Algarve survival 101

Shouting ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!’ obviously isn’t going to help when you’re lost in the wilderness. But what is? Since Enjoy the Algarve sucks at reading maps and always explores new roads, we often end up somewhere we don’t know. Better ask Pedro Alves of Escola do Mato how to survive if we’d get seriously lost in the south of Portugal. 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2017

Intro picture by Luke Porter. All other pictures courtesy of Escola do Mato


“It’s almost impossible to get lost in the Algarve,” is the reassuring answer of the bushcraft expert (pictured below). “If you go south, there is a strong chance of finding a village within 3 to 4 km. And there is only so much land before you reach the beach.” OK, fair point.

Especially when coming from someone who hasn’t only been on expeditions in remote places like the Arctic, but has also hiked in many parts of Portugal’s southernmost region, using local resources to lighten his backpack. But what if there’s a worst case scenario, like if you’ve broken a leg and it starts to rain. What would Pedro Alves (41) do to survive this imaginary crisis in the Algarvian wilderness? “If I had an accident and was unable to return by myself, with the night catching up and the rain starting to fall, I would probably create a makeshift shelter, light a fire to keep warm and dry, and wait to be rescued.”

Remember this advice, because Pedro knows what he’s talking about. He’s never actually been lost in the wild: “I’ve have been ‘geographically challenged’, but always had a fair idea of where I was.”

Pedro is the technical director of Escola do Mato, Portugal’s only bushcraft school. He explains: “Bushcraft is the knowledge and muscular memory that allows for a more intimate experience of nature. We teach people to open their eyes to the vast and intricate complexity of the natural world and to find their place in it in a sustainable way.” No, he isn’t talking about tree hugging here; Pedro is more like Portugal’s answer to Bear Grylls. He teaches people to be comfortable in the woods with minimum modern equipment.


Most of these skills involve taking care of your basic needs: shelter, fire, water, campfire cooking, knife-saw-axe making, navigation and natural lore. The advantage of this knowledge: the more you have in your head, the less you carry in your backpack. Even more important than equipment or survival skills, however, is your mental attitude. Pedro explains: “The will to live is extremely important; it’s what keeps you going. Without the fierce will to stay alive, there’s no amount of training that can help you, because you start neglecting yourself.”


So how to survive in the woods? “We teach that the best way to avoid a punch is not having your face in the way,” answers Pedro. His logical explanation: “The best way to stay alive is to minimise the effects of things that can kill you. If the cold rain starts pouring, you need a shelter quick, as hypothermia can get to you in a couple of hours.”

First steps are to find shelter from the elements and a fire for warmth, signalling, and eventually boiling water. Other tips include preparing for any incident you can’t control, like failing equipment. As with everything in life, the more you learn, the lower the risk. Pedro: “It’s like crossing the road by yourself. As a child, this is a real danger, but as you learn to look both ways, listen for approaching vehicles, and wait for the green light, it becomes an everyday affair.”

The most common risks in Portugal include heat stroke in the summer and hypothermia in winter. Still, no need to worry too much if you get lost on your walk. Pedro: “Water is rather easy to find here and the country is rather small, making it relatively easy to walk to help in a short period of time.”


When specifically looking at the Algarve, the winters can still be quite miserable if you’re caught by nightfall under a heavy pour with temperatures below 10˚C.


However, more dangerous are the hot Algarvian summers, where temperatures can reach 40˚C. Pedro: “People tend to underestimate the amount of water we need to keep hydrated.” Deal with those risks by setting off well-equipped and prepared. In summer, this means carrying at least three litres of drinking water and proper sun cover. In winter you’ll need waterproof clothing, a tarp and the means to start a fire. Also crucial is telling someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back, making sure they’ll come looking for you if anything happens.


Bushcraft is more than just survival skills, though. It’s about interacting with the environment. About not forgetting that most of the more common medicinal and edible plants thrive on our lawns. Even though people nowadays have lots of contact with nature, by going to the beach or walking their dog, “we no longer have or spend the time that’s needed to really see and understand nature,” states Pedro. This is one of the reasons of bushcraft’s popularity; looking for a way to focus and spare time, people search for more immersive nature experiences.

Pedro: “Then there are the tales told by nature; when the footprints in the mud are not just a nuisance or need for a sidewalk, but a story of a big slightly limp dog chasing a cat up a tree (if you look up, he might still be up there).” Personally, Pedro is fascinated by environmental interactions. “I love the way a certain flowering plant means there’ll be a specific animal nearby, how insects use the leftovers and the birds eat them, and how mushrooms in their turn finish the process of turning decay into plant food. All this helps me understand my place in the world and teaches me how I can be an active part of it.”


Inspired to start your own adventure after reading this? Before you go, check out Pedro’s 7 short survival and bushcraft awareness tips:

  1. Go prepared.
  2. Tell someone.
  3. Go adequately equipped.
  4. Be aware of the weather.
  5. Know your limits.
  6. Learn the basic skills and get some knowledge from local guides.
  7. Keep your eyes open and enjoy.



See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2017

Posted in Features, People.