Spain was right there. We could have pedaled along the busy highway on the Algarve coast and crossed the bridge. But it didn’t feel right. It was so rare for us on our 2 ½ month journey in Portugal to be in heavy traffic. Portugal in our minds was small barely two-lane roads, winding through the countryside. This would have been a sour last note in a otherwise delightful cycling sonata.
So we pointed our bikes north and soon found ourselves pedaling along one of those quintessential back roads. The road wound up and down through farm country.
We camped that evening on top of a hill next to a large semi-trailer that had been converted for camping. The couple (she was from England, he from France) invited us in for some wine and snacks, followed by a scrumptious plate of vegetarian shepherd’s pie. Full of food and conversation, we bid them and their three dogs goodnight and crawled into our tent as a cold wind blew and rain threatened.
In the morning the road turned east and then continued north along the Rio Guadiana. The thin cloud cover provided muted light, revealing the riverside and orchards filled with oranges, pomegranates, and persimmons appear as a pastel painting. The road lazily wound it’s way and then climbed up before descended on the quaint little fishing village of Alcoutim.
This was how and where our trip should end. We booked a room near the center square and drank coffee while gazing across the river at Sanlucar de Guadiana, another quaint, village on the Spanish side of the river.
The two towns, with their white-washed buildings and cobbled streets, were mirror images of one another. But on the hour, the church in Alcotim chimed six, while the church bells in Sanlucar chimed seven times. The two towns were two hundred meters and one hour apart.
In the morning we wandered down to the dock and waited for twenty minutes or so, until a man steered a boat over from the Spanish side and we boarded with our bikes. We paid him 4 Euro and two minutes later we were in Spain.
Sanlucar was barely waking up. Most shop doors were closed, with only a few folks out for a morning walk and a man selling sweets out of the back of his van.
We turned around and took our final look at Portugal—a country that had charmed and embraced us. The church bell in Alcutim rang nine times and a minute later the church bell in Sanlucar echoed with nine … plus one.