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Tom Riach
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New Year In The Algarve

Published on 1/2/2014
For additional information  Click Here

New Year In The Algarve


As a young man I'd often counteract the after effects of having had a skinfull the night before by subjecting myself to a rigourous workout early on the following morning. Some things never change …....


Just as planned, I awoke on New Years Day morning as the first slivers of light feathered the dawn sky. Quickly I arose, donned my walking gear and headed off for the three hour round trip to the top of Monte Sao Miguel and back. As I passed the 'drinkers café' in the village, revellers were already - or should that be still - crowding the pavement and being jolly. I easily resisted any temptation to join them.


Out of the village I passed the olive groves, now three months since stripped of their precious fruits which in the coming year would appear on the tables of homes and restaurants throughout Portugal and far beyond. I licked my lips. The orange groves displayed no such bashfulness. They were dripping with the new crop of oranges now ripe and plump and already in harvest. I desisted from nicking any of those hanging over the fencing and on to my path, not from any sense of moral righteousness but simply because my larder is already full. Besides, I could get them on the way back :-)


At half an hour into my walk I crossed the trans-Algarve motorway and counted just one vehicle anywhere in view. Eat your hearts out L.A. and London! Then I was at the bottom of my ascent. Four hundred and forty nine meters straight up, no respite. I pushed on at a brisk pace, too slow is more tiring, harder. The sun now rising was already warm on my shoulders and soon I was sweating. But my face felt the night chill of the mountain air breezing from above so I was glad of my fleece jacket. The rich, iron red of the Algarve soil, embracing boulders of the same and contrasting hues, was highlighted by the long shadows of the low sun. But this is no barren landscape. All around is greenery. Most shrubs, bushes and trees in the Algarve are perennial evergreens. Even in the high heat of summer they tap water from aquifers deep in the sandstone sub-structure.


On the hillside there were none of the birds of the coast to be seen. No storks gliding by like miniature Concordes, no pink flamingos, no egrets, wild fowl nor blue-crested hoopoes. Here the wild life is hares and snakes and hawks circle above eyeing the prey. Then the pop pop pop of hunters' shotguns broke the still. Their prey is the rabbits and wood pigeons but what they'd really like to bag is a porco preto, the indigenous wild boar! In my experience however (yes I'm a hunter too), you never find one when hunting, never, but you always catch them in the glare of your headlights as they cross the road in file at night. Smart crittars these porcos!


Soon I was at the summit. The vista was, as always, breathtaking. To the south the golden sun, higher now, reflected blindingly silver on the waters of the Atlantic and the Ria Formosa lagoon and white sands stretched as far as the eye could see. From the old Roman town of Tavira in the east, to Fuseta (site of my favourite wooden shack beach bar), to the fishing port of Olhao, to the regional capital of Faro and the airport and to Almancil in the west. To the north the upland town of Sao Bras was visible as the last bastion of habitation between me and the rugged ridge of the Serra Caldeiroa mountain wilderness which forms the northern frontier of the Algarve. Beyond that to the north lies the Alentejo.


As I caught my breathe I snacked on the usual banana and the local hard biscuits known as bolinhos de amêndoa (almond cookies). I washed them down with a cooling pilsner then I was off on my descent. On the way up I had seen not one living soul but now the route is positively busy! :-) I get gasped 'Bom Dias' from one runner (a Portuguese international athlete with whom I'm acquainted), two mountain bikers and two road cyclists. Together, I mused to myself, we made up a complete set – hiker, runner, mountain biker, cyclist! I allowed myself a smug pat on the back, I had been out and at the top before any of them. First to the top in 2014! I'm glad however that I was only walking. At this stage of my post festive season training, running or cycling would have finished me and I'd kind of like to see 2015 in too! At the foot of the mount, as I crossed the Olhao by-pass, a bit of excitement. The entire Team Tavira pro-cycling team, all thirty or so of them, swooshed by below me, urged on by the shouts of their trainers. Soon they'll be joined here in the Algarve by many of the top Tour de France squads taking advantage of the warm climate to put the finishing touches to their preparations for the gruelling season ahead. I'm looking forward to seeing them race.


Back home, I relaxed and toned down with hot and cold showers. Once refreshed I turned my attention to the late lunch/early dinner New Years day meal. It was dead simple. Barbecued T-bone steak with sauteed spicey mushrooms and Champagne. And an apple and pear crumble to gorge on later in the evening. Wonderful. The mid afternoon sunshine bathed the terrace, perfect to strip down to t-shirt and shorts and eat alfresco and afterwards to sprawl well fed in the warmth. Soon the plummeting temperature of dusk demanded warmer fleeces once more. But for now all was well.


Happy New Year.

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