Cante ao Baldão – Odemira

Since a few years ago, the township of Odemira, in the southwest of Alentejo, has organized a series of cultural events called “Sonoridades & Sabores”, which can be translated as “Sounds & Flavours”. These events occur every couple of weeks between November and January, each time in a different parish. The idea is to preserve the local culture, in this instance a decades – old traditional way of singing. A few days ago I attended the event in the Reliquias parish, in a café of the small village of Ribeira do Salto.

The programme included “cante ao baldão”, an old and traditional way of singing “ao despique”, where several “cantadores” or “singers” challenge each other around a table, improvising and often replying to previous “provocations”. The singers are local people that come from the various neighbouring parishes, and have known each other for many years. “Baldão” means without any rules, so once the first singer starts, the others will follow, normally rising to the challenge. These tend to include personal stories, talking about honour, money, earth, water, hardships of rural life; in the end, they sing about life in this land that hugs the Southwest Alentejo and Algarve Sierras.

The group of “cantadores”, is accompanied by a musician that plays the “viola campaniça”, a musical instrument that is a regional example of the Portuguese guitar. In Odemira and nearby townships, the first historical record dates from 1916. This is also known as “viola alentejana” and is the largest of the Portuguese guitars. The same music – “moda marianita” – is played constantly during the event. The first singer will start the “story”, and after him, each one will continue, sometimes for hours. There are no breaks, and soon the group finds its own pace, while the player keeps adding the musical tones from the wire strings.

The “cante” is complemented by some typical local food and wine, fostering a feeling of familiarity between the singers and the assistance. The fare draws from local products, such as cold cuts, olives, and cheese. It truly is a special occasion, that brings the community together around the table, sharing stories, eating, and drinking. It is important that such heritage is not lost, as most of the singers are old men; I was happy to see that one of them was a teenager. Hopefully, these traditions will be preserved for the future.

It was the first time I have attended such an event, but I had a rough idea of what to expect, from published descriptions. This has helped when selecting what photo gear to bring with me. In order not to be conspicuous – the room in the local restaurant was small and packed – I only took my little Fujifilm X100F. This was the perfect choice for this occasion, as the camera is silent and has a fast-wide angle lens. I was standing halfway down the room, so I had a good view of the singers. I made a lot of photos, sometimes standing, other times just keeling in the cramped space between the chairs and the wall.

During the rest of the day, I also took photos of the local people, which are very friendly and welcoming. The older folk were proud that their traditions still lived on and were being passed to the new generation. I felt privileged to be able to attend such an occasion and look forward to participating in future ones. Below I point to a couple of links that have some historical background and references for this tradition. I also include a link with a short video taken with my phone.

Location map of Ribeira do Salto. Other reference villages are indicated by the arrows.
The venue of the event.
A local farm.
Old friends.
Smiling with Tobias, the little dog.
Local crowd.
Viola Campaniça.
Getting ready.
Younger generation.
His turn.
Going around.
Dry throats after 2 and a half hours.
Night comes.

Into 2020 – fireworks in Vila Nova de Milfontes

Finding myself on vacation in Longueira, 10 km south of Milfontes, I managed to convince my wife to enter 2020 on the beach, while admiring the fireworks display planned for midnight. This was a challenge, because it meant leaving the warm house and venturing into a cold night. In the end, it payed off with a nice show over the river Mira estuary.

I wanted to make some photos, of course, so I packed my camera and lens (Fujifilm XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens), plus the tripod. I had a fully charged battery in the camera, and another one in my pocket, just in case. I was going to use longer than usual exposure times, between 2 seconds and 20 seconds, experimenting a bit. Photographing fireworks is always a trial and error exercise; registering one or more bursts can result in interesting results.

We chose to go to the south side of the river, opposite the fireworks launching area. This side of the river would be less crowded, and we would be able to see some good reflections on the water. After arriving, I set up the gear on the tripod, and did a few test shots; the view towards Milfontes is actually quite nice from this river bank: the old castle and houses were illuminated, with the light reflected on the water.

River reflections

At midnight, on time, the fireworks started, and lasted for 10 minutes. That kept me busy changing exposure times and focal lengths, trying to register different bursts and colours. I managed to do so, and was happy with the results I got.

Fireworks start
Two bursts
Single burst
The end

I wish everybody a Happy 2020.

Brejo Largo beach, SW Portugal, with the Fuji XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens

It is nice to be able to visit the same location several times, be it within 1 year, or several years. In any case, there are many opportunities to record the seasonal effects in the landscape, together with the differences imparted by varying weather conditions. During Christmas and New Year, while taking several days off from work, I had the chance to (re)visit one of my favourite places – the beach of Brejo Largo, located only a few km North of the small village of Almograve.

It is possible to reach the beach by car, via a dirt road that starts a bit inland, in Longueira. However, since many years ago, my preferred way is to simply walk there, either from Longueira, or from Almograve. The first time I went to this beach was more than 30 years ago, with my brothers. Driven by “word of mouth” from some German tourists, we ventured from Longueira (our family Summer vacation spot) towards the coast, finding our way through rural paths, pastures with cows, and coastal sand dunes.

Today, the path has changed a bit, due to alterations in the land occupation, but it still retains the same characteristics as before. Some parts of it, especially near the coast, are signposted, as they belong to well established walking trails. You can actually make a nice circular trek of about 8 km, connecting Longueira, Brejo Largo, and Almograve. I never tire of walking in this area, appreciating the local tranquility and beauty. In this late December time, some of the fields still have unpicked sweet potato, but not many; no doubt they will be picked soon, as this is an important produce for the local economy. Other fields are used as pasture for cows and sheep, or planting corn.

In several isolated pine trees, it is possible to see nests with storks – gone are the days where these birds would migrate to Africa to spend the Winter time in fairer climates. There is even an unique species of stork that nests in the sea cliffs all year round. From Longueira to Brejo Largo the distance is around 4 km, an easy walk. After about 2 km you will pass the last group of houses, and the path will continue between a small pine tree forest. The terrain will also become sandy, as it enters the coastal sand dune system.

The sound of the sea and the waves is quite clear, brought by the wind. It is a sunny but cold December afternoon, with a clear and blue sky. I am thinking that such sky conditions will not be very interesting for photography, and will have to adjust accordingly: limit the sky area in the compositions, and make the best use of the side light. I am now hoping for some mellow light filtered by the sea spray, right at sunset time. We shall see.

Photographically speaking, I only took my Fujifilm XH-1 with the Fujinon 16-55 f/2.8 zoom lens, plus the tripod and Neutral Density filters for some long exposures. All in my small backpack, plus water and snacks. I have also packed another jacket, as I will be back only after nightfall, and I know the temperature will drop significantly by then. By now, after using this system for 1 year, I am so familiar with it, that it feels like second nature. Being weather resistant also helps to provide some degree of confidence when using it in the beach. There are lighter combinations in terms of camera and lens, but I really like this one: both camera and lens are robust, and perform really well. I am almost always in Aperture Priority mode, and low ISO, on the tripod.

When I arrived at the beach, the tide was rising, with the waves reaching almost to the bottom of the cliffs. Thus, I decided not to descend into the beach, and stayed at the top of the cliffs. Looking at the light conditions from the clear day, and with only about 1 hour until sunset, I had to work quickly. Being familiar with the area, and already with several framing ideas in my mind, i quickly entered into my shooting routine. I tested a few long exposures, and saw that the sea was giving nice results; in the northern part of the beach, there is a large geological dike intruding into the schist, which makes an interesting subject. This dike runs parallel to the coast, but unfortunately it was already covered by the incoming tide in the beach proper.

I made a few more shots looking south, and then quickly walked the rest of the way, to photograph the beach in the opposite direction. I was completely alone, with the exception of a couple of walkers that were doing the trail. In the summer, the place will be busier… Keeping an eye for the sunset, I noticed the light changing very quickly, becoming softer and more “golden”. I found interesting foregrounds along the cliff edges, including the typical low lying shrubs buffeted by the wind. It was an interesting colour combination composed of the dark rocks, the greens and goldens of the vegetation, and the hazy blues of the ocean and sky.

I remained on the beach until after sunset, and then slowly made my way back to Longueira. About half way through I saw a good possibility for a few more photos, as the Moon and Venus were already bright in the blue hour sky, and the fog was starting to cover the low lying parts of the landscape. There was a horse roaming about, which I managed to get into one of my photos. I arrived home well into night time, but it was well worth it. As a final bonus, the windmill in Longueira had its Christmas decorations on, so I took a photo of it, as a final frame for this session.

Brejo Largo beach – volcanic dike
Brejo Largo beach – looking South
Brejo Largo beach – mellow light at sunset
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – wind blown
Brejo Largo beach – sunset
Brejo Largo beach – after sunset
On the way back – Moon over fields
Fields, fog, and horse
Fences and fog
Christmas decorations – Longueira

The São Martinho das Amoreiras Trail – Odemira

Today I want to share another trek I did recently along the Rota Vicentina, a network of 750 km of walking trails in the southwest of Portugal. This time around, near the end of the year, my wife and I walked the 12.5 km of the São Martinho das Amoreiras circular pedestrian route, which is one of the recent additions to the vast number of trails. Like the one described in the previous blog post (Nossa Senhora das Neves), this one is also located in the interior of Odemira municipality. Although they share some common traits – the typical hilly and green rural landscape, with scattered farmhouses – the Amoreiras trail allows visitors to see some of the best products of the region, such as bread, honey, arbutus, and olive oil.

This is a scarcely populated parish (around 1,000 inhabitants), so tranquility is never far away. Still, you will see resilient people, mostly old, that keep alive the traditional ways of living, working in forestry, farming, and livestock. More recently, rural tourism/guest houses have opened, managed by younger people, offering visitors with the possibility of experiencing the region, offering a combination of activities, such as horse riding, star gazing, and, of course, trekking.

The trail starts in the village, and is easy to follow, thanks to the various signposts. Near the beginning, you can admire the main church in São Martinho, built in the 18th century, built under the auspice of the Order of Santiago de Espada. . Walking along the narrow streets surrounded by the typical low and white washed houses is a nice way to start the trek. After leaving São Martinho, the path quickly follows rural dirt roads and ways . There are numerous small farms with grazing animals and fruit orchards, limited by stone walls and creeks. Several of the older farmhouses have been abandoned and are in ruins, but the fields are still tendered to. Depending on the season, you will be able to see many birds, including a very special bird of prey: the Bonelli’s eagle. There are plenty of trees also, with relevance to old specimens of pines, cork oaks, cedars, and eucalyptus.

For us, there were several highlights on the trail, such as the windmills on the top of the highest hills; these afford magnificent panoramic views of the landscape. They are also good choices for a picnic lunch stop. It is wonderful to spend the day walking leisurely along this trail, winding up and down the green hills, surrounded by nature and tranquility. It seems unreal that the busier coastal area is less than 1-hour drive from here. These interior routes allow the visitors to get in touch with a way of living and cultural traditions that are increasingly rare. They offer a different perspective about the region, where communities are more isolated; the economic activities are a complement to the coastal ones, where fishing (and tourism) prevails. People are friendly and easy going, with the local cafés and public gardens serving as meeting points to warm up under the winter sun.

Human occupation in the area dates back to pre-historic times; this is witnessed by the nearby prehistoric Pardieiro Necropolis, a funerary structure that is 2,500 years old (Iron Age). The site holds several tombs, and some stone slabs were recovered, bearing samples of the first form of alphabetic writing on the Iberian Peninsula.

At the end of the day, if you are driving back towards Odemira, along the twisting N123 road, you will cross several other small and picturesque villages and farms dotting the landscape. Make sure to stop along the way to make a few more photos. This was another great trek in the interior region of Odemira, highly recommended. The link is provided below, for all the necessary details. Needless to say, I took a lot of photos along the trail, a selection of which I am showing below.

Church in São Martinho
Green country
Farm house
Typical house
Small village
From the top
Panoramic view
Pardieiro necropolis
Pardieiro necropolis