Thursday, October 4, 2012

Portugal Day 1 - Rickety boardwalks and ruining things for everyone

Arriving in Comporta, Portugal the evening before, after a dull and uncomfortable flight (aren’t they all?) where the stewardesses, sorry, customer facing service enablers, or whatever they’re called now, seemed to get annoyed with me purely based on the fact that the plane was far too small and their derrières were far too large. This disappointing paradox gave rise to the result that I was constantly being bashed about the shoulder every time they passed by, usually on their urgent need to distribute that beige, feeble cuisine that airlines specialise in. Needless to say, although I will say it anyway, I was glad to disembark.

We drove the hour and a half from Lisbon to Comporta in what can only be described as a nail biting excursion through the night. My Dad was at the wheel, and not being used to driving on the right, he seemed intent on guiding our automobile on a knife edge between the road proper, and the perilous gravel it gave way to. Hopefully the baleful whimpers I periodically emitted as the car drifted alarmingly towards our certain fiery demise didn’t distract him too much from the task in hand.

So, after only crashing the car once, (in the car hire parking lot) we arrived in Comporta and availed ourselves of a local eatery where we wolfed down battered skate, some rather excellent chips, octopus salad and a hefty amount of the local vino tinto. With nerves and appetites duly sated my brother’s partner Andre, who grew up in Comporta and would be our de facto guide for the week, caught up with the local gossip while I watched COPS on TV in Portuguese, which made about as much sense as it does in English. We then headed off and made ourselves at home in the comfortable surroundings that would be our residence for the next week.

Waking up to a gloriously sunny morning we immediately headed down to the local beach to catch some of the obligatory rays. This being out of season the place was very quiet, although I’m assured it is packed during the summer, (but as it's the longest sandy beach in Europe, not too packed i would imagine) mainly with the rich and famous. Apparently they like the village because it’s so laid back and they can do what they want without prying eyes, and given that these tourists are predominantly made up of the current ‘celebrity’ herd, we can probably thank Comporta for keeping things under wraps so the rest of us don’t have to be waylaid with their vapid vices.

Three thatched umbrellas on an almost empty beach
But enough of that, we weren't here to spot celebrities, partly because there weren't any, but mainly because we had important business to hand, important kite flying business in fact. I hadn't flown a kite since I was a child, and even then it was usually on some bleak heathland in deepest Hertfordshire, where the desolate wind would batter and tremble even the sturdiest of duffel coats. But here we were on a pristine beach, under a perfect, cerulean sky so there was no time to waste.

So after getting a few tips on kite control from Andre I wasted none of that hitherto mentioned time and was soon effortlessly sending that dazzling wing soaring through the azure brilliance, and continued to do so right up until the point I smashed it to the ground in a whirlwind of sand and the uncomfortable snapping sound that forebodes an inevitable end of play. So just like in my childhood, I broke the kite and ruined it for everyone. Some things never change.

We went and got a coffee from one of the beachside bars to console ourselves before heading to the nearby village of Carrasqueira to take a gander at their marina. Porto palafita da Carrasqueira may not be quite what you think of when picturing a marina, it’s actually more of a port, but again not a typical port either. 

The ultimate in recycling, pretty much everything used be something else before it was put to use here
This heritage site, unique in Europe, built in the 1950-60’s is a quay set on wooden stakes stretching out hundreds of meters along the muddy brooks of the Sado river. This pier was built for fishermen (many of them women) to get into their boats during ebb tide and includes various structures along its length which serve as storage rooms. Although it is now a very popular spot for visitors it still retains its original purpose – to allow the local fisherman to access their boats whatever the tide.

So there you go, I’ve variously described it as a marina, port, quay and pier, and I’ll leave it up to you to pick the one you’re happy with. 

This simple blue shed caught my eye
It seemed to be an oasis of calm compared to the ramshackle busyness of the rest of the port
A view looking along one of the piers, you can see how far they stretch out
One of the many colourful boats. Whether this is still in service I wasn't sure
After getting a few snaps of this picturesque place we drove back to Comporta for a spot of lunch, which included more octopus salad, cuttlefish and garlic, pork and olives and clams in garlic butter, all washed down with a couple of glasses of the local beer, it was quite the best lunch I had experienced for a very, very long time.

After rolling out from the restauranté it was time to explore the rice fields that line the coastal region of this part of Portugal. Beginning in the first half of the 20th century, this agricultural practice covers many acres of Comporta’s headland and is an interesting place to explore as it attracts an abundance of birdlife, such as cranes and storks.

So as the day was coming to an end we found ourselves at Pego beach, which was laid out eerily similar to Comporta beach from earlier that day. The sun was beaming out from behind the cloud cover that was steadily making its way towards us, and lighting up the ocean below, so it would have been rude not to get a few snaps, and I am nothing if not the gentleman, so I whipped out my camera and did what I could. 

I got this as the sun was going down and casting some nice shadows across the dunes
A view of Pego beach as the sun threw out shafts of light from behind its cover
After that it was back to the casa for some dinner and a good night’s sleep, we had an appointment with dolphins the next day and if there is one thing that irks a dolphin more than anything else, it is shoddy timekeeping.

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