Our Initial Retirement Trip – Part Seven

Monday 28th October – Barragem do Caia to Monsaraz (57 miles)

Sunset over the Barragem

Sunset over the Barragem

Another good peaceful night’s sleep and we awoke early to the sun rising. My way of checking on what I should wear for the day, jeans or shorts, is to stand outside the van with a cigarette and a mug of coffee wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, if it is a bit chilly then it is change into jeans and so far this system appears to be working quite well. Today was most definitely another shorts and tee-shirt day.

We could have easily stayed at the Barragem for another few days but we were itching to continue our journey South so we made the decision to say farewell to our new-found Dutch friends. The plan was to move just 70 miles or so to the small town of Luz, near to a much bigger Barragem, although the ‘Aire’ was not at the water’s edge it looked close enough to walk to. The ‘Aire’ itself had full facilities so although we were not in desperate need of any at least we could do the necessary before we departed, whenever that may be !

One of the best things about this freedom of travel is that you do not have to have set plans. Yes we were heading for ‘Luz’ but on the map I had circled the town of Monsaraz, which was on our way, but I could not remember why I had not selected it as another stop on our journey. We were well on our way to ‘Luz’ when curiosity got the better of us and so we decided to pull over and see what the ‘Camperstop Europe’ book had to say about Monsaraz. It was only really useful if you needed a parking stopover, as apart from fresh water, there were no other Motorhome facilities. I think that in my route planning I may have anticipated the need to ’empty and fill’ the on-board facilities after having spent a night or two Wild Camping at the Barragem. However, as we were not in need of any facilities we decided to make the minor detour and see what this place had to offer. The minor detour was on those ‘white’ coloured roads on the map but these were good roads and wide enough for two vehicles. Some of the little villages had some ‘interesting’ bends going right through them but nothing that worried us. You cannot miss ‘Monsaraz’ as it stands high, very high, on a hill with a big castle at the top. It was an another ‘interesting’ drive up the winding roads to this fortressed town where the town itself is nestled behind the high stone walls. ‘Snoopy’ was again spot on with finding us the place, but the climb to where the signs indicated we should park did make me a little nervous. “What if I get up there and there are no spaces, or there are no spaces large enough to accommodate us” ? So, before I took the crucial ‘double’ steep right-handed turn Shazza got out to take a look, she gave me the thumbs up and I put my foot on the accelerator and released the hand brake, this would be a hill start and a half !! The wheels spun on the cobbled stones and their was a puff of smoke from burning rubber but we were not making any forward movement, “Oh shit !!” I muttered in my bestest ‘English’, there is no way I want to reverse back down this steep road. So I calmed myself, wiped my fevered brow and let ‘Big Momma’ roll back a couple of feet so that both my front wheels were aligned. Then, with not too much pressure on the accelerator, just enough to hold her stationery, I slowly released the hand brake, once I felt the forward motion I gave her more gas and accelerated up the steep incline with enough pace to take me around the right turn’s and into a nice big cobbled parking area. There was only one other British registered Hymer Motorhome parked so I had the choice of where to park ‘Big Momma’. Remember that box of chocolates, well we have just found another chocolate with a very nice ‘Champagne & Caviar’ filling, the views from high up on this vantage point are absolutely breathtaking !!

Stunning views, absolutely stunning !!

Stunning views, absolutely stunning !!

About to cross the long bridge that spans the Barragem to get to the village of Luz

About to cross the long bridge that spans the Barragem to get to the village of Luz

We had no sooner arrived when below us we saw another two Motorhomes pull up into a much easier to access parking area. It was easy to see that one of the vans was another large British registered ‘tag axle’ Autotrail Motorhome but we were not sure about the second. The occupants of both vehicles got out, looked up and waved to us. They walked up the steep road to where we were parked and told us that they had been reluctant to come all the way up because of the access road. However, after seeing that I had made it they decided to go back down and bring their vehicles up to where we were parked. ‘Tom and Karen’ had an Autotrail Chieftain and ‘Brian and Carol’ a ‘Bessacarr E560’. As was becoming the ‘norm’, the conversations started with where we had each travelled from, where we had stopped en- route and what direction we were headed. Tom and Karen were seasoned traveller’s through Spain and Portugal and so gave us lots of information about other ‘Aires’ and ‘Wild Camping’ locations on the way South, Launderette services in little towns along the way as well as tips on where to spend Christmas other than campsites. He also gave us his ‘external’ hard drive which contained over 2,500 Ebooks and ‘lots’ of DVD’s. We gratefully uploaded them to our own Laptops (and if any licensing authorities are reading this blog, I am of course only joking, as if I, a former Officer of the Law would even think about doing such a thing !! The truth is that Shazza did it !!)

During the evening whilst Shazza amused herself playing ‘Donkey Kong’ on her iPad !! I got to thinking about our travels so far since getting off the boat at Santander, was that only 14 days ago ? We seem to have done so much in that time !! We have only travelled 689 miles but instead of travelling South in a straight line we have zig zagged our way through the northern part of Spain and now doing the same in Portugal. If we continue on our scheduled route, allowing for perhaps a few deviations, we should arrive on the South Eastern Coast at somewhere near ‘Vila Real Sto. Antonio’. At that point we will need to make a decision on whether we head West towards the Algarve and spend Christmas somewhere down there, alternatively we could head East and back into Spain and along the Spanish South Coast but right now no such decisions need to be made.

One of the things on my mind is the LPG situation. We left with two full cylinders and out of the 15 nights we have had six nights on campsites where we have had access to electricity to utilise for heating water and cooking, thereby saving on the consumption of our gas supply. We have currently used approximately 25% of our gas supply so by my reckoning! we will have sufficient, if we do not use any more campsites! to last us for another 30 days so no major concerns just yet. However, we also know that the availability of LPG in Portugal is not as prolific as in Spain, or at least until we hit the South Coast, so we will need to try to schedule our route so that we can find a place to top up before we get to a critical stage. We have identified a service station at ‘Beja’ from our ‘ ‘LPG Gids Guide‘, a Dutch publication that lists LPG suppliers throughout Europe. This is a town that is not far from our route so a small deviation may be in order. However, I will also speak to ‘Tom’ to see what information he has, as he may be aware of places that are not listed in the guide. Meeting such experienced fellow traveller’s has its uses.

So far on this trip we have had no problems in finding somewhere to park up. The ‘aires’ have had sufficient space at the times we have arrived, even the popular one’s, although we did heed advice that told us to get to an Aire before 4pm and that has proven to be very sound advice. So all in all, apart from a few days of rain we have seen some beautiful scenery whilst travelling, experienced near empty roads, stayed in some truly wonderful and even breathtaking locations, lunched with vultures, slept outside Castle walls, met lots of nice people, fellow Motorhomers and local people alike and got to walk and Kayak, we still haven’t had the opportunity to go cycling yet but all in good time. So is this initial trip living up to our expectations so far ? Actually it hasn’t because the truth is that it has in fact surpassed even our wildest expectations by the bucket full, and we still have a little over eleven weeks of this trip left !!

Tuesday 29th October – Monsaraz to Luz (13 miles)

Monsaraz was a beautiful location and there were no time restrictions on how long you could park up, the only restriction was the reliance  on your own on-board facilities as this was a ‘parking only’ stop. There was fresh water available within the town walls and their were public toilets but nowhere to empty grey or, sorry Sonia but I have to mention it, chemical disposal, and we now really needed to empty the toilet cassette .

It just had to be done ! In the morning at 7.30am with the sun already high in the sky, I had to sit in bed with my coffee with my window blind fully down so that I could enjoy this fantastic view and it would be totally selfish of me not to share it with you !!

This was the view from my bedroom window !

This was the view from my bedroom window !

And the view from Shazza's window !

And the view from Shazza’s window !

Well it was truly a beautiful location but once you have walked around the walled town that is it so to speak. We decided to move on to another ‘Aire’ where we could ’empty and re-fill’ as appropriate. Fortunately there was such a facility a mere 13 miles down the road in the village of ‘Luz’ so after a brief chat with Tom and Karen, I think Brian and Carol were having a lay in, we departed the fortress battlements. It was easier getting down the cobbled road than it was coming up, thank goodness, and soon we were descending the quiet winding roads.

The village of ‘Luz’ is difficult to describe, yes there were the traditional white-washed bungalow type houses that these Mediterranean countries are noted for, but no multi storey buildings here ! However, this place looked like a newly built, but deserted holiday bungalow village with road names such as ‘Rue A’ (Street A) and ‘Rue B’ and so on, but a distinct lack of civilisation and it was only 10am?

About to cross the long bridge that spans the Barragem to get to the village of Luz

About to cross the long bridge that spans the Barragem to get to the village of Luz

The ‘Aire’ was easy enough to find, not only was their the familiar blue and white sign, with a Motorhome on it and an arrow pointing us in the right direction, a dead giveaway, but there were already Motorhomes parked there. The actual service point was not quite as easy to locate but one of the already resident Motorhomers pointed me in the right direction. The service area was immaculate, maintained by the local community at no charge to the traveller’s who used it, for they relied on such traveller’s to use the local amenities, in this case the choice of one mini-market and three Cafe/Bars. I may have mentioned before that although I carry a variety of tap and hose fittings, the one’s in Spain and also here in Portugal, have threaded taps but the threads are far bigger than any of the fittings that I am carrying. This time my attempt to improvise did not work ! However, Eric always had a contingency, on this occasion it came in the form of a 20 Litre plastic water container with funnel attachment and although not as convenient as using the hose pipe, it did the job. Once the facilities duties had been attended to it was just a matter of parking up and enjoying ‘Brunch’ and on today’s menu it was that old favourite, Bacon and Egg Butties !!

So, having been fed and watered and the temperature in the van, even with the Heki’s and side windows open, climbing rapidly towards 26(c) degrees it was time to let the solar panels do their job whilst we went to explore our new surroundings. This did not take very long, we initially walked down a road away from the village in the direction of the ‘Barragem’, we came across what was once a communal wash-house, by the evidence of all the debris in it, it did not look as if it had been used recently !! We continued with our walk, we came across a church, with the cemetery on the opposite side of the road, this road did not lead anywhere, you could say that it was a ‘dead end’ !! So, back towards the village and we discovered that it was not just Spain that had several streets with alleys where there was but a single shop. In Luz, in the first it was a Bar/Cafe, the next a Butcher, the next a Bar/Cafe, the next a Mini-Market and finally another Cafe/Bar !! The last one we came across was open so we went inside and Shazza ordered a Coffee whilst I enjoyed a cold beer, before lunch as well !! Apart from the ‘Señora’ who we presumed was the proprietor of this small but very clean, tidy and modern establishment there were a handful of men. Three were sat at a table drinking beer and watching the large flat screen TV on the wall, probably the Portuguese equivalent of ‘Loose Women’, another was stood at the bar eating the Portuguese equivalent of ‘Tapas’, cheese and olives, and another was in the entrance filling the cigarette machine. They looked as we entered but said nothing. As we left, having consumed our beverages, Sharon commented on why such a small place would have so many ‘Bars’. I explained that rural Portugal was still very much a male dominated society, the women stayed at home doing the housework and taking care of the children whilst the men went out to work in the fields or olive groves or tending the livestock. Some may even have jobs in the surrounding towns. The custom in these hot countries is to eat quite late in the evenings, often not until 9-10pm, so when the men returned from their labour they would ‘kiss’ the children and kick the dog and then go to the local bar where they would gather to drink beer and discuss their work, the sport, politics or watch the football on the large flat screen TV that was on the wall. Then they would return home to eat, make love to their wife, go to sleep and in the morning, same old routine. I did comment that this simple lifestyle did have a certain appeal however Shazza was not so keen, but that didn’t surprise me as she doesn’t much care for beer or football !!

The communal wash house !!

The communal wash house !!

We returned to the van and both agreed that although we had initially thought about using this as another two night freebie, it was a rather boring little place and even the views were not that brilliant so we would make sure that even though we had already ’emptied and re-filled’ as appropriate, we would ensure that before we departed in the morning that everything was topped up or emptied and we would find another more interesting location to stay at for a few days. I basically let Shazza decide the route and I would just get us there, after all, I had no preferences as I have never been to Portugal before and as long as she was taking us in the right direction, namely South, then I was happy enough. However, we were both about ready for a decent stop, somewhere where we could get the awning, sun chairs and barbie out and relax in the sunshine. Shazza also wanted to do some Laundry and I needed some WiFi so that I could transfer some photographs to my blog media library and then insert them into the posts that I have already written but not yet published. The other problem with the route and ‘Aires’ we have currently chosen is that we are staying off the established beaten track! The small villages we are staying in or around do not have WiFi zones or the likes of your McDonalds or Burger King establishments. So we have two more ‘Aires’ to head for first and then before we hit the Southern Coastline of Portugal proper we shall seek out a suitable site.

It was one hell of a walk to the jetty, when we got there we had missed the boat, story of my life !!

It was one hell of a walk to the jetty, when we got there we had missed the boat, story of my life !!

Sorry Shazza but don't think that will get us a trip on the boat, but do that tonight and we may earn a few Euro !!!!

Sorry Shazza but don’t think that will get us a trip on the boat, but do that tonight and we may earn a few Euro !!!!

By the time it got to 4pm, this ‘3 Van Aire’ had seven Motorhomes parked up on it and there was room for at least another two or three. Tom, Karen, Brian and Carol arrived, and although initially they were just going to stop to use the facilities then move on, they had decided to stay here for the night, it was like re-uniting with familiar friends.

Now I know that I said in a previous post that I was a ‘history heathen’, and I am, but whilst Shazza was sat reading in the evening she discovered the story behind this ‘desolate’ little village. Apparently in order to create this vast and very controversial reservoir (Barragem de Alqueva) the largest in Europe at 250 square kilometres, of which 69 kilometres are in Spain, they flooded vast areas of the surrounding land. The old village of Luz was submerged and a new village constructed. This was a failed experiment and the younger inhabitants left and the older one’s who remain are deeply dissatisfied. Unlike many of the places that we have had the privilege to visit so far on this journey, Luz looks and feels as if it has no soul, now we understand why……….

Whilst in this reflective mode I also got to thinking how a turn of events can change your course or direction. Now of course this is true in our lives in general but I am referring to this particular trip. Had we have stayed on either of the ‘Aires’ at ‘Olmedo’ or ‘Alviva’ we would not have had reason to seek out the campsite at ‘Valdemaqueda’ in the mountains near Madrid. Had we have been able to have Wild Camped at the reservoir Dave had told us about we may never have found the Wild Camping location on the banks of the ‘River Arbillas’ or taken the route up into the mountains where we saw the ‘Vultures’ and had we have stayed for an extra night at the ‘Barragem do Caia’ we would have needed an Aire with full service facilities and therefore not had the night outside the Castle at ‘Monsaraz’.

Life is like a box of chocolates……………..

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