Monday, 4 February 2008

"Alo Portugal"

On every new leg of Mark's journey, I have felt that there was something exciting about finding the tracker in a new part of the world. Today there was the same sense of anticipation as I waited for the first 'fix' in Portugal.... By mid morning there is was - right beside the Portelo airport in Lisbon!

However, the city of Lisbon presents me with the same problem that all the cities along Mark's route have - there is just too much geography to do any of it justice and so I intend 'leaving' the city to the abundance of information in the Wikipedia link above and picking up the blue line on the outskirts.

The map left shows the route Mark covered today and you can see that he had first to negotiate the mouth of the Tagus river before heading east. Motorists who are prepared to pay the 2 Euro toll have the option of crossing the river mouth by the stunning Vasco da Gama bridge just visible to the east of Lisbon on the map.

The bridge was completed in 1998 after only 18 months of construction. At ten miles long, it is the longest bridge in Europe and carries six lanes of traffic with a 75mph speed limit. It's probably just as well that Mark went the long way round!

The alternative route crosses the Tagus at Villa Franca de Xira and this is the bridge which Mark would have used to cross the river.
The tree-lined route in the photo is the N10 which crosses the flat, intensively farmed floodplain of the river towards a settlement which is located right on the edge of the floodplain. This is Samora Correia which was virtually destroyed in 1909 by an earthquake the epicentre of which was just a few kilometers to the north. It is a reminder that this is a seismically active zone - where the African and European plates are converging - and that Lisbon suffered a massive earthquake in 1755 with a loss of life of between 60,000 and 100,000.

Looking at the floodplain from both high altitude and zoomed-in perspectives, those centre pivot irrigation systems which we have seen in so many areas of the world, appear again!

In order to understand the farming regime in Portugal, it is probably worth reminding ourselves of the main characteristics of the Mediterranean climate as shown by the climate graph for Lisbon. This is a climate which has a year round growing season but has limited agricultural potential from June to September without the aid of irrigation. Cereal crops such as wheat can be grown but they are harvested at the beginning of summer. Vegetables and salad crops grow year round but only where water is available in summer. Tree crops including almonds and olives can withstand the summer drought. Vines require the rains of spring to swell the grapes and the long, hot, dry summers to ripen the grapes and increase their sugar content.

Once across the Tagus and heading south east Mark would have quickly left the urban landscape of Lisbon behind. I searched the Internet in vain for a good relief map of this part of Portugal and so have resorted to scanning an old atlas to get a map which gives a reasonable impression of the terrain .....Mark is heading east into the region of Portugal called the Alentejo (shown in red) and towards the Spanish border at Badajoz. 'Tejo' is the name the Portuguese give to the Tagus and Alentejo is literally 'beyond the Tagus'. "The area is commonly known as the "bread basket" of Portugal, a region of vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich fertile soil. With very few exceptions all the major towns are mainly reliant on agriculture, livestock and wood".

To meet the needs of domestic users and farmers a large number of dams are needed to hold back water from the winter rains and all along Mark's route today there was ample evidence of these.....
... and of smaller 'tanks' irrigating patches of land.
The landscape of this part of Portugal is very much one of low rolling hills and wide farmed plains. Some areas are intensively farmed such as here near to Pegoes which Mark passed through this afternoon. This region is on eof Portugal's best known wine producing areas and many of the farmers are members of a wine cooperative. If you click on the image below, you will link to a very informative website about the cooperative.... The last part of Mark's route today took him east of Pegoes into the foothills of the Alto Alentejo...

... where a unique land use and one very much associated with Portugal can be found. More of hich tomorrow........

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