If you travel by boat, whether sail or motor, you have heard if not used the saying “plans made in the sand at low tide”. Of course, this recent Covid crisis has given new meaning to that phrase in ways none of us could have imagined even 6 months ago when the news reports of this novel corona virus first surfaced. Plans which normally changed by days or weeks are now changing by months even years and locales which were firmly planned; if timing uncertain, are completely up in the air.
For us aboard Gratitude, we feel your pain! It was our plan to head up to the Baltic region of Northern Europe from Portugal in late March/ Early April but as we are quickly approaching June, dock lines are still tied fast to terra firma in Lagos as required by the local state of emergency, and not only is the Baltic seeming unlikely, even Northern Europe is not assured as we are considering destinations in the Med – once planned for 2021.
Not only have we re-discovered the area in which we “live” but Gratitude herself has moved into a new season. With warmer temperatures we have been enjoying the outside living areas in a way we haven’t done since we left Florida. Covers off the cushions, we are back to eating multiple meals on the fly bridge and sleeping with all of the ports open, breezes filling the boat and bringing in the sounds of the numerous species of birds.
If you are finding yourself in the same proverbial “boat” – may I suggest taking another look at where you are. While feeling anxious with all of our plans disintegrating before our eyes, I heard the saying “Bloom where you are planted” and it got me thinking. At one time, eyes fresh and excitement abounded as we arrived in Portugal. That was only 6 months ago but now I have been feeling almost jaded by the familiarity of our surroundings. What was once comfort at knowing where to find the best coffee in this new area has become monotony. It was seriously time to take another look at this beautiful place in the Algarve which we have called home for 6 months. While this is a look at the Algarve through the fresh lens of our new prospective, why not take a look around your own comfortable “sand box” and see if there isn’t some new hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
The Algarve, the magnificent coastline from the Atlantic Ocean on the most south-westerly point of Europe to the Portuguese border with Spain to the East, is home to some of the most stunning beaches, impressive caves and rock formations, and over 100 species of birds. The winter temperatures average between 55 and 65 Fahrenheit; too cold to swim in the 55 degree water, and unless the sea is calm, dinghy excursions were limited in both duration and time. So while we were taking a new look at our old surroundings, we were fortunate enough to have a whole new climate to help us to enjoy vistas and experiences which were, if not impossible, at least uncomfortable a few months ago.
The Lagos de Marina, home to more than 400 boats during the winter season from ports all over Europe, most of the Ensigns hail from the UK. Floating docks accommodate the tidal change of 6’ and bars and restaurants abound to suit any palate. Just a few minutes’ walk down the Avenida and you will find cuisine ranging from burgers and pizza to Michelin stared restaurants. From this marina it is a short walk to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and hikes featuring dramatic cliffs and heart-stopping drop offs. Don’t turn your back to take a selfie or cast out too far fishing or you may join one of several per year who perish in the fall. No lawyers, no signs warning you – just your own good judgement to keep you safe. With a bus station in the front and a train station in the back, the Marina de Lagos is a gateway to anyplace else you may want to explore.
It is crazy to me to believe that this quaint seaside fishing village, which is a mere 4 miles from Lagos by water, was nearly missed by us. While we have walked extensive trails all the way to Vila do Bispo, through the countryside and along the coast, this cobblestoned riverfront with an abundance of bars and restaurants was completely overlooked. As the weather permitted longer dinghy rides and further exploration, we found this little gem and enjoyed one of the best days yet, dining in the newly opened restaurants, post lockdown. Located on a protected wetland, we stopped and enjoyed walking and shelling on the sandbars and visiting fellow Americans at anchor. Boardwalks to the white sand beaches and hiking trails abound in this lovely seaside village.
Europe in general counts tourism responsible for roughly 10% of it’s GDP but in the Algarve that number is higher at 15%, which is the reason we never learned, or even made a concerted effort to learn, Portuguese. With the abundance of UK flags both in the marina and occupying many of the second homes and condos, the local economy runs in English. Given the tremendous hardship experienced by the shop keepers and restaurants, we have been doing our level best to help by eating out several meals a week since the lockdown has been lifted. One restaurant which was kind enough to leave the wifi on during their absence and whose business we work hard to support said that her numbers are 50% what they were same time last year. They are struggling. We have been so fortunate to be able to enjoy such abundance and varied restaurants during our time here – we hope they can make it through this difficult time.
The kayaks aboard Gratitude have been getting a free ride since we left the states over a year ago and it is high time they earned their keep! All of the destinations we have visited, while certainly beautiful enough to warrant a kayak around, were simply too cold for these Floridian whimps. The weather here has warmed enough for us to tolerate the chill of 60 F degree water trickling down onto our laps so we have been out in the kayaks several times over the past few weeks. What a treasure trove of discovery this has been!
We have just received word that at least until June 15 we are NOT PERMITTED to leave the dock for any overnight trip. This was so disappointing as we had heard from friends about a wonderful anchorage called Culatra which is at the convergence of a river with the estuary in Faro, Portugal a mere 45 miles away. Alternatively we had hoped to spend a week in Lisbon as we make our way North for the winter. It seems that neither of these trips will come to pass this time around. As we always aim to follow local rules and customs and be a nice guest, here is where we will sit until it is time for us to move along.
What can you discover while waiting for the tide to stay out long enough to re-write some of those plans?