Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hippies, Hipsters, Backpackers and Users.

We liked Lagos. Unlike towns to the east of here it has not been entirely swamped by tourism, or if it has, then the visitors are sufficiently varied to give the place bit of a buzz beyond the anglicised golf club torpor we have experienced elsewhere in the central Algarve

We are staying in Turiscampo in Espische. It's a comfortable well run place, part resort and part campsite. Half term holiday means the place is busy, a mixture families and retirees. Not an ideal mix. We probably would have moved on to a wild camping spot further west but we needed a washing machine, so camping bungaloid it had to be

Very large bus-stop sign, maybe the drivers here are myopic.
The bus to Lagos stopped outside the gates and the journey took about fifteen minutes. As we walked towards the old town along the banks of the river Rio Bensafrim we happened upon a row of small stalls selling Indian fabrics. Last year when we were in Granada we bought a big cotton throw, black and white patterned with a stylised elephant at the centre. We took it home and draped across the back of a sofa. Laura, our youngest took a fancy to it, so we gave to her. We noticed in the recent heatwave that Spanish moho owners were clipping these to the sides of their awnings to provide extra shade. So we bought one, this time a rich ochre colour with flowers; then we purchased another because we liked the blue one too. Maybe Sarah might like one of them as a housewarming present when we got to Lisbon we wondered.

The centre of Lagos is a mixture of oldish and newish, but behind a section of the old town walls there is a cluster of ancient squares and alleys which must date from the Arabic era. The shipyards of Lagos built the caravels that under the tutelage of Henry the Navigator launched the 'Age of Discovery' at the end of the 15th century. There are many references to seafarers dotted about, in the street names, old anchors and statues, including one of Prince Henry himself.

It was All Saints, a national holiday, so most shops were closed. Bells tolled across the town and a few people headed for mass. Each church had a resident beggar on its steps. The guy opposite us sitting by the doorway of Igrejia de Santa Maria seemed really out of it, disturbed and shouting out at random. He was not alone, we came across a lot of users as we wandered about. It's a very interesting town, certainly quite grundgy in parts, a mix of earthmother hippydom, urban hipsters, backpackers - mainly clean looking Americans, and surf dudes.

Sacred or profane, blue is the preferred colour. 

Mixed in with all of this is a run of the mill resort with the usual run of mediocre eateries with menus offering scores of different dishes as if choice equated to quality. There were some burger places even the odd curry house. How do you choose somewhere in all this where you might find a light lunch that meets Gill's simple, but demanding standard - uncomplicated food, cooked to order, using fresh ingredients produced by someone who understands flavour?

In a swathe of mediocre looking restaurants - how do you find well cooked food?
We wandered up and down Rua 25 de Abril peering at menus. Most offered a huge choice, a surefire sign that dishes will be concocted from pre-prepared or frozen ingredients. In the end we settled for a place we had seen at the outset selling simple salads, soups and fish dishes, there was a limited choice, but an interesting menu. Gill chose a humus tosta with rocket, I went for a cream of carrot soup with coriander and ginger. 

We liked the simplicity of the menu - and the stylish graphics - signs of thoughtfulness!

The place seemed to be run by a gaggle of hipsters, they were welcoming and enthusiastic. It took a while for these simple dishes to appear, but we took that as a good sign that they were being cooked to order. When they appeared they did pass the Gill test, -simple food, produced to order by someone with the knack of balancing interesting flavours.

Good cooking = happy Gill
Happy Gill = pleased Pete
Satisfied customers =  happy waiter (virtuous circle!)

After lunch we bench hopped back towards the bus station. Wandering down the street towards the river, sitting down occasionally to watch the world go by. Lagos, at least out of season, seems very relaxed. As well as shady squares and ancient streets vestiges of the towns significance in the development of seafaring and the 'Age of Discovery' are to be found everywhere, not least in the old fortifications which guard the river mouth.
Lagos - a town with many seating opportunities.

and awesome sea defences

One of the town's endearing characteristics is the quality of street music. In one of the first squares we came across a young West African playing some form of kora. The music itself sounded Breton. We wondered if just as the music of the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia and Iran has a certain similarity in terms of modality, cadence and rhythm, if the Atlantic seaboard has common musical roots.

Later we were entertained by a jazzy guitarist who played mainly semi-abstract pieces with a vaguely bossa-nova vibe, though he attempted a crowd pleaser with something that started as 'Stairway to Heaven' but still ended up sounding more Pat Metheny than Led Zeppelin. Further on a couple of ageing hippies entertained diners with 60s singer-songwriter standards. They were all talented and added to Lagos's laid back ambiance. 

We spent an enjoyable half day here. When we returned to the van all our washing had dried. It's these petty details that make for a good day. We have had more than two weeks of warm sunny weather. Tomorrow thunderstorms are forecast. I am hoping they clear by the weekend because it's Gill's birthday. When we were planning the trip I came across a place called Cabanas Beach Restaurant located in a remote cove about 10 miles west of Lagos. Reputedly it is one of the best beach bars/restaurants in southern Europe - a nice place for a birthday lunch, but we need blue skies to make it special.

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