The Best Worst Campsite

August 19, 2016

I remember a line from a Sunday school song in my youth:

“The foolish man built his house upon the sand.”

The song didn’t say anything about a tent. It should have.

Scouting ahead alone, I’d discovered this campsite on a dune along the Alentejo coast of southwestern Portugal. The tourist guides will all send you to the southern beaches and coastal resorts of the Algarve, and that’s fine if you’re on a package beach vacation. But if you want dramatic wild scenery without the tourist crowds, the southwestern coast of Portugal is for you. Rather than hug the coast, the roads flirt with it, and when the road, sometimes unpaved, finally kisses the rugged coastline, the views will leave you speechless as you pedal some of the most beautiful kilometers on earth.

When I returned to my wife Kat, who had stayed with our bikes by the road, I announced, “It is going to be a lot of work, but it will be worth it!”

And even after dragging and carrying our bikes and gear a half mile through soft sand, Kat agreed.

Without a cloud in the sky, a light refreshing breeze blew in off the Atlantic. The lights of a quaint seaside town glowed in the distance. We had found many amazing wild campsites during our bike journey, but this one topped them all.

We cooked a meal and shared a bottle of wine, then fell asleep to the sound of the surf far below.

About 4:00 am, wind began to whip sand against the tent. A light rain quickly turned torrential, and strong gusts racing across the Atlantic slammed into our portable shelter. The inside of our tent sounded more like a train. The tent stakes went flying. I zipped open the door, grabbed one flapping end of our rain fly, and held it down, my elbows buried in the sand.

A tent is not much more than a piece of nylon fabric with a frame. The same can be said for a hang glider. We were both laughing nervously while wondering if a strong enough gust could carry us with our tent, Wizard of Oz style, off the cliff and out to sea.

It didn’t, though we held on for the good part of an hour before the wind and our nerves began to calm down. Later, we laughed about it over breakfast, but realized how foolish we’d been not to check the forecast.

You can read more about Willie and Kat’s adventure in southern Portugal, “A Tent with a View,” in our publications archive, where you can search a database of hundreds of features and articles.

Photos by Willie Weir

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday.

Willie Weir is a contributor for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can also find him at, Facebook, and Instagram.  


Ed August 20, 2016, 3:57 PM

The wizard of Oz scenario is a real and dangerous possibility, a woman was killed here in NZ a few years back when that happened, very tragic.

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