The Big Trip #7

Week 13: A bumpy road to Lisbon

Route: Sagres – Setubal – Lisbon – Sintra

238 kilometers

Heading north, we found we had fewer roads to choose from, and they weren’t
as well maintained as the ones in the big tourism areas in the southern
Algarve region. Surprisingly long stretches of road were paved with bumpy
cobblestones or filled with rough potholes, making me wish I had a
suspension mountain bike to absorb some of the jarring. At the end of the
day, my shoulders and back were so sore I felt like I had taken a beating.

Fortunately, the scenery helped make up for the rough roads. We rode along
pine forests near the coast, through small villages and past windmills. Each
night, we rode an extra few kilometers to camp near the ocean. The further
north we rode, the fewer people we saw on the beaches and in the small,
protected coves near the coastal villages.

The connector between Bob’s trailer and the bike broke twice on this leg of
the trip. The first time, he was able to do a temporary fix with the
existing parts. The second time, the hose was completely ruined, but he was
able to rig up a solution with a rusty tent stake and some tie-down straps.

It usually takes a while to navigate through big cities, and Lisbon was not
an exception. After arriving in the city by boat, it took us over two hours
of riding up and down steep hills in the large city park before we found the
campsite. The cables on my bike finally gave out so I had to muscle my way
up the hills using only three gears.

We were both ready for a break. I spent a few days at the four-star
campground writing in my journal, hanging out by the pool, and meeting other
cyclists while Bob went to a variety of hardware stores, collecting parts to
make a new connection for his trailer. One day, we took a day trip to Sintra
and wandered around the forests and gardens surrounding the castles above
the town.

We managed to time our arrival in Lisbon just as a festival was ending.
However, we were happy to walk around the city and spend evenings hanging
out with the other cyclists we met at the campground, including Lou and
Kylie, an Australian couple doing the same kind of bike trip Bob and I are
doing. We put the barbeque to good use, drank ruby, tawny and blanco Porto
and had a rousing game of Uno one night with the other cyclists at the camp.
It felt good to be in the same place for a while.

Week 14: Northern Portugal

Route: Lisbon – Santarem – Obidos – Nazare – Penela – Luso – Bucaco Forest – Porto

453 kilometers

It always takes us a few days longer than we expect to get where we’re
going. We stayed in Lisbon a few extra days working on the bikes, then took
a train about 100 kilometers north of the city to Santarem. That night, we
got stuck in town after dark and had to get a hotel, breaking our 25-day
camping streak.

We rode through Obidos, a touristy but charming walled town and passed
through Nazare, a popular coastal resort. Outside Nazare, we found that the
highway we planned on riding north to Porto had been turned into a freeway.
We rode for 20 scary kilometers without a shoulder while trucks and cars
sped by, passing us way to closely for comfort. It was simply too dangerous
to continue, so we got off on a side road. Luckily, the small roads we took
were newly paved, and gave us great views of churches covered in patterned
tiles and large, colorful garden plots next to most of the rural houses.

The landscape here was much different than in the south. We began to see
small vineyards, and when we weren’t riding through pine forests, we’d ride
through stands of eucalyptus trees that had been planted in place of the
native pines.

We spent one night in Luso, a spa town near the Bucaco Forest. Instead of
shelling out hundreds of dollars for specialized water treatments, including
one where you held onto metal bar and got sprayed with a fire hose, we
filled up our water bottles for free at the fountain in the middle of town.
The nearby Bucaco Forest, which had been a retreat for monks in the
1800’s, was a beautiful forest garden filled with trees, quite walking paths
and picnicking families.

We’ve gotten to be much more comfortable in our tent than in cheap hotels,
so we when we arrived at Porto, we chose to camp outside of the city near
the beach and ride the bus into town.

Next up: Wine tasting in Porto and jazz in Spain »

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