By: MARGARET BROWN
HAVING READ that the Algarve is suffering a ‘weak drought’, I wondered for how long the region must continue without rain for the drought to become cause for concern.
In 2005, it was classed as ‘severe’ and will be remembered for wild fires that ravaged great swathes of countryside, the destruction of homes and the loss of both human and animal life.
The water level of lakes and barragens in our area is shrinking day by day but not through irrigation as many of the small holdings are no longer under cultivation. From time to time, sea birds visit the Barragem da Bravura, especially gulls and Cormorants looking for a change of diet. It is a sad fact that they run the risk of being shot.
While walking among the
foothills between our valley and the Barragem, following a recent hunting day, I found a dead Cormorant lying spread-eagled on the track with a hole in its chest. It was an easy shot because of the straight flight path and slow wing beats this great black fisher bird has.
The wingspan must have been about three feet, the weight considerable when I picked it up to hide it from the dogs. It was a waste of time because next morning much of the body had been eaten, probably by a fox.
From our favourite watering hole in Lagos we are able to watch Cormorants fly down the River Odiáxere and see them dive into the mucky water of the Marina, resurfacing after what seems to be a very long time and usually swallowing a fish.
A while ago, on November 13, a frigate of the Portuguese Navy sailed into Lagos Bay and dropped anchor. A squad of sailors and marines came ashore and were formed up each side of the statue of Henry the Navigator. From there a red carpet led to a line of dignitaries and a man bearing the flag of the royal house of Aviz.
This brief dynasty was founded by O Navigador’s father King John the First,,a noted voyager who died in 1433AD. Six buglers blew a commemorative Call after which the Câmara President spoke of Henry and his legacy.
A sponsor of many voyages of exploration from his Vila de Infante on the Sagres Peninsular, he also directed and encouraged the design and building of the Caravel. This vessel was able to sail further and with greater speed than any other ship at that time, a replica of which may be seen tied up in the river at Lagos.
Many natives were transported from the coast of Africa in their capacious holds, landed in Lagos and sold in the slave market there. Henry died in 1460AD when he was 66 years old.
So much for a snippet of historical happenings in the western area of the Algarve, the region being rich in archaeological relics from the Neolithic period up through the centuries; whether artefacts from the present century survive another thousand years remains to be seen.
There is a distinct absence of holidaymakers at the time of writing, streets and restaurants quiet and the main traffic routes less hazardous than usual. At the same time, the police are more in evidence.
A proliferation of check points and Brigada de Trânsito cars may go a little way to reducing the number of accidents and this year’s rise in fatalities, and the short drive on the main road from home to Lagos has its debris updated on a regular basis.
Skid marks, broken glass and body parts of cars decorate the tarmac and verges, with an occasional road sign bent or lying forlorn between the carriageways. Most noticeable is the difficulty ambulances have when speeding to or from an incident.
Many motorists appear blind and deaf when an emergency vehicle comes up behind with blue lights flashing and sirens sounding. They fail to pull on to the hard shoulder and if they do, they rejoin the stream of traffic in a dangerous manner.
A spot to be avoided at the end of a working day has to be the roundabout at the Portimão end of the Avenida on which there is a water sculpture of a Caravel. Joining the maelstrom of speeding vans and cars is rather like steering a boat across a flooded river full of logs, to emerge unscathed by luck rather than driving expertise.
Leaving the Estrada 125, having crawled through Odiáxere on a sparkling carpet of broken glass, the quiet country lanes are balm to the soul. As dusk falls, Cattle Egrets are just visible dibbing out the last of their supper before flying off to roost, a stand of maize sown late in the year rustles dryly having ripened in the unseasonably warm back end and the cobs are ready to harvest.
At sundown, as the ground gives back its warmth and dew begins to form, the signature perfume of the Algarve hangs in the damp air. The scent of wild herbs, eucalyptus and citrus trees bearing ripening winter fruit as well as the newly opened blossoms of next year’s crop fills the car.
If the forecast of rain in the near future is accurate, it will not come a moment too soon for anxious farmers waiting to seed their dusty fields. Sown too dry and the ants and birds will have the lot, the grain unable to sprout through lack of moisture.