Thursday, September 11, 2008

Infante's Sagres

I think Portuguese is a beautiful language; there are soft endings to words that sound so harsh otherwise. Sagres is one of those. To an English speaker it has a clipped, blunt sound. When the Portuguese pronounce a word with a trailing S like Sagres, or Lagos, they sound like Sahgresh and Lahgosh, like a breeze. Ever since I saw the Portuguese ship Sagres sail into Newport harbor with it's beautiful crossed sails, I knew I wanted to visit the town. We were a short ride away.

Wednesday - September 10th 2008 - Luz

Another beautiful day in paradise. The slight rise that our villa is on provides a peaceful view to the ocean and the adjacent hills to our east. That view out our patio doors is somewhat obscured by another beautiful view, laundry drying. In the kitchen of our home is a combination clothes washer/dryer, about the same size as our dishwasher back home. We had no idea how to use it, and like the on-demand gas hot water heater we were intrigued by our lack of knowledge. (Perhaps we should have let grandma explain some of the basics to us after all, instead of shooing her out yesterday). We quickly managed to light the little heater after she left and were surprised and pleased with the continuous hot water it produced. It made me wonder why I was constantly heating and storing 200 gals of water in our garage. The washer/dryer was another story. One washer versus four fairly intelligent adults and after an hour of fiddling it yielded it secrets as well. We had clean clothes; we were rich. I'm still not sure it's prudent to combine a sloshing water device with an electric hair dryer type device.

While the clothes dried outside (why waste the energy with the dryer, plus we couldn't figure that part out), and Rich did some Internet stuff, Lu, Kat and I drove west toward Sagres and Cape Vincent the southwestern tip of Europe where in the 15th century it was believed the world really did end. Could have been true today.

It was windy, and foggy, and we were as cold as we had been since last winter. We stayed long enough to look through the gates of the closed lighthouse complex and have our picture taken by a fellow traveler, then we were out of there. We felt unfulfilled by our land's end experience, without the jolt that comes from seeing something really cool and locking the memory away to savor later.

Infante derives from infant, or child, however in Portugal it came to mean Prince, as the title given to the child of the king. In this part of the country there was only one Infante, and that was Henry (also known as "the Navigator"). His name is revered, and you know you are getting into Infante country when you see his profile on the highway signs, and his name on churches, schools and streets. He had a navigation school on Cape Sagres and that is where we headed. This was more like it.
The setting is spectacular, the sun was beating down on us, the ticket was half price, there was a great view of lands end, and you could make out the huge compass rose on the ground that he used as a teaching aid for future caravel drivers. (You can see the compass rose on Google Maps, it's pretty big.) We walked out to the lighthouse and stood what I thought was a little too close to the shear drop off at this end of the world. The ladies are more daring than I and wanted a picture of them "on the edge." We got the jolt here that we missed on Cabo St. Vincent.

Returning to Quinta da Luz, we picked up Rich and headed to Lagos, a short drive to the east of Luz. It's a pretty small town, with a train terminal, an old slave market and what is rumoured to be the most beautiful view of the coastline in the Algarve. Rich was full of news and plans. We like that. He and Lucy were as booked as you can be on a military flight from Rota, Spain to Las Vegas tomorrow. The logistics of making these arrangements is too complicated to describe, and for someone not involved not really all that interesting. However, he delights in the minutiae of when they had to physically be at the terminal (Showtime or show time), who can get bumped, what if it's cancelled, and on, and on, and on. My mind clicked off when he told me that we had to get him to the base by 12:45 tomorrow afternoon - not a minute later. All I needed to know. We can do that. The other news was that the four desperadoes were on the train south from Porto and would arrive in Lagos tonight about 9:30 and would like a ride to the villa. We were looking forward to that as we miss their faces.

We found the train terminal so that we wouldn't have to search for it tonight in the dark, then headed into the center of the city for lunch. We ate at an uninspired little place (there seemed to be a lot of them) along restaurant row, then headed down to the old slave market turned art gallery. (We had read that this was the first place African slaves were sold, back in 1441. They don't publicise it and it's creepy to think what went on there.)

About 2 kms. from the center is the Ponta da Piedade (Piety Point), overlooking the bay and beaches of Lagos. From the parking lot you follow a dirt path that leads to a plateau with a spectacular view. About 70 feet below small boats are available with guides who will take you around the outcroppings and into the grottoes. The water is a compilation of deep blue and vivid green patches. It looks great and Lu and Kat decided to descend the stairway and explore. Rich and I looked on from above, happy with our decision as we heard the boat people try every way imaginable to sell their tours to our wives. It was worth the price of admission.

The afternoon dwindled away as we headed back to Luz stopping at Cafe Jasmim and the British market for another round of fresh bread and beer. On our driveway road there are huge fig trees so we stopped the car and and picked a few for dinner. As we were picking we were eating. The only comparison I can make to the burst of flavor when I bit into one of those freshly picked figs was a similar experience in New Hampshire when it was a just picked macintosh apple. Intense.

After dinner and a cigar, Rich and I headed to the train station in Lagos. We were so pleased to see Matt, Sarah, Maria and Zach descend the stairs of one of the cars. They looked tired from what must have been about 8 hours of train travel (check out a map of Portugal and you will see it is a long way from Porto in the north to Lagos on the south coast). I'm not sure they would make that train trip again. We shared stories about the villa, the caretakers and Alexandra's secrecy as we made our way back to the villa. The four old people would head off to Rota, Spain tomorrow morning early (probably before the young people awoke), then Kat and I would return to Luz later in the week. We could communicate via email in case something went really wrong. They had no plans, but we imagined it would be rest, relaxation and the beach.

For us the immediate future did not hold that promise.

No comments: