Sunday, April 3, 2016

Saturday, April 1, 2016: Estoi to Beja, Portugal

This morning we enjoyed our breakfast outside on the patio of the Pousadas, overlooking the village.  We actually could see the ocean from that location, as we were only 8 kilometers from the ocean. After breakfast, we walked through the upper gardens of the Pousadas once more, before we left.  We drove directly south to the city of Faro.  This is along the southern coast of Portugal. We actually spent most of the day along this coastline before turning inland and driving almost straight north - that is not to say the roads were straight! – they were far from straight! But the direction was almost directly north.
Faro City Gate to Old City

Stork in their nest

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Bell Tower

Old City Wall

We walked around the historic part of Faro, before continuing east along the coastline, stopping at other locations – Olhao, Tavira & Cacela Velha.  In Olhao we walked through the Saturday Market, purchasing some oranges and fresh strawberries, although we could have bought just about everything including the kitchen sink!  All of these coastal village have a harbor, and some have more charm than others. Some have fortress walls, and all have at least one church – depending on the size of the village.  
Olhao Saturday Market




Cacela Velha


Finally at 2:45 pm, we left the southern coast and drove inland on a road near the border to Spain.  This part of Portugal is mountainous. We did see some pine forest agriculture, but the villages were far apart and the area sparsely populated.  We stopped at the village of Alcoutim which is located in Portugal, just across the river from Spain. We climbed to the top of the castle where we had great views of the river valley which is the border between Spain & Portugal. This castle was used as defensive force centuries ago.
Flowers along the road


Spain across the River

We are needing to wander our way back toward Lisbon so we are there by early tomorrow afternoon, so we went toward Mertola.  Here again we climbed to the top of the castle walls.  These castles are all setting at the top of the highest hill in the area.  Many times we talk about how these places were built, in the years they were built – with no modern equipment!  It is unbelievable.
Mertola Castle

Castle Wall

River from the Castle

Mertola Town from the Castle

Mertola Parish of St Mary Among Vineyards

Along the way the past several days, we have seen storks – lots of storks. The young are hatched and large enough that you can usually see their heads sticking out of the large nest.  In one location this afternoon we saw at least 25 nests.  Tonight we Googled regarding Storks so we could learn more about them – such as, what do they eat?  The farmers love them as they eat bugs, beetles and pest that attach crops. The farmers use less pesticides due to having storks near their crops.  Storks also like the marsh areas as they eat small fish, frogs and small snakes. Storks mate for life, and return to the same nest.  Often the young return to the same area as their parents and make a nest near to where they were born. It is not unusual for there to be 3-4 nests on the same building.  They also build on top of electric poles – not sure how they balance that large nest. At one place we saw a series of 10 poles, each having a nest, then one pole may be missed, and there is another series of nests. Storks bring you good luck.  Actually it is a crime to kill a stork or disturb a nest in Portugal.
Flowers among Cork Oak Trees

Wheat among Cork Oak Trees

Yellow Flowers among Cork Oak Trees

Stork Nest on top of Power Line P;oes

We also Googled about cork.  We have seen young groves of cork, and wondered at what point they begin harvesting – they like the tree to be 2 ft in diameter, which is usually about 30 years old.  As I said earlier they do not harvest cork more than every 9 years, but it can be longer than that – it depends on how fast the tree develops it cork bark. Cork Oak tree usually live to be 300 years old. Google if you want to learn more about the process of harvesting and processing cork.   

Later this afternoon, after we were north of the mountains, but still in rolling hills, we began seeing more groves of olive trees, large vineyards of grapes, and huge fields of wheat.

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