Day 2 – Horseflies
Starting Point: Santiago do Cacém
Ending Point: Vila Nova de Milfontes
Today’s Distance: 56 km
Total Distance: 145 km
I left quite early in the morning from Santiago do Cacém but not without a little fanfare. Just as I started coasting down a small hill out of the little town, I hear a burst of applause and see a charming old Portuguese man standing in front of a cafe to my right giving me a lovely round of applause for no apparent reason. Why he was cheering for me? I have no idea, but he seemed quite genuine in his enthusiastic support and started my morning off on such a high note. After leaving my cheering section with a quick, “Bom dia!” / “Good morning!”, I was on my way.
That little boost proved well needed as the riding quickly became more and more difficult. There are different classes of estradas or roads in Portugal and cyclists are only allowed up to the Estradas Nacionais / National Routes. The most direct route to Sines was on an Autoestrada / Highway, well outside the purview of bicycles, so once I got out of Santiago do Cacém I had to find smaller roads. Google Maps and a specialized cycling app called Komoot were helping me find my way but all the roads I chose went from paved, to gravel, to dirt, and eventually to sand. By the end of things I couldn’t even tell if a car had ever been down some of these paths; clearly this was no place for a proud warrior like Shaka. Time and time again I had to dismount my bike and push it through the deep sand and on three separate occasions, dogs ran out and barked menacingly at me with luckily no resulting violence.
After an hour and a half of this abysmal pace, I felt something on my arm and saw what must be the Portuguese equivalent of a horsefly. While a bit smaller than the ones I’m familiar with, this horsefly kept biting me through my shirt and one by one, more of his friends started to join in as well. This was not the easiest morning I’ve ever had riding.
When I finally made it clear of the dirt roads and back on to asphalt again, I was so happy that I wanted to kiss that beautiful, hard, flat blacktop — I’ve done it in the past! I got on my way down a byroad next to the main highway but I worried about another stretch up ahead that would put me back onto the sandy trails like before. Lucky for me, out of nowhere appears another cyclist, a friendly middle-aged Portuguese man. We start talking and I will admit to being a bit proud of how well my simple Portuguese was allowing me to communicate. As it turns out, he was also going towards Sines and happily offered to show me the way.
After only a short while he started to lead us onto the large highway and I noticed the signs that clearly have outlines of a cow, a cart, and a moped, all circled and crossed out. Admittedly bicycles weren’t pictured but it’s common knowledge that they’re also prohibited. My new friend smiled and, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye behind his cycling glasses, said, “Oh, we’re not cows.” As other immigrants living in foreign countries know, breaking even minor rules in your host country is always best to be avoided but since I had a local showing me the way, I felt a bit more justified in throwing some caution to the wind and followed him along.
I arrived in Sines without knowing much about it in advance other than it was known for having a famous statue and that it had a cool profile on the map, confidently poking out from the otherwise relatively smooth coastline. Sines is actually rather industrial but there was a small little touristy area complete with a beach, fort, stone jetty, and an absolute ton of seagulls. The previously mentioned statue is of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer and first European to reach India by sea. After a quick little hike up to the fort, I said my goodbyes to Sines and continued on my way, conscious of the time I had lost earlier in the morning.
Not too much farther down the road I discovered a lovely beach area and restaurant which were both calling my name. Staying committed to my manta of, “Qual é a especialidade aqui?” / “What is the specialty here?” I had a lunch of grilled skate, a member of the ray family. It was a tasty fish, with both its flavor and interesting texture.
With lunch completed, I hopped back on my bike and continued on my way. The ocean looked so beautiful and tempting but the thought of completing the many kilometres I had left to go in wet and salty clothes was enough to keep my dry, appreciating the view from above the rugged shoreline instead. Right before entering Porto Covo, I stumbled across a field of ostriches so of course I had to snag a photo with them.
A quick gelato break in Porto Covo took my memories back to my trip through Italy and honestly was the most satisfying part of my day. Every day should have gelato.
The road to Vila Nova de Milfontes was a long, dry national road that was the perfect flat piece of tarmac I needed to finish my day. Energy was high and the kilometres just melted away along the quality thoroughfare. All in all it was a strong finish on what had previously threatened to be a frustrating day.
A note about cycling footwear: Quite often cyclists will use specialized shoes called with specials clip in them called “cleats” that fasten to the bicycle pedals, allowing for more efficient cycling and giving the rider a better connection to the bike. The two big downsides to cleats are not being able to pedal the bike without clipping in and awkwardly hobbling around like a newborn giraffe in tap shoes when trying to walk in them. For this trip I needed both efficiency and comfort while riding, but also the versatility of wearing normal shoes, luckily, I found a special set of cleats that can also function as normal footwear which are more than adequate for short hikes but still have the specialized attachments to connect securely to the pedals. The pedals themselves can also be flipped upside down and be used as “platform” pedals, like what you would find on most non-specialized bicycles. Days like today really made this decision pay off as I was able to easily hop on and off the bike.