As we were trekking along the Costa Vicentina
, I reflected on the wonderful hospitality we had received at each stop of this walk through south-west Portugal. It was the fourth day of our holiday, the sun was beating down, but the Atlantic breeze from the west kept us comfortable. Today I was a little weary so decided not to clamber down the cliff paths to plunge into the tempting waves below, invigorating as I knew they would be.
In fact today the walking was a little more challenging. The gradient was slight, but the red dunes made the going slow as our boots struggled to get a grip and did a good job of collecting the sand and dying my socks red. I was confident that we would get to Vila Nova de Milfontes in good time, at least, until the tickle in the back of my throat became increasingly sore, and swallowing became difficult. I realised that the heat was not just coming from the sun but from a rising temperature within. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you became ill during a walking holiday? I was about to find out.
By the time we arrived at Casa do Adro, I was burning up. Idália, the owner, greeted us warmly, and enquired after our day. As my husband explained that I felt unwell, her eyes filled with concern.
“António!” she called. As a middle-aged man approached, he was met by a string of Portuguese. To me, she simply gesticulated, and ordered "Go with António!" in a thick accent. António, who spoke no English, bundled me into his car and drove me through the town to a pharmacy, where I was quizzed. With a mixture of my gestures and the pharmacist’s broken English, we managed to communicate. "Throat sore, neck glands swollen". I wiped my hand across my forehead and shook it in the universal gesture of ‘fever!’. A box of little powder sachets costing a mere 5 euros was produced and eating was mimed. I got the message – take with food.
António returned me to the guest house, refusing to accept any payment for his help or petrol. A little later, as my husband tucked into a magnificent seafood dish in the warmth of the evening, I sat opposite, having dissolved the powder into my water, and dipped my bread in soup, nibbling it with little appetite. All the while, to the puzzlement of the waiter, I sat with a scarf wrapped around my neck, shivering in the heat. By 7.30pm I was tucked up in Casa do Adro, to sleep for a glorious 13 hours.
Morning came, and to my surprise I woke feeling… ok. Weary, but well. We sat in the rooftop garden, Idália beaming to see me looking better and producing a feast of a breakfast that I was ready to eat. This was our planned rest day, so a day of lying on the beach in the shade, with a book but mostly sleeping, was welcome. By the following morning, I felt wonderful, and after another abundant breakfast, was happy to don boots and set off on another beautiful day of clifftops and sunny walking.
So now I know what happens if you become ill on a hike. You are looked after. Nothing was too much trouble. Portugal is the friendliest place we have walked through, with many kind gestures made to us by the generous Inntravel hosts all along the Costa Vicentina.
When I reflect on the holiday, I don’t really think about being ill. I picture wild Atlantic waves rolling onto golden sands and the joy of pausing on a walk to dive into their fresh foam. I think of cliffs and hidden, craggy outlets. I recall the scent of wild thyme and pine needles that have popped in the hot Mediterranean sun. I think of hospitality – arriving hot and sweaty to be greeted by a smile and a complimentary glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Drifting lazily across quiet swimming pools in the afternoon. Lying on a hammock with a glass of wine gazing at the stars in the evening. More food than we could possibly eat being spread before us daily.
The walking was easy even in the heat and many scenes of beauty are embedded in my mind. We never got lost, and had a fantastic holiday. I smile as I think of the people, and remember Idália and António with particular gratitude. They may not have spoken much English but they spoke the universal language of kindness, compassion and generosity very well indeed.