Seeking solitude in the Algarve

Written by on February 22, 2011 in Portugal - No comments

This is a guest post by Kirk Shackleton.

The Algarve has never really held much of an attraction for me.  I prefer to risk twisting my ankle off the beaten path, which is something I always assumed would be difficult on Portugal’s well-trodden southern crust.

In my mind, I imagined a canvas painted with horizontal blocks of colour: the crystal cyan of the Mediterranean Sea, the roasted golden grains of sandy beaches, an oily bronze of reclined torsos sunning themselves like walruses, the faded white of Algarve hotels, a vivid dark green golf course and, at the top, a cloudless sky blue.

The reality?  Not wildly different, except, possibly, the addition of a neon strip for the clubs that come to life in Praia da Rocha at midnight.

I spent a couple of days in the aforementioned, soaking up pummelling bass vibrations along with the lingering sweat in the palpable morning-after air, before telling the group who had dragged me to the Algarve I was off to find some peace and quiet and would be back the next day.

Sagres is about as far west as you can go along the Algarve before the coastline cuts north, tucked away in the bottom corner of Portugal.  It has been proclaimed the end of the world, a sudden dead end that tumbles towards the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Few travellers make it to Sagres.  Although there is still plenty of Algarve accommodation there, along with the facilities and amenities that most holidaymakers seek, it is not an obvious destination because it is so remote.

The town sits upon a distinctive stretch of coast, a sheer, crumbly edge that could have been carved roughly by a gigantic hacksaw.  The land here is flat, which serves only to enhance the dramatic way in which the earth suddenly succumbs to the crashing ocean.

I was told that in summer, the Algarve beaches in Sagres attract surfers like frugal shoppers to the January sales, but I had them to myself; a solitary figure in no hurry, aimlessly wandering between the lazy wash and the shelter of the cliff wall.

I had spent that morning pacing the perimeter of a fascinating outcrop that hangs tenuously from the base of Portugal like a drip on the end of a hooked nose, dissected by roads that seem like a distant cousin of the Nazca Lines.  Upon it sits Fortaleza de Sagres, a fortress dating back to the 15th century, standing resolute before the Atlantic Ocean.

I happened upon a weathered-looking local dozing heavily against a rock, who stirred as I approached.

‘You want boat?’ he proffered hopefully.

‘Boat where?’ I didn’t have any plans for the afternoon, besides joining the man in his siesta beneath the glowing heat of the sun.

‘Where you want go?’

‘Where do you go?’

After a few more minutes of misunderstanding and unanswered questions, Diego led me to his boat, a small wooden vessel with flaking blue paint and a piece of worn rope holding it loosely to a desolate pier.  As it bobbed gently with the lull of the tide, the rope strained and loosened, groaning as it did so.

It was one of those perplexing tubs which arouse a mild panic as you wonder how is it still afloat? and, more pressingly, what will happen when I step aboard?

I needn’t have worried.

Diego fitted the outboard engine and we were away, chugging doggedly along the coastline like an OAP making a beeline for a table of rich tea biscuits.  Our boat’s momentum punctured the still, clinging air, creating a breeze that feathered our skin against the penetrating sunlight which reflected blindingly off the water’s surface.

I felt like we could go anywhere in our trusty craft; Spain, Africa, America, or just back to Sagres.  Diego, through his silence, was good company.  I let my thoughts wander, eventually settling upon the friends I’d left I Praia da Rocha.  I’ll head back that way… I reasoned …eventually.

About Kirk: Kirk was reared in Australia’s Outback before travelling extensively across the globe, eventually settling in London.  He is passionate about food, travel and any sport that isn’t cricket, and enjoys driving cattle in his spare time.
 

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

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