I wanted to be a missionary, because my aunt was very religious, always donating money to support the mission, and I knew these people were going to live in places like Africa. She had beautiful books about Africa with all the pictures of nature and the animals, and I was never religious, which was really hard for my aunt, but I said in school I want to be a missionary, because then I could travel to Africa and live in the forest. Over the years I realized several of my dreams: I wanted to be a tour guide, later I became one, which was surprising because I left school very early: schools are made of stone and I prefer to be outside. I started to work in agriculture, which is now very good for my work: I can talk to the farmers, I can understand and know their problems, which is important to them, but also to me, because I like to help people. Everything you learn in life is good for something.
I am originally from Switzerland, I was born on a farm, and I moved to Portugal more than 35 years ago. I’ve always spent my life outside, when I was a kid I went fishing, birdwatching, biking. I worked as a tour guide for 10 years, so I always knew that Costa Vicentina is a perfect area for hiking and mountain biking. A couple of years ago some people joined together to work on a project called Casas Brancas to promote this area. I became President, but I was always more interested in hiking and outdoor activities. If someone comes here in April for a beach holiday, he will find it cold and rainy, he can walk, but he will not be happy. In Brejao in Casa da Seiceira, in Casas Brancas’ annual meeting, the Eureka moment happened: we agreed that a walking route should be set up, and we started to brainstorm and design Rota Vicentina. Marta Cabral was luckily already part of the team, she knew how to organize everything into a project, and we achieved it, even though it was not easy in the beginning, because people couldn’t imagine this project and they said no money should be spent on Rota Vicentina. We created a new name, and we proved that South West Portugal is beautiful for hiking and commercially a success. The name of Rota Vicentina was my idea, even though I’m not good with names, I’m proud of this one.
Switzerland is a very rich country with good examples in politics amongst many others, for example we have a government without a prime minister, which is a fine system so we can rule the country without creating problems between the different ethnic groups. I have everything here, but there I would be a poor guy. Now I see clearly that I couldn’t have lived in Switzerland all my life. I don’t like the rich people, I prefer “small people”. It is great in the work I do that I can meet many interesting people and the presidents of councils do work hard, and they do care about this place. When you talk to a hiker you don’t hear about bad experiences, if they have a problem, people are friendly and helpful.
I believe you should not do the same thing your whole life, usually I say 10 years is enough for something. I was working on a farm, in construction, then as a tour guide, I built my rural tourism house, Casas Brancas, Rota Vicentina. If you want to change, you want to change for the better. But I’m “too” well here, we live in a beautiful place worrying about nothing, we don’t even need to go on holiday because we live in this area.
Every day is different, I like doing different things at the same time. I don’t like getting up very early, I put my daughter on the bus, I drink a coffee and take a look at yesterday’s newspaper because today’s hasn’t arrived yet. I start to clean the pool, talk to the guests, while waiting for the bread to arrive. I have breakfast, I look at the computer to see if any reservations have come in, and I have a lot of work with Rota, before it was more looking for the path, talking to owners, but now it is more marking, meetings with journalists or regarding cycling. The Fishermen’s trail you must hike before you die, and through this we can introduce the Historical Way and the Circular Routes to people. It is a bigger challenge to put the inland routes on the map than the Fishermen’s Trail, but they have great potential.
The photos were taken by Campilhas dam.