Leaving Paradise…

(The fort from the castle walls at Castro Marim)

And then we had to leave… leave the beach, the 6am walks, the sea glass, the heat – no we didn’t have to leave the heat, it is hot everywhere at the moment. We travelled to the border town of Castro Marim. We were here before. It has a big fort and old town walls. And a grand big supermarket.

(The castle walls. I feel very safe up here. Can’t see anything though…)

We parked in the huge car park at the grand big supermarket and settled down for the day. I went to buy provisions for lunch. It was really, really hot but the breeze was strong. By nightfall we were reconsidering the whole “strong breezes are good” thinking. The wind shook us and the bicycles in the back all through the night. By morning we were in need of a good night’s sleep.

(Some lovely lichen)

Truth is we are leaving more than the beach, we are leaving The Algarve and taking our first steps home. From now on we will park for a night and move along in the morning. I think the wind is upset for us. It will take three more weeks but this is the beginning of our journey home.

(Flowering tree)

Ruby (the motorhome) was upset too but we didn’t know that until we were driving along the motorway out of Castro Marim. Even though the wind had died down she was still shaking. This was not good. We would have to find a garage. Memories of last year, in the small village of Moncarapacho, very close to here where we had to wait for two weeks to get the clutch fixed, came rushing back. The atmosphere was tense.

(Poppy!)

There was nowhere to stop on the road and have a look. Also, what were we looking for? So we kept going. But I wondered if staying in the Algarve with all the tourist facilities might be our best option. At the time we were heading for a parking spot in the middle of nowhere. We kept going. When we arrived there was no one there. We knew it cost €5 and last time we were there it was almost full. Where was everyone?

(The salt fields at Castro Marim)

Denis took a quick look around the van, no puncture, nothing hanging underneath, no clue. Decision time. My choice was the Algarve, Denis’ Beja. He was driving… Three years ago we found the town of Beja and fell in love with it. We stayed for ten days in their Municipal Campsite. It was old and in need of repairs but the toilets were clean, the people were friendly and the location was perfect. But what made him think we would find a mechanic who could understand the problem and us?

(Cobblestone road inside the castle walls. Do you see the stones placed especially for cart wheels?)

Ninety minutes later we knew. Somewhere in the back of his mind Denis had a memory of a huge garage in Beja between the supermarket and McDonalds. (Three year’s ago McDonald’s WiFi was one of the best ways for him to work.) He didn’t know he remembered the garage until he saw it.

(True that)

Our mind are amazing. We have more stored in there than we know. I was choosing the Algarve because I was afraid we wouldn’t find someone to understand us anywhere else. Denis was looking for the best solution and instinctively knew it. Very useful.

Be like Denis, follow your gut, Mairead.

(Castro Marim, in the Algarve and on the border with Spain. Free parking and water. Nice town, restaurants, cafes, castle walls, fort and grand supermarket.)

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Looking for the Sea Glass

(Early morning pilgrim on Praia da Falésia)

When I wasn’t watching the waves down at the beach I was watching where I walked for interesting treasure. The sea provides plenty of gifts if you keep your eyes open for them.

(Sanded piece of shell)

I love broken shells not the sharp edged ones, I like the one that have been in the sea awhile. The ones that have been sanded… by the sand. There are plenty here. Their rough edges are smooth and each one is a different shape.

(Can you see the sea glass?)

There are also little pieces of sea glass on this beach. They are harder to spot in the beginning but soon they are very hard to miss. It’s like anything you are interested in. If you like a particular make of car you will see it wherever you go. We notice every motorhome or camper van on the road. I see storks and now I notice sea glass.

(Close up)

I wonder could I use this for contentment? We humans have a tendency to notice what is going badly for us, what we’re not good at, what we should be doing. This is not contentment. Even if we can see the good in others we find it difficult to see the good in ourselves. We tend to notice what we didn’t do on our to do list or if we get 80% in a test we are disappointed about the 20%. Or we wonder why only 6 people liked our photo, instead of being amazed that 6 people took the trouble to tell us they liked our photo. This behaviour does not produce contentment.

(Footprints of contentment)

How about if we looked for only the good in ourselves? Like looking for sea glass. My sea glass looks like an hour of photography or a thousand words of writing or or a nap when I’m tired or time in nature or a tidy kitchen or a 6am start. When I look at my day with eyes only for my sea glass I don’t notice the things I didn’t do. What if contentment was more than enough?

What does your sea glass look like? Mairead.

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Praia da Falésia

(The sandy path to the beach…)

I thought when we were in that sea view spot at the Municipal campsite of Setúbal that there was only one paradise in Portugal. We found another one. In the Algarve and it’s called Praia da Falésia. I want to stay here for ever… or three days. One or the other.

(…and the steps down to the beach)

It’s way down on the coast just a short sandy walk to the beach. It is very hot, top temperatures 43 degrees but I am not roasting to death because they have great breeze here too. Also, I have a new routine, I chase the shade around the van. It does mean I sometimes have to sit with the neighbours (or very, very close to them) but we are making it work. By we I mean the neighbours and I. Denis on the other hand has acclimatized and he’s happy to work away inside drinking cold coffee.

(There might be danger)

I’ve had no problem getting out of bed at 6am while we are here to trot down to the beach and wait for the sun to come over the cliff. There’s very few people on the beach at this time and I’m already recognising the regulars. The walkers and joggers who prefer their exercise with some shade. My pattern is to just sit on the sand and listen to the waves. They come in and go out as I watch. I take pictures and little videos to remind me later when I’m not here.

(It’s a sign)

This waves in and waves out makes me think of a theater. Not an actual theatre but the virtual one I’m sitting in behind my eyes. Every day there’s a new show or maybe the same show has a long run. Eventually every show ends and another one starts. The show in front of my eyes now is the water moving in and moving out. The music is the roar of the sea.

(See the little sun umbrellas?)

Some shows are great fun, some are hard work and others are just confusing. Some shows I should just get up and leave. Can I leave a show that’s really bad? Would that be rude? Some shows end too soon, others at just the right time.

(Remember when making sun castles was something you did?)

Every day a show comes to my theatre… I can either enjoy it or hate it. It doesn’t matter there’ll be another show along later. People walk into my show and walk out of my show and there’ll be more walking later. Nothing lasts, everything changes and it’s all for me. Just me. My show is just for me.

Yours is just for you, Mairead.

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The Ceramists of Silves

(The studio)

As I was walking up to the castle in Silves I passed a door with a sign saying… Cerimeca. Ceramics! Of course I had to go in.

(Aren’t they gorgeous?)

Inside the dark interior there was a lady painting tiles. I nodded, Bom Dia and went to look at some buttons. They had buttons!After I had chosen and was paying a voice from the back said, you have chosen my work, I made those. Deeper inside the shadows there was a man, a very happy man, working on glazing some more of his work. I asked for a photo. He was happy to oblige.

(Happy man)

He was not happy with my photo though, so I took another. The second one was better. This man knew what he liked, he also knew what he loved. It showed on his face and in the way he spoke, he loved making ceramics and fortunately he loved explaining his work to me.

(His glaze collection)

He reminded me of a story I once heard. Once upon a time there was a shoemaker living in a small village. Every day he created shoes from his own designs. And every day the people of the village brought their old shoes to him for mending. No one liked his shoes.

(Beads after first fire, before glaze)

After years of this he was completely discouraged. Now, there was a wise woman living in the village and one day she visited him. She said, People may not like what you make, it doesn’t matter if no one likes it but if you like it you have to make it. The shoemaker didn’t really like what he heard but he liked the wise woman so he continued to work away on his shoes.

(After glazing)

Then one day, a stranger came to town. The stranger had a hole in her shoe and she asked around the village for the way to the shoemaker. She was in pain when she arrived and she sat outside his shop to take her shoe off and to rub at the pain in her sole. That’s when she heard the shoemaker whistling. It cheered her up instantly and she rose up to go into his shop. That’s when she saw all the shoes in his window. The most unusual shoes she had ever seen. The colours. The mix of fabric and leather. The buttons (of course he used buttons.) The laces. The variety alone was mesmerizing.

(More work cooling in the kiln)

From inside the shop the shoemaker could hear the young stranger’s gasps and sighs and wows! He stopped working to find out what was wrong.

Wrong? Nothing’s wrong! These are the most beautiful shoes in the kingdom! Please say you have my size!

(His wife is also a ceramicist)

A teeny tiny smile played on the shoemaker’s lips, you like my shoes? She gawped at him. You made these? The smile spread across his face, yes I did would you like to try them on?

(Work in progress – the hopeful fish)

For the rest of the afternoon the shoemaker and the stranger talked shoes. She tried on all his shoes and had many questions which he answered happily, delighted to talk about his work. The stranger stayed for dinner and that night moved in with the wise woman (she had an AirBnB). Every day for a year they worked on building a website to find other people who loved the shoemaker’s shoes. Of course you know the ending… everyone lived happily ever after…. except for that time when the website crashed because it was so popular and the other time when they couldn’t sleep with the stress but mostly they were happy.

(The process)

If you like something that someone else has created you might be the only person in the whole world who likes it. So don’t miss the opportunity to tell them.

Go on be that person, tell them. Mairead.

(Silves: €6 per night, parking, WiFi and water. Hot shower, 50 cent. No toilets. Supermarket 5 minutes walk, castle 20 minutes walk. Park with cafe, toilets, swimming pool, playground, tourist office 10 minutes walk. Loads of restaurants and cafes in the town.)

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Silves’ elusive things

(A glimpse of the wall)

There are two things you see a lot of in Silves – the old moorish walls and the storks. Funny enough both are hard to photograph as you walk around. The storks are always too far away. So I had to stop trying and just watch them instead. The walls are surrounded by houses built in their shadow so there’s only a glimpse ever now and then of their red stone.

(Storks on top of the supermarket)

The storks build their nests on top of electricity poles or tall chimneys or on the corner of a very tall abandoned house. They are so graceful when they fly off to find food for their chicks. I think their grace is connected to their size, they have to glide everywhere to remain in balance. The ends of their wings are like long fingers and I think that’s what they use to change direction. When they have picked a direction their long legs seem to click back against their abdomen so that they are streamlined.

(On top of a pole)

Looking at them from underneath as they fly over me I am reminded of an airplane tucking in the wheels as it lifts off. Whenever they do fly over me I am unable to even think, all I can do is stare up with my mouth slightly open and watch. It’s only afterwards I consider my luck at being in exactly this place as they pass by.

(On an edge of the old walls)

You will never guess what is happening as I write… we are parked beside a river today far away from Silves and a stork just walked up the river outside my window. It’s 7am there’s no one else around so I guess she feels safe to walk so close to the vans. Watching her now at such close quarters I realize why storks are so hard to capture on my phone. They are very, very wary. This one seems to jump when a smaller bird flies too close. She even seems to be aware of my watching. I am not moving a muscle, I am in the van and there is a window between us but she has stopped fishing and she is alert for danger.

(Can you see her?)

She started walking up the river out of my sight so I risked grabbing my other camera and sneaking out of the van and up the river bank. She didn’t hear me but as soon as I had cleared the trees she snapped to attention and rose into the air. I didn’t even get a chance to watch, I was watching my footing instead. When I looked up she was in the grass on the far side walking parallel to the riverbank. I had a clear view but she was far away from me.

(Here’s a zoomed in one)

This is the closest I’ve been to one as they walk and they are not as graceful on the ground. Her legs are impossibly thin and her body so much bigger. So the balancing requires more jerky movements as she places one foot down, rocks her body back to be able to place the other as she steps, steps, steps through the grass. For some reason it reminds me of a documentary on television where the scientist is placing drops into individual tiny glass cylinders. Drop, lift, tilt, drop.

(And another)

And then she was hidden by the trees. Of all the experiences I’ve had on this trip the storks are the ones who remind me to be present. They say, for this one moment I will tuck my impossibly thin legs under me and I will fly over your head and you will not be able to capture this moment, you will not be able to slow it down, you will not be able to share it with others, it is just for here and now and then I will leave.

Here and now, Mairead.

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Silves and Mercy

(Old door on the church needs very big key)

Silves is a lovely town with plenty of cafes and restaurants and two motorhome parks, €6 per night if you spend more than one night here. You might remember we were here last year, I’d been very brave and walked on the walls at the castle.

(Part of the old town wall, Silves)

This year I’m visiting a couple of churches just outside the castle. One of them was very interesting and free. The other not so interesting and cost €1.50, which isn’t a lot to be honest.

(The street of Mercy)

The interesting church began as the hall for a volunteer group called The Misericórdia (the long name, translated, is The Brotherhood of the Invocation to Our Lady of Mercy) that was set up in 1498 in Lisbon by Queen Lenora. She set it up because there was great need to take care of the poor in Lisbon at the time. You might remember this was the time when Portugal was discovering the new world. It was becoming a prosperous country and people were flocking to the capital to make their fortune. Unfortunately, prosperity is never evenly shared and this led to a huge problem with poverty and overcrowding in the city of Lisbon. The brotherhood later spread to towns and cities all over Portugal.

(Close up of the old town wall)

The brotherhood had a list of intentions and there were huge wooden panels depicting them on the back wall of the church. Namely, clothe the naked, give shelter to the pilgrims, give drink to the thirsty, visit the infirm, ransom the captive, feed the hungry, bury the dead. I loved the simplicity. In Silves they built a hospital and now 500 years later it still serves the community. With a crèche, nursery school, day care, nursing home, day center, long term care unit, home care, and a Social Canteen.

(Detail from income and expenditure ledgers, 1700’s)

A funny thing happened in the 20th century, well I suppose it wasn’t that funny… There was a great tradition of people leaving money in their will when they died to the brotherhood at Silves. Unfortunately, they also including some stipulations that regular mass be said for their souls. What’s the problem with that? The brotherhood had to pay for masses to be said and it nearly bankrupted them.

More from Silves soon, Mairead.

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Heading for the Hills

(The blackened trees surrounding Alferce)

While at the beach Denis read about a village that had a swimming pool, showers and toilets just north of the Algarve. And it was all for free. So next morning we travelled past amazing views, up steep ravines and eye-wateringly scary ridges to come to the town of Alferce.

(The swimming pool with lovely toilets)

This town is in the middle of nowhere and has amazing views and very friendly inhabitants. It had nearly succumbed to forest fires last August but survived and in almost a display of courage they have painted almost every building in the town. You can hardly see a sign of the fire.

(View from the main street)

Until you look at the trees. All around on the steep slopes, blackened trees as a reminder, that nature can sometimes be cruel. You might think it would be eerie but it’s not, it’s beautiful.

(The laundry)

The town also provided laundry facilities – the old fashioned kind with the built in washing boards and strings of clothes lines. But my favourite feature was the frogs. Right beside the motorhome parking there was a pond with about 20 frogs, all different sizes. I discovered them by following the sound. They had a very distinctive sound, like a complaint in grumpy language. Not very unpleasant but also not entirely attractive.

(Can you see the one pretending he’s dead in the water?)

Anyway I followed the sound to see what was making it and eventually noticed there were frogs. They seem to be able to make the sound without moving a muscle and as soon as they become aware of me everything stopped. No sounds. No movement. There’s isn’t a twitch. They remain completely still except for the one or two who had jumped into the water. They’d dived to the bottom and I could see small bubbles popping on the surface in their wake. There’s also one or two who know how to pretend to be dead in the water.

Smart Frogs, Mairead.

(There’s Alferce. Free parking, free water, free swimming pool, toilets, showers and frogs)

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