Treading lightly on the trail in the Algarve

Bom dia! Greetings from the Algarve in Portugal!

This place is simply exquisite. I can't believe it's taken us so long to uncover what seems many others have marveled for years. There's nothing like a rugged coastal setting with all its flora and fauna set under an infinite sunny blue sky to really set you off on the right foot, literally, on vacation.

If you haven't packed your bags by the end of this article then my task is not complete! This is heaven on earth for families, golfers, adventurists, honeymooners, retirees – anyone for that matter wanting to unplug and allow the inherent qualities and charm of southern Portugal to seep into the skin. Do not hesitate. Just book your trip and be amazed.

One morning earlier this week my husband and I hit the São Lourenço (Saint Lawrence) trail. Set within the breathtaking Ria Formosa Nature Park, its salt marshes and freshwater lakes, the many species of wild birds, fiddler crab, chameleon, wild lavender, and succulent plants like cactus all promise to squelch any craving for television, an iPad, or lazy lingering at the pool (ok, not for too long anyway!). Convinced and curious, we dawned our trekking shoes and off we set into the morning sun. 

A long wooden bridge promises an even more impressive sight at the other end: natural dunes draw a fine line creating an almost impenetrable fortress wall both left and right leaving you suspenseful as you arrive just above the expansive gorgeous beach below allowing the coast to spill into the impressive Atlantic Ocean with such ease. My eyes squint in the sun and as I try to take in the scene all around me, I gasp and utter, "Wow!" Wide open natural beaches never cease to amaze me. It's here where the wind, seagulls, crashing waves, and gorgeous clean sand under my toes offer a promise of serenity relentlessly pulling me in. No struggle here. It is here I feel alive. I feel powerful. I feel relief. I don't think of RA here. I am.

We set off onto the trail with our smiles and determination leading the way and a set timeframe to complete the 6.8 kilometers (4.2 miles) round trip within an hour and half. Not too ambitious but certainly score one for staying active. I was happy to have my partner as company since we rarely, it seems, get time like this just for ourselves. Score two for couple time.

My checklist making it a safe and fun excursion:

  • Cool and comfy clothing
  • My trusty 16-year old ball cap (a souvenir from a trek on the natural beaches of Martha's Vineyard)
  • Merrell Ventilator trekking shoes which I just bought this spring; they fit my custom-made orthotics perfectly. (Cinderella would beg for these over her glass slippers any day!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Phone
  • Tummy pack to free up my hands

Beforehand, I had my power breakfast of a boiled egg with some bacon, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and walnuts and almonds, juice, and coffee. Just before hitting the trail I did some simple key stretches to ward off any injury or discomfort. With RA we need to keep moving we know, but safely and smartly are the critical keys to staying and feeling well. I also remembered to stretch once our hike was over too.

I'm not an avid hiker, it's just I find it much easier than bicycling, for example, because of my hands and wrists. With walking or trekking I feel free and don't have to negotiate the bike's needs too. And well, we know that trail running is not what the doctor orders. 

The fresh air and the possibilities of new and natural settings are great motivators. I hope you're packing your bags and you're headed this way! For a bit of inspiration, this Portuguese proverb is a good omen: Devagar se vai ao longe. Roughly translated: S/he who treads softly goes far. Boa viagem! Bon voyage!

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