"Rota Vicentina was a child's dream, not because I already knew it, but because in a way I always imagined myself doing it! ..."
The desire and passion for adventure is something that I recognize in me since I was a little girl. My mother tells me stories like those of finding me far from home with only a few children ... Who knows where the cachopa was going! I have memories of playing games in the vineyards and orchards of my grandparents, where I fantasized about being in a distant and wild place, of those I saw only in films, and recreated scenarios and adventures where I would have to test myself with nature. I could spend whole days like that… exploring corners where I simulated real adventure stories.
The child who played close to home grew up, and with that the daring to go further and further. When the bicycle appeared in my life, my world also changed. THE Serra de Aire and Lamps it became the stage for great adventures and year after year I traveled increasingly distances, always with the curiosity to discover what lies beyond the mountains.
A Rota Vicentina it was a child's dream, not because I already knew her, but because in a way I always imagined myself doing it! It was an idea that came naturally when I thought of doing a great bike route on my own. This became one of the most intense and rich experiences of my life. And it all started in Trojan...
While anxiously waiting for the ferry I started to feel a boil inside me. It was as if the weight of that incredible journey was reflected in my body at that moment, even without knowing what was waiting for me on the other side of the bank. He had the strength of ten men and a happiness that filled the ocean. It was my great adventure, only mine and whoever gets in my way. I was looking forward to taking the road south! Me and my bike!
When the ferry docked I could read about its structure and in red letters "open happiness". I immediately thought that I couldn't have opened a better gift. The adventure was about to begin!
The trip was short, but more than enough to start making friends. I met two couples, who coincidentally live in Lithuania, a country where a few months later I would find myself on a mission NATO. From up there I saw the beautiful peninsula of Trojan getting closer and closer and as I moved away from port of Setúbal could see the contours of the saws and cliffs that extend to the Cape Espichel. Every now and then I would sneak a peek into the cargo hold and there it was, my bicycle, more than ready to start a long and incredible journey.
"... I had the strength of ten men and a happiness that filled the ocean ..."
"On the other side, there on the horizon, the silhouette of a mountain that is so well known to me ..."
Bicycle outside, backpack on my back and helmet in my top hat, there I went! I left the wharf behind, skirted the streets of the famous peninsula of Trojan and in an instant I was already pedaling along the edge of the Sado estuary. It was still early and yet I was pedaling at a fast pace. I knew how long it should take, but as I already know myself as a giningueira, I know that it is never just what I imagine. I trip over so many good things along the way, that I always end up accidentally deviating from what I had originally planned.
Had never been in Trojan, however that brief passage left me eager to return. Not where the peninsula starts, full of luxury resorts and inventions of men, but to the south where everything takes on a more wild and natural appearance. Where we see only the estuary on one side and the sea on the other. The dunes fill what is in the middle, with pines and shrubs lining the sandy soil. The extensive beach of calm waters and white sand lives up to its beauty. I almost didn't let myself go there, however the urge to pedal spoke louder.
On the other side, there on the horizon, the silhouette of a mountain that I know so well. The wild Serra da Arrábida! Now seen from afar, its huge and incredible cliffs take on other contours, which despite being somewhat faded by the morning mist, continue to dazzle those who have come to know them so passionately. I remembered the thousands of times that I looked, over there, at the vast sandy coast that stretches to the Sines Cape, the one I would now go through.
The strip of sand narrowed until I finally left the Sado estuary and I got to Leads. From there I knew that I would have to follow the national road always heading south, until I ended up in Santiago do Cacém. This first day turned out to be a link between the place where I live and the beginning of the Historical Path, hence it was done practically only by road. I couldn't compare it to any of the days that followed.
The bike rolled smoothly despite the weight it carried. I felt a certain “mill” on my back where the backpack plate rested on the column, however, without a doubt, the main opponent was being the heat. Despite being April, the temperatures for these days were already forecast to be very high for the time, and with the Sun even stronger because it is closer to Earth at this time of year, cycling became a good challenge.
I stopped in the village of Melides and after a few carefree strolls through the alleys I decided to stop to cool off with a cold drink in the shade of the hat on the terrace. Life was going slowly and I knew it so well! It ran so naturally that even the simplest act of observing the world around it became so special. It is the mongrel dog that basks in the water of the small pool in the center of the café… it is the older men, sitting in the shade of a tired tree, who talk and laugh at the ruckus… and the group of cyclists who toast beside the their bikes loaded with yellow saddlebags. For a moment we look at each other and smile. A smile from someone who knows what it is to wander the road and who allows herself to wander. And life goes so well ... without haste. At the taste of what happens and who lets it happen.
"... And life goes so well ... unhurried. At the taste of what happens and who lets it happen."
"As I approached the Castle, it was the old walls of the houses that greeted me, they were the testimony of my victorious arrival ..."
I had already passed the village when I look at the time. It is the custom ... I see that it is still early and as such I decide to look at the map. "Hmm… what do we have close by?" Lagoons of Santo André and Sancha Nature Reserve. So there I let myself go astray. I headed towards the sea and when I found the lagoons I walked along the shore along paths that I found as I went. Eventually there I ended up back on the national road again.
Only when I saw the walls at the top of a hill did I realize how close I was to Santiago do Cacém. My first serious climb had arrived and I only rested when I entered the castle walls. I remember perfectly the strong pedaling I did when climbing the sidewalk made of white limestone. Silence reigned and he did not see a living soul. Perhaps it was because of the heat that was still felt at that late hour or because people were simply leaving the old town. As I approached the Castle, it was the old walls of the houses that greeted me, they were the testimony of my victorious arrival.
O Castle it just felt like mine. With no one around, I could imagine that I had won it with my brave bicycle. I walked the long walls, observed the city from the top and leaned over the horizon that looked down to the sea, so close there. I imagined what was waiting for me on the other side, along hills and valleys that were getting lost to the south. I felt anxious and excited to take the dirt road because I knew that the real Rota Vicentina would start there.
I woke up early in my friend Silvana's room. Even though time has kept us apart since college, she will always be a very special friend. And despite being out of the country at that time, he welcomed me through his parents in his beautiful typical Alentejo house.
The sun was peeking through the blinds and I hurried to put on my bicycle fatigue and go down to the kitchen. And there, already standing, the housekeeper, a lady with a sweet and tender heart, who has been accompanying the family for many years. He kept me company for breakfast and even helped me prepare some sandwiches with the delicious chicken left over from dinner. It is wonderful to be so well received and cherished by someone we know in such a short time.
With a full heart and feeling grateful for the kindness with which I was received by Silvana's parents and nanny, I went back up the long sidewalk to the castle walls. Again, no one… just me, the bike and the houses as witnesses. And there she was, Mother Church of Santiago do Cacém, the starting point of Historical Path.
I went down the sidewalk to Rua das pilgrims and from there I followed a narrow track, between walls, until the Urban Park of Rio da Figueira. In love with the trees and the beautiful green spaces, it was on arriving at the train line that I realized that I would have been mistaken on the way, since I seemed to be going in the wrong direction. I didn't even breathe a breath… I knew it was part of the adventure and it is usually close to the localities that it is usually more difficult to book appointments. I turned around and when I came across a guy running, I didn't hesitate to ask him the right way.
Much more fun than looking at the map is to question the direction of the path to the people of the places where you pass. And if he knew the place well ... we went side by side ... him running and I pedaling slowly. We were talking about curiosities from the world of adventure and nature, and when I realized I was more than on the right path. A typical photo, a few words of good luck and off we went, each one on his own trail.
I went up the dirt road to the top of the hill and when I realized it would be the last time I would have the opportunity to look at the walls and the city of Santiago do Cacém I stopped briefly by a wooden frame from Rota Vicentina.
"The sun was peeking through the blinds and I hurried to put on my bicycle and go down to the kitchen ..."
"As the notable Portuguese forester stated ... no other tree gives so much demanding so little."
Here began the cork oak kingdom, the emblematic tree that gives Alentejo its famous charm. This unique tree seduces us as we pass. I don't know if it is because of the charm of the green tones of the leaves, if it is due to the cut texture of the cork, if it is so great and graceful or if it is the incredible branches that twist in a kind of dance with the Sun. It is a personification of nature itself, rude and beautiful ... strong but fragile. As the notable Portuguese forester Vieira Natavidade stated… “no other tree can do so much with so little demand”.
The tinkling of the small bells around the goats' neck caught my attention as I passed by stone walls already invaded by vegetation. It was a small grass house with a corral and a vegetable garden. The floor of this small corral was sprinkled with small leaves, fallen from the cork oak that leaned over it. And two goats, perhaps mother and child, perched on the trunk and staring at the strange figure that watched them from the road.
After passing by the ruins of the Convent of Nossa Senhora do Loreto, the path once composed of dark and humid land, covered with dry leaves and invaded by vegetation, began to give way to something a little different. It then became more sandy and a little drier, yet the cork oaks continued to pile up on its banks. Although the sand was still slightly wet from the rains of the previous week, the wheels were rolling well, had it not been for the spirits of those who followed. Small climbs and descents made my trip pleasant and without great difficulty. It was easy to roll around, entertained by the landscape.
Further ahead, a beautiful valley appears. I couldn't help but stop! I had to contemplate that place so rich in native vegetation. A thousand and one shades of green and brown everywhere. A magical place! The arms of the huge cork trees seemed to embrace themselves over the stone path. As in the life of men, love was like the branches of trees, crossing each other despite the difficulties of life, symbolized by the road that tried to separate them.
After climbing again and passing through open fields where the human presence was noticeable, I arrived at the tiny village of Dry Valley, where as described in the guide he was taking, there was only a small coffee shop with a mini grocery store. I love these small and subtle places!
It was amazing heat! I took off my helmet and let the sweat run down my face. I went into the cafe full of conviction and ordered a cold drink. Sitting in a corner, a couple of hikers with such a friendly face question me for what I do there. When I heard they were Italians, the conversation gave me cloth for mangoes. I don't even remember the freshness of my coke, I only remember the happiness of the mood I felt as we talked about the adventures away from home.
"As in the life of men, love was like the branches of trees, crossing each other despite the difficulties of life ..."
"I will never forget the sparkle in my eyes when the man said he took my hat off for such a feat ..."
This was undoubtedly the driest section of the entire Rota Vicentina, marked by an agricultural and notoriously rural Alentejo. The strong presence of a more Mediterranean climate, with the rain being concentrated in a few months of the year, the poor management of the trees and the attack of fungi and other pests on the cork oak, contribute to the decline of the mount. All of these aspects, positive and negative, will be absorbed as we go on. It is impossible to be indifferent when we have been connected to this land for so long.
Undoubtedly, a wide Alentejo and as far as the eye can see, in a vastness where silence was the greatest force. The bicycle went on without great obstacles. Agile through hundreds of hills and valleys!
One hole, two holes. Of those that all the patches together could not save. Well, it was exactly two air chambers that I had with me. The sky already looked like it was getting late, and I knew there were still a few miles to go. I accepted the fate, mended what I got and calmly managed to put everything in place. And ... I felt good! I felt really good! She was peaceful and happy, confident and free. I gave air to the tires and followed with speed! And I felt strong, even after a whole day of cycling with such heat. Now, the cool breeze at the end of the day gave me the stimulation I needed to stay excited until the end.
The arid landscape was left behind, giving way to something more vibrant. The green returned, as did the wetlands. I started to see the arms of Campilhas reservoir and shortly afterwards he was crossing the great dam along the asphalt.
As he walked south, in a landscape covered with cistus and cork oaks, he could stalk the beautiful dam that had been left behind. Shortly after crossing the bridge over Ribeira de Refróias I started to climb, until finally I could see how little I needed to reach my destination, the village of Cercal. Moments later I was already sitting on a terrace in the center of the village, radiant and hungry, with a coke and an almond tart on the table.
"... One hole, two holes. The ones that all the patches together couldn't save ..."
vicentina routeAlentejo, Portugal
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