|The province of Alentejo runs along the west coast of Portugal from the Algarve to Lisbon and east to the Spanish border. It is considered Portugal's least populated and poorest province, mostly because it depends on agriculture, the farms are small, the farmers aging and the youth head to the cities to get away from the hard life of their parents. It is surprising to find elderly people farming in much the same way their forefathers did: everything done by hand using donkeys or oxen, living in tiny brick buildings with washtubs at the door, washing lines strung up in the yard, faces that cannot hide the decades of working hard outdoors. We had one elderly man hold up a red flag to stop all the traffic on a busy highway just so his sheep could cross the road. Dangerous work....
Both of us were raised on farms/orchards, and I think a love of the country still lives within us. Though the beaches are breathtaking, and the cliffs exhilarating, there is a peace to be found driving for miles through the agricultural area, looking at farms, both small and large; ranches with fields full of fat sheep, huge cattle with long, pointed horns, huge black pigs with full teats running from squealing piglets. We passed through many villages that have ruins of old walled cities at their centres, visible for miles away - so commonplace they are not even mentioned in the guide books, nor is there and description of them if you stop to have a wander through.
We had to chide ourselves as we were driving through this region. We were both commenting on how we appreciated the "real" Portugal, without the tourists and all the support services created for us in along the Algarve. Then we went grocery shopping and found ourselves tut-tutting that we could not get hot salsa and several other non-Portuguese items we were used to buying in the more touristy areas. Now, doesn't that say a lot about tourists in general: I want to see the real thing but the stuff I want better be there, too!