I found some new Algarve trails listed on the internet. Two were just past the nearby city of Loule, so I decided to drive to the town of Amendoiera (Almond Trees?). This in itself is an adventure, because I had to drive out M523. Nowhere is there a road posted M523. Eventually, I found myself in the town and saw the trailhead sign and a wonderful parking spot, the best I had ever seen at the start of any trail. It even had a cobblestone shaded picnic area with a giant metal wheel that you could spin to pump water. I was expecting to see a Cafe Mateus, but assumed it must be hiding 150 meters further up the road.
I took a picture of the map of the trail that was on the sign and set off. The map showed the trail heading west. (follow the arrow) Then one merged onto the road, and after a bit turned right, crossed over a hill, turned left along another road, again turned right again and followed the trail over a steep hill. At the bottom, take a sharp right and walk along a beautiful valley. At the end of the valley, get to a lovely spring, circle around another town, again turning right, cross a stream and up to the starting point where the car was parked. Well that was the plan, a giant circle, always to the right.
I set out, at first following the water channel, but then finding a paved path, the correct one because it had a yellow bar painted above a red bar usually on a rock. (the two colors signify a short circular path as contrasted with other colors signifying one of the long distance paths). I enjoyed the beauty of the hike but kept looking to the right for my trail. I started grumbling because it was longer than indicated. I was tempted to take the side trails to the right but they had the red and yellow bars crossed meaning not the trail, so I forged ahead. Finally, my own trail had one of those crossed signs. I backed up and found a trail sign, one with a yellow bar and a red “L” upside down. I looked carefully. The sign indicated that I should turn left. It was a sharp left off the cement path onto a dirt one up a steep hill. I looked at my picture of the route on the camera, but couldn’t figure what was up. I should have merged left onto a road, not turned sharply. Now, I was really grumbling about inaccurate mapmakers.
That dirt path was dry, shadeless, steeply uphill and hot, plus I suddenly realized I had left my hat at home. I stopped for a breather and felt a drop. I realized that clouds had obscured the sun and some rain had started, at the perfect time. I hiked up and at the top saw a couple of houses with a name that included gato. As I continued, downhill, I heard traffic. Puzzled, but finally I saw the road and my bars indicated left again. I consulted my map and saw that I should soon come to a place with the name gato in it. A second one, I wondered? After that, I should go downhill and then I should walk along a pretty valley. Finally, I should find the springs I was hoping for. Soon I crossed the second road, and looked for the trail over the hill, to the right. It never came. I bent back to the left and returned to the second road as it meandered through a town. Now, I found my second trailhead sign. Following the road through town, I was startled to see Cafe Mateus. It shouldn’t be there.
I walked back to the trailhead sign and realized my error. I had parked in the second town, Almenjoa, at the spring I had been looking for my whole hike. I had been hiking the trail backwards. No wonder the trail had always turned left when I kept wanting it to turn right. Suddenly, I saw every little bit of the map was highly accurate. My perception had been inaccurate. Fortunately, instead of following my instincts, I had insisted on following the markers exactly, no matter how wrong it felt. Now, with the right orientation, I followed the trail and felt comfortable as it obeyed every turn exactly as pictured. Soon, I was back at the car, the spring and the lovely picnic spot. I rewarded myself with the repast that had awaited my return.
As I sat eating, I mulled over some thought inspired by my study of Romans. Christianity has these crazy ideas, absolutely bonkers. To start with, death is victory, where everyone knows death is defeat. Next, you can’t earn anything from God. It is all a gift. The result is that there is no incentive to strive, isn’t that right? Then, people are forgiven of all their sins, past present and future. Everyone knows that they now have an excuse to go and sin as much as they want, because there is now no punishment for sinning. This was just like hiking the trail backwards and not knowing it, but upset because nothing made sense. Similar to how I was tempted to leave the trail to do what made sense, Christians often go back to living by a set of laws because the Bible’s teaching makes no sense. It is only when you are jolted into finally seeing things the right way that understanding settles in, just like when I got the right orientation on the map. In the Bible’s case, When the love of God for other people consumes you, you not only obey the laws but go way beyond them. “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Rom 13:9-10. With this attitude, death is victory, the motivation is much greater than legalism, and love won’t let you sin.