We hadn’t paid much attention to the football last night, but we guessed the result had pleased local people because the partying had gone on long after our heads hit the pillow. Whether it was the noise, too much wine or the stuffiness of the room with a closed window (those celebrations were noisy), but neither of us felt particularly rested this morning.
This was bad news, because the Algarve was in the throes of an mid-Spring heatwave. It wasn’t yet eight in the morning and the thermometer on the chemist shop opposite was displaying 20⁰C. With 30 kilometres to cover, it was going to be a long, hot and very tough day!
Downstairs, the continental breakfast was as good as last night’s dinner and I probably ate twice as much as I needed. We chatted to the Flemings, envious that they could just enjoy the day’s walking while their rucksacks were transported by road to Silves.
Everyone agreed the important thing was to carry plenty of liquids. Harri and I filled two one-litre water bottles and added two cans of Sumol (a popular soft drink) and a small bottle of water each. With fruit that should be plenty, we decided … mistakenly as it transpired!
It transpired that the far side of Messines was the more picturesque part of town and we enjoyed lovely panoramic views of the valley as we climbed. Much of today’s walking would see us following the southern shoreline of the Arade reservoir. This vast expanse of water – one of the main reservoirs in the Algarve – was created by the building of the Barragem do Arade (Arade dam) between 1944 and 1956 (incidentally one of the reasons that the Arade is no longer navigable to Silves).
While the terrain was relatively easy, by mid-morning the intense heat was already taking its toll. We passed the Flemings, who were splashing around in the water, but while the temptation to join them was strong, we thought it better to push on and get as many miles under our belts as possible before the sun deleted our energy levels still further.
There was no doubt about it: this was our hottest day so far. After just two hours, we were already gulping thirstily from our water bottles, our pace seriously flagging.
Weary though we were, it was impossible to remain indifferent to the glorious natural beauty surrounding us in all directions. Low-lying hills rolled into the distance and the turquoise waters glistened under the sun’s relentless rays. Over the years, I have come to understand that a shoreline will continuously deceive and fool the hiker, briefly merging places that are physically separated, creating the sense that a distant landmark is tantalisingly close and, on the whim of a twist or turn, rearranging the entire landscape.
When the picnic site we passed around noon failed to deliver on the water tap front, we knew we were in trouble. Like so many hikers who are unaccustomed to walking in hot climates, we had underestimated the amount of fluids we would need to consume in this parched landscape.
By the time we reached the 49-metre Funcho dam, we were limiting ourselves to tiny sips of tepid liquid. Harri kept reminding me to go careful, that we still had a long, long way to walk.
By now, my lips were sticking to my teeth and my tongue felt swollen in my mouth. Food was the last thing I wanted, but Harri insisted that our energies levels would fall further if we didn’t try to eat something.
I tried to push to the back of my mind a story I’d once been told about two hikers who had died from heat exhaustion in a gully near Las Vegas. You always think it’ll happen to someone else, that you’re the one who is well-prepared, but as we continued to climb through a sweltering and airless valley I sensed Harri was becoming concerned despite his constant words of encouragement.
Unfortunately, there were no amenities now until we reached Silves. We realised we’d messed up big time, but there was no alternative than to keep plodding upwards and onwards. If we stopped now we’d end up like those hikers in Las Vegas … the thought was terrifying enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.
Eventually we dropped into a valley of dense eucalyptus woods and were at last rewarded with some shade. After what felt like several more miles walking, we emerged on a grassy footpath … we were nearing Silves.
Unfortunately, the Via Algarviana isn’t signposted to Silves simply because today’s section ends on the road into Silves and not the town itself. In our exhausted states, we didn’t realise this until we’d walked a few hundred metres in the wrong direction! Thank goodness, Harri realised we were heading away from Silves when he did.
After a beer (nothing but a pint would do!) and a Solero Mojito lolly, which according to the packaging contained ‘real rum’ and was for ‘adults only’, we started to feel better. The realisation of how close we’d come to heat exhaustion was terrifying … and we are experienced hikers. We hoped the Flemings were faring better – we hadn’t seen them since the reservoir.
We liked Silves immediately. The town is dominated by its Moorish castle, once the largest in the Algarve and probably the most impressive military structure to be built under Muslim rule in Portugal. As always, we had arrived in town too late (and too tired) for sight-seeing, although we did enjoy our wander through the Praça Al Mouhatamid ibn Abbad, a pleasant public area next to the Centro de Interpretação do Património Islâmico with wonderful Moorish statues, flanked by fountains, pools and steps.
Our one-bedroom apartment at Casa Claudia was gorgeous, and somehow I found the energy to whip up a pasta meal for two, which we ate alongside our courtyard pool while watching storks flying overhead.
We’d come close to disaster today and we had learned a valuable lesson … never underestimate how much water you need to carry in hot weather.
For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website. A printed guide with individual maps of each section, plus all the link routes are available free of charge (postage is payable).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
A ‘Made for iBooks’ version is also available from Apple’s iBookstore.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.
For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest.