Portugal: The End of the World

Started strong on this blog, then petered out as the realities of a job spiraling downhill combined with an irony-filled sales kick off meeting in Portugal left me with not much to say.  Which of course is not the case at all with all that going on.  I’ll work to be more consistent.

The sales kick off meeting was the usual stuff that goes on when a company goes to great lengths to inspire a sales team.  Well prepared executives telling us how great things are.  Product Managers telling us how great things are going to be.  Sales awards for the past and optimistic spin on the future.  And a dose of ass-kissing and opportunistic positioning by the sleazy element.  Still, as with most companies the majority of employees are truly great people who work hard, are ethical and want to do good things.  I wish them well, and hope they clear the hurdles ahead of them.

The real adventure in Portugal began when the meeting was over.  I drove from Lisbon to Sagres for some hiking along the coast, fresh seafood and time to reflect in a place completely new to me.  The drive down from Lisbon began on the extraordinary Vasco da Gama Bridge over the Tagus River, continued across a changing landscape of vineyards and cork tree groves that gave way to more arid climate as I approached the Algarve Region.  My destination was the end of the world.

Sagres was once called that – the end of the world.  The rocky cliffs of Cape St Vincent were the southwestern corner of “civilization”.  And no wonder they thought so.  The rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the cliffs of Western Europe certainly felt that way.  Ships rounding the Cape of St Vincent looked to the treacherous cliffs and prayed for favorable winds to keep them from being bashed against them.  Many of their prayers were unanswered and countless sailors perished along this coast.  Imagining the New World beyond the horizon was likely beyond the scope of many of the people living in the Middle Ages.

Sagres today is a sleepy surf town, full of beautiful vistas and great seafood.  The world back then, as in many places, was a lot more violent and uncertain.  Sagres is incredibly rich in history.  Pirates and privateers raided this coast to rape and pillage and enslave those they didn’t kill outright.  Explorers setting sail from this region mapped the African coast, opened up the sea route for spice trade and eventually circumnavigated the world.  Sagres was the home and final resting place of Henry the Navigator (Prince Henry the Navigator – Wikipedia) who changed the narrow view of Europeans in this time and fueled the Age of Discovery.

Hiking a portion of the Rota Vicentina in the offseason provided me with a glimpse into the past.  I was struck by the powerful waves of the Atlantic colliding with the sheer cliffs along the coast, and the splendid isolation as the trail moved towards the interior.  For much of my hike I was alone.  Fishermen and tourists were clustered at the lighthouse on Cape St Vincent, but after that I saw five other people on the rest of my 12 mile hike.  Offseason for sure.  Soon after passing the last of the fisherman precariously dangling their poles over the cliffs near Cape St Vincent I found myself virtually alone in the harsh, beautiful terrain.  The footing is challenging; alternating between red sand and sharp limestone and sandstone ready to trip and greet the careless walker who dares to enjoy the stunning scenery for more than a step or two before validating the path.

Portugal, like Newfoundland, offers seclusion mixed with warm encounters with friendly people.  It’s still relatively unknown as a vacation destination, but that will change.  As indicated by the graffiti I saw throughout Portugal and the broken glass on the trail, not everyone embraces leaving no trace.  I hope that the cultural intolerance for these things increases in the years to come.  I fell in love with this place and hope it never becomes the overbuilt, resort-clogged destination that some other parts of the Algarve have become.

And now I’m back, with memories, pictures and video of this incredible place.  As with all solo travel I felt the conflicting emotions of savoring the meditative qualities of going it alone with the longing to have shared it with family and friends.  Hopefully I’ll see you again Sagres.


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