We set out today at 8am, and during the drive Pedro gave us some tips on how to order some of the more common things, like tea and coffee and how our version of coffee is essentially two Portuguese espressos in one cup. This kept us occupied until we got to St. Vincent. Cape St. Vincent is essentially the end of the known world before the Age of Discoveries: a desolate cliff face on the Atlantic from which all you can see is the flatness of horizon. Apparently there has been a beacon at this site for centuries, the earliest they can figure is 213 BC. Being the southwestern-most tip of Europe it has a lighthouse now with the strongest light in the industry.
Of course, this time when we were there it was grey and windy – as you can see from the picture. There were some crazy people fishing off the cliffs. Apparently they will also rappel down the cliffs to get gooseneck barnacles which sell for a pretty penny – but honestly I think it’s craziness, especially when the waves are crashing the way they area against the cliffs.
We drove past a beach called baleeira beach, which we tried to take picutes of fom the coach, but Pedro assured us that he had a better treat for us if we were patient. The sun was out now and I had to take off my sweater. We pulled over at a dusty little stop at the edge of a narrow road. There was a tiny little shack on one side selling colas, edibles, including roasted nuts and souvenirs and an almost tinier little place that housed a public loo. Pedro guided us down a well-worn path between low-growing and wind-scrubbed brush to view one of the more iconic Poruguese beaches: Ponta de Piedad.
The trail went all the way down to the water, and there were boat tours that took people through the arches. So pretty. I took a lot of pictures.
Then we drove through Lagos, which had a pretty little medieval quarter where Henry the Navigator once lived. Lagos is a pre-Roman port and is now home to over 30000 people. We did not stop here this time, but instead headed to the hotel to drop off those of our troupe who were not participating in the optional excursion of the day.
It was nearly two by the time we got to Faro, and so we were allowed to disperse for lunch here. Mom and I shared an odd little spinach quiche and a tasty goat cheese baguette. We also did a little shopping. The town was quiet since it was a Saturday, so it was almost just us on the streets.
After lunch we met in the town square, and Pedro surprised us yet again with a confectionary treat; this time a box of little marzipan figures. I had to choose one without eyes as I am notoriously unable to eat things that look at me, but it was unlike any marzipan I had had elsewhere.
It seems that Faro is very historically important, as it was the last city to be taken back from the Moors by Alfonso III. Instead of kicking out all the Moors and the Jews, he offered them land if they promised to pay taxes. There’s a statue of Alfonso in one of the squares and a tile frieze near the old walls depicting this historic event. Now, of course the tourists and the storks have taken over.
Sadly my pictures from this part are oddly blue – I had somehow altered the settings on my new camera without noticing. However, they show the relative quiet of a Saturday in Faro.
Our next stop was at a salt flat – and by that I mean a place where salt was harvested from seawater by using large pools, from which water is evaporated and then moved into the next pool until the salt crystallizes and is easy to collect. The second pool still has things that live in it; certain algae and shrimp that require high salinity to thrive – and this pool is what attracts some of the more unusual birds: including flamingos. Some of the salt is lifted carefully off the top and is marketed as flor de sal or ‘flower of salt’ as it is a light crystal that floats on the surface of the water. The rest sinks and becomes what we know as rock salt.
Apparently this particular site has been in use for this purpose since Roman times, when soldiers were paid with this stuff. I especially like the fact that the seagulls are roosting on the heaps of salt. I have to wonder how their poor little feet aren’t hurt by so much salt sucking the moisture out of them.
I managed to get a really nice zoom of the only flamingo there that day.
Our last stop for the day was in Almancil, to look at the Church of St. Laurence. We were not permitted to take photos inside, as the entire interior is tiled in white and blue tiles. Each panel, depicts a scene from the bible, to illustrate the stories as most of the populace at the time of it’s construction, were illiterate. Each panel is made up of hundreds of hand painted tiles. What is not tile is gilded wood. Portuguese Baroque at it’s finest. (14th C).
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel. Mom and I swam in the glorious pool and then had dinner in the hotel with some of our tour family.