We may be at the back of beyond but many roads lead here. For Rolie, the Renault 4, the only possible route is our ‘main’ one; you need an off-road vehicle for the rest. You take a turning off the main east–west road, close to our local big village. The road condition deteriorates somewhat but it’s still a road. It goes up to a pass – not too high, we’re in the hills not the mountains here – then drops down, past Flaviano’s emporium with his never-ending Christmas, until it reaches a concrete bridge over the river. It’s a simple bridge with no sides. It probably never had any sides but a visiting boy, thinking it looked dismantled, asked us if that was because James Bond movies were filmed around here.
From there it’s a fairly steep ascent and a sharp bend, then you come to a turn-off. Now you are off the tarmac and on to the dirt. It’s a couple of kilometres along this track until you reach the river, where we live, and where there are two fording points if you want to go on any further. The second of these fords is the closest to our house and it’s the one strangers come a-cropper on. They will have driven on until the dirt road runs out and must either give up, turn round and go back or attempt the route to the river, which means driving over a rocky lip and down a footpath. Farmers can do it in their tractors and pickups; saloon and estate-car drivers cannot. It’s worse for people coming up from the river, which happens in the summer sometimes. The lip at the top of the path will defeat them. We come out at the sound of spinning wheels and spitting pebbles to recommend they reverse out of their predicament and take another route.
If you can get across the river, which is still possible even now, while it isn’t in spate, there’s an immediate choice of three dirt roads, which branch off into more and more tracks, some of ever-decreasing size. From here you can end up in neighbouring villages or eventually re-emerge at some point along the main east–west road. It was one of these routes that led a couple of weeks ago to the burst tyre, and the spotting of the fire salamander when we completed our journey home by foot.
In winter, without our neighbours here, we see an average of one vehicle a day, and it’s probably a tractor. Occasionally on a weekend there is the short-lived nuisance of a dirt bike. We don’t hear any other vehicle; the main roads are too far away for even a distant hum to reach us. We live with birdsong.
A Common Buzzard has recently taken up residence here. Its Portuguese name – the ‘round-winged eagle’ – is so much more charming than its English one. It isn’t welcomed by the foraging flocks of smaller birds we have around: Goldfinches, Serins, particularly the Azure-winged Magpies. The magpies, in their smart uniform of fawn with air-force-blue wings and neat black cap, are a rather military bird. Impossibly elegant in their dress uniform but with manners that do not match, they have taken to squawking at and mobbing the buzzard, who hunches rather pathetically in a too-small medronho (strawberry bush) until giving up and flying off. I wonder why the magpies are so bullish when they don’t have any young to protect. I guess it comes with the uniform.
The real road to nowhere: fossil fuel
And I can’t stop thinking about how all this could be lost, not just for us, but for everyone in the Algarve and for everyone who loves to come here. If anyone reading this hasn’t yet signed the petition against oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the Algarve, and would like to, please click on the link. Ta very much.