Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Portugal Day 3 - In search of cork under an unforgiving sun

After a late start we rolled out of Comporta towards Santa Cruz, stopping along the way in one of the many cork plantations to see if I could get a picture of the partially stripped trees. I couldn’t get much as it was very sunny and the place itself was not very well looked after, which all combined to make it look a bit of a mess.

The cork tree itself is an evergreen oak tree which is grown in various parts of the African continent as well as in south west Europe but it’s in Portugal where they are most abundant, with the country accounting for about 50% of the world’s cork production. Cork oak trees, or Quercus suber are preserved and cutting them down is illegal unless it’s sanctioned by the forestry department. The harvesting itself is a natural process and it is estimated that the trees can live for over 150 years with the first cork yield obtained from its bark when the tree is about 25 years old and then harvested every 9 years for over a century.

None of which I particularly thought about as I stumbled through the detritus of vegetation, racking up scratches on my defenseless shins as one wickedly sharp thorn after another made a beeline for my delicate flesh.

I decided to concentrate on one tree as I liked the play of
light on the contours of its smooth trunk

Once it was clear I would get no real satisfaction from this disagreeable stand of trees we made haste to Santiago, a little country town with a commanding spot on a hill. Parking at the top of the town under the shadow of the Castelo de Santiago do Cacém, the first thing to catch my eye was the beautiful Capela de São Pedro, or Chapel of St. Peter, built in the 16th century. Its main use was thought to be by pilgrims during the processions and festivities which were held in June in honour of St. Peter, it was damaged in the earthquake of 1755 and is no longer open for religious services.

The sky was looking particularly good above the white chapel
The compositional balance of the chapel at lower left and cloud
in the upper right works quite well
But more importantly it was looking particularly alluring under the bumptious, billowy clouds as they gallivanted effortlessly across their smooth, cobalt backdrop. So yet again, what could I do but set up shop and fire away. Next we walked up to the Castle of Santiago Cacém which stands on the crest of the hill overlooking the town. Originally of Arab origin, this imposing structure, now classified as a National Monument, was completely rebuilt by the Christians in the 12th century. The castle is notable for its cubic turrets and crenelated barbican, that encircle the castle walls. Which themselves shield the parish cemetery and I made use of as I took a few shots of the countryside below.

Mother Church, that stands next to the castle
View from the castle walls onto the cauliflower like canopy of the pine trees below
The cloudy sky was still looking quite dramatic as I shot, looking straight up, from the top of the town
Driving south we stopped for lunch alongside the beach just outside Porto Covo and had something to eat under the balmy sun, as the rippling waves gently spilled onto the shore and ruffled the warm sand below us, which was rather pleasant. After the obligatory coffee we breezed into Porto Covo, whose name literally translates as port of the covos, the term covo referring to a fishing net, used for capturing lobsters and crabs. Although characterised as a ‘small fishing community’, thanks to its white, fine sand beaches, natural rock-cliff shores, secluded coves and warm temperatures, the population during the summer can increase ten-fold.

Looking out to the countryside below, taken from
the top of a steep logging road
We stopped along the shore to get a view from the rocky headland before heading further south to see what we could see, which wasn’t actually a great deal. The countryside was beautiful but the sun was on full beam so made everything look quite flat and lifeless. So after a short time we turned around and began the journey back to Comporta. After stocking up on provisions for our barbecue we made a quick stop at Melides beach, because the sky was picking up a bit of colour as the sun sank, although by the time we got there it was almost over but I got a few shots as the last of the evening light filtered below the horizon.

This interesting piece of vegetation made an appealing foreground
for the fading light on the horizon
Back at the house we fired up the barbecue and feasted on various cooked meats with a bit of salad thrown on the side, mainly for the look of it, then stayed up far too late before stumbling to bedfordshire.

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