Tag Archives: Portugal Fishing

Travels in Portugal, Carvoeiro from Fishing to Tourism

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“By the end…it was clear that  spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  It became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”  –  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

In 1970 following the breakup of the Beatles, George Harrison released a solo album called “All Things Must Pass”. I remember that at the time there was much debate about whether this was a lament for a lost past or a celebration of future opportunity.  I suppose it all depends on your point of view.

All Things Must Pass

When I first visited Carvoeiro in 1986 a single dusty road led to centre of the village and the beach front and on the sand itself was a curious metal structure and a circular sign advertising Nivea Cream.  There were wooden frames for drying fish but no sun beds or parasols, there were cafés for local people but no cocktail bars, there were fishing boats but no pedalos. Today, after only thirty years or so, there is a long tarmac road through modern holiday developments and hotels, tourist shops, restaurants and the inevitable ‘Irish Bar’.

I mentioned my previous visit to our host Isabella at our accommodation and with a theatrical sweep of the arm declared that all of the built up land all around was once open fields, she sounded sad about that but I am sure she wasn’t because now she has a thriving hotel business.

Once settled in we walked to the beach which was still busy in the late afternoon sunshine and then took a path away from the sand up past the holiday apartments and the bars and made our way to the top of the precarious cliffs, a route which took us past rows of abandoned fishermen’s houses that are destined sometime to be demolished and replaced with more modern apartments.

Carvoeiro Then and Now

In this picture I have in the background the old fishermen’s houses today, run down and decrepit, by contrast in 1986 they are still occupied and there is a grand old house on the top of the cliff which is gone now.  The beach is bigger because the Council demolished some cliffs to get more sun bed space.  The black and white picture is about one hundred years ago and I do not feature in it!

This is a process that is inevitable, people can’t go on living in one hundred year old houses without basic modern facilities but it is still a shame to see their slow process through decay towards demise and eventual final collapse.  What I did find sad was the graffiti that was daubed on the walls and doors, such I shame I thought that people can’t let old buildings crumble and fall down with some sort of dignity.  No one would go into a care home and spray-paint an old person – would they?

Carvoeiro Graffiti

At the very top I looked down on the crescent beach and the busy seafront behind it, it had certainly changed but not beyond recognition and I still liked it.  I thought about it this way; if I had not visited Carvoeiro thirty-five years ago then I would have known no difference.  Someone visiting for the first time today and returning in thirty-five years time might say ‘yes, it is lovely but you should have seen it in 2019, it was much better then’

Having walked west we now returned to the beach and after a short break set off in the opposite direction where a wooden boardwalk took us half a mile or so along a cliff top walk along sandstone cliffs sculptured into columns and caves by the erosion of the sea.  There was opportunity to take various steep paths down to the edge and explore the caverns and lagoons that had been carved out of the rocks, I made my way down into one of the caves where people were swimming but I declined to join them because the rocks were razor sharp and in just a few minutes my feet and knees were bleeding from several tiny cuts so we retired to a beach bar where I could attend to my injuries over a glass of beer.

Carvoeiro Cave

After an afternoon beside the hotel swimming pool our thoughts turned to evening meal but before eating we returned to the beach to catch the sunset.  I remembered fishing boats on this beach but there were none here now, there are no fishing boats anymore because the fishermen have all abandoned the hard life of the sea and earn their living these days taking boat loads of people to visit the caves all along the coastline which at about €20 a person for a thirty minute boat ride I suspect is much more lucrative business.

All Things Must Pass”.

We found a traditional sort of restaurant, Kim had spicy chicken piri-piri and I had mixed fish rice, a sort of risotto and with the food a jug of house wine and a beer, we had earned it, we had walked almost eleven miles today.

For an account of how tourism replaced fishing then read Norman Lewis – “Voices of the Old Sea”

Carvoiero Cave 02

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Azuleja

Pavoa de Varzim AzulejoCasa dos pescadores Vila do Conde

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Fishing

Bacalau Portugal

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood.”  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

Once again the coastal weather didn’t cooperate with our beach plans and we woke to a thick sea mist that seemed to hang around like a wet blanket.  The hotel clerk apologised several times as though he was personally responsible for this and reluctantly told us that most likely it would be like this all day.

No beach for us today for sure.

Instead we left the hotel and walked along the north bank of the River Ave until it met the sea and then we turned north towards the city of Póvoa de Varzim about three miles or so away.

On the way we visited the fish market of Vila do Conde and passed the now abandoned timber fish drying trestles where traditionally cod from Newfoundland was salted in preparation to be transformed into bacalau.

The trestles and the drying frames have all gone now and only the rotting skeletal timber supports remain but with a bit of imagination it is possible to see what it must have been like; a beach full of white fish facing south and glinting madly in the sun rather like a modern day solar energy farm.

fish and solar

On the side of a derelict fish preparation warehouse there was a mural, a painting showing just how this place once looked with women workers attending to the precious fish.

IVila do Conde Fishing Mural

Ocean fishing is a hard job.  It used to be a whole lot harder.

Three fishers went sailing out into the West,
Out into the West as the sun went down;
Each thought on the woman who lov’d him the best;
And the children stood watching them out of the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,

Charles Kingsley

Generally when we think of fishing we focus on the brave men that put out to sea, sweating, straining; blistered, burning, bleeding, bruised; grunting, groaning – dropping their nets; heaving, hoisting, and then bringing in their haul and returning worn out, beat and battered back to beaches.

A tough job – I wouldn’t want to do it and I wouldn’t want to do the job of fishermen’s wives either because I imagine that was equally as demanding.  They might not have put out to sea or battled with the nets and the ropes, the rough seas and the weather but they had their own arduous tasks to perform just the same.

Before the men set off to work the women had to help them prepare, maybe a bit of patching up here and there, wounds to stitch, bandages to apply and then pack up some food and drink to take with them.

Next the really arduous job.  While they were out at sea they had to sit and worry about them returning safely and when they did they were thankful but now there was more work.

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While the men hauled the boats away from the surf onto the beach the women dealt with the catch, gutting the sardines, descaling the mackerel, separating the flesh from the bones of the cod and hanging into the sun prior to salting and all the premium fish expertly prepared for market.

And then they had to go to market to do the negotiating and the selling.

When they had finished all of that they had to start mending nets digging the sand for juicy bait and harvesting slimy seaweed and drying it to sell to inland farms as fertilizer.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the housework, preparing food and looking after the children.

I mention this because everywhere in Portugal there is street art which is based on the lives of fishermen and women and for a country which didn’t grant equal rights  until 1974 the art celebrates fishing men and women in equal measure and I was pleased to see that.  Women so often get overlooked in these matters.

The depiction of women and fishing has changed though.  These two contrasting examples are first from the city of Ovar (at the Railway Station) and the second from the city of Póvoa de Varzim.

Portugal Fishing TilesFishwives Povoa de Varzim

The first is a tiled wall from about fifty years ago which shows a traditional image of a glamorous, smiling woman who looks rather like Sophia Loren, someone a fisherman would be delighted to return home to after a tough night at sea and the second is a modern sculpture that depicts a group of fishwives that you wouldn’t want to bump into down an alleyway on a dark night.  I suspect that the second is probably a more accurate depiction..

Póvoa de Varzim turned out to be a much larger place than I had imagined, it is the seventh-largest urban centre in Portugal and was once home to the country’s largest fishing port.  It is still important to the fishing industry but now predominantly for processing and canning.  The story of Póvoa de Varzim is rather like that of Grimsby in England, the town where I live.

Eventually we reached an agreed turning around point, found a beach bar for a drink and then as we walked back the mist began to reluctantly clear and the sun made the odd shy appearance.

It didn’t clear completely until we arrived back in Vila do Conde so with the sky now blue and the sun in all of its glory we walked the centre of the old town, the market (gone now for the day) the Cathedral, the Convent and some more of the Aqueduct. I was glad that we had returned to Vila do Conde, I liked it here.

Later the hotel arranged some car hire for us on the following day, it was a lot less fuss than Europcar and quite a lot cheaper as well. The next day we planned to drive to Guimarães and Braga.

Fishwives Pavoa de VarzimSelling Fish Furadouro

Portugal, Fishing Pictures

Fishing Collage PortugalPortugal Fishing

How can anyone put it? One thing is certain – here we have always been and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea.” – Norman Lewis

Everywhere in Portugal there is celebration of fishermen and women.

The reason that fishing is such a major economic activity in Portugal is because the Portuguese people eat an awful lot of fish.  It has the highest per capita fish and seafood consumption in Europe – analysis reveals that the Portuguese consume almost 50kg per person every year.

Spain is second but a long way behind at about 30kgs. Surprisingly for an island which keeps going on about how important fishing is to the economy the UK can only manage 13kg, Germans eat a lot of strange things but only 9kg of fish, which is just about the same as Australians and the US and Canada are down at only 5kg and most of that is shrimp,

To be fair however a lot of Australia, Canada and the USA is a long way from the sea.

At only one hundred and fifteen miles Miranda do Douro on the Spanish border is the Portuguese town furthest from the sea.   In the USA Lebanon in Kansas (the geographical centre of the country) is six hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico, in Canada Calgary is three hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean and in Australia Alice Springs is about five hundred miles from the Gulf of Carpentaria so I guess the supply of fresh fish from the coast can sometimes be a bit of a problem.

Fisherman Pavoa de VarzimPortuguses FishermanPortugal Furaduero Fishing Boat

Traditional fishing methods have declined since Portugal joined the European Union, I took this picture in 1984 on the beach somewhere on the Algarve…

Algarve Beach Fishing Boats

And this is me discussing the catch of the day with a local fisherman in Praia de Luz in 1994…

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