When it comes to traveling, I prefer to spend my time walking to “the ends of the earth." If there is a big hill - I must climb to the absolute top; if I find a huge beach (like in Faro) - I must walk the entire thing; or if I find a long pier - I must see what it looks like from the end. Much to the detriment of friends and fellow traveling companions, I go out of my way to avoid taking public transportation wherever possible and opt for the 2+ hour uphill hike instead of paying the measly 1.5 $/€/£ for the bus simply for the feeling of accomplishment.
“So you’re cheap?”
It’s pronounced "frugal"… and that’s not the point.
Ever since I made my travel plans public, people have ask why I chose Portugal and Japan as the endpoints of my journey. Many think it was the result of a well thought out decision process, but in reality my choice was arbitrary and stems from this same unconscious desire to reach the ends of the earth. Much like many of the beaches I’ve walked before, I felt it was only logical that I should start from one end of the Eurasian continent - Portugal - and then simply trek to the complete other side - Japan
And before you comment, yes, I am aware Japan is an island… remember the decision was arbitrary.
Now that I find myself in Portugal, I needed to somehow get to the furthest corner of this country - the closets point to my home back in the US and the "official" opposite side of the world from my final destination.
This tiny beach city is located at the very edge of Portugal about one hour away from Lagos and costs €15 for a round trip bus ticket. The city was even quieter than Faro and seems to be far more dependent on tourists. As the high season had not yet started, the entire city felt like a ghost town.
As I meandered through the city streets, I could clearly tell which establishments the locals frequented and which ones the tourists flocked to. The former consisted of old, dilapidated bars where only Portuguese was spoken, while the latter was comprised of modernized restaurants complete with comfortable patios and the standard issue chalkboards containing the “Menu do Dia” posted outside. I lost interest in the town rather quickly and hoped that perhaps later in the day there would be more activity.
I had no such luck…
The lack of excitement in town didn’t disappoint me much, my primary reason for trekking to this little corner of the world was to stand on the edge of Europe and gaze upon the vast, endless expanse of sea. There are two main peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic Ocean from Sagres: Cabo de São Vicente to the West and Ponta de Sagres on the East. Flanking the Ponta de Sagres peninsula are two amazing beaches, Praia do Beliche on the West and Praia do Mareta on the East.
Today my goal was to reach the tip of Ponta de Sagres.
At first glance, the trek from the town center to the end of the peninsula felt immensely intimidating. The land mass is so far away it gives the illusion of being painted on an imaginary wall far off in the distance - much like you would see in old video games. When I finally left the city, I had a completely unobstructed view for miles in every direction and immediately I had a very deep appreciation for the sheer distance I would have to traverse just to make it to the end.
The trek took me approximately an hour and a half to complete, but thanks to the strong breeze, the walk was immensely enjoyable and I could hardly tell it was 85ºF outside. I couldn’t help but smile as I took in the wondrously beautiful day - the sun was out an shining, a cool breeze filled the air, no humidity, and not a single cloud in the sky! My entire walk was quiet and relaxing, there wasn’t a single boat in the harbor and all the other tourists chose to take the bus out to the peninsula instead of walking. It was just me and the mesmerizing landscape.
Halfway down the Ponta de Sagres there is a large fortification called the Fortaleza de Sagres that spans the width of the peninsula and blocks tourists from reaching the very end of the headland. This simple, yet imposing citadel was originally constructed to defend the city and protect the two adjacent beaches. The complex boasts a vast array of cannon batteries that line the East and West sides of the peninsula. During an attack, these cannons would work in tandem with others located on Cabo de São Vicente and mainland Sagres to create a deadly crossfire for any would-be invaders.
Nowadays, this antiquated stronghold serves as a glorified tollbooth for tourists wanting to walk the end of the peninsula.
…how the mighty have fallen.
The peninsula's harsh landscape was remarkably unforgiving and contrasted starkly with the beautiful deep blue and emerald green water which lied just over the cliff. The desolate environment allowed for only some sparse vegetation and no plant ever grew more than two feet off the ground. There wasn’t anything to block the wind this far from the mainland, so anything taller than a few feet would be toppled over within hours by the strong, almost overbearing gusts that perpetually battered the peninsula.
As a result of this never-ending torrent of cold air, I began shivering midway through the day even though it was +80ºF, sunny, and I was wearing long pants and shoes. The multitude of birds that circled overhead showed clear signs of struggle as they attempted to contend with the unyielding wind. Each one shook erratically as they soared in the air and would periodically nosedive or ascend straight up depending on how their wings caught the wind.
As I walked further down the headland, I could see Cabo de São Vicente off in the distance. The enormous desolate landmass appeared to reach out into the ocean like giant tentacle looking for something. The peninsula was adorned with a single lighthouse situated at the southernmost point to help guide sailors as they navigated around this corner of Europe. While the tower is quite large in person, it pales in comparison to the domineering landscape it inhabits. From Ponta de Sagres, the structure appeares only as a tiny white dot off in the distance.
There is something immensely enthralling about walking to the very edge of civilization that never fails to excite me. Perhaps it is the knowledge that earlier generations must have gazed upon the endless expanse of glimmering cyan water under the cobalt blue sky and knew this really was the edge of human existence. While it is common knowledge that the earth is not flat, from my vantage point at the end of the Ponta de Sagres I can understand why people thought such things - it seems like a completely rational idea when you are standing at the edge of the known world.
For thousands of years people must have looked out over this same coast line completely unaware of why lies beyond the horizon. As I stood there, I tried to imagine what it must have felt to be one of these people and the thought sent a shiver down my spine. The feeling coupled with the vast, deserted expanse of water, sky, and earth in every direction really drove home the point how minute and insignificant I really am in the greater scheme of things.
Perhaps my strong desire to venture to the “ends of the earth” is simply a need to put things in perspective, reflect, and appreciate this fascinating world we live in. Either way I can’t ever seem to get enough. Now that I’ve reached the corner of Europe, I will spend the next 12 months making my way to the other side of the world. Japan has never felt further away...
But until, one small step at a time… next up, Lisbon!