The Algrave

The ship docked in Portimao today, in the region called “the Algrave” occupying the lowest part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Portimao is a beach town, no charm here but neither is it offensive.  It is spic-and-span, with tidy white apartment buildings and a row of beachfront hotels.  The beach season hasn’t started yet, so the town is free of tourists.  From here, we took a bus tour to Lagos, the city built by the Moors in the 14th century and destroyed by the same 1755 earthquake that hit Lisbon.  That must have been one hell of an earthquake that stretched from Lisbon and all the way down to this southern town!  The earthquake survivors decided to rebuild the city exactly as it was before the earthquake, and so now this 18th century city has the appearance of a medieval town, with narrow crooked streets and two-story buildings, although not well worn by the passage of time.

The restorers did not try to bury the dirt and the ugliness in the rubble, and rebuilt even the building that once served as a slave market.  There is something ominous about this two-storey house with a spiked fence in front.  African captives were kept upstairs and brought down, in the little courtyard behind the gate, on the mornings of the market, from where they were taken out on the square to be inspected by the prospective buyers.

Lagos is the proud owner of a baroque church.  Blending with the rest of the town on the outside, it blinds the visitors with its elaborate interior of carved gilded wood and blue-n-white hand painted tiles.  The tiles were painted individually and were then arranged on the walls to create one big picture.  They don’t exactly match adjacent tiles, being created by hand, this imperfection gives them so much more charm!

We also went to a fish market.  I have heard that to make sure the fish is fresh, all one has to do is look it in the eye, like Bush did to Putin, and see not the soul but a clear and unclouded pupil.   Back at home, can’t find such fish even in the farmer’s market.   Here, all different kinds of fish were shining and sparkling, their eyes included.

From Lagos, we rode past orange groves, wineries, olive and almond trees, until the landscape changed into a more arid one, and we arrived to the southwestern most point of Europe.  Here, the rocky terrain offered majestic views of the almost vertical drop of the cliffs, and the water was breaking waves into the caverns down below.  Several ragged fishermen were sitting on the cliffs with their fishing lines stretching down 100, 200 feet, or maybe even longer.

We are sailing away to Spain.  The ragged coast of Portugal is floating by my window.  While this is not one of the most charming, interesting, or beautiful countries I have ever been to, it made a sweet impression on me owing to the decaying charm of its capital, warm people, and clean and unspoiled countryside.

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