Final days of End to Ends can be a curious mixture of climax and anti-climax. When I completed my first – Land’s End to John o’Groats, in 1997 – I was literally in tears of joy and surprise, rang all my friends to tell them, and had a slap-up champagne dinner at JoG House Hotel. When I ticked off Belgium last year I was, like, yeah, whatever, is there a supermarket? I could do with a sandwich and a beer.
And I didn’t have to ring my friends to tell them. They’d both been following me on Facebook.
Well, finishing Portugal felt like Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga (which they’ve done every year for the last 11 years): very good, and worth getting the bubbly out for, but essentially, business as usual.
But we had some riding to do today. Alentejo’s plains gradually decided to go vertical, and the long straight flat roads got gradually less straight and less flat until we were winding up lumpy hillsides into the Algarve’s hill country.
Not quite like how the N2 started back in Douro, though: there was a different feel, with cactuses and prickly pears, and just a hint that Europe was preparing to be something else.
There was a long, sweaty, steady climb – still on very quiet roads – to Fonte (or perhaps Monte) do Seiceira, and a little oasis-like bathing pool (open-air, public, free) fed by the springwaters of the Monte (or perhaps Fonte) do Seiceira.
We stopped to snack. I was straight into my trunks and the cool waters, wild-swim endorphins pepping me up for the rest of the climb.
A few miles of twisty, viewful uphill further on, at Ameixial, was the highest point of today’s ride: the lookout at Calderão. From here it would be downhill pretty much all the way to Faro.
The viewpoint is thoughtfully provided with swings for the immature and over-excitable, such as children and cycle bloggers. As elsewhere in Portugal, it seems public money is spent on providing picnic tables and litter bins rather than financing Health and Safety bureaucracy: the swings were perched alarmingly over a sheer drop. An over-enthusiastic flourish on your upswing could have had dramatic results.
Anyway, from here it was a long and gleeful curving freewheel down. Just as we thought we were in a cafe desert, one appeared in a village, and we stopped for a bifana (‘sandwich’) and cold drink. A group of women – perhaps multigenerational family members of the hostess – were cooing over a baby, and we all smiled and talked nonsense to the baby like anywhere in the world anytime in history.
Outside Faro the N2, our companion for virtually all the previous 450 miles, began to get busier, funnelling traffic off the motorways. So we took some parallel lanes through orange groves, heading for the hazy buildings and blocks of the city in the near distance.
Journey’s end, we decided, would be at the harbour, by the ‘Faro’ sign of bike-sized letters: the sort of selfie-friendly ident that tourist cities are keen on installing these days. I rather like them, actually. (York now has one, but it’s relatively modest, round the back of the Minster.)
Celebration snaps duly taken – and the sun duly cursed for being in totally the wrong, glaringly backlit, direction – we nipped to the roundabout that marks the end of the N2 for another obligatory photo. Kilometer 738 is notched up on both a post and, in bricks, on the roundabout itself: the end of the road, literally.
That’s literally literally, not metaphorically literally, as football pundits use it (‘City have literally killed off United, and the manager’s literally a dead duck walking, but to be fair, I’m literally talking out of my backside.’)
Yes, there was a decent feeling of climax, and of achievement. Five hundred miles since Chaves; no punctures, no mishaps, no crises, no wrong turns. Endless wonderful views, innumerable moments of happiness and joy, uncountable custard tarts.
This has been a fabulous and rewarding journey along the old N2 the length of Portugal; I feel warmth and affection for this vivid yet measured country and its people, who’ve given me another memorable End to End experience.
So we celebrated with a couple of €1.50 beers and some €1 sandwiches at 100 Montaditos, the Spanish peninsula’s nearest thing to Wetherspoons.
It’s been a wonderful trip. Saúde!
Miles today: 66
Miles Chaves to Faro: 501