From one of the high rise budget hotels
in Portimao we picked up a group
of six challenged men and their two minders.
(Portugal, our tour guide told us later,
was enabling those – institutionalised
since childhood for learning difficulties –
to take vacations, with supervision,
from the drab, echoing, noisome halls).
Two were remarkable: a gaunt fellow
bent permanently double, always moving,
keeping close to the other, a joker
with moustached Arabic looks and frightened eyes.
We crossed the Arade – more reed bed now
than river – and entered ancient Silves;
visited the cathedral – an erstwhile mosque –
and the Moorish castle. The jester
talked almost without breathing, the bent chap
by his side. We drove through regimented
plantations of pine, acacia,
eucalyptus, climbing towards the spa town
of Caldas de Monchique – cool beneath its oaks
and umbrella pines. The stooped lad
ran quickly from shade to shade. His mate
spoke rapidly to the halcyon air.
We ascended Mount Foia – with its shop,
café, and air force radar station.
Westwards we could see Cape St Vincent,
the Atlantic – south imagine Morocco.
The two young men were sitting on a step,
out of the wind, smoking roll ups, watching
a family – mum and dad, two boys –
flying a crimson kite.