Stuck in the Mud in Kazakhstan – 6 months later…

Just for fun 🙂

Remember at the start of the Silk Road Tour how we got stuck in the mud in Kazakhstan the first day I joined?   Well, Gayle, James and the London-Sydney Overland group visited the Tamgaly Petroglyphs today and went to have a look at what our special site looks like 6 months later.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Indeed we were excellent road builders!

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

And here was where Alice the truck was stuck nose-in for 5 days.  Still leaving an impression…

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Thanks for sharing the photos Gayle!  Love it!

Leyendas Nocturnas at El Tejar – Quito – Ecuador

Trawling the Quito Cultura website last week (as I do every Sunday) I came across the following advertisement for Leyendas Nocturnas (Night Legends) at the El Tejar Convent in downtown Quito.

Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

From the description, it seemed as if it might follow the same formula as the awesome night tour I did at the Santiago General Cemetery last year – a truly spectacular experience!  So I was in 🙂

It turns out El Tejar is not the easiest place to get to as it lies just on the other side of a bunch of tunnels, overpasses and underpasses for one of the main “ringroads” of Quito.    However, I did eventually make it only to be seriously confused as to how to get in.   Turned out that I had to enter through the cemetery (not the main entrance), which was also the carpark for the night.  O-kaaaaay!

Entrance to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

I walked to the end of the row of tombs with nobody in sight, and was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next (there were no signs and it really was not at all obvious), when fortunately a group of people appeared out of the darkness.   They seemed to know where they were going so I fell into line behind them.  Good thing too – I would NEVER have found it otherwise!  

Once I’d gotten my name crossed off the list, I was given my entrance ticket, a candle and a very welcome Canelazo (hot, spiced naranjilla drink) to which I could add my own preferred quantity of aguardiente (alcohol).  I really do love Canelazo 🙂

Welcome to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

Greeted with a candle, entrance ticket and a cup of hot Canelazo – yum!

Hung around in the courtyard of the Convent taking pictures and drinking Canelazo and until the tour finally started on Ecuadorian Time (ie half-hour late).

El Tejar Convent - Quito

There were actually a large number of people register, so they split us into groups and we started our tour in the XVI century library of the Convent.  Here, our guide told us a bit about the history of the convent – it dates from 1730 and was established by Father Francisco de Jesus Bolaños in a place where roofing tiles used to be made – and we could see a large number of original religious and art books bound in sheep-hide and dating from the 1500s to the 1700s. 

Library at El Tejar Convent - Quito

From there, we lit our candles and headed down a dark passage until we ran into 3 characters who acted out one of the legends associated with El Tejar Convent – that of a young man who died in the underground crypt.

Leyendas Nocturnas in the crypts - El Tejar - Quito

This story had us following these characters from the church, downstairs to the crypt, and back again.   It was fun, but the actors didn’t have lights – so very, very dark.

From there we headed upstairs to the religious art gallery where our guide pointed out some of the more important pieces of art that the Convent houses.  

Religious art Museum at El Tejar Convent - Quito

Guided tour of the art gallery at the Convent and my 2 favourite paintings

I have to admit I find most religious art kind of tedious, and the statues downright creepy!

Virgin at El Tejar Convent - Quito

A pretty crap photo because I wasn’t planning on including it in the blog … but it is just so creepy!

From there, it was up to our last stop – the roof of the convent and its twin towers.   Here we were met by another actor who portrayed the legend of “Julia: The widow of El Tejar“.  In this legend, Julia is a beautiful woman who is betrayed by her husband, Joaquín, who has an affair with her cousin.  When Joaquín dies a short time later, Julia is converted into a cursed soul with a face that is half-beautiful and half-death, and who wanders around looking for men to bring into the afterlife.

Leyendas Nocturnas on the roof - El Tejar - Quito

Once we’d finished on the roof, we headed back down and …. well, that was it.  There was no farewell from our guide, nor was there any real indication that that was the end of proceedings.  I actually had to ask!

Everyone else had already disappeared somewhere so I walked back through the maze that we entered through and found myself back in Quito’s oldest public cemetery … and unable to actually find the exit.   Yeah – not the greatest feeling to be wandering around a cemetery by yourself in the middle of the night!

Decided to head back to the Convent to ask how to get out, and ended up running into a really lovely family who said they’d show me the way out and give me a lift to somewhere I could get a taxi (El Tejar is a little out of the way).

In the end, they actually brought me all the way back to my apartment, which was really wonderful of them.  I think they got distracted asking me about all the Australian wildlife – a favourite topic amongst everyone not born in Australia 🙂

 

Recommendation:  It was interesting, and it had real potential.  But unfortunately nowhere near as good as the Santiago Cemetery night tour

Cost: USD$12

Time: about 2 hours

Tripa Mishqui in La Floresta – Quito – Ecuador

There is no shortage of places to eat in Quito, including a multitude of restaurants that cater primarily for tourists.

And although there is a growing culture around Container Food Parks (ie small cafe/restaurants made from shipping containers) and Food Truck Parks in Quito and other major centres, I have found that in many cases they are quite up-market and don’t necessarily sell typical Ecuadorian Food.

For this reason, my preference is actually to eat in local hole-in-the-wall joints, in the markets, or on the street – and one of my favourite spots for street food is Parque La Floresta, where food carts are set up and start cooking every evening from about 5:30pm.  

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

The only food on sale is very typically Ecuadorian, and the specialty is Tripa Mishqui – or BBQ tripe.   

Those who have read my Ecuadorian Street Food post from last year know the story of how I was inadvertently tricked into trying tripe for the first time by chefs of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory about 19 years ago (it really wasn’t their fault – it looked like sweet and sour chicken so I took a huge plate.  It most definitely was NOT sweet and sour chicken 🙁).  And how, when I tried a very small sample of the Tripa Mishqui last year on a Street Food tour  – I was extremely surprised to discover that I really, really liked it!

During my several months here in Quito this year I’ve tried the Tripa Mishqui in a few different places, but by far the best is at Parque La Floresta.   The spices pack a ton of flavour and the tripe is well cooked so that it loses that horrible texture it has when cooked in other ways.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

Get chatting with the very friendly vendors – who will always try to entice you to their cart with a free sample

 

and then grab your bowl of various types of corn, salad, tripe and Ecuadorian aji (chilli) and prop yourself up at one of the permanent standing-height tables that the local council has thoughtfully provided.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

You can see the permanent tables (with people standing around them) on the left

You can pre-empt (or post-empt) your tripe with (in my opinion) Quito’s best Empanada de Viento – a deep-fried “wind” empanada that has a tiny amount of cheese inside and which you dust with sugar – from a couple of carts up.

 

This somehow slightly mournful calling of the street cart vendors (to my ears at least) is very typical of what you hear all around Quito – but guaranteed it is inviting you to some awesome tasting food!

And the other amazing thing – the cost!  My plate of Tripa Mishqui cost US$2.50 and my Empanada, just USD$0.75.

Even if you think you don’t like tripe, I’d encourage you to have a go at the Tripa Mishqui in Parque La Floresta.  You may be just as surprised as I was!

 

Update on 9 November, 2018 – It turns out that the Parque La Floresta food carts also have the best Fritada in Quito!  An enormous plate of the most incredible pork + mote + habas etc for USD$4.   Now I’m not sure what to have when I go there!

 

Cascada Condor Machay – Quito – Ecuador

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks before and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less than spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the falls (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Taxi to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful walk along a very well maintained track that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

The path is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Amazing sheer walls covered in plants

Wall of plants on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Waterfalls on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Waterfall on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to walk out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school children out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started the walk back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito

 

How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.

 

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra – Quito

One of the best recommendations I can make is that if you are visiting a country for a while, join the expat Facebook group(s) associated with that country.

I have been a member of Discover Chile for several years now, and when I knew I was coming to Ecuador for an extended stay I joined the Ecuador Expats and Expats in Quito groups.  All three groups are very, very active, full of interesting information, and a regular source of inspiration for me about upcoming events etc.

Usually things tend to be announced last minute, and the one that grabbed my attention the other day was this announcement about the Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra playing The Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn in the Iglesia de la Compañia in a free concert.  It seems that any excuse for a free concert is a good one – and this one was put on to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol – the protocol designed to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from further depletion (remember when that was our major global concern?)

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

No, it wasn’t the fact that the designer had merged a guitar and the Earth into a pretty nifty graphic on the poster.  But rather:

  • I LOVE listening to live orchestral music, but rarely get the opportunity because it is usually very expensive!  I only used to go see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play their free concerts during summer for this reason.
  • Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of my all-time favourite pieces of orchestral music (if you haven’t heard it, click on the link and turn the sound up loud!).  I was introduced to it when I was about 14 and studying music in high school, and have loved it ever since.  In fact, when I went to Scotland with some friends many years ago and we were in the Hebrides, I insisted that we had to go to Fingal’s Cave (the popular name for this piece of music).
  • While the UNESCO listed historic centre of Quito is full of amazing churches, if you only have time to visit one – it should be the Iglesia de la Compañia.  It is incredibly intricate inside and out!

Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

I got there an hour early to make sure I was close to the start of the line and I’d be able to get in (the fineprint on the poster says “free entry until seating is full”) and met Natalie – the only other Aussie expat I’ve met so far, a lover of classical music and clarinet player.   When they finally let us in 1/2-hour before the concert started, it seemed that everyone in front of me was reserving seats for others because although the seats were only 1/2-full, there was no room to sit!   So Natalie and I ended up standing 🙁 

But it was absolutely amazing!

I’ve always felt that the opening bars of the Overture immediately envelop you – not sure how else to describe it.  And when the orchestra started – I was wrapped in the sound and it was heaven!  This piece of music is incredible, and they played it extremely well.  My heart soared!

Unfortunately no pictures allowed during the performance (actually you aren’t allowed to take photos inside the church at all), but I did manage to take a quick one before it started.

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

The other pieces in the concert were not really my thing, but to hear the Hebrides Overture played in such an amazing venue was priceless.

Marionette Theatre – Estulticia

Anyone who read my post about visiting the Puppet Workshop in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, knows that I’m completely enamored with puppetry of any kind.  It really doesn’t matter if it is just a sock puppet (I’ve made a few of those for bemused people) – I love the artistry and suspension of belief that necessarily accompanies them.

So having missed out on being able to attend a show at the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre in Tbilisi, Georgia (all the shows were sold out!), and again at the Yerevan State Puppet Theatre in Yerevan, Armenia (the night I was there they didn’t have a puppet show on), I was first in line at the Teatro Variedades Ernesto Albán in Quito to see Estulticia.

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

It was a very small and intimate production (there were only seats for about 50 people), with a single scene and Estulticia (a life-size marionette) as the only character.  But it was amazing!

It portrayed a short scene from the life of an old, alcoholic lady who is shut up in a dark room filled with memories.  Her only company is the radio, and a portrait of her beloved son, Ramondito.   It was incredibly sad, showing the isolation of the old woman and the mental decay that such isolation encourages, but was cleverly scripted to include funny lines to lighten the mood ever so slightly.

After a few moments you completely forgot that there was a person controlling this character – such was the power of the careful lighting, and the voice-acting and skill of the puppeteer.

Unfortunately no photos allowed during the 15 minute performance, but they came to greet the audience afterwards.

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

Here is Estulticia with her puppeteer and the puppeteer’s mentor 🙂

estuticia - marionette theatre - Quito - Ecuador

Oh how I love puppets 🙂

Fiesta da la Luz – Quito – Ecuador

I arrived in Quito on the Independence Day holiday – commemorating Ecuador’s departure from Greater Colombia on August 10, 1830.  As part of the festivities around this, and also as part of the “Summer of Arts” in the city, several of the most important buildings in the Historical Centre of Quito were lit up in the “Fiesta de la Luz” (Festival of Light).  It is only the second year it has run, and boy is it popular!

I joined what seemed to be all 1.6 million Quiteños on the Saturday night to enjoy the spectacle – but have to admit was quite overwhelmed by the size of the crowd!  There is a very specific route that you must walk – one way only in some areas – which meant that it got even more crowded than this!

 

I set out from where I am staying (it was right on the route), and followed the crowd to the installation at La Merced.  Here I encountered the worst of the crowding (we were like sardines!), as the ~5-minute light show on the side of the church formed a bottleneck as everyone stopped to watch.

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Things were slightly less crowded at Plaza Grande, which was more of a static display on slow rotation.  Love the stick figures!

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Then it was on to the Plaza del Teatro and my favourite installation.  This too was a ~5 minute show with amazing visuals that really showcased the architectural features of the building, all set to incredible music!

 

Then finally I headed back to the apartment past the Basílica del Voto Nacionalwhich was very colourful in its static light show.  Again, the crowd was enormous so I didn’t join the queue that started 7 blocks away to actually enter the courtyard (!), but it was equally impressive from the street outside the gates.

Fiesta de la Luz - Quito - Ecuador

Love that they had religious music to go with it 🙂

 

Picked up a pincho (chicken, chorizo and potato BBQed on a skewer) from a street vendor along the way and then retreated to escape the crowds!

street vendor selling pinchos - Quito - Ecuador

There were 4 other sites that I didn’t get to see, but it really was incredibly crowded and almost impossible to move at times.   I sampled enough to get the feeling for the very cool idea, which is a collaboration with the French government and particularly the city of Lyon.

Fiesta de la Luz crowds - Quito - Ecuador

 

 

 

 

Why I’ve stopped traveling for a while

It was always the plan this year that when I arrived in Ecuador, I would stop traveling for a while.  “Why?”  you may ask, given I have the resources to keep going. 

There are a couple of reasons related directly to me:

  1. I haven’t had any income for over a year and I need to do something about that so that I can continue to have the resources to travel.  Unfortunately, my bank account is not infinitely deep 🙁 
  2. Even though I don’t travel very quickly and tend to spend at least a week in each place, last year I found that I got tired after about 3 months of moving around.  I really needed to stop and recharge, and for this reason I ended up hanging out in an Antigua, Guatemala for 3 weeks mid-year, and Santiago, Chile for a month at the end of the year.

But there is another reason as well that applies more broadly.

Mark Manson is one of my 2 favourite bloggers (the other is Tim Urban who writes Wait but Why).   He makes a point at around minute 41:45 of this podcast with Lewis Howes that absolutely resonates with what I’ve grown to feel/realise over the past 1.5 years.

“Overcoming problems is the engine that generates happiness … When you remove problems, it creates its own special kind of misery… You need the problems because that’s what generates the meaning.  If you don’t have the meaning, then everything else feels pointless”

My biggest “problems” for the past 1.5 years have been deciding what to eat, where to sleep, what to do the next day, and how to get from A to B.   And although I’m definitely not miserable (I’m actually incredibly happy with the life I’m leading), it really has started to feel as if there is something missing.   I have started to feel useless, which is actually very unpleasant.

Hence the break.  To establish myself as a freelancer and find work where I feel I am contributing again. 

In her Ted Talk about the 4 Pillars of Happiness, Emily Esfahani Smith also talks about how important belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling are to happiness.  From my own experiences – I absolutely concur – though the pillars manifest in different strengths depending on your circumstances.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to take 12 minutes to watch!   

 

Eat Portugal – Part 2

Back in January, I ate my way through many of the Portuguese treats on offer in Porto whilst visiting my friends for a week.   Well, 6 months later I was back.  And having just stretched my stomach enormously by trying as much of the typical food in the Azores as possible, there was more to try on the mainland as well!

More Porto food

I arrived in Porto to be greeted with a box of my absolute favourite Portuguese treats – Jesuitas from the Confeitaria e Pastelaria Moura.

Then, a few hours later, it was off to the seaside for a delicious feed of grilled Sardines – very Portuguese – and one of my absolute favourite dishes!

Sardines - Porto - Portugal

First of all though, as a starter, I tried Mílharas – a large plate of fish eggs.  These were delicious but there was a heck of a lot of them!  I think you are meant to share…

Mílharas - Porto - Portugal

Fish eggs

I also horrified my friends and the waitress by ordering hot milk with the meal (something I re-discovered last year in La Palma, El Salvador).  Well, I felt like something warm and didn’t feel like tea or coffee, and when you don’t drink alcohol – there is a rather limited selection!

Other bits and pieces I managed to try while I was in Porto this time:

Limonetes

Need I say, more sugar and eggs brought together in another great Portuguese pastry. Apparently some prefer the Limonetes to the Jesuitas, but the Jesuitas still win for me.

Limonete - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Limonete was good – but the Jesuita is still the best!

Farturas

These are very much like the spanish Churros but, in my opinion, even better because they are fluffier!   Fried dough + sugar + cinnamon – you can’t go wrong with this combo!

Farturas - Portuguese Treat - Portugal

The Fartura is the fatter one poking out on the right. Compare with the Churro that you can just see on the left – the vendor gave it to me as a bonus.

Natas from Manteigaria

Yes, I ate a lot of Natas last time I was in Portugal (my second-favourite pastry after Jesuitas), but the ones from Manteigaria are special.  Apparently the pastry is made with even more butter!

Natas from Manteigaria - Portuguese treat

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro

Translated, this is “roasted cod with punched potatoes”, and it is made with lots of garlic and olive oil.  Pedro’s mum made this very traditional and amazing dish for me, and followed it up with a beautiful dessert of a queijada and fresh fruit.  Million thanks for the lunch – it was wonderful to meet you guys!

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro - Portugal

Bacalhau assado no forno com batatas a murro for main. Queijada and fresh fruit for dessert!

Sandes de Pernil

Basically a pork sandwich made with sandes de lombo assado (the bread) and pork thigh.  We (well, Raúl did – Pedro and I went and grabbed a table) lined up at Casa Guedes – a very traditional tasca (tavern) for 1/2 hour to order this very tasty quick bite.

Icecream from Gelataria Portuense

If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I’m a mad icecream fan.  In January, we were supposed to visit the Gelataria Portuense for what was touted as the best icecream in Porto – but it was closed for renovations.  Needless to say, we rectified that situation this trip, and I can definitely say it is some of the best icecream I’ve ever had!  Very smooth, and you can’t go wrong no matter which flavour you choose!

Amazing Icecream at Gelataria Portuense - Porto - Portugal

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

For my final breakfast in Porto this trip, Pedro, Raúl and I headed downstairs to partake in this very traditional Sunday-morning special.  Yes – it is bread and butter, with coffee served in a glass rather than a cup 🙂

Regueifa com manteiga and Galão

Thanks guys for yet another awesome time in Porto!  Let’s see what you can find to feed me next trip 😉

Great friends at breakfast in Porto - Portugal

Me, Pedro and Raúl having Regueifa com manteiga and Galão for breakfast

Food from the Algarve

After leaving Porto, I headed down on the train to the other end of Portugal.  This was my first trip to the Algarve region – Portugal’s “summer playground” – where my friend, José, and his family were spending 3 weeks on vacation.  

Jose's family and me

I was only there for 3 days, and we mostly ate at home (still loving the grilled sardines!), but there was definitely time to try a few things 🙂

Sopa do Mar

We went out to a very specific restaurant, Restaurante Ideal in Cabanas, to have their famous Sopa do Mar.  This is a slightly spicy and very tasty seafood soup served in a bread bowl.  In an effort to eat enough but not too much (already a bit of a lost cause by this time) I scraped the insides of the bowl to add bread to the soup and only dunked the top in.  Delicious!

Sopa do Mar - Algarve - Portugal

Doce de Vinagre

Though of course, you can’t just have a main course, and after the soup I couldn’t resist trying the Doce de Vinagre – “Vinegar Sweet”.   After all, it sounded intriguing … how do those things go together at all?   Turns out it doesn’t taste like vinegar at all, as one might suspect.  Instead – it is yet another take on a milk + egg yolk + sugar confection, where the vinegar is just used to curdle the milk into clumps. 

Doce de Vinagre - Algarve - Portugal

Tigelada

More milk+sugar+egg yolks.  More deliciousness!

Tigelada - Algarve - Portugal

Dom Rodrigos

Finally, I bought one of the most traditional pastries from the Algarve region to take with me on the flight to Madrid.  Dom Rodrigos come wrapped in brightly coloured metallic paper and are a concoction of egg yolks+sugar (no surprises there) but also almonds, which are very typical of the region.

Dom Rodrigos - Algarve - Portugal

And so ends my latest foray into Portuguese food!  Like last time, I reckon I put on at least 1kg during my couple of weeks there, but everything is so tasty and my friends are total enablers 😉  

Thanks guys!  I’ll be back!

 

Salinas de Castro Marim – Algarve – Portugal

This trip to Portugal, I spent 3 days hanging out with José and his family in Vila Real de Santo António, right on the border with Spain in the Algarve region.  During these days, we managed to fit in some beach time:

Beach - Algarve - Portugal

Some eating (of course):

Algarve dining experiences - Portugal

A trip to the lighthouse (all Portuguese lighthouses are open to the public each Wednesday during Summer):

Vila Real de Santo António lighthouse - Algarve - Portugal

The lighthouse, and the views from the top – Vila Real and the forest that separates the town from the sea.

and a trip to the Salinas de Castro Marim – a salt mine and very different kind of day spa just outside of town.  

This was a great morning excursion that started out with a guided tour of the traditional salt mining operation.   As we toured the Travadouros (water reservoirs used for initial settling and evaporation) and Talhos (crystalliser ponds for depositing and harvesting the salt), we learned an enormous amount about the production of salt.  

In particular:

In this traditional method of mining salt, everything is done by hand.  This means that the collected salt is already pure and there is no need for the bleaching or other chemical processes (which destroy much of the mineral content of the salt) that are utilised in commercial salt production.  The size of the Talhos is such that the marnoto (salt worker) is able to easily harvest the salt from the surrounding barachas (dividing walls) without contaminating the water.

Marnoto harvesting salt - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

There are two different types of salt: normal crystalline salt and Flor de Sal – laminar salt crystals which form on the surface of the water.   Flor de Sal is much rarer as it only produced through traditional mining methods (and even then constitutes only 5% of the mine’s salt production), and is therefore much more expensive.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Crystalline salt around the edges, Flor de Sal floating on top of the water

Flor de Sal is harvested every day before it settles to the bottom of the Talho with a mesh coador.  The unbroken crystals are placed in the plastic crates that are scattered around the works to dry.

Flor de sal - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

This mine has a production of around 600 tons of sea salt and 30 tons of Flor de Sal each year.

Salt production - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Salt has been mined in the Algarve region for centuries and has seen the Greeks, Celts and Romans come and go.  During the last century, salt mining in the area was strongly tied to the fish conserving and canning industry, so when that all but came to a stop in the late 1970s, so too did salt production.   Most of the salt mines were abandoned in the 1980s, but one of the Rosa family couldn’t bear to see the family heritage destroyed, and continued to flood this land to keep it “activated”.  Pretty cool huh?!

The guide was actually very talkative and gave us an enormous amount of information that goes way beyond the above.  But I leave it to you to visit and find out the rest for yourself 😉

After the tour, it was time to check out the newest addition to the mining operation … a spa experience!  We nabbed a place under the shade of the very cool bar/cafe area that has been set up to serve drinks and light snacks, and headed into the two pools that have been set aside for bathing.

Salt spa - Salinas de Castro Marim - Algarve - Portugal

Like floating in the Dead Sea. Note that most people have slathered themselves in the mineral-rich mud that can be found in the bottom of the pools

The salt concentration in these two pools is around 250 grams/litre (sea salt is ~35 grams/litre), which makes it a very similar experience to floating in the Dead Sea.  It was great fun to revisit that experience from more than 10 years ago, as it does feel very strange to not be able to sink!  

The bottom of both pools are full of mineral-enriched mud, which you are more than welcome to slather on and let dry like a mud-mask as part of the spa experience.  People pay massive amounts of money to do this in normal spas – here you can indulge as much as you want!  They also offer massages, meditation and yoga if you are so inclined and book in advance.

All in all – a very cool experience, and not one that you would expect in the beach-focused Algarve region.