A post by Lief and Sol
We are in Sagres, where the beer originated. We have a rest day here as yesterday was very hilly. Today, Sol and I went out of our house for a 2 hour walk and ended up taking over 120 photos. Below we have 20 of our best photos to show you.
So Lief wants to go to the Algarve to continue our biking pilgrimage. His brother concurs, even with the prospect of an early morning rise for a 14km bike ride at 6am to catch the 7:30 train from Caldas da Rainha. The first of four trains to get us to Lagos on the south coast of the Algarve.... So we abandoned our plans to go to Cascais and set this train in motion the very next day. Big day on trains, 7 hours.
We are blessed by the friendly train manager of Caldas da Rainha who allows four bikes on his train, instead of the usual limit of two. We are so relieved and grateful, as otherwise it would mean splitting up and two of us arriving six hours later on our destination, if lucky...
This blessing allows us to travel by train to Sintra, but he warns us that it depends on the train managers in Lisbon whether we can continue to Lagos. Three more trains, three more train managers to navigate, buying tickets for each train at each station and getting to the right platform in time....hm... feel the nervous system at high alert.... BREATHE DEEPLY behind your face mask and breathe some more. Trust, pray, live in the moment and look out the window at the scenery and incredible tile work at passing train stations, or have a nap, and/or read your book on your app...
The helpful Comboios de Portugal website (and app) makes everything straightforward and all the trains run on time. The website even gives a helpful breakdown of the amount of carbon saved traveling by train vs a private car. Wish this kind of carbon feedback were given for traveling in Canada, with its bigger distances to cover and generally bigger vehicles.
We pull into Lagos station at around 2:30pm. A much hotter, sunnier and drier place. The environment is sandy, with fewer trees, more cactus and low shrubs. Wild and windy coast with big cliffs and sandy beaches.
In Lagos, Lief and Sol found a true sportsman haven with football (soccer) pitch, tennis court, trampoline and a swimming pool all within walking distance of the house we were staying. Not surprisingly, they were out for most of the day. Sol said: "Mom, I'm so busy here, there is so much to do!" The owner of the house also is a big football fan and they were shown his collection of soccer jerseys and scarfs.... even a Canada flag was among his collection.
To my surprise, next to the house was a beautiful little chapel, full of original artworks by local Portuguese artist Tina Goncalves. I especially enjoyed the Baptist Cove, with unique depictions in Aquamarine Blue.
Lagos has a very different feel from the northern beach towns we have been to. Not only is the temperature higher and its nature quite different, there are so many expats here and stores and places are geared towards this population. We found many Dutch and British specialty treats at Intermarche supermarket, and English books and magazines at the FNAC and Tobacco store. At the stores and on the streets we have seen the largest amounts of non-Portuguese people, we assume they have been here since before the lockdown.
We are heading west along the coast to Sagres next, which is more out of the way on one of the most southern parts of Portugal. TBC
The road from Nazare to Sao Martinho do Porto was a sweet sunny ride and thank the Goddess: it was all flat!! That's my kind of biking, reminding me of the Dutch biking paths. Google Maps is our go-to for quick trail finding while on the bike, but sometimes this leads to paths that do not exist and this day we ended up at a dead end in the fields. Sol picked up quite a bit of grass in his chain in the process, but once that was cleared we quickly found a better route.
Much like Nazare, Sao Martinho, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was packed with Portuguese people, strolling along the boulevard, sitting at cafes, and laying on the beach. It was a bit of a shock after having been in mostly quiet places, devoid of people. Aside from wearing masks in stores and the antibacterial gel placed at the entrance of stores, the place didn't have the same "COVID-vibe".
The next day, Monday, brought a whole different vibe. Grey skies and the streets empty of the people who had gone back to their towns and likely back to work - the party is over. Sao Martinho do Porto is located in a bay shaped like a scallop with calm waters. It is surrounded by steep cliffs covered with hardy little flowers and we climbed up to have a closer look at the entrance of the bay.
Originally our plan was to continue south along the coast towards Sintra and Cascais to spend our last two weeks before flying out of Lisbon. This would have likely taken us two more days of biking, but Lief expressed he does not want to stop biking. He wants to continue biking and to explore new places, so he proposed we would go to the Algarve instead... To be continued....
Day 4 and 5 of the return trip to Lisbon. We're back in high gear, putting on miles for the way home.
First day: Aveiro to Figueira da Foz - 72km
Second: Figueira to Leiria - 58km
Back on the road to Lisbon after a week in Régua (land of vineyards) and a few days in Aveiro (fishing village). These were big ride days, with the boys sure they would not be able to make it. Our longest day riding till now was 54km, so asking them to do 72km was a stretch, admittedly.
Big tailwinds for both days, fortunately, made all the difference. Most cafes and restaurants are now open, but many aren't, probably casualties of COVID, and maybe can't. Many business owners we speak to are stressed and put on a brave face. They are grateful for our business and everyone is very welcoming. We haven't had a single encounter with anyone who was unpleasant or cranky. Remarkable really.
We spent the night in Figueira da Foz, a very cool beach city at the mouth of the Mondego River. Had a great vegetarian meal at Volta e Meia, and spent the night at a very bike friendly guesthouse called Bike Suite. There were surprisingly a lot of people staying there, many letting us know they were awake throughout the night and early morning. It was a long night... Leiria was up next.
Things have the feeling of wrapping up our time here. Much attention now on what is going on in Canada and the mechanics of our trip back. We are working hard to find a way to make it from Lisbon to Haida Gwaii with as few stops as possible. More on that later...
The so called "state of calamity" ends tomorrow. On May 4, Portugal transitioned from the "state of emergency" to a "state of calamity", ending May 18. To me, calamity seems worse than emergency, so something is lost in translation, I think. The state of calamity is the first stage of Portugal's desconfinamento (literally, disconfinement). It seems "emergency", especially when declared as a state within society, is a bit like using the word "love" - interpreted differently by the society declaring that situation. Unlike North America, where the provinces and states each determine the unique rules for life under the state of "emergency", Portugal was united in that every part of the country had to adhere to the dictum FIQUE EM CASA, posted on signs everywhere. In brief, other than for getting food or medical attention, or short periods of exercise, it was mandatory to remain in the house or on your property. Being Portuguese, the streets were empty, the parks were nearly cleaned out. No Trump-style questioning of the experts, no protests.
Portugal has done the best in Europe with numbers low throughout the pandemic. Over the two weeks of this first stage of normalization, numbers have gone from 25,500 to 29,000. Not bad for two weeks. Masks are ubiquitous and masks are required for any interior space. We have had universal kindness from everyone. Restaurants are only open to take out (only some open, most are closed) and we've had only the most welcoming and warm contact with those serving us, grateful for the business. We're still anomalies, being the obvious foreigners. For a country with tourism as the number one industry, it feels strange to stick out as tourists.
After Viana do Costelo and Aguçadoura, we bike to the epic and stunning Douro River valley, the home of port. This large river system runs east to west from Spain to the Atlantic, with the city of Porto at the mouth of the river. After the Tejo which runs through Lisbon (or Tagus, the English name), the Douro is the #2 river in the country. We're currently in Régua, a major wine/port centre, the home of many Port brands familiar worldwide. Neither of us are that into port, but when in Rome... Like the wine here, amazing port is cheap cheap cheap. A good bottle might cost 5-6 euro.
The entire valley, from river to hilltops is terraced vineyard and olive groves. Kind of like the prairies of Canada, except not flat... and not grains... Ok, not a great comparison. As far as one looks, there are grapes growing in precise rows, surrounding quaint stone "quintas". The quinta can be translated as estate or farm, or best as a combination of the two terms. A quinta is a complex of grape processing buildings, employee quarters, barns, and various outbuildings. Many have restaurants and wine tasting areas - all closed now. We decided to settle here for a week, to wait out the end of the "state of calamity", renting a super sweet house on the bank of the Rio Corgo, one of the many tributaries of the Douro.
And today, it was hike time.
On May 18, restaurants and cafes open for sit down meals. More stores open. Bikes are permitted on trains. Stage 2 of desconfinamento. Maybe a lesson for Canada. We are back on the road, to Aveiro for 3 nights, a city on the coast south of Porto. There are some big miles on the bike for the home stretch back to Lisbon (about 260km). Our return flights back start on June 12, and it's still not clear how we're getting home since both Air Canada and Pacific Coastal have canceled all June flights to Haida Gwaii. The reentry process is complicated, with specific (and changing) rules for Canada, BC and Haida Gwaii. It deserves its own blog post, so stay tuned.
Tuesday May 5th, after spending 2 months in lockdown in Ponte da Barca, we loaded our bikes up again and headed west following the banks of Rio Lima to the Atlantic Ocean and Viana do Castelo.
We knew what to expect, as this is the same route we followed to get to Ponte da Barca, but thankfully there were less mud puddles to navigate this time.
We passed along fields full of wildflowers, vineyards on the hillsides in the distance, and the odd pair of ravens gathering food. We passed people preparing the fields using teamwork and hand tools long forgotten in Canada. Unfortunately no pictures of any of these.
Aside from a random wipe-out on the gravel, we felt blessed on this first leg of our Biking Pilgrimage Part II; the wind was in our backs; the sun was shining; the birds chirping, biking with the flow of the river towards the ocean was a joy. Our lunch stop in Ponte de Lima provided us even with unexpected and delicious fresh pizza!
The wake up call came about 8 km before arriving in the city of Viana do Castelo. The Ecovia turned into a rough patch with lots of potholes, puddles and mud. We choose to head towards the road, which welcomed us with large and loud transportation trucks, cars and motorcycles in a hurry to get somewhere. As you can imagine, this is 'slightly' more stressful biking: single file, working hard to keep up getting across the narrow Ponte Eiffel (yes indeed by the same designer as the Eiffel Tower, likely our closest connection to Paris on this trip) to our destination.
Tracy had found us a lovely apartment in the centre of Viana, tired but happy to be on the move again, we unloaded and settled in.
The next morning another wake up call arrived. During the night some items had been removed from our bikes which we had parked in the square in front of the house. Thankfully most of it could be replaced (bike patch kit and tools, pump, warm coat, sandals, but sadly some irreplaceable art pieces and writings had been left on the bike as well... Hello, wake up please....
This time around Viana do Castelo provided us with different experiences. While Tracy went on a blissful, fast and liberating 50km bike ride along the coastline to the Spanish border and back, Lief, Sol and I went up the Santa Luzia hill to find the remains of a pre-roman village site. On our way up the stairs we passed the remains of torn down 'polizia' tape to prevent people from going up during the lockdown. After 660 steps up, we enjoyed the view of the city, the Rio Lima and Atlantic Ocean in front of the Basilica. The Basilica itself was closed. Continuing to the pre-roman village site, we found it was surrounded by a large fence, and also closed...
So... being a biking pilgrim during COVID times is about adjusting your perspectives and expectations, living in the moment and connecting to nature rather than monuments.
I was relieved to leave Viana and head south along the Coastal Ecovia. These Ecovia stretches are blissful indeed, as no cars or motorized vehicles like scooters, are allowed. With the wind at our backs we biked smoothly along boardwalks, gravel paths and sandy dune paths to the town of Esposende and our destination of Aguçadoura just a bit further south.
In Aguçadoura Sol had picked a lovely beach house for us where we settle in for 5 nights, to soak up the sunsets and ocean energies, play on the beach and catch up with homeschooling.
Coming Tuesday we head further south and back inland to the Douro River. Stay tuned for more of our adventures.
Tonight, midnight May 2nd, Portugal releases the State of Emergency. Portugal will slowly open up again. From May 4th some stores, libraries, accommodations, limited public transportation options open up again. Restaurants and cafes won't re-open till May 18th. This makes it possibly for us to leave our safe haven and start biking again.
For over 40 days we have been suspended in time in Ponte da Barca - Bridge of the Boat. It makes me think we have been on some kind of version of Noah's Ark, where we've been "spared from a world-engulfing flood", bridging two worlds, old and new, before and after.
We are all grateful that we decided to hang tight and float on the river of peace and calm in Ponte da Barca, instead of embarking on quite a wild boat ride on a wild waved fearbased river when the pressure was high for Canadians to return home, more than 6 weeks ago.
We have been touched by the genuine concern and interest of local Portuguese people and neighbours for our situation. We were gifted fresh lemons, white sparkling wine, port wine, books to keep us entertained and a local delicacy and specialty: the 'Bolo Rei' - King Cake, fit for Kings indeed! We crowned the cake with luscious red strawberries!
Obrigada/Obrigado Ponte da Barca and especially Anna and her family for your care and all the gifts during this time!
As a family we have found a wonderful rhythm and many hidden gifts and treasures surfaced. While Tracy and I dove into deeper meditation practices and I started a deeper exploration of Qigong, Lief and Sol discovered their creative talents. Much of it you have already witnessed: the Quarantine Art Show, Food Art Show and Photo Exhibit were only a few examples of their creative explorations.
I am really loving the teamwork and skill work they are developing together. Their soccer practice is one example, but their love of Food Arts brings them together as well. Since Sol is a huge apple pie fan, they worked for hours and hours to create a delicious and beautiful apple pie, after following a tutorial for The BEST Apple Pie Recipe.... And you wonder why I put on some weight?!?
Thankfully our bikes are waiting.... I do wonder what life will be like when we emerge out of this Ark? How will it be different? Will there be more balance in the world, or does everyone choose to just step back on the treadmill?
So with the opening of the gates comes looking ahead at the (near) future, planning accommodations, routes, as well as looking ahead at how to return home, which does resemble a treadmill indeed...
On Tuesday May 5th - Liberation Day in Holland - we do step out through the gates, back into the wider world, (limited to Portugal mind you), back on the bikes and see what it brings.... First planned route is back along the Rio Lima to Viana do Castelo, then south along the coast to Porto. Inland along the Douro river, Portugals famous wine area and then exploring the Torre (Tower), highest peak of Portugal all stand on the biking menu. Let's see how it unfolds, we will keep you posted.
We have about 5.5 weeks to make it back to Lisbon. On the 12th of June we will fly to Amsterdam (sadly, without being able to say hi to anyone...) continuing on the 13th, via Frankfurt to Vancouver.
We are asking for a miracle to happen: We would like to make it all the way back to Haida Gwaii in one go and start our two weeks of self-isolation at our own home...! It will all depend on the grace of the border guard whether or not we will be allowed to continue in one go or that we will be made to self-isolate for two weeks in Vancouver. But I do believe in the power of prayer and I do believe in miracles.
Please join us and send your prayers to clear our path all the way home around that time, haaw'a, thank you dear friends and family! Love from us all, Lief, Sol, Tracy and Kiki