Wednesday 30th October – Luz to Mina de São Domingo’s (64 miles)
It was nice to wake up once again to sunshine, morning rituals conducted, albeit without the views that I had from my bedroom window that I had so enjoyed at Monsaraz yesterday. Time then to get up and go outside to do the ‘wardrobe check’, it was another shorts and tee-shirt day ! It was certainly a ‘move on’ day, but first we needed to make sure that all the essentials were ’empty or full’ as appropriate. The fresh water had to be hand filled again using the plastic water container, but I made a promise to myself that by the end of today I would have the right sort of tap connector added to my collection. To make sure that I got what I needed I used my iPhone to take a photo of the threaded tap at the water point and a photo of one of my smaller tap connectors, they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words, especially true for an Englishman trying to describe such items in a foreign language !! This is a journey of discovery and not just one of new places, using ‘Aires’ and even Wild Camping but also to test out and learn more about ‘Big Momma’. The one thing that I discovered this morning was that when the fresh water gauge tells you that it is 100% full, it isn’t !! I asked Shazza to tell me when she could see water coming out of the overflow pipe and I kept filling, it took another 15 Litres !!
We were not alone with conducting these rituals, it seems that everyone needed to ‘fill and empty’ this morning, however it does become a bit of an ‘International’ social event and a time when you get to speak with other Motorhomers about their travels. I was engaged in conversation with a ‘French’ chap who was returning home to ‘Bordeaux’ after a month on the Algarve. He told me about a good ‘Camper Stop’ near Albufeira and we told him about the Barragem do Caia. Domestic duties completed it was time to make our way to the ‘Praia Fluvial’ (Beach River) at Mina de São Domingo’s, a journey of just over two and a half hours. We said our farewells to Tom, Karen, Brian and Carol, although we were likely to see them at our next stop as Brian and Carol were meeting friends there and Tom and Karen said they may stop there and take the opportunity to have a paddle in their inflatable canoe.
I have to say a little about the Portuguese roads as I have previously waxed lyrically in praise of the Spanish one’s. Since leaving Santander we have not used any Motorways, toll or otherwise, in fact, just digressing a little bit, the only toll we have paid on the journey since we left our home behind in Swindon was £6 on the ‘Tamar Bridge’ at Plymouth !! Back to the roads in Portugal (the red and yellow one’s) and whilst the majority so far have been absolutely fine, they are certainly not as well maintained as those in Spain. Some surfaces are well-worn and the edge of the roads leave a lot to be desired, but putting it into perspective, ‘Big Momma’ has had no problems on any of the roads so far. However, our worst road trip was today’s, the road was so uneven it was a very long, noisy and bumpy journey, no potholes or anything like that, just a very uneven road surface, a bit like driving for 60 miles over a road full of ‘rumble strips’, but I have to say that it was worth it !!
We entered the small town (or is it a large village ?) of ‘Mina de São Domingo’s’ and decided to stop and find a shop as we really needed milk and bread. We found a very small ‘general purpose’ shop but it met our needs, I thought I would try my luck and show the friendly ‘aged’ female shop proprietor the photo’s of the tap and connector that I required, she said ‘noh’ but then, like an automatic machine gun, she fired several thousand rounds of Portuguese words at me, none of which I had the slightest understanding of even if my ears could have intercepted one or two of them !! Not to be defeated, she then resorted to arm movements accompanied with several thousand rounds of Portuguese words. We nodded and smiled as if we had now understood, as you do, and left the shop in the general direction that she had indicated. Once out of sight of her shop we stopped and asked another of the locals, going through exactly the same performance once again, photo’s, a thousand rounds of words at breakneck speed, arm movements, nods and smiles of understanding. We eventually did find a shop, and this shop sold what we were looking for, so I bought two, one as a spare, as you do !! I had been successful in my mission and in the most unlikely of places.
The ‘Aire’ was just around the corner, however, although the ‘Camperstop Europe’ book had this listed as parking only, there is a Motorhome Services Point just a short distance away, so in reality if you wanted to stay for an extended period of time (there are no time restrictions on this ‘Aire’ as there are on some other’s), you could leave the parking area, go to the service point, empty and re-fill as necessary and then return to the parking area. Let me tell you something about this particular ‘Aire’, it is not like any of the places we have stayed on so far, this is like a campsite but just for Motorhomes. Okay, so there is no reception building, no boundary fences, no washrooms or toilet blocks (Although in the summer season there is a beach cafe that has ample toilet facilities) but it does have a large and very neat and tidy gravelled area for parking, there are individual marked pitches, nice little posts with night lights, re-cycling bins and the best of all, just metres away it is surrounded on three sides by a moderately sized ‘Barragem’, ideal for swimming, fishing, kayaking or just sunbathing. It is within walking distance of the town which has shops including a mini-market, post office, cafe’s and a restaurant. There are walking routes and places to go cycling. Now unlike the majority of normal ‘Aires’ which do not allow camping, which means you are not permitted to put awnings, sun chairs or camping tables outside your van or to have BBQ’s, this one has no such restrictions and to stay here it costs absolutely nothing !! It is no surprise that there are at least 20 Motorhomes parked up here, a right little International community and the nice thing is that everyone speaks to each other. We have decided to stay here for at least three days to just relax and enjoy our surroundings. We are within striking distance of the South Coast, we could probably drive there in one day, however, we are still in no hurry so perhaps we may stay a bit longer. Brian and Carol arrived and met up with their friends, although they did pop across to say hello and I was able to give them information about the shop that sold the tap connectors as Brian needed one as well. Tom and Karen arrived and nabbed the last available parking place, right behind us in the next parking bay.
It is Winter here as well, and although the sun is warm during the day, it starts to drop in the sky by 5pm and it is dark just one hour later. I sat outside in my recliner soaking up the last of the days sunshine. I was looking out over the water where Tom was fishing, trying to bag himself a nice couple of ‘Bass’ for his supper. I think the only fish he would be eating tonight would be Tuna, from a tin !! The birds were chirping away and in the distance I could hear the familiar sounds of dogs barking. We have noticed that no matter where we have been in Spain or now Portugal, there are always dogs barking !! But the sun was still warm, we were in another idyllic location, a nice change from yesterday’s night stop, and all was well in our nice little piece of the world. We decided to have a BBQ for dinner, because we could. Our evening meal was accompanied with our last glass from the €2 plastic bottle of red wine that Shazza had bought from the ‘Spar’ shop in Logroson. It was quite palatable, or did I just get used to it ? The ‘Rose’ is still in its bottle waiting to be used when we get desperate !! Whilst Shazza washed the dishes I cleaned the BBQ and tidied away outside the van and by then nightfall had arrived so we battened down the hatches. Once we had showered and made coffee’s we settled down for the night, we had a quick look at what was happening in the world as we once again were able to ‘lock on’ to the ‘Hotbird’ satellite so could receive the BBC World News, then whilst Shazza played games on her iPad I got down to the serious business of updating this latest blog post. I already have two other posts already written awaiting publication, but there is still no ‘Free’ WiFi availability and although I could pay a daily rate for access with my phone provider, I am learning to become ‘miserly’ by the day, Shazza is a wonderful teacher !!
I think all this fresh air and action packed days are really tiring me out, well it does take a certain amount of effort to get up out of one’s sun chair to top up the glasses with the ‘Vino Tinto’, but whereas when I was at home I would be up until the small hours I am finding that I am in bed by 10:30pm at the latest and sleeping through and waking up totally refreshed. Yesterday evening we were in bed with a hot mug of coffee by 9:30pm and awake at 7:30am !! It was noticeably chillier this morning though, a check of the temperature gauge showed that it was a little over nine degrees inside the van, this is the lowest it has been throughout this trip so far. However, the sun had already got his hat on this morning so we opened the Heki’s so that it could do its magic whilst we stayed under the Duvet with our coffee. The ‘wardrobe check’ showed that it was going to be another shorts and tee-shirt day so shaved, washed and dressed another day beckoned and I wondered what sort of chocolate we would be biting into ?
We strolled into the village to look around, the locals had already claimed their sunshine perches for the day and were engaged in much conversation. I don’t know what they find to talk about, they never appear to do anything but sit outside in the sun !! We came across the ‘Mercado’ (market), not a big affair, in fact only a handful of stalls selling their produce. An old man selling his Fish, Sardines, a couple of fish that looked like Bass but Tom told me that they were not Bass but didn’t know what they were, and there was also some Squid, there were a couple of rival fresh veg and fruit stalls with the usual suspects, plus Chestnuts and Walnuts, nothing spectacular but we bought some fruit and veg. There was an old man selling his green olives, ‘Aue Natural’ not prepared in olive oil and garlic but just as they had fallen from his tree. Then there was the lady and her son who sold bread, cheese and cakes, but no baguette and Tom and Karen, the bounders, had purchased the last of the white rolls. “No problem” says the son, in perfect ‘Inglese’, “How many did you need”, we said that we would like six, “Okay, I will go home and put some in the oven, come back in twenty minutes”. We returned as instructed after twenty minutes and there were our six white bread rolls still hot from the oven. I can just see that happening in the UK !! We left the market and on our way to the ‘Mini-Mercado’ we stopped off at the ATM machine outside the Post Office, we didn’t need to at this point but I wanted to make sure that the Caxton Euro Cash Card worked whist we still had money, rather than wait until things were critical. The machine was easy to use as the instructions were given in Portuguese and English and it duly dispensed our cash. Next stop the Mini-Mercado to re-stock the ‘Salami’ supply, however, there was also a decent choice of locally produced ‘Vino Tinto’ and it was in bottles. Tom bought a litre bottle of red and I bought a litre bottle of red but from a different vineyard, we could try them both, and why not at just €2.90 a bottle. We then strolled back with the temperature rising rapidly, when we returned to the van it was already 26(c) degrees inside, lovely !!
I had decided that we either needed to re-locate to another pitch or turn the van around. In our current position we were on the wrong side to make the most of the sunshine, by the time the sun had moved around to where we would benefit it had already started to drop in the sky and cool down. So ‘Plan A’ was to re-locate to a pitch that had been vacated whilst we were on our morning shopping spree, it looked large enough to accommodate ‘Big Momma’ and it would have been, if someone hadn’t put those stupid knee-high concrete posts in the way. You know the ones I mean, the one’s that you do not see when reversing !! It was only a small crack in the rear skirting, hardly noticeable really !! Revert to ‘Plan B’, just turn ‘Big Momma’ around on the pitch we had already been occupying, which in the grand scheme of things should have been ‘Plan A’ then I wouldn’t have had a small crack in the rear skirting, the one that isn’t noticeable really, unless of course you know that it is there !!
We had a small lunch of freshly baked bread roll, some local Salami, Cheese and a few plump and juicy black grapes, washed down with just a ‘small’ glass of the recently acquired ‘Vino Tinto’, and very nice it all was too. A spot of relaxing in the sunshine, just to aid the digestion ! Then it was time for the afternoon exercise, we had done the cardiovascular and lower body (the stroll to the shops), now it was time for some upper body exercise. I had suggested a few arm stretches from the comfort of one’s sun chair but Shazza had other ideas ? ‘Kevin’ was unpacked, inflated and made ready to get his bottom wet. This was not a Barragem of the same proportions as the previous one (Barragem do Caia), but it was no duck pond either ! We spent a good couple of hours exploring and then returned to ‘Big Momma’ happy that we were doing all we could to keep the waistlines in some sort of proportion. And so it was that we found ourselves once again sat in the sunshine, in the comfort of the reclining sun chairs, with our neighbours Tom and Karen, quaffing some more very pleasant ‘Vino Tinto’. As soon as that sun dropped though, so did the temperature and we decided that early evening ‘aperitif’ were over and it was time to slip out of shorts and tee-shirts and dress for dinner, jeans and sweater !!
That is the thing that we have found, during the day when it is nice and hot everybody sits outside their own, or their respective friends vans and engages in conversation. Apart from the sound of the various conversations taking place in a variety of languages and the occasional ‘Universal’ sound of clinking glasses, it is a pleasant and peaceful existence. However, as soon as that sun drops everyone disappears into their own vans and that is it until morning comes around once more.
It had been yet another early night, I cannot believe that I was in bed before 9.30pm !! I had a bit if a lay in and didn’t awake until 08:15am, there was still a bit of a chill in the air but the sun was once again high in the sky and once the blinds were open the temperature inside the van soon rose. Whilst sat in bed enjoying our morning coffee we decided that we would move on tomorrow, we needed to empty the ‘essential’ tank and we could do this at the service point as we left, however we still had a full day here and it was going to be a scorcher. I didn’t need to do the wardrobe check this morning but that didn’t stop me from going outside to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun. As soon as we were dressed and had our second coffee’s it was time to walk into the village to get some fresh milk from the local store, it was supposed to be a ‘National Holiday’ on the 1st November but all the shops were open. I had checked the gas situation and we had now used our first bottle and with one bottle remaining I was keen to make sure that we found somewhere to fill up sooner rather than later. Sharon had not done any Laundry for over a week now and she wanted to find somewhere where she could get access to a washing machine so although our next scheduled stop would be at another ‘Aire’ we agreed that after that we would find ourselves a campsite. I left Shazza researching potential sites whilst I went for a walk. As I wandered around our ‘Aire’ site, I saw a chap picking something from one of the many trees that surrounded us, being of an inquisitive nature I sauntered across and asked him what he was picking from the tree. He told me that the tree contained ‘figs’ and that they were ripe and sweet, as if to prove his point he squeezed one between his fingers, the outer skin of the fruit burst open and he ate it. I carried on with my walk, back up from the fig tree, along the small sandy beach, through the beach cafe/bar which was closed for the winter and made my way back to the van. Shazza wanted me to look at a couple of campsites that she had found which were on our predicted route and on the South Coast, I said either would be fine and that she should make the choice as it didn’t matter to me. I told her about the fig tree and that she should come and look. We locked the van and I took her to the fig tree, I took one of the figs from the tree and she burst it open and confirmed that it was ripe and ready to eat. We selected half a dozen that we could either have in a salad or perhaps warm them in the oven with some goat’s cheese. As we were about to leave, another couple were picking something else from a nearby tree, a strange red fruit that I had never seen before and certainly wouldn’t have considered eating. However, they explained that it was a very sweet fruit which was used to make an alcoholic drink, although we were picking up the main thrust of what they were saying I could not understand the name of this alcoholic drink. Again, as if to prove that these fruits were edible they took one from the few they had already picked and ate it, then gestured that we should try as they were good. Okay, let’s give it a go I thought to myself, I went to the tree and picked two nice red one’s and gave one to Shazza, oh yes, if I am going to be poisoned then this will be a joint effort !! I cannot describe the taste of the fruit, it was soft, juicy and slightly sweet but it didn’t taste like anything else I have had before. They gestured that we should not eat too many as they will make us drunk. They explained this by pretending to put several berries in their mouths and then wobbling from side to side, but we understood their amusing mime. So as well as our handful of fresh figs we gathered a handful of ‘alcoholic’ berries and took them back to the van to consume at a later date.
It was time for lunch and it was far too hot to eat outside, this is actually the hottest it has been on our travels and if we stood still for too long we could feel the sun burning our skin ! It was 26.5(c) inside the van but it still felt cooler than it did outside ! Over lunch we decided that we would take ‘Kevin’ for another outing on the ‘Barragem’ and then after that, whilst he was drying off, I needed to re-organise ‘Big Momma’s’ garage as with taking things in and out it had started to get untidy and things were not fitting in as neatly as they should. Once I had completed that task I would re-fasten the cover on the bicycles as this had worked loose and would flap in the slightest of breezes, which was irritating when laying in bed at night. I would then give Shazza a break from kitchen duties and cook us a BBQ for our evening meal.
Before taking ‘Kevin’, ‘Dave’ and ‘The Duck’ on the water we went for a short walk around the banks of the ‘Barragem’ that skirted the ‘Aire’, it was pleasant as part of the walk was shaded by tree’s. Then it was time to hit the water, Tom and Karen had also decided to take out their canoe so we paddled out together to explore. The water was so calm today, it was like floating on top of mirrored glass and the paddling was effortless. The fish were jumping all around us, feeding on the stricken waterlogged insects, we stopped paddling and just let the momentum carry us forward in near silence. From the trees on the bank we could hear a woodpecker hammering away in search of insects that had secreted themselves away amongst the bark and then from the shoreline a pair of ‘Egrets’ took to the wing and scanned the water in an attempt to steal one of the unwary fish as it rose to the surface to feed and in doing so would become dinner themselves in the process. The fish were far too alert and the ‘Egrets’, on this occasion, were unsuccessful in their quest.
The ‘Barragem’ appeared to go on forever, after turning one corner another stretch of water lay in front and then another corner and another stretch of water, we still didn’t make it to the opposite side and Tom informed us that this ‘Barragem’ was about 5km long. We turned and headed back towards the ‘Aire’ but in much the same leisurely fashion, a few paddle strokes then drift, a few more paddle strokes and drift until eventually we returned once more to our starting point. Once the boats were lifted out of the water and carried back to the vans there was just time for a sit in the sun, a cigarette and a refreshing drink before commencing the planned tasks. Well I say planned because Tom and Karen appeared around the corner, chairs in one hand, glasses and bottle of ‘Vino Tinto’ in the other, well it would have been rude not to ! We had just about finished the second bottle when we were joined by Brian and Carol and the six of us whiled away the rest of the afternoon and early evening over a couple more bottles of the red nectar until, before we knew it, it was dark and getting a little chilly, although I am surprised that we felt the chill as we all (except Brian who didn’t drink) had enough alcohol to feel nothing except ‘numb’. ‘Kevin’ had not been deflated or packed away, the garage had not been re-organised, we certainly were not going to have our BBQ now, not only was it too dark but that much alcohol next to a naked flame was not a good idea. One breath at the wrong time and we could have lit the whole site up !! So it was agreed that perhaps we would be going nowhere tomorrow, well it always was a fairly flexible schedule after all !!!!
We said our respect good-nights and retreated to the relative warmth of our own vans, our’s being just a stride away. I was starving and Sharon was……..well there is no point in beating around the bush, she was happy, she was giggly, she was ‘as pissed as a newt’ ! But she insisted on making some bacon and egg butties whilst I, in the dark, locked away the life jackets and the kayak seats, moved ‘Kevin’ to the front of the van out-of-the-way, put the sun chairs in their night storage area (under the van) and then tidied up the empty bottles. Sharon was still giggly and far from quiet in the simple task of getting a frying pan out of the saucepan cupboard, bang, clatter and crash !! I was a little concerned at her being drunk in charge of a cooker, especially a cooker with a naked flame ! However, I was also concerned about Shazza being drunk in charge of a rather sharp bread knife so I relieved her of said implement and cut the bread rolls myself. She succeeded in providing the much-needed sustenance and I devoured mine in milliseconds, however, the effort of biting and chewing on her bacon roll must have got a little too much for Shazza as when I looked across, her bacon roll was only half eaten, her head was laying on a cushion and she was a nano-second from being in complete oblivion. I persuaded her to go to bed because if she were to sleep where she was, she would regret it when she awoke half-frozen in the middle of the night still feeling like someone who had just ‘necked’ more than her fair share of the ‘Vino Tinto’. She heeded my advice and was probably asleep before her head touched the pillow. I shut the bedroom door and it was only when I checked the clock that I discovered that it was only 7pm !!
In the silence I sat reflecting on the things we had done today, yesterday and then over what was now nearly three weeks of travel. It was not so long ago that I used to dream of getting away in the van, the researching, the spreadsheet financial planning, reading other people’s blogs, reading travel books, discussing fulltiming every night on the Motorhome forum and it still didn’t seem real, but here we both are, instead of just dreaming that dream we really are now living it ! The things I used to have concerns about, staying on these things called Aires’ or even ‘Wild Camping’, would we be safe I used to wonder ? What if we turned up at these Aires and their was no space ? Would the LPG run out before we could find somewhere to re-fill it ? What if we left the van and returned to find it had been stolen ? What if it had been broken into and we had been robbed of all our worldly possessions ?
I guess it is natural and healthy to have these thoughts, but in reality, unless we were to do something really stupid or do not take reasonable security precautions then these were all concerns we needn’t have had. We are within a very friendly and helpful community of Motorhomers. We have met some wonderful people of all Nationalities and we are seeing some really beautiful places. The local people are so friendly and welcoming and eager to assist. The local traders, whether on market stalls or within small retail shops are so grateful that you bought produce and goods from them. This still feels like a holiday trip to me and I still don’t know when the realisation will strike that it isn’t, perhaps it won’t ? What do I miss ? I will have to come back to you on that one for, at the moment, I cannot think of anything !!
And so it is that we shall stay for another two days in these soaring temperatures, with water close by to cool off when needed and friends in which to share the odd bottle or two of ‘Vino Tinto’, this is a hellish existence but someone has to do it………………