We were feeling fairly acclimatised by now and decided to explore further up the coast to the North. We headed for Oxedica - the guide books said there were some good waves on this part of the coast. We drove for about two hours and went down every dirt track conceivable but drew a blank. A few spots had rideable waves but nothing that made us screech to a halt and don wetsuits.
The coast became more and more rugged as we drove on and virtually inaccessible as the surf pounded the coast below. By this stage we needed a surf so headed back to our local beach. Despite the wind, Borderia still produced the goods and delivered one or two beatings on the inside! The surf was deceptively heavy and a bad duckdive meant you were dragged back inside and dumped unceremoniously onto the beach.
The waves were lovely and clean on Thursday, reaching double overhead on the reefs North of Monte Clerigo with a strong NW wind blowing. No-one was surfing and we don't even know if these waves were accessible due to the cliffs but it looked big and perfect. We were all feeling pretty ill at this stage with a stinking cold courtesy of Rob, so decided to take the day off. We explored various tracks in National Park areas and ended the day watching a local guy struggle at Arrifana, wondering if we could do any better...
Our last day arrived and we woke early as planned, to pack up camp and try and surf the south coast with plenty of time to kill. The previous night had involved drinking the local "Medronho" or "Firewater" distilled from the fruit of the strawberry tree. It didn't really taste of much but burnt the lungs and stomach!
Aran had opted for the safer option as he "never had hangovers from Vodka"...Unfortunately for him, he hadn't allowed for the Portuguese measures which they free poured with gusto - "Obrigade!" (Thanks!)
Each round saw him walking away with the equivalent of four shots and not much room for a mixer. We put the world to rights that night and no topic was left untouched, needless to say, Aran was in bad shape the following morning! It took an extraordinary effort on our part, just to get him up off the tent floor and into the car so he could feel ill elsewhere. The heavens opened up and Rob and I were drenched as we spent the next two hours packing up camp. Trying to fold up a 5 man tent in heavy rain and mud isn't much fun.
As we drove off towards Sagres, I wasn't really relishing the idea of going for a surf and putting my wet clothes back on...The South Coast has some amazing surf spots but this trip we hadn't really experienced them.
We'd surfed a low tide Tonel and encountered a rather mean shorebreak. At first glance it had only looked to be about 4ft. I'd mentioned half jokingly that we were going to be punished and that it was bigger than it looked...
The first few small waves came through and then the first set appeared. I was lucky to escape as a solid 6 foot+ set appeared from nowhere, breaking in about 2ft of water! I scratched my way over every wave, narrowly making each one. Aran had legged it up the beach by this point, much to our amusement! After a brief lull, Rob and I decided to join him. This wave was a definite board snapper and it simply wasn't worth the risk. We got back in the car and checked Beliche, about 5 mins down the coast.
Beliche was tiny, probably two foot and already had four or five guys already struggling to surf it. On it's day it's meant to be a regional classic but it was hard to imagine at this size. Sagres is the official birth place of Christopher Columbus and a very strange town to boot!
It's best described as a kind of half finished seaside resort with lots of unfriendly shop keepers and the exact oppposite of what we'd experienced only an hour up the coast.
Smack, bang in the centre of town is a spot called Mareta. We'd checked it two days previously and it had resembled a lake. Today it resembled Broadhaven in Pembs - a full on, sand churning barrel fest, breaking in a couple of feet of water. Some of the sets on the far left were a solid six feet and looked extremely gnarly. The main peak here is a hollow 'A frame' wedge that barrels right and left. We opted for the next peak along as there were some nice rights coming off it and I managed to snag a few waves.
The take off was stupidly fast and super hollow, leaving you with about a millisecond to either pull in or straighten out and take the lip's punishment. I made a few and was flattened by others but my board remained intact! By mid morning the place had filled up.
We ate breakfast in a little beachside cafe and watched the local surfers fighting it out for the best position. The far right had definite potential at low tide and that's one spot I'll definitely be going back to check one day. The clock was ticking and we had a plane to catch.
Somebody had once told me that the Portuguese were crazy drivers. Until now I'd not really seen anything to back up this claim but as we neared Faro the maniac's must've heard we were coming! Driving on your rear bumper at 90mph in heavy rain, flashing their lights at you, it as if we were extras in a Hollywood car chase. The nearer to the city we got, the more aggressive they became and not knowing where we were going to didn't really help - the hire car returns depot isn't at the airport for some reason!
A few things sums up Portugal in my mind...people, power and nature. I couldn't manage three P's! The locals were all super friendly - I was only run over once in the surf and got my own back on the culprit on the very next wave, much to his amusement.
As we both paddled back out and exchanged glances, I said "1-1" in my best Portuguese and he paddled away chuckling. The waves definitely have some punch to them especially the beach breaks. Often hollow and breaking in very shallow water, I'd imagine plenty of boards get snapped over there.
We saw Storks nesting, African Cranes, birds galore and the sea was brimming with life - every man and his dog owns a fishing rod over there! The weather for the whole of the trip was superb, mid 20's, possibly higher on some days and blue skies. It only rained once, on our last day when we had to pack up the tent!
My one top tip for the first timer would be - don't buy raw fish from restaurants. We paid 35 Euros(about £26) for three Sea Bream - it would've been cheaper if we'd eaten them in the restaurant!
After further delays at Faro airport and about 4 hrs late, we landed to news of heavy snow in Bristol...It was 1.30am.
View the Portugal slideshow