28tH, 29TH and 30TH MAY 2015
Lisbon is far behind us as we venture to the most southern Portuguese town of Faro in the Algarve Region.
The reason for choosing Faro as a stopover point was its nearness to Seville. I read that there was a walking/bike path of some extent running from Faro to Seville and I thought we might ride portion of it. The path reportedly followed a disused railway line that up until twenty years ago linked the two locations. However subsequent investigations revealed the path does exist but it is rough and not suitable for bikes unless of course you are a daredevil mountain biker.
From Faro we will travel by bus to Seville and Tarifa, our jumping off point for Morocco.
The train journey involved a short trip on a regional train then an intercity train to Faro.
The train journey was pleasant as the countryside presented plenty to entertain us as it passed through rural farmland, forests and at one point crossed a rugged mountain range. Along the way there were extensive plantations of Australian eucalypts and although hard to identify with any accuracy from a distance I think there were ironbarks, forest gum and river red gums.
Faro sits on the edge of the Ria Formosa lagoon, an extensive estuarine area protected by barrier islands offshore. There are six inlets, five natural and one artificial, allowing access to the port of Faro.
Our accommodation in Faro was acceptable, the room was pokey but you pay for what you get. I had to resort to cooking in the bathroom as there was insufficient space in the bedroom area and it was too windy on the balcony.
The reader might ask why cook rather than go out to eat. The reason I cook often is that sometimes we crave simple familiar food such as a bowl of vegetables, something that is hard to get. I also cook breakfast as in most hostels and hotels breakfasts for me leave a lot to be desired. I’m not into preserved meats, sweet cakes and butter and jams provided in small plastic containers. The plastic containers usually contain watery jam and the disposable containers are a blight on the environment.
I have included the cooking story above because I am frequently asked what we cook and how to go about the task. One reader actually asked me about the brand of cooker I use and my favourite recipe. Our favourite is chickpea vegetable soup, usually eaten with copious amounts of delicious local bread, not pre-sliced packaged stuff. Every meal prepared is, in effect, a one off. I never seem to be able to repeat the same meal.
The first thing we do when arriving in a new town is find out where the local mercado (supermarket) is, not the mega ones which don’t seem to exist in smaller towns in Spain and Portugal. Supermarkets are small corner stores and on the way to one from our hostel we found a particularly interesting shop. The shop was owned by a gentleman who turned old broken chairs into an art form.
When I first looked at the chairs in this photograph I thought the right arm of the chair on the left belonged to the next chair on the right. This meant both the chairs, the one on left and the one next to it, had only one arm each. Closer scrutiny however suggests this is not the case. Chairs with only one armrest did exist and they were for the seating of those toting swords. It was difficult to sit in a double-armed chair with a sword strapped around the waist.
The chair recycler had a few other interesting oddities too. It never ceases to amaze me how creative some people are.
The drawing above reminds me of one very keen young artist, our granddaughter Bella, who often draws pictures like this one.
After wandering around Faro we came to the conclusion that it does not have a lot to attract the visitor, most of the attractions and activities are out of town and based around the Rio Formosa lagoon. It was recommended we take a train and visit Olho and Tavira to the east and maybe take a ferry to one of the outer barrier islands where we would find a traditional Portuguese fishing village.
Regardless of Faro’s anonymity it does have one claim to fame and that is the first book ever published in Portugal was printed here in 1487 by Samuel Gacon, a Jewish gentleman fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The book, a Torah in local Hebrew, ended up in the University of Oxford library, the Bod (Bodleian), after the English Earl of Essex sacked the town in 1596.
The regional train was unusual in one respect. If the ticket collector wasn’t watching you could open the bike compartment door and stand by it. There was no danger as a dropdown guardrail prevented one from falling out.
In Sydney in the 1950/60s you could stand by open doors with no worries. I grew up standing by open train doors so it was a little hard to accept the actions of the ticket collector who came along shortly after this photo was taken and told me ‘not allowed’ and slammed the door shut in front of me. I indicated that I wanted to see out and I couldn’t see through the carriage windows that had been painted over by a graffiti vandal. No amount of pleading changed her mind. After the attendant left I opened the door again and enjoyed the freshness of the coastal air. Bev kept a lookout in case the guard came back, perhaps if I disobeyed the instructions a second time I might have been kicked off the train.
In light of all the windows of the train being covered with graffiti it’s understandable why one wanted to stand by an open door. The train carries many tourists so you would think the operators could keep the windows clean.
There are a couple of churches in Tavira and the one I think is worthy of mention is the San Sebastian. The outside is rather ordinary but on the inside it is spectacular and what makes it so are the walls made from wood and hand painted.
The attendant at the church was happy to accept both Euro and foreign coins for the upkeep of the church. I’m not sure how he was going to convert foreign coins to Euros as banks and moneychangers only accept paper money for exchange. After thinking about it I suspect he was collecting the foreign coins for himself.
From the church it was a downhill run to the river. Morning tea called.
The tart on the right is a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart. For a recipe go to bbc.goodfood.com and search Portuguese Custard tart. The cake on the left is a plain butter cake. In the suburb of Sydney where I lived as a child a cake shop made an identical cake with paper wrapped around it and my mother would buy me one now and then as a special treat. For nostalgic purposes whilst in Portugal I have one at every opportunity.
The crowing rooster part way up on the right side of the photograph is an emblem of Portugal. The rooster is everywhere…on pottery, tiles, flags, postcards and posters.
According to legend, there was an innocent man accused of stealing silver who was saved from the hangman’s noose by a crowing rooster. The accused was sentenced to hang and just prior to the hanging he asked to see the judge who had sentenced him. The judge was having a banquet with friends and on the table was a cooked rooster. The accused said to the judge, ‘It is as certain that I am innocent as it is certain that this rooster will crow when they hang me’. But the judge was unmoved. The accused man was taken outside and hanged. The rooster stood up and crowed and immediately the judge ran to the gallows and discovered the man was alive and had been saved by a poorly made hangman’s noose. The accused was released and he went off in peace. This is one of a number of versions of this story.
Following are a few photographs taken around Tavira.
From Tavira back to Faro we stopped off at Olho, a small village where we were told we could take a ferry to one of the outer barrier islands.
Unfortunately it was the graffiti train again so not being able to take photographs out of the train I amused myself taking photographs from the hip at the station.
The law in Portugal relating to the photographing of people in public is: photographs can be taken in a public place and published without consent providing the image does not harm the honour or reputation of the depicted person.
Olho is a cluster of buildings fronting a long Canary Island palm-lined waterfront boulevard. The visit to the outer island didn’t eventuate as the ferry was not leaving for some time and also the operators wouldn’t take bikes. We contented ourselves with a boulevard ride.
There were a number of very impressive tile-covered seats along the way, comparable to ones in Lisbon.
The coastal region around the Rio Formosa lagoon is not only known for quality fish but for the harvesting of the grooved carpet shell or, as we know it, the pipi. In England the grooved carpet shell is known as the cockle. Believe it or not, children of my era used to sing many old English, Scottish and Irish songs and one of them was ‘Cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o’, the traditional call of shellfish sellers. Cockles and oysters were once an inexpensive food eaten by the working classes. This is no longer the case as they are now considered more of a gourmet food.
The main predators of the grooved carpet shell other than man are crabs, starfish, and birds. Dragnets do the harvesting of the shell. When I was a child and my family went harvesting pipis we would stand on the shoreline in ankle deep water and puddle our feet into the sand as the waves receded. If pipis were to be found they would be felt with one’s toes.
In the state of Victoria Australia people still harvest pipis. They use a wide multi-pronged fork for the task. Locals living in the vicinity of southern Australian beaches complain that tourists from the north are decimating the pipi population and they believe restrictions on the number an individual may take should be applied. The marine protection authorities do not agree with their claims.
Worldwide, the bivalve is on the decline but because of its widespread distribution it is used as a biodiversity indicator; if the pipis disappear you know the environment is changing for the worse. The same theory applies to ants. On our property we have a large ant measuring 30mm long (two finger widths) called a ‘hoppy joe’ (giant bull ant). If it disappears I know I have done something environmentally unfriendly. The big ants are the first to go.
The ‘hoppy joe’ is notoriously aggressive and can inflict a nasty bite. The venom quickly immobilizes its prey such as other ants, bees and sometimes other large insects including grasshoppers. Its diet is supplemented by the workers’ own tropic (infertile) eggs which are commonly fed to the queen and larvae.
During the early pioneering days in Australia if one sustained a cut it was possible to stitch the wound together using the head of a giant bull ant. The surgical procedure was to hold the ant at the cut and allow it to bite across the wound and the ant’s mandible held the wound together. The idea was that once the ant had hold you detached its head from the body and the mandibles would remain closed. I would not recommend this procedure as the ant’s venom can cause severe allergic reactions. My hand once appeared in a TV documentary with ‘hoppy joes’ all over it. If you don’t want the ants to bite the trick is to tension your skin and the ant cannot get hold.
Seagulls are considered a pest in some areas as their numbers have reached plague proportions due to their ability to adapt to waste take away foods. They also love feeding on rubbish dumps. Thousands congregate in areas where they can scrounge from picnickers. In Australia the gulls eating waste food such as chips have found to have high cholesterol levels.
Bev and I have visited many remote beaches in the world and from my observations there is only ever one breeding pair per beach not thousands as you see in the more densely populated areas. In Australia there is one exception to this and it’s in the Lake Eyre Basin (16 metres below sea level) in remote northern South Australia.
Occasionally the the lake fills and when it does thousands of Pelicans who usually reside on the east coast of Australia head out there to breed, unfortunately the sea gulls go along too and their aim is to feed on the newly laid Pelican eggs. Some might say the gulls are following their instincts and this maybe so but if we didn’t feed the gulls on the coast they would be fewer going west and indulge in the Pelican egg orgy. Ornithologists are concerned about this event and there are thoughts that man should intervene and cull the sea gulls. Sea gulls in their hundreds are pests like pigeons and graffiti artists who spray over train windows.
On that note I will bring this post to an end. The next post will take you to Seville, an attractive city in southern Spain. From Seville we will travel to Tarifa near the Rock of Gibraltar and then across to Morocco.
One last photograph with a message to ponder, at least for us at the moment.
An interesting comment has come from a couple of young tbeartravel readers in Thailand and that is: Has BBear ever had a bath? My reply is ‘No, but now you have mentioned it, I think I should give her one as she is definitely getting grubby’.
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