Country #41 – Portugal, Challenges Everywhere

To say that I was excited to return to Lagos, Portugal is a gross understatement.  I was last there for three weeks in 1992 after studying abroad in Paris for the semester.  It left an indelible footprint in my mind.  The gorgeous turquoise blue/green waters of the Algarve has miles of caves and grottos to explore by boat or kayak.  The cliffs contain a labyrinth of paths that wind all along the edge overlooking the waters below.  The constant wind brings refreshment to the ever present warm sun.  Hidden beaches delight at every turn some populated and others completely desolate.  The people were warm and welcoming to tourists and locals alike.  The language was soft, romantic and beautiful.  The food was fresh and full of delicacies we can’t find at home, like bacalhau (a staple Portuguese cod dish), melons covered in fresh port and fresh olives from the groves.  What is not to love?  My one concern was that it might have changed or maybe my memory was colored by the rose covered glasses of being in college and on vacation in Europe…
I need not have worried.  Every memory I have is what we experienced in Lagos.  Despite some difficulty getting our rental car, we arrived to our apartment mid-afternoon.  We soon found we had chosen wisely in terms of location.  We were less than a ½ mile to center of our town where there was a great Indian and Chinese restaurant.  For great Portuguese we had to venture just a kilometer or two further.  By evening we discovered another huge bonus in the form of a Munson substitute for the week.  Bendji is the sweet black lab who camped at our front door once we gave him some belly love.  On Tuesday, we set out to hike the coast line and scope out what seemed like endless possibilities for great wedding dress shots.  It was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday!  Our Kayak rental to the Bengali cave was set for Wednesday and true to form Jeff wanted to do a dry run on Tuesday.  That seemed reasonable to me and more fun on my birthday, since a dry run means no dress.  We drove over the area to find a parking lot snafu and no spots.  At one point I wondered if we were going to be able to get out at all.  We did, only to find ourselves caught going up a frightening steep hill with cars that kept stopping looking for nonexistent spots (all while Jeff is driving a stick shift that had hamsters for power).  It was not comfortable and brings up an observation we made, no one taught people how to park here; it is literally the worst parking jobs we have seen anywhere.  We parked a good distance away (and by park I mean create a spot that does not exist partially off the road and hope you don’t get hit).  We waked down to the boat rental area which was a literal mob scene.  There was no kayak to rent for four hours and when we checked on our early 9 am rental prior to their 10 am opening, he found it marked in the book for Monday (oops).  Clearing up that mistake we were glad we made the trip since we would have arrived to an empty lot otherwise. We had arranged the booking with a very responsive company (www.seabookings.com), it turns out they no longer deal with the company providing the kayaks. Don’t hesitate to contact Bo at SeaBookings as they were great.
We were confident that this would be a great shot and we set off on the ocean kayak with all our photo gear and dress in tow.  The cave was literally less than five minutes from our starting point.  As we approached Jeff let out a frustrated sigh.  I could see why, two swimmers were running all over the beach and creating the footprints that Jeff wanted to avoid by being an hour ahead of everyone.  The man had even written his name in the sand.  We knew we had to work fast before more people showed up.  As we prepared to come ashore we caught an unfortunate wave that we couldn’t control dumping us into the water.  Minor bumps and bruises brushed off we got to work. The light was not ideal and within minutes more swimmers arrived.  Jeff did his best to adjust and work around the people who did not seem concerned with giving us space (unusual for us when the dress it out).  When the first gaggle of kayaks was bearing down on us at 9:45 (so much for extra hour we paid for) we knew it was time to call it quits and concede.  Jeff was deflated that the shot was a bust.  We had paid for the rental until noon so we paddled around the stunning grottos for a bit and then headed back.  This should have been the easy part there was no rogue wave but Jeff picked up speed to bring us in without capsizing.  Unfortunately, I fell off on the land side and the next wave rolled the kayak over my calf, right above the ankle, with Jeff still on it pinning me.  I screamed at Jeff in pain which is not something I do or felt good about but I feared we had just ended our trip.  The hematoma popped out immediately and all I could feel was searing pain and a mild case of shock.  Jeff was quick to find ice and get me out of there to find a store with an ace bandage.  I didn’t think it was broken but a hairline fracture was not out of the question.  We consulted our doctor friend at home who said it was not impossible but extraordinarily unlikely to break that area of the tibia.  We applied RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) religiously even if I was less than happy about the situation.  Walking is what I do while Jeff processes photos.  I love to wander, it is part of my genetic make-up.  It took me two days to stop the pity party and get back to enjoying our trip even if my mobility was limited.  It also helps that somehow (with a lot of post processing and using two images to get the sky exposed properly) Jeff got a much better photo than either of us thought possible.  Okay, the roses and the pampering helped a little too!
Bengali Cave

Bengali Cave

The other shot Jeff took of me on the beach from the cliff above.  Despite my injury, I carefully walked down and up the twelve flights of stairs in order to get there.   Stubborn is also part of my DNA. Jeff also broke out the drone and took a shot of me standing one of the many magnificent cliffs. We were sad to leave Lagos, our wonderful hosts and sweet surrogate dog but excited to see Sintra.
Lagos Drone Photo

Lagos Drone Photo

In Sintra we planned a really cool shoot at the Initiation Well at Quinta da RegaleiraFor the first time in many years, we got totally shut down.  We asked permission and were told no dress in the park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had written ahead, but never got a reply. The local staff gave us the email address of the person in charge and again, no reply to the email. Instead, we took standard tourist shots!

Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira

Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira

Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira

The other options that might have been possibilities would have required strenuous hiking which I was not yet healed enough to attempt still wearing the ace bandage to walk.  So, we did something highly uncharacteristic for us, we spent the next two days relaxing at Pestana Golf Resort & Spa Hotel.  Despite high winds, we did manage a quick drone shot from the hotel for photo shoot # 261.
Hotel Pestana Sintra Golfe Resort e Spa

Hotel Pestana Sintra Golfe Resort e Spa

I must admit lounging at the pool and sauna while enjoying good food, nice scenery and great company is not too tough to take.  We also did something else unprecedented for us; we ate at the same restaurant three nights in a row.  We usually find the place we love on the last night.  When a place like Metamorphosis has, phenomenal staff and the best octopus of my entire life how can you go anywhere else?  Paulo the head waiter is our newest Facebook friend.   When all is said and done, Portugal goes down as a wonderful country that remains a favorite in my book.


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