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Gorgeous Algarve

Written on: Monday September 12th, 2011

Rising from the late morning slumber, my head throbbed in pain.  Apparently jetlag does not help with the healing of skull fractures.  But the thought was quickly set aside as I peered out at sunlit southern Portugal for the first time.  From the second floor window, everything appeared wonderful: the palm trees rustling in the gentle wind, the Mediterranean architecture of the houses opposite our room and the laid back saunter with which the few locals in view made their way along the streets.

After a welcomed shower in the surprisingly large, full-sized tub, we headed downstairs to once again chat with our Dutch host.  As today was Sunday, he recommended that we visit the local market soon if we wanted anything, as it closed early.  Fortunately an ATM was quite close, and we both loaded up with Euros.  Walking back to the market we bought staples for the day: yogurt, energy bars, wine and chocolate.  After a quick stash of the goods back in the room we decided to find a proper midday meal.  Although Liz's pork seemed acceptable, I got caught up in the environment, ordering bread, cheese, olives and anchovies.  Sadly, I wasn't able to fully enjoy this traditional meal.  Without the use of most of my teeth, I had to break off a small piece of food, put it inside my mouth, and try to dissolve it with water.  Just the attempt at eating an olive proved quite foolish and painful.  In the end, I resorted to ordering soup for the remainder of my nutrition.

As with so many places on my past travels, we decided explore the town by way of geocaching.  There was a nine part multi cache that was set up specifically to introduce the visitor to the many splendid sights of Old Town Lagos.  Setting off in an uncertain direction, we were content to take the long was 'round to the center of town.  For here the roads were not laid out in grid-like, perpendicular simplicity; nor were they flat.  Rather, the paved areas were winding and hilly, providing a worthy challenge for our first full day abroad.   As we approached the old city of Lagos, we were impressed by the huge, fortified wall that had surrounded this portion of the city of centuries.  But passing through the wall seemed to lead us into an entirely new world.  Although still steep, the roads were significantly narrower, and now contained another enchanting characteristic: cobblestone, and in some areas, hand laid tile! 

We walked on, mesmorized by the beauty of the town.  It was a scene that seemed straight out of a storybook.  On wrought iron balconies sat flower pots, from which vividly colored blossoms shone in the sun.  Below these, hand-crafted tiles adorned the paint-weary walls, either identifying the domicile in question, or simply adding an individual's style to their home.  Walking farther downhill, we passed an elderly woman chatting eagerly with a neighbor on the single step stoop of her flat.  Cats walked confidently by while children laughed and played soccer in one of the quieter side streets.  We finally made it to the start of our cache, a main square at the base of the hilly streets.  The square housed one of the town's many churches, each of which was built before our country was founded.  As we ventured on, each turn provided another unexpected treasure, from the beautiful hand laid stones in every plaza to the bold tile work on the buildings.  We also learned that this town was not without ample dining options, a thought that sparked instant hunger.  With the cache completed, we celebrated with an ice cream cone as we set off on the uphill jaunt back to the room.

In our minds the day was just getting started.  We were anxious to see the local beaches, reportedly the best in all of Portugal.  The ten mintue walk toward the sea had us fanning our faces, as the sun did all it could to prolong a scorching summer in the Algarve.  The closest beach was also the most famous: Dona Ana.  Approaching the edge of the cliff tops, we giggled like school children as we peered across the jagged rock formations that rose from the sea, hiding golden meadows of sand between them.  This place is absolutely amazing!  We quickly descended the man-made staircase en route to the beach and laid out a sarong.  Although a rather small beach, it wasn't overly crowded, most certainly due to the lateness of both the day and the season.  We wandered about, content to leave our belongings and scour every nook of our surroundings.  We soon learned that the secluded beach we had seen from above was only accessable by sea.  Although leary to swim (or even dunk my head beneath the water) in my current condition, I was able to wade around the cliff walls without getting nailed too badly by the waves.  And my-oh-my was it worth it!  This secluded, spectacular section of beach was lined on three sides by towering cliffs, with only a handful of other humans sharing the area.  Wow...a finer spot is seldom found.  Exploring even further, we found yet another secret nook within THIS secret nook!  This just keeps getting better!!  Having seen a guy climb a few meters up the cliffside and jump off, I was compelled to check it out, much to the protest of both my head and Liz.  But, sadly, I knew that I was unable to cliff jump at this time.  Instead, I gazed over the fifteen foot mini-cliff and saw a cove on the other side.  There seemed to be a sea entrance, but I knew that I could not submerge beneath the surface of the water, deeming this my only entrance.  Realizing that the rock was easily scalable by us both, I called Liz over to check it out.  Once we both made it into the cove, I knew that photos needed to be taken.  While she waited there collecting adorable shells, I quickly climbed back over the cliff, jogged across the cove beach, waded beyond the large cliff and made my way across the original beach to our gear.  Fortunately the camera was still there.  We snapped a few photos, including one of where I knelt on a rock with a wound that had not yet healed.  The damage wasn't bad but it did make for a gnarly bloody leg photo!

Realizing that daylight was running scarce, we walked back up to street level,  deciding to venture on to one more beach.  Camilo Beach was the next stretch of sand to the West and it was equally beautiful, with rock arches adorning its shores.  We scrambled down the walkway and snapped a few photos, but there wasn't enough time to give it its proper due.

Freshly showered we strode back to the old town with our sights set on dinner and a drink.  As it turned out, we achieved our goals in the exact opposite order.  Walking around the dozens of restaurants in the area, we were careful to avoid the main tourist squares, focusing more on out-of-the-way streets.  Eventually we came across a quaint little pub and decided to have a drink.  The all female bar staff were friendly and spoke English...always a bonus.  And for once I understood what 'happy hour' actually meant.  Being somewhat hopped up on pain killers, combined with jetlag and having walked about five miles in the heat, the perfectly made mojito made my worries drift away.  I was happy.  Liz had an equally tasty sangria, and seemed to be in a comparable state of mind.  This zen-like state, combined with a really fun bartender, kept us there for another hour.  Alas, we once again hit the street and searched for one of the two recommendations from the local ladies.  Unfortauntely, the vast majority of restaurants here stopped taking patrons at 22:00, which left us with little time to find an acceptable place at which to dine.  When we ended up at a street-center table with only one group of eight people still dining there, I was a bit nervous.  By the time my belly was full, there were no more concerns.  I ordered a plate full of grilled, whole squid, one of my favorites.  Although they were tender and deliciously prepared, for the next few days my teeth and jaw would pay the price for eating such solid food.  Liz opted for a local specialty: Piri Piri chicken.  With a local spice that sneaked up on the diner, this proved to be a tasty yet hearty dish.

We walked one more time up the winding hills from Old Town to the Hollandesa.  What an amazing day!  One final glass of wine was shared on the balcony, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the day, and more improtantly, discuss what we wanted to do tomorrow.

When the following morning arrived, we were both excited to hit the pavement.  One of the reasons we chose to stay in Lagos, rather than any of the other towns in the Algarve, was its relative location to the Ponta de Piedade, or the rocky point at the end of town.  This was comprised of a series of cliffs and caves, and was supposed to be a 'not-to-miss' site.

But we had plenty to see and do along the way.  First on the list was to fuel up.  Prior to booking our room at the Hollandesa, we had been speaking with the proprietors of a different resort, our first choice, the Dona Ana Garden.  Unfortauntely, the available vacancy didn't coincide with our needs.  Nonetheless, we had to walk by the place and we knew that they had a market on site.  We stopped by for water, gatorade, fresh croissants and enormous grapes.  That was enough to lead us back to Camila Beach, where a cached loomed.  Making quick work of it, we proceeded along the barren road toward the point.  Autos wizzed by, further confirming that this was a destination not to be missed.  One kilometer later we arrived at the lighthouse and started to poke around.

Heading toward the only other cache in the area, we made our way through prickly terrain before emptying out atop the cliffs.  The landscape proved spectacular, with cliffs giving way to one hundred foot sinkholes down to the sea.  We carefully walked along the upper paths, exploring ever closer to the edge as each cliff gave way to next.  It was amazing!  We saw arches and hidden beaches way down below.  Turning back, we discovered new areas of equal brillance.  We also saw small boats and kayaks venturing into the seemingly inaccessible pockets of water, leading us to the inevitable decision to hike down and inquire about experiencing that point of view first hand.

Arriving at sea level, we found a small fleet of local fisherman who subsidized their income by taking tourists to the wonders for a small fee.  As we waited briefly for our would-be guide, Liz jumped into the cool water to combat the sun's wrath, an action that I was unfortunately not able to copy.  With one of us refreshed, we hopped onto the boat, donned our PFDs, and headed out.  Initially traveling along the cliffs we had recently seen from above, this point of view was soooo different.  We entered hidden caves and boated under a handful of rock arches. Our guide spoke no English, and as we quickly learned, Portugese was more difficult to understand than originally anticipated.  Yet, somehow, we understood most of the guide's descriptions of rock formations that looked like animals.  There was the elephant, with its huge, rock trunk.  The two humped camel was also easily identifiable.  Soon we found ourselves traveling East, back toward the beaches we had explored on foot the previous day.  But from this vantage point, other beaches could be seen, including the staging point for the kayakers, as well as the local nude beach.  When we were finally dropped back at the launch point, our smiles could not hide the satisfaction of the trip.

Hiking back up the multitude of steps, we had an opportunity to quench our thirst and fill our bellies at the nearby cafe.  Returning down the dusty road, we once again checked the Dona Ana market, happy to find Jose, the gentleman with whom we had been communicating online prior to our arrival.  Introducing ourselves, we chatted for a while as one of the owners of the hotel also stopped in.  She offered us a tour of the hotel, and we were shocked at the beauty of the place.  Next time I will definitely stay here!

We still had an hour of sunlight, so we opted to stroll along the waterfront, looking for the bus station.  Able to buy our tickets tonight, we were one step ahead of tomorrow's schedule.  We ventured on, across the footbridge and over to the marina.  A brisk wind kept our pace quick. We headed towards sights rarely seen by tourists, working our way through what, in the mornings, would surely be the local fish market.  Walking along the scrub, we found our last cache in the Algarve, and made our way back home.

After an evening shower we once again walked to Old Town, only this time we knew where to go for dinner, and by what time we had to be there.  Good thing too, as we waited in the outdoor line for about 30 minutes.  When we were finally seated inside the 'Blue Door', a scrumptious dinner of fresh fish, along with a plate of clams, satisfied our significant appetite.

Back in the room we opened the windows, packed our gear and prepared for sleep.  Morning would come early, and as I sifted through all that we had done and seen already, I couldn't help but hope that Lisbon would be as magical as our time in Lagos.