Between the Alentejo and the coast facing Africa is Portugal’s southernmost region, the Algarve. Approaching from the north, anyone entering the Algarve first traverses a range of low hills with craggy peaks of metamorphic rock marking the edge of the tableland. Then they descend into the coastal fringe itself. The southern Algarve is a land of predominantly poor soils and is naturally covered in Mediterranean scrub. The rural population here is greater than in the Alentejo. Traditionally, it has clustered in towns and villages, for easier access to water and for security from sea raiders. In the Algarve, since Roman and then Muslim times, there has been much use of irrigation. The sub-tropical brilliance helps to make this coast one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe today.
While in Lagos, you will probably pass the square with El-Rei D. Sebastiao statue. Might looks inconspicuous but he was the king who raised Lagos to the category of a city in 1573. Have you heard of sebastianism?
From J. Saramago we also know that Lagos has a slave market, but it does not seem very proud of the fact. It is a kind of raised platform in the Praça da República, with pillars supporting the floor. This was where the auctions took place for the best price on a well-trained negro or a nubile negress with lovely breasts. There is no telling whether they wore collars or not. When the traveler looked for the market, he almost missed it. The square is taken up with building materials and motorbikes: as if the modern day were trying to wipe away all trace of past stains. If the traveler were in a position of power in Lagos, he would have some sets of chains installed here, and a place to see where these human cattle were sold, and perhaps a statue of someone like Dom Enrique, who benefited so greatly from this trade.
– Is it true that Portuguese are melancholic, in general?
– Hmm… I mean… We’re not just melancholic. We are so melancholic that we get tired of being melancholic what brings us to even the deeper stage of melancholy – Pedro replied. Then poured a bit of vinho verde in his glass and rolled a cigarette.
Pedro lives on the beach in Faro. In a small house made of cheap raw materials. He tries to live in harmony with nature, respecting the environment. He eats only what local farmers and fisherman provide. He speaks three languages and visited a bit of Europe and Africa. That helped him to make some friendships all over the world. Nevertheless, he prefers a solitary lifestyle. Pedro says that he has never left his country just for the sake of traveling. Every time he had some important goal, like volunteering. He has never considered emigration. He feels attached to his motherland. Although, very often he doesn’t agree with his compatriots and is far away from sharing their mentality. Probably that’s why he lives alone on the beach.
– Do you eat fish? I have fresh vegetables, rice and wine. Do you need anything else? – Pedro asked when I wanted to do some shopping for dinner. Eventually, I just bought more wine.
I had lived in Portugal before so I know Portuguese hospitality pretty well. In my opinion, is different than ours, the Polish one. We say “Guest coming into the house – God coming into the house”. In Portugal, guests are treated more easy, casual, unobtrusive. They feed you, they pour you unlimited liters of wine, they give you a roof over your head. But the most important, they provide you the company, interesting long night talks and loads of laughter. There is no better way to gain some knowledge about the country. It’s history, tradition or politics. And you are always welcome to share your stories since Portuguese are sincerely curious about foreigners.
On the other hand, they will never interfere with your schedule. They will never impose themselves and give ridiculous advice. They will never ask what time are you coming back. Whenever you come back – it’s just perfect.
I feel emotionally attached to Portugal. To the people who live there, to the culture, to the atmosphere and all the beauty that the country contains. I’ve played different roles there. A student, a local, a tourist, a traveler. Journey to Algarve was the last one I paid Portugal so far. It started from Faro. And the day I arrived was like the one from Jose Saramago’s book:
The coast wind is waiting for him. But the traveler is so ragged from the heat, so depressed, that to receive this sniff sea breeze in his face is like taking a quick pick-me-up. For this alone, he would feel grateful to Faro. But there are many more reasons for his gratitude.
A.R. Disney, “History of Portugal and Portuguese Empire”
J. Saramago, “Journey to Saramago”.