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Independent Travel

Travel in Spain and Portugal

A Bus Through Iberian History

In the southern provinces of the Iberian Peninsula rail service from Spain to Portugal does not exist. To cross the border travelers must take either the DAMAS morning or evening bus from Seville to Faro in the Algarve, with a connection in Huelva. The trip of about 200 kilometers takes four to five hours and costs ten to 12 euros.

After two hours the bus pulls into Huelva, a deepwater port on Rio Odiel. It was on these low, sandy plains that the Moors landed 1300 years ago. In three waves of conquest, the first lasting three years, they swept north taking all of the peninsula except Asturias, where the Visigothic (soon to be Spanish) kings quietly planned the reconquest.

Passengers who board at Huelva are mostly backpackers on their way to the Algarve (from the Arabic Al-Gharb which means Western Lands) and its beaches. The language on board becomes Portuguese; most of the Spanish speakers get off in Huelva.

The final stop in Spain is the small city of Ayamonte, where a long suspension bridge crosses Rio Guadiana, the border. There is no border station, just the odd sign in Portuguese, "Bem Vindo.” A mammoth fortress, Castro Marim, comes immediately into view, a cluster of three battlements of red stone.

Originally Moorish, Castro Marim was built up by successive Portuguese monarchs, Henry the Navigator among them, and then abandoned sometime around the Peninsular Wars. The gate is usually open; visitors may wander the courtyards and ramparts at their own pace.

Approaching Faro small stone houses from the years before the 1974 revolution give way to condominiums. Sparse orange groves and olive plantations are interrupted by building supply warehouses and car dealerships.

Budget tourism in Algarve has surged with the European Union and has brought construction and jobs. While hotels go up every year on the coast, just a few kilometers inland are pastures and hillside farmhouses that haven´t changed much since Napoleon invaded.

When the bus arrives at Terminal Rodoviario in Faro, a small city built on a large estuary created by Rio Formosa, it has been five hours since leaving Seville. The bus has descended the Iberian Plateau, crossed three large rivers, and traversed a land occupied over the past 3,000 years by Phonecians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Moors. It has covered half the coast of Southern Portugal and gone back one time zone—all for the cost of an ordinary bus ticket.

Contact DAMAS 011-34-9-59-256-900; info@damas-sa.es, www.damas-sa.es. Station address in Seville: Plaza De Armas, Avda, Christo de la Expiracion, 41002.