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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Surf on someone else’s Turf. Hiking the Rota Vicentina

Moinhos do Paneiro by Frisia Coast Trail
Moinhos do Paneiro by Hans Faber

Boxing Day 2022. The Frisian bastard woke up in the small village of Aljezur in the southwest of Portugal. It was day ten for him hiking the Rota Vicentina and still three days to go. Just like the Frisia Coast Trail, the Rota Vicentina is a coastal path too. A short day today. Only 15 kilometers to Arrifana. The bastard stayed in a hotel with the same name of the trail: Hotel Vicentina. An bit outdated place of the ‘70s but its staff had been very welcoming when he arrived yesterday.

In the sterile breakfast area the bastard and one other hotel guest were placed at tables looking toward the closed pool outside. The other guest was a man of older age. The girl waiting on them asked the older man what he would like to have. “The same procedure as every year,” he replied in a loud and heavy German or Austrian accent. “Do you know this?” he continued. “No,” the girl answered with an expression hoping he would let it rest. Then the man started to explain the whole sketch Der 90. Geburtstag (also: Dinner for one) just as well. Without any expression, the girl said she was indeed familiar with it. Quickly she continued: “So, with scrambled eggs again then?” “No. No eggs today,” the man replied. The bastard suppressed the urge to throw the man into the empty pool. Or was this procedure repeating itself every morning in this hotel? It was Christmas time anyway. Peace.

near Almograve by Frisia Coast Trail
near Almograve by Hans Faber

The Rota Vicentina runs from the town of Santiago do Cacém to Cabo São Vicente, which is the outermost southwestern tip of Portugal, and the European Continent for that matter. Cabo is Portuguese for 'cape'. On its cliffs stands a white lighthouse. Much of the route follows the dramatic Atlantic coastline of Portugal. Largely unspoiled and a joy to walk through. On its coast pound the massive waves of the infinite ocean. Especially the time the bastard was there because in the weeks before southern Portugal had endured heavy storms from the west and much rain. Areas were even flooded. With a delay effect towering waves only just arrived on the coast. “It’s comforting that the Portuguese are pious Catholics otherwise the coast would never have resisted the pounding force of the Atlantic Ocean.” The western frontier of Europe. Another edge of the world.

The southwestern coast and its sometimes gigantic waves are also popular among surfers. During much of the trek, the bastard encountered many surfers. Often driving a little Volkswagen van, which also served as a camper, and with their waxed surfboards on top of it. Of course, many brightly painted with flowers and stuff and the dashboard stuffed with charms, sea shells, beads, Buddhas, Shivas, etc. You could encounter these little sunshine vans everywhere. Secretly parked along a dirt road or right at the cliffs where they had spent the night. As close as possible to their first love, the waves. Not only vans, the bastard even saw four surf dudes on a four-wheeled bicycle with all their belongings stashed on it. A way of life.

That day, hiking from Aljezur to Arrifana, when the bastard had just passed a llama farm (don’t ask), a small car came racing up the hill on the dirt track. It stopped. The car had its windows down. Behind the wheel was a young woman. In the back sat a big, happy dog. Its tongue hanging out. On the shotgun seat, however, lay a little, unhappy dog. It had a big, purple ribbon with a bow around its neck. But the dog was not in a good state, despite its frivolous appearance. Contrary to that. It was in shock. Paralyzed. Heavily breathing and trembling. Its chest going up and down madly. Panicky eyes staring in the distance.

The young woman had found the little dog in distress earlier that morning and desperately was trying to find the owner. It was immediately clear for her that the bastard, a foreigner and hiker, could not be the owner. “Have you maybe seen anybody else? I only have a few hours left before my plane leaves for Spain to visit my mother,” she explained. “I only saw a few men at the llama farm,” the bastard said. “Obrigada!” she yelled. A second later the woman and the two dogs sped away in a cloud of dust in the direction of the llamas. No time to waste. Poor or lucky little dog? The bastard could not decide. And why the fancy purple ribbon?

Arrifana by Frisia Coast Trail
Arrifana by Hans Faber

It was still morning when the bastard arrived at his next accommodation in Arrifana. First of all, the broad beaches of Arrifana are the habitat of surfers. Nowhere had the bastard seen that many surfers packed together. All long hair and tattoos. The guys often bearded, wearing either shorts or a wetsuit. Both girls and boys loads of wristbands. Secondly, the place where the bastard stayed, HI Arrifana Hostel, was popular with those surfers. The bastard was too early to check in. He waited on the terrace with a coke. A couple of surf dudes sat there too, already smoking marijuana. The place was great and relaxed. An atmosphere somehow reminding the bastard of his stays at Freak Street in Kathmandu some twenty years ago. When the bastard checked in, he was thrilled with his room. It had a huge, huge window with a wide view of the ocean.

Finding food in the village was a bit of a problem, according to the staff. All restaurants and supermercados were still closed in the village because it was Boxing Day. “Try up the cliff at restaurant O Paulo. It might be open. If not, you can always eat a surf & turf with fries with us,” the girl behind the bar of the hostel advised the bastard. O Paulo was open. Its food was as formidable as its location. A high-end restaurant with damask napkins and non-seasonal waiters in black who knew what they were doing. For a moment the bastard was afraid he would not be allowed to enter, wearing a red-dirty hiking trouser, ditto shoes, and his beat-up waterproof bag in which the bastard always carries his valuables. But he was welcomed.

The bastard ordered a beer, the best wine, and a three-course meal. Coquilles for starters and a 500 gram T-bone steak as a main. Compensating for the last few days when eating had been very basic because almost everything was closed. While enjoying his meal, an British woman, a guest, inquired around the other guests if someone might have an iPhone charger with them. Nobody had. She asked everyone, except the smelly, dirty, unmannered, lone hiker in the corner. Only after the woman sat at her table again, the bastards gestured to her and said: “Why didn’t you ask me?” He gave her the charger. She, somewhat embarrassed.

After three more days of hiking, the bastard finished at Cabo São Vicente and went on by bus to the village of Sagres to stay the night before moving on to the city of Faro to fly back home. Sagres is a friendly, relaxed place too, although more touristic. The waves are more friendly and gentile too at Sagres. Still, a lot of surfers hanging around. Probably the ones who have yet to learn surfing. Again, the bastard found a good restaurant, called Armazem Sagres, just off the main street. On the menu was a tomahawk steak weighing a kilo for two persons. “Can I finish a tomahawk by myself?” the bastard asked the waiter. “I have seen people do it,” the waiter said in a nonchalant tone. “Please. Together with some vegetables and a bottle of rose wine.” It all was superb!

The waiter happened to have lived in Arnhem in the Netherlands for much of his life and spoke perfect Dutch. He had married a Dutch woman. “Nu de kinderen groot zijn, wilde ik terug naar Portugal. Samen met mijn liefje. Ik kom uit een vissersfamilie uit Sagres” (‘Now the kids have grown up, I wanted to go back to Portugal. Together with my sweetheart. I come from a fishing family of Sagres’). ”A perfect ending of a beautiful hike. After this nice encounter with a Dutch Portuguese, it will be a smooth transition from the coast of the Atlantic to the coast of the North Sea,” the bastard decided.

Cabo São Vicente by Frisia Coast Trail
Cabo São Vicente by Hans Faber


Note – This hike fits a series of semi long-distance walks in the territories of Europe’s autochthonous minorities, or coast trails, in an effort to experience, understand their landscape and culture. Exactly where the Frisia Coast Trail is all about too.

For these reasons the bastards hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in the northwest of Scotland (read our posts “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira and A Horsewoman from Harlingen in the Scottish Highlands), the GR20 dissecting on altitude the island of Corsica (read our post Support for the Corsican Cause in jeopardy), the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in the southwest of Wales (read our post Croeso i Gerddwyr), and the Andalucian Coast to Coast Walk in the southwest of Spain (read our post Naranjas and Reservoir Dogs: Hiking in Andalusia).

Suggested music

Nynke Laverman, Vida Triste (2004)

Beach Boys, Surfin' U.S.A. (1963)

Further reading

Teegelbeckers, E., Jong, de J., Bussink, S., König, C., Pawlik, B. & Aa, van der P., Hiking Trails. De mooiste langeafstandswandelingen van Europa (2024)

Portugal’s Rota Vicentina. The Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail (2019)


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