Jeep Safari

by Mike Forrest
Whilst on holiday in Carvoeiro in 1997 my wife and I decided to go on one of the many jeep safaris that are advertised in this area of the Algarve. We chose Zebra Safaris as they seem to be the most popular judging by the number of distinctive jeeps buzzing around the resorts.

We were at our resort reception area for 0820 but the jeep went passed the entrance and on to the next village. It came back about five minutes later. The driver blamed a poorly drawn map. I only hoped his map reading skills improved during the day.

This is where we came upon the photographer
We were the only two from Colina resort and we headed off to Albufeira chatting away with Nico, our driver, who turned out to be a real character. In Praia D'Ouro we picked up another four passengers, a mother and daughter from Edinburgh and a young married couple from Boston, Massachusetts.

After introducing ourselves all six of us were soon chatting away. On top of the cliffs above Albufeira we were joined by four other Zebra jeeps and then the convoy headed away from the coast with our guide/driver, Nico, giving little away as to our route for the day.

Our first stop was a café in Bouliquieme where we had time, as Nico said, for "Water, coffee, pee-pee". We also picked up some other passengers who hadn't made it to the starting point. Our jeep got one extra passenger, a Dutch tennis player. All the people on our vehicle spoke English.  I'm sure the organisers had arranged it this way. It doesn't make for a fun day if there are language difficulties.

We left Bouliquieme, and proper roads, as we headed north away from the coast and up through the hills on nothing but tracks and dusty fields. Nico, as we quickly found out, was the maddest driver of the five. He would take "short cuts" which were usually longer but bumpier than the route of the other jeeps.

As we drove through fields and groves of fruit trees Nico pointed out the various kinds: olives, oranges, quinces, pomegranates. He would also stop and pick up samples of the wild herbs growing beside the tracks: thyme, rosemary, anise.

Going through some fields of fruit and almond groves we stopped under a tree where there just happened to be a woman selling grapes, pears, watermelon and almonds.  Now, I know this was a set-up, in that the only passing trade this woman was likely to get was from other similar tours, but all the produce was local, fresh, very reasonably priced and a chance to find out a
bit more about the local economy, if you like that sort of thing.

After a fifteen-minute break we headed on further into the hills, sometimes on rough roads, most of he time on dirt tracks. Just before our next stop, we had our photos taken by the roadside and were told we would see them at lunchtime. The convoy had been coming along a curved road in the valley when, one by one, the jeeps stopped and the occupants all stood up and waved. Our jeep was last and so it took a little while to realise there was a photographer above us taking the shots. When it was our turn we all got up jumping, waving and shouting for the benefit of the camera.

On, through little villages which farmed carob (a substitute for chocolate), round bends that were impossible and up to a small craft shop in the middle of nowhere. It sold raffia baskets, fruit, herbs etc. Again, this was mostly for the benefit of Jeep tourists but it did not distract from its
charm. The handicrafts and produce were genuinely local and good value.

The owner, a woman in her seventies had, according to one of the drivers never seen the sea even though it was only twenty miles to the south. I think this may have been just a bit of "local colour" put in for the benefit of tourist, but then again maybe it's true. She definitely had been making baskets for a long time judging by her twisted hands from many years of weaving.

One of the drivers gave us a very interesting description of a bread oven that was out the back of the farmhouse. He told us that his grandmother had had one and went on to explain how it was used to bake the local bread.

On leaving the craft shop we continued on through farm fields and small villages. We passed some plantations that were growing plants ready for Expo'98 being held in Lisbon.

Restaurant Fonte Poquena at Alte, where we stopped for lunch.
About 1230 the tour stopped at Alte for a meal in the restaurant by the Fonte Poquena. Dinner was Caldo Verde soup, Chicken Piri-Piri, and fruit and wine, as much of anything as you wanted.  Towards the end of the meal the guy with the photographs arrived and he did a roaring trade with people wanting a souvenir of what had already been a very enjoyable day. It's obvious from the photos that we were on the rowdiest jeep.
As we were about to set off from Alte we found our jeep had a puncture. It was changed, with the help of one of the other passengers (his job in Scotland was as a tyre fitter). He was recovering from a heart operation only six weeks ago. Luckily he survived the exertions and then it was on the road again.
Off on the tracks again above Alte to an old Medronha distillery. A bit of a disappointment this as I'd understood that it was still producing the local 'firewater'. It had ceased production some time ago. Never the less, one of the drivers ran through the process of how the Medronha is made from Arbutus Berries (they look like mini oranges). The explanation was very entertaining as he repeated each part of the process in German, Dutch, then English. All of us got a taste of the fire-water and there was also some locally produce preserves to buy. Then onwards through fields and hills where we got to pick some wild arbutus berries that are used to make the
Off-road and into the hills above Quartiera
On, up through some cork plantations (stripped every nine years, you can tell by the year number painted on the tree) over some really hairy drops at breakneck speed and back to Alte for "water, coffee, pee-pee"  We had a beer in one of the little cafés in the village, this one had a pottery shop attached. My wife thought of buying a plate but decided it might not survive an hour of Nico's driving.  The other jeeps set off for Albufeira while Nico tried to find the ignition keys.  He thought Jimmy our Dutch passenger had hidden them for a joke.  When that turned out not to be the case he thought he must have left them in the café.  In the end he had to phone the other jeeps.  Fifteen minutes later one of them came back. It's driver had inadvertently picked up Nico's keys.
Once out of Alte it was back onto some tracks through fields before getting on the main road to Albufeira.

Passengers were dropped off at their respective hotel and forty minutes later we were dropped off at reception at the end of a fun, enjoyable adventure.

My wife and I had booked the tour through our resort reception for 13200Esc. (£26 each - 1999).  We were picked up and returned right to the complex.  The midday meal was included in the price.  Extras were the stops at cafes, remote fruit stalls and craft shops.  Although I said Nico was a 'mad' driver he certainly wasn't dangerous and his shortcuts were all part of the fun. Our trip had been in the second week in October and the weather was glorious. This is the jeep that my wife and I were in, (That's me, back row, centre)
A very enjoyable experience.

Mike Forrest