of cotton. If we could avoid shopping altogether – and thus avoid wearing them at all – then we would; however, online shopping is not as available here as it is in the UK.
Stay safe everybody.
Here’s a link to today’s walk … all completely within our own municipality and perfectly permissible.
Postscript: we went to Continente this morning and it was mandatory for everyone to wear a mask. Our homemade ones were permitted; however, Harri’s was squashing his nose so we bought some ‘proper’ ones from the in-store at 7,70 euros for 10. At our current rate of shopping, they should last us another two months or so!!