Portugal's Plight - a 2017 retrospective

12th September 2018

Montalivet les Bains, Aquitaine, France

Gosh! I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by ‘workaway’ responses to my profile posting of yesterday and am finding my time getting, yet again, entirely consumed by the interweb.

Good manners dictate that I make replies to everyone who has contacted me and whilst I’m doing that I am hoping all the hosts I contacted directly after reading their profiles will also respond as, so far, nothing is quite what I am looking for.

I don’t have a local travelogue update as nothing whatsoever has happened worth writing about in the last 24 hours and it seems unlikely I am going to get my New York retrospective done anytime today - or even started for that matter!

So, I had another trawl through my digital archive and found a travelogue that I recorded late in 2017. I had just started a road trip across Portugal which had suffered a particularly hot and dry summer and consequently many huge forest fires - an exceptionally devastating year for them.

Here then is my recording of what I witnessed at first hand in the aftermath of one such conflagration that swept east/west through Portugal’s highest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela in the centre of the country:

Serra da Estrela, Portugal Wednesday 22 November 2017

Amy, my very recently acquired young Malinois cross companion, and I are currently travelling in Portugal and the sights we have witnessed today have prompted me to write and post a few lines here.

We arrived back in Portugal just nine days ago having travelled slowly down along the Atlantic coast of France and also a little of the northeastern Spanish coastline until some distinctly undesirable wet November weather set in and consequently we motored rather more speedily due south through Spain until the skies cleared.

I have been in Wales and France this summer and followed with consternation the news reports of the wildfires which have afflicted Portugal during the exceptionally long and dry spring, summer and autumn - ironically from under the grey and very damp skies of north west Europe.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to note very little evidence of serious fire damage as I drove south through PT close to the Spanish border. A friend of mine who has a rural property near Alpedrinha, in the far east of the country, was victim to a large fire which ravaged the town's surrounding areas earlier this year.

Fortunately his house and the bulk of his chattels survived OK but his forested land of several hectares was obliterated by the conflagration. It was a salutary experience to see a once veritable garden of eden reduced to ash and scorched earth, but plans are afoot to clear the post fire debris and replant - the good news is green shoots are already appearing naturally more or less all over his property.

On Monday morning Amy and I got into our old Mitsubishi 'Jipe' (Portuguese for ‘Jeep’) and took the switchback road over the high Serra da Estrela, due east from Covilha. We didn't travel far that first day having pulled over on a fabulous high plateau somewhere generally in the region of Pedras Lavradas for a spot of alfresco lunch.

Where we pulled over was amidst a huge area of forest, thankfully completely untouched by fire and we were able to travel some considerable distance away from the deserted switchback road on a fairly decent forest access road well into the deep solace that such a place affords. So fabulous was the location, solitude and weather that we decided to go no further that day and stay put to simply savour the absolute tranquility and beauty of the place.

Up with the larks on Tuesday morning we got back on the switchback road heading due east and very soon discovered a very different landscape. In the approaches towards the little town of Vide it was obvious a HUGE wildfire had struck the ubiquitously forested mountains.

Indeed, just how huge became apparent as I drove on and on through the petrified landscape for literally hours. To read about the Portuguese wildfires is one thing but to see at first hand just how much of the interior of Portugal has been destroyed is quite another - and that's only the bits I could see from the road, I can only begin to imagine just how far they might have spread to the north and south! There was much damage to and loss of property in evidence but nowhere near as much as might be imagined, a testimony to the good land husbandry of the local people, I suspect.

What it must have been actually like there as the fires raged in Vide and all the other small towns that line the east-west crossing is almost beyond my comprehension. The heat and smoke must have been simply colossal and being hemmed in by the high mountains the prospect of escape would have been slight. I also can't imagine how the emergency services coped as access to and fro the area on narrow switchback roads is challenging to say the least and local resources for dealing with such a large scale catastrophe must be few and far between.

Today, life generally seems to have returned to some kind of post apocalyptic normal for the local inhabitants but simply to be there is rather dispiriting, to put it mildly, as everything natural is black, burned and charred. It remains to be seen just how well the area will naturally regenerate but, unlike my friend's burned bit of forest in Alpedrinha, there was almost no evidence of any green shoots anywhere to be seen.

Tonight, Amy and I are by the ocean at Praia de Mira and as we drove west towards the Atlantic coast during the course of the day the evidence of wildfire became gradually less devastating but still extensive. Indeed, even the far westerly town of Mira has suffered extensive wildfires and it is not until one is almost on the coast itself at Praia de Mira does the carnage finally abate.

Praia de Mira is an area I know tolerably well having spent a good part of summer 2016 here and I am particularly fond of the extensively forested coastal region due south of here towards Figueria da Foz, which I am hoping, in the coming days, to discover has managed to escape the worst ravages of fire!

As Amy and I trundle slowly south I'll post a few more observations about what we see and experience in what, so far, looks to be an extensively charred country!

Season of Mists...

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