This weekend Jim went to Cascais to see his friend and pick up some books for a possible assignment, which had been sent from the Netherlands. I didn’t feel like going to a town, or driving all the way there (nearly 300km), so decided to stay here, in the Algarve.
It was time for a sanity weekend anyway. So, there I was, for the first time on my own in our tiny house on wheels, with lots of possibilities to choose from.
What would it be? Something familiar, where I knew what to expect. Or discover something new, with the chance of being disappointed, or once again come across another full campsite (with all the snowbirds hibernating here, there just doesn’t seem to be enough space for everyone, even in all the sites that have only been going for a year or two), and then having to look further?
I could have easily gone back to the first place where we stayed in the Algarve. A quiet and beautiful campsite near Silves, where we stayed two weeks. A lovely place along the river, where I knew that I could run along the irrigation canal, go to the restaurant where we went dancing,pick fresh oranges and lemons for breakfast, and where I was sure I would be warmly welcomed by the older lady who runs the place.
Or I could go back to the campsite run by a French couple and where, despite the age difference, I met many friendly people to talk with (French just love it when you speak their language if you’re a foreigner: it immediately gives you a special status) and where they would surely make space for our little van. It’s the kind of place where I could even be invited to join an early evening drink, just to make sure that I wouldn’t feel too alone.
Or was it time to be a little more adventurous and explore a new area we haven’t been yet? For a moment, it felt as if I was looking at this bowl of candies, each one looking even tastier than the other.
And here I am, on a campsite in São Bartolomeu de Messines, a village and area we hadn’t been before. A place a bit off the road, five kilometers from the village. I found a beautiful spot with a view, at the edge of a small Dutch colony of pensioners and a few foreigners. A site without electricity, in the middle of nowhere, far away from shops, roads and restaurants, and with lots of possibilities to go for walks. And I love it.
The area is simply gorgeous. With rolling hills, a large network of small unpaved roads and paths, meandering along the river, small sloping fields, occasionally dotted with a white house with a little vegetable garden, full of cork, almond and olive trees, and with lots of artificial lakes.
It’s a paradise for anyone who loves to wander.
While walking, you come across shepherds with their flocks of sheep or goats, and every now and again you are welcomed by the bells from the cows.
It’s place where you meet friendly people who greet you, and only occasionally do you hear or see a car.
In the night, you can enjoy an almost absolute silence and darkness. No dogs, cats or cars that roar. It’s as if nothing moves and everything and everyone takes the time to rest.
All the people I meet on the campsite agree: this place feels like you’ve landed in an oasis of tranquility, with nothing or anyone to bother you other than the sound of birds, cattle bells, flowing water and the leaves and branches caressing each other when a small breeze comes through.
Even during the day, on the campsite itself, it’s as if most people read and quietly do their thing. That’s not like the Dutch, who you can often easily recognise for being that little louder and more present than most others (maybe just because they are afraid of not being noticed).
And while enjoying the silence and beauty, I already notice my mind slowly filling with romantic dreams of a quiet and peaceful life in this beautiful part of the Algarve, far away from the daily business in the Netherlands. And I wonder why anyone, especially the young Portuguese people, seem to leave this idyllic place, looking for a better place to live. Places I try so hard to escape.
It’s an old lady who brings me back to reality. What looks like paradise to me is hardship for those living here.
The small and sloping fields are full of stones, the artificial lakes are there to catch the scarce rainfall and hopefully see the little farm through the (sometimes extremely) dry months, and disease threatens the old cork trees.
This might not necessarily worry those who can live from their pension or make a living from editing or doing online assignments and then go for a daily walk, but this is a serious burden for those who depend on the land to get by.
And thanks to the old lady, once again I realise how much, in this world, your opportunities and perspective depends on your circumstances. We should never take our own perception for granted.
And now, reminded of this, I still cannot help fantasising about a life here, but at least I’m being a bit more realistic than I was before.