Via Algarviana – Rota Vicentina – Rota do Pescador
Day 1 – Aljezur – Odeceixe (18 km)
On this first day of April, the sky is as I know it in April: unsettled. For the last two weeks, I’ve been walking the 250 kilometres along the Via Algarviana, with little more than a sense of the Atlantic in the near distance. Now I can raise my nose into the wind, smelling salt and all sorts of colourful things by the wayside. The lines on the paper of my map indicate a further 350 kilometres, which I welcome with a whistle at the castle in Aljezur: Only where you have been to on foot, have you really been. I believe humans to be walkers from birth on. Even if they don’t follow a hiking trail in the traditional sense, they wander throughout their lives through space and experience. What do they look for along the way? No, I’m not seeking a dream – even if I could have kissed many a bathing frog by the wayside. Rather, I’m looking for something “simple”, something apparently “normal”, which I do every day and which is so much easier for me to do when I can be in natural surroundings and can walk through them: reality, “what is”. My thoughts become clearer with every new step, and the sky slowly opens over the beach at Amoreira.The windmill stands high on the hill in Odeceixe and I can say: that is really wonderful – I need do nothing other than be there.
Day 2 – Odeceixe – São Teotónio (17 km)
Today I’m accompanied by the call of a cuckoo and a line of yellow butterflies on the way from Odeceixe to São Teotónio. Those are the only constant features that I will witness in the diversity of this stretch. The streams allow the vegetation to give its creativity free rein. My creativity is also fostered as I try to cross numerous large puddles. As I wade in this way through what feels like a jungle, I come to a plateau after a short ascent, where the surrounding area widens out and I notice the smell of eucalyptus. Lost in thought, I skip absolutely alone through the woods and lose my sense of space and time. My senses become lost in the smells, the colours, the taste of the air and the noises of the wind and the birds. I am in a kind of trance, as if out of my mind, when a sheep appears in my field of vision accompanied by a flock of countless other sheep. Up to that point, the romanticism of the moment could almost have moved me to tears, but the ecstatic flock is in turmoil. I climb up onto the branch of a cork oak to allow the flock to pass. Once the calm has returned, the sun is just right for a short nap, which I allow myself before walking into the sleepy village of São Teotónio. Getting up, walking, eating, sleeping. The essential things. It’s good – simply to be simple for once.
As you walk, you leave the past behind you with every step. And some things, you notice, you always carry with you. When the bells ring on this Sunday and I slurp my coffee in the square in front of the church, I am all of a sudden back there where I grew up: in a village. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, it is worth spending some time in one place so that you can observe the setting calmly. Although I don’t speak the language of the people who live here, a Sunday in the village square has something of the déjà vu about it for me. And so, on this day, I take the opportunity to run through the course of my childhood once again in my mind’s eye.
Leaving the village street, I’m suddenly standing in the field that, from now on, extends before me in bright colours for the next 20 kilometres. It remains Sunday all day long. Although, as on every hiking day, my choice of clothes is limited to one pair of trousers and one t-shirt (I prefer to travel very light) and even though my boots aren’t exactly clean, I still feel decidedly bourgeois as I walk effortlessly along the foot-friendly paths. It’s sometimes not completely straightforward, but there are no major ascents and consequently no descents either. Everything “quite normal” today – somehow that also reminds me of my native country. If the Mira river is not to my right, it’s to my left. That too is as it used to be: babbling and birdsong provided the Sunday soundscape. In the municipal capital Odemira, I look in vain for the residents… I conclude from the powerful sunshine that they’re probably sheltering in the shade somewhere. I do the same in the church. The pews are just as hard as I remember them many years ago. I stay sitting there for a whole hour, bolt upright and just as relaxed as I am familiar with from church. I’m happy: a Sunday like this is really something special!
Day 4 – Odemira – São Luís (25 km)
Some days are like that. And this is one of them: it walks. In other words: I walk in such a way as if I wasn’t walking at all, as if something was walking me. Does this sound cryptic? It’s magical!I leave Odemira in the early morning. The weather in the south has taught me this: the heat reaches a point when it’s better to put your feet up than to have them bear your own body weight. I’m quickly enveloped in a mystical feeling that continues as far as São Luís. Today, the virtuoso range of plant and animal life rocks me into that fairy-tale state of “being walked”. I can abandon myself completely to the spectacle of images and places. The music from the stream allows me to immerse myself completely in the expanse of being, when all of a sudden … something happens. That too is something that many a hiker will be familiar with, but may not admit to easily. That something is mostly felt to be disturbing. It’s also known as pain.
I’ve known this phenomenon all my life and have the chance to explore it again on every (long-distance) hike. Blisters. I have learnt not to let pain overpower me, but just to have a pain. The difference makes the pain easier for me. I also allow myself the freedom to decide: do I want to suffer or not? Mostly, I say no and allow myself to feel the pain (there’s mostly no alternative), but I don’t suffer. I go with it, and at some point I mostly go through it to something new. And so, painfully, but full of heart, I walk through the gardens of São Luís. As I do so, I’m completely embedded in nature: pain is part of that too.
Day 5 – São Luís – Cercal do Alentejo (21 km)
The days grow longer again. At seven o’clock in this part of the world, people are not sipping their third cup of coffee like in Berlin. And so I leave São Luís behind me very quietly, or rather São Luís lets me go quietly. A hiker studies the map, and today it shows me the highest hill in the region. I hesitate about whether I want to add the 329-metre climb to my list of ascents, when my hiker’s heart pounds and cries out: a hill is a hill! Yes, that’s how it is with hills. And what do you normally do when you go up a hill? Precisely! Afterwards, you go down it again. Yes, it’s actually that simple with hills! And, in between, you’re allowed to celebrate the peak, or something higher, or yourself – or all of those together. The morning sun shines into my face as it peeks over of the heights of the serra towards the sea and in that moment I celebrate simple reality. There is nothing to achieve other than the next step. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started” (Mark Twain). And we learn early in our lives to take one step after the other. Since humans first stood upright on their feet, this has been the simplest and most natural form of movement: walking. When I’m walking, I experience reality, simplicity and naturalness – and I do so with every step. I imagine that, if I experience this deliberately, then my cells will memorise it so that, when I slalom through the Berlin rush-hour traffic at seven in the morning, I will be able to do so with a real, simple and natural feeling.
Day 6 – Cercal de Alentejo – Vale Seco (23 km)
While my feet hurt, my soul gains wings. In the meadows around Cercal, the morning dew elicits all the harmony from the leaves of the cereal crops and grass. Walking through nature and marvelling at it lets me share in it. I feel connected, feel myself to be part of it – to be natural. A tarred road crossing the expanse of pasture feels like a tank in a child’s room. It (almost) hurts. Is it not the nature of all things to strive for growth? We humans also strive for growth. But the question is: how far do we apply this to the natural surroundings on which our lives depend? As my eyes look across the meadows and come to a halt at the asphalt road, I wonder what it would be like if nature could talk to us. A cloud drifts past. It drifts past in the same way as my thoughts. Which thoughts I choose to follow, that is freedom. And which thoughts I implement, that too is my freedom. I watch the birds, listen to the wind. In this way, I spend the day walking through nature. I let thoughts in myself grow, which doesn’t match the nature of my everyday life… What do I still want to make grow in this life?
Day 7 – Vale Seco – Santiago do Cacém (18 km)
Today, I complete the final part of the historic path in Santiago de Cacém. Some hikers start their walk there, others end it there; and yet others take a different route. That is what is so nice about this hiking trail: you can design your route creatively, depending on your own fitness and mood. The hinterland preserves the silence of a time that seems to have stood still and the coast follows the law of ebb and flow in its movement. For once, I will do this stretch of the route differently: nothing to eat, before, during and after walking. Eating – a pleasure, sometimes a must and sometimes pure habit. I have made a habit of breaking with habits, in order to discover when something that I normally do is really essential when looked at closely. With this in mind, I sometimes do something differently. I go away sometimes. I drink oat milk rather than cow’s milk. I sometimes try to shop without any plastic waste. If I discover after the experiment that my habit makes sense (for me and more than just for me) then I’m happy to return to my habit. If I discover that something different makes more sense, then I set myself the challenge of adapting my habit so that it makes more sense. Although I don’t build tarred roads in my day-to-day life, as a consumer I also take something from nature. It therefore made complete sense for me to look for the sense in my food purchasing habits. I walk like a tortoise through time and, if the sun had not set, I would have forgotten time. When you’re walking, you have so much time to think about so many different things. I’m not surprised that the bus to Porto Covo only passes once a day. I am almost relieved. At home, the trains on the underground come every two minutes.
Day 8 – Porto Covo – Vila Nova de Milfontes (20 km)
I’m feeling stiff. Not in my legs. It’s my face that feels stiff. For six hours, the corners of my mouth stretched as far as my ears. The only times when my mouth is able to form something other than a smile is the audible expression of “Oh, my God!”. At seven o’clock, the dunes of Porto Covo lie bathed in the pinkish red colours of the Atlantic. The roar of the waves, seagulls and nothing more than this glow. I continue to hold back. One minute after the next. I feel something overpowering. Would I dare? A confession of love is – probably depending on your experience – a challenging step. You have to take the risk if you want to be honest. Oh whatever, I say to myself: the main thing is to live! So I took a run-up and … screamed: “How wonderful! I love life!” It was worth it. The sea, big and strong, copes with the fact that I declare my love – it evens copes with the fact that I scream. That is not a matter of course. On this day, there are more walkers coming towards me than in the whole of the previous week. There’s enough room for everyone. I am like a child who is surprised by everything they see, running around freely to express this joy! Being honest is fun! Being honest with yourself and with others. And… honest? How often do we honestly say what we are thinking? And how often do we tell others honestly what we like about them?
Day 9 – Vila Nova de Milfontes – Almograve (15 km)
When you’re walking, it’s less important which day of the week it is than normally. But today it’s the weekend and I’m being visited by a good friend and his dog. I always appreciate seeing a familiar face and sharing ideas with someone I know and who knows me, even though I lack nothing in nature. He received me in Vila Nova de Milfontes the evening before with a glass of wine and in the morning we stroll through the market hall, stocking up with fresh fruit and vegetables. While I have to study the labels in Berlin to check that the potatoes don’t come from China, here behind a market stall, there is no question about the regional origins of the produce. That’s something I value. Together we look towards the glimmering sea. Two hiking friends out and about. And that’s something else I value. Because walking together with someone is not a matter of course. If you can walk alongside each other over long distances, if you can understand each other and argue, in silence, gossiping or philosophising… and if you also notice that each of you can walk at their pace as they wish, and each can be as they wish … and if you then can appreciate each other in this way of being and acting: then that must be one of the special treasures of this world: a good friend.
Day 10 – Almograve – Zambujeira do Mar (18 km)
To celebrate the day, today’s tour starts next to a sewage works. So the day can only get better. The enchantment of the first curves around the beach provides an open view over a sandy, Mars-like landscape. Trudging through the sand is accompanied and eased by a stormy wind. With a sense of awe, I peer down over the cliffs and marvel at the power of the waves. The Cabo Sardão lighthouse stands ornamentally halfway along the stretch at a visible distance. Once I have left the lighthouse behind me, I put some Berlin music on my headphones and from then on my pace becomes brisker. The path into Zambujeira is easy to walk and reminds me of the long track where I go running in Berlin. It feels good again. With six kilos of luggage on my back, the fast pace is like being on home territory. Once I’ve arrived in Zambujeira do Mar, I undertake my (sole) daily task: washing. First of all, I immerse myself in the Atlantic, and then my only shirt. Once I’ve decided I’m clean, I reconnoitre the streets and end the day like the Little Prince: with a sunset.
Day 11 Zambujeira do Mar – Odeceixe (22 km)
Breathing in is followed by breathing out. Today, a faster pace is followed by deceleration. Breathe in – a step with the right foot. Breathe out – roll onto the ball of your foot. Breathe in – a step with the left foot. Breathe out … sometimes I move a bit to the right, sometimes to the left, always forwards. Looking behind me, I change my viewpoint. The view ahead can only be guessed at. The only certainty is what I can see at the moment. And that changes with every step. If you’re used to the pace of a car, or the pace of a city, it is difficult to believe that the environment changes with every small step. If you adapt, in other words if you walk at the natural human pace, it is easy to witness this permanent process of change. What you see is new at every moment. Even when you haven’t done anything – except for taking your next breath. A phenomenon. For a Buddhist, the normal reality. For me, it sometimes still combines fascination and surprise at the same time: one wonder follows on the heels of the next. Somehow familiar and yet new, time and again. One step after the next. I feel very close to nature. As if I’ve arrived, although I am moving.
Day 12 – Aljezur – Arrifana (22 km)
The deceleration has an even greater effect today. I was moving as if in slow motion. And today, at such a pace, I can look very closely at what I encounter. Thanks to the monotonous asphalt, the first part of the route allows me to explore my mental landscape. Then, once I spot the relief of the coast at low tide, my soul spreads its wings and flies through the external landscape. A paraglider appears alongside me, I’m just listening to “Le vent nous portera” by Noir Désir … synchronicity. I know: I am right. Where I am, I am right, and the way that I am, I am right. When the external and the internal coincide in this way – then all that is left is this simple conclusion: everything is good and right as it is. I go through the day finding sense in everything.
Day 13 – Arrifana – Carrapateira (25 km)
If you discover a passion, then there is no more natural feeling than to do precisely the things you are dying to do. If you are passionate about something, it requires suffering (in the sense of the effort of devoting your time and concentration to it) and for this you create something. I believe that people wish to find meaning in their lives. I believe they do so when they create those things in which they find meaning or about which they are passionate. For me, one passion is movement. Be it walking for the whole day through nature or doing yoga on a mat measuring about a square metre. I believe that it is worth doing the movement that moves you deep inside. For me, life means movement. Even when you are apparently standing still, your body is still moving. It’s part of our nature to move. I also believe that it is also part of our nature not only to move ourselves, but also to move something (i.e. to make something happen) in life. Moving myself deliberately over kilometres or on one square metre helps me to connect with what is real and with what is really important. Movement allows my body to be healthy and to focus my constantly wandering mind. If I move myself, I can experience calm, centredness, originalness, authenticity, naturalness and clarity. What you have gained for yourself, you can give out to the world. And so I walk emotionally amid the cistus plants and allow my thoughts to run free about how I can pass this passion for movement, to which I devote my free time, on to the wider world.
Day 14 – Carrapateira – Vila do Bispo (18 km)
A bright yellow can be seen everywhere on the hills. The beams of morning sunshine and the blue of the sky… it is… what I think is known as… perfect. The picture is complete. As if the whole of nature was concentrating on being perfect. I am moved by this perfection and adapt my pace carefully as if I was stepping through a holy temple. How often do we humans think that something is not right? That we ourselves, others or something are not enough? Nature knows nothing like this. Everything has its place there. Its correct place. You would never think that a bush or a flower or a hill might look better if it was a bit further to the right or left. Everything looks different in each season. Everything unfolds at its proper time, everything at its own pace and everything, without doubt, completely right…
I’ve now been in Portugal for four weeks. I usually like to take a bit more time to discover something new. Every day here, I see something that I’ve never seen before. I think this is something people refer to as “spring”. I walk in a zigzag. It is Easter. I don’t find any eggs, but make up for that with lots of new colourful flowers. It reminds me of something…: being able to marvel at something, being able to admire something, being able to see wonders. Yes, that’s fun. And so I admire nature in its power and joy of expressing itself – free of fear. What would the world look like if we humans felt good enough? Can we perhaps learn that from nature?
I’m quite excited. That’s because I’m going to reach my goal today. Even if I walked, in colloquial terms, according to the motto the path is the goal, I would still reach a point today where the path comes to an end, according to the map. That point is Cabo de São Vicente, the most south-westerly point in Europe. And so I couldn’t walk beyond that point, could I? Was that the case? Do you reach a goal, have you then arrived and can go no further? Reaching a goal sounds great, as if you have achieved something and then can rest for ever and ever. A saying came into my head: Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water. Between the before and the after there is the now. You probably chop wood and carry water there too. So, did I chop wood and carry water before my hike, did I do so during it and would I do the same afterwards?
Reaching something signifies “going one’s way”, “coming close to something”, “going a long way” or even “making progress”. And so reaching something is not equivalent to a state of standing still. We reach a goal, and then we go further. For two weeks, I have seen nothing beyond what I could see with my own eyes – that was something I always achieved. I delight in the clear view at the cape. And so, is there nothing more after that? Oh but there is! We can achieve a great deal in life – above all, something that we can ourselves see and can see why we set off on a journey. I had arrived – I was on my way.
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