Saturday 26th October – Caceres to Barragem do Caia, Portugal (72 Miles)
GPS: N39d 0m 17.2s, W7d 8m 24.5s
I received a text message from Eric, my former boss, colleague and friend to wish me a Happy Retirement ! I had quite forgotten that until now I had just merely been on ‘holiday’, but now, Saturday 26th October 2013 at the ripe old age of 57 years and 10 days young, I am officially a ‘free man’. Now I will have time to do all those jobs in the house that until now I hadn’t got around to doing, or I would have done if I had a house……………… !!
I was quite excited at the thought of our next move. I had managed to get onto the campsite’s free WiFi, which I have to say was very much a ‘hit or miss’ affair, and managed to ‘Google’ the ‘Barragem do Caia’ and found some wonderful pictures and also a ‘You Tube Video’. With some of the Barragems you cannot get close to them, the roads skirt around them but not close enough to actually get near to do anything. However, the one we are headed to has us parking what appears to be right at the water’s edge, you can swim in it, if you are brave enough, it is still Winter !! You can windsurf on it and most importantly, you can Kayak on it, so let’s hope that the weather forecast lives up to expectations as the next three days are forecast to be in the low 20’s and sunny !!
I have also been reprimanded by one of my blog reader’s, namely ‘Sonia’ my Mother-in-Law, for having too much ‘toilet’ talk in my blog posts. So, I will now just make mention to the on board facilities being ’empty or full’ as appropriate !! Let it never be said that I do not listen or act on advice from my reader’s, especially when it happens to be someone as important as the Mother-In-Law ! I guess I should also make a mention to ‘Roy’ that I am seriously working on my ‘their’ and ‘there’ !! I could just blame it on the predictive text but I guess he would know that I was being a bit economical with the truth ? Some of you may also have noticed the use of the word ‘if’ when it should read ‘of’ and that one really is down to the predictive text, honest !! I do spell check before publishing but if the word is spelt right as in ‘if’ then it doesn’t pick it up even if it is the wrong flipping word !! I could of course switch the predictive text off but it does come in handy for some of the bigger words, anything with more than five letters in it and I am buggered !! I do sincerely hope that this does not spoil your enjoyment of reading this blog !!
When we awoke it was like being in a bad dream, we thought we were back in England, although it had stopped raining, in fact it hadn’t rained at all through the night, but it was grey and the mist hung over the site like a thick white overcoat. We were ready to move on, the site had served it’s purpose but it felt so enclosed, the only view out of the side and front windows were other Caravans or Motorhomes and we longed for the views we had experienced from our windows when we were parked up on ‘Aires’ or when we had Wild Camped, the only exception to that being the Campsite in the mountains where we made some new Spanish friends and had wonderful mountain views. I think we were also becoming ‘miserly’, we certainly begrudged paying €16 a night when we had stayed in far better locations at no cost whatsoever. So, we made ready our escape, the on board facilities were ‘emptied and filled‘ as appropriate !! we headed out onto the open road and pointed ‘Big Momma’ in the direction of ‘Portugal’ via non-motorway roads of course.
The drive was pretty uneventful, we were now used to only seeing a handful of other vehicles on these quiet roads. The drive from Caceres to Badajoz was actually the most ‘unspectacular’ of this trip so far, flat agricultural landscape. In all of our research for this trip we had read that the cost of ‘Diesel’ in Spain was far cheaper than it was in its neighbouring Portugal so although we still had a good 170 mile range in the tank we took the opportunity of fuelling up at Badajoz before crossing the border. In all my travels over the year’s in numerous countries I have always found that the last fuel stop before a border crossing is usually the most expensive. Not so at the one we stopped at, we had paid €1.36 (£1.18) a litre when we last re-fuelled and this had been the pre-dominant cost at most of the fuel stations we had passed along the way. However, we were surprised to find that fuel at this stop was only €1.31 (£1.14) per litre so we filled the tank to the brim !!
Isn’t technology brilliant ? As I said in my last post, Portugal is on the same time zone as the UK, one hour behind Spain, and ‘Snoopy’ was showing the Spanish time, that is right up to the moment that we passed the sign that indicated that we were now entering Portugal when it immediately adjusted the time setting. How did it know to change at that precise moment, why not 100 metres before or afterwards ? We could not see any electronic device on the ‘You are entering Portugal’ signpost !! And another thing ! My iPad does not have a SIM card, it was not connected to WiFi but it had changed the time………….?
We arrived at the ‘Barragem do Caia’ expecting, as it was Saturday, to find the place reasonably busy with weekender’s from the local town. Apart from what I assumed was a dad with his son, who were both fishing, we had this magnificent place to ourselves, and I mean magnificent !! There were absolutely no Motorhome facilities here so we would be restricted only by the need to ’empty or re-fill’ appropriate on-board facilities.
The misted overcoat had long since been shed and the sun was high in the sky, thank you Mother Nature, and of course the weather forecasters for getting it right ! The solar panels were already doing their job, we opened the ‘Heki’ skylights as the temperature inside the van was already showing 26(c) degrees. Shazza made us both a sandwich for lunch and as we sat inside the van eating them we looked out at the glorious landscape that literally surrounded us. Do you know what it is like to feel tense, sometimes for no good reason, but then you do something, read a book, listen to music, sit in your favourite chair or just go for a walk and then suddenly that tension just melts away and you feel like giving out one big sigh ? Well that is how we both now feel, whether it was the confinement in the van over the last few days due to the horrendous weather, maybe it was being cooped up in regimented rows on a campsite, maybe it was because we had tasted a certain sort of freedom to go where we wanted, do what we wanted but somehow this choice, staying on this particular campsite had not been one of our best. I cannot put my finger on exactly what the cause of the pent-up tension was but it drained away within seconds of arriving here, the emptiness, the vast expanse of water, the surrounding landscape and the sense of peace and tranquility, whatever it was it was bloody marvellous !!
I locked the van and we went to explore our new surroundings. First we walked the twenty metres or so to the water’s edge, only then did its size become apparent to us, this Barragem was pretty impressive, not the biggest Barragem there is but certainly the largest we have seen so far on our travels, and to top it all, we are free to park on its banks for as long as we wanted. We walked up a track that led back to the road and we headed back towards our Wildcamping’ spot. Then down a side road which led to nowhere except the pumping station for the Barragem. Half way down this ‘dead end’ road we came across a Bar/Restaurant, from the outside it didn’t look the most salubrious, we didn’t go in. It just seemed a strange place to have a bar/restaurant and we had not seen any signage on the main road indicating its presence. My thoughts turned to horror movies I had watched in the past, a lone couple in the middle of nowhere happen upon a bar, diner, motel and feel relieved at finding what they think is civilisation, but everything is not as it appears………..No ! Stop it Eric, you know you will have nightmares !! We made our way back to the road and then started to walk along the road bridge that spanned the ‘Dam’, it was a long bridge, the sun was high in the sky and we were now becoming very hot from the exertion of our walk so we stopped to rest before turning back again. We could hear the ‘plopping’ sounds from the water, then saw the ripples, the tell-tale signs of fish as they rose out of the water to catch the insects that had flown too low and got waterlogged, helpless victims just awaiting their fate from the watery monsters that lurked in the murky depths below. We stood and stared into the water until our eyes became accustomed to what lurked below, we could see the fish, these were worthy of gracing any fish lovers frying pan !! Now these were not single ‘plops’, no these were multiple ‘plops’, this Barragem was ‘FULL’ of fish, and from the sounds of some of these ‘plops’ further out, there were some monsters in their playing ‘catch me if you can’ with those on the shoreline who had the patience to try.
Back at the van and we could not wait any longer, we had to ‘wet Kevin’s bottom’ ! A quick change into swimmers and a tee-shirt, ‘Kevin’ unpacked and inflated, we were ready to go. We paddled out about 300 metres from the shore and then just sat there, literally watching the fish leaping all around us, they were so quick that we only got the merest glimpse of their tails as they re-entered the water. Now some of you reading this may wonder what all the fuss is about, but believe me, having suffered nearly the last three days of persistent rain and being cooped up in, what one of my Motorhome forum colleagues would term, a ‘prison camp’ to now being free of regimented rows, in an outside temperature that must be close to 25(c) degrees, in a Kayak on a beautiful Barragem surrounded by the most wonderful landscape, watching at close quarters, oodles of fish leaping out of the water catching their dinner……………..priceless !!
I have to confess at feeling a little anxious, there we were out on the water in a kayak some distance from shore, with ‘Big Momma’, albeit locked, containing all our worldly possessions. At one point we lost sight of her and we could see cars passing on the nearby road and at one point we could see people, not fishermen, walking on the shoreline not far from where ‘Big Momma’ was stood, shielded from our view by trees, alone and vulnerable. We started to paddle back to shore until we could see ‘Big Momma’, exactly where we had left her, alone and secure. I guess I will have this feeling for a little while yet and perhaps that is a good thing. I did not want to get too complacent about security or safety but then again neither did I want it to inhibit our freedom to explore and to enjoy this wonderful lifestyle.
Back at the van and the only way to cool down after all that exertion is to enjoy the feeling of a cold beer as it hits the back of one’s throat ! We needed to retreat inside ‘Big Momma’ as, for the first time in many days, we could feel the sun burning our exposed skin. Shortly afterwards we had some other Motorhome company, ‘Cees and Trees’ from the Netherlands in a nice ‘Concorde’ Motorhome. I assisted them in getting their van up the small incline and in to the area that we were parked and then we spent some time chatting about where we had been and where we were going, as you do. Within half an hour we were joined by a French registered Motorhome, the family, Dad, Mum and two children parked up, got out the van and walked down to the water’s edge, as they passed they took a photograph of ‘Kevin’, who was drying off outside ‘Big Momma’. They then returned to their van, waved a goodbye to us and drove off and so it was to be just a British and Dutch sleepover at our current little piece of paradise.
We slept relatively well, although Shazza did wake up in the early hours having thought that she had heard noises and feared ‘Kevin’ may have been kidnapped. I remember thinking “I knew we should have brought ‘Kevin’ inside and left ‘The Duck’ outside !! However, a quick check outside the window revealed that ‘Kevin’ was sleeping soundly and all outside was quiet.
We awoke to the sunshine, albeit that there was a slight chill in the air and there had been a heavy dew. After kick starting my lungs, we drank our coffee in bed whilst we discussed what we may do today and both agreed that whilst we were in no rush to do anything, Shazza would prepare some sandwiches and we would take ‘Kevin’ back out and explore this quite vast expanse of water. Suddenly there was quite a commotion outside, several dogs barking and the sound of several men’s voices. I looked out and saw ‘Cees’ who was returning from walking his dog and he told me that it was hunters and their dogs. I got dressed and went outside to investigate for myself, at first there was just the one vehicle and 4 caged dogs in the back, they were joined by another vehicle and a trailer, then another with more dogs until eventually there were seven or eight vehicles and lots of men. I wandered across and asked them what they were hunting and they told me it was ‘wild pigs’. I had read about this in several books about France but didn’t realise it was a popular pastime here in Portugal as well.
Shazza made some bacon butties for breakfast and then we prepared ourselves for the water. It was only late morning but the sky was blue and the sun was already very hot, the water looked a little livelier than it did yesterday with a few small waves shifting across the surface, although this wouldn’t present too much of a problem for ‘Kevin’ who was built to ride ‘white water’. We were soon out on the water and there was a strong breeze blowing against us, the same breeze that was creating the waves that ‘Kevin’ pushed effortlessly out-of-the-way. I had checked the size of this ‘Barragem’ on my iPad satellite mapping ‘App’, the bit that we could see whilst stood on the water’s edge to the land was only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’, this Barragem twisted and turned for miles !! As we paddled away and up and around the western edge we saw several fisherman along almost every stretch, we were careful not to get too close to their fishing lines, some waved as we gently paddled past, other’s said a cheery ‘Hola’ and other’s just got on with whatever it was they were doing and took no notice of us. Apart from the fishermen and us there was nobody else on or around the water, no swimmers, no wind surfers, no other boaters, we had this whole expanse of water to ourselves. We would occasionally take a rest from paddling to marvel and enjoy the views that were all around us and to enjoy the total peace and quiet but not for too long as the breeze continuously wanted to push us sideways and backwards. It was a little like walking up a hill, you reach the top only to find yourself faced with another one only this was corners, we would make our way to one corner expecting to see the shoreline at the other end but all we found was another expanse of water and another corner to paddle to. Looking back to where we had started we were unable to see our stretch of shoreline and we decided it was time to cross to the Eastern edge, take a break to eat our sandwich lunch then point ‘Kevin’ in a homeward direction. I had hoped that the return trip would have made for easier paddling with the breeze blowing from our stern, and it would have done had it not decided to change direction !! It was certainly hard going at times, a combination of the strong breeze blowing against us and us beginning to tire rapidly under the heat of the sun. We took several breaks from paddling and the only noise that could be heard was from the water as it lapped against the front of the kayak, this was so peaceful and we both thought back to what we would have been doing had we still been in our house in Swindon, that ‘Sunday Syndrome’ would have been only a few hours away, but those thoughts were soon put to one side as we again made another combined effort to synchronise our paddling strokes to gain maximum thrust and power our way through the water. We finally saw the white speck in the distance that was ‘Big Momma’ and this invigorated us as we pointed ‘Kevin’s’ nose once more in to a homeward direction. As we got closer to the shoreline we could see ‘Cees and Trees’ sat in their chairs overlooking the water, ‘Cees’ had her camera and was taking photo’s of us so we tried to at least make it look as if we knew what we were doing as we glided gently to the rocky waters edge where we would hopefully make a dignified exit from ‘Kevin’, which, thankfully we did.
It was a wonderful experience but we were both ‘knackered’, after emptying the surplus water which we had accumulated inside the kayak, it was left out in the sunshine to dry whilst we changed into dry shorts and made a much-needed and appreciated cup of coffee. It was only then that we remembered that the clocks had gone back by one hour in the UK and we were not sure whether it was the same here in Portugal. Fortunately I have a clock that shows the times around the world and discovered that we had in fact got up much earlier than we thought, so we adjusted our watches and clocks and enjoyed the fact that in the last 2 days we have had an extra two hours added to our days !!
I had last had my haircut on the 24th September and was now well overdue another one. We had bought a hair trimmer in Plymouth before we boarded the ship and today was the day that I was going to let Shazza loose with them on my hair !! I guess she didn’t make a bad job for her first attempt at hairdressing but you won’t be seeing any photo’s of me in this blog for a while, at least until some of it has grown back !!!! I look a bit like a prisoner on ‘death row’, the only thing missing was the prison inmates pyjamas with arrows imprinted all over them.
We were not alone in this Wild Camping place, as well as ‘Cees and Trees’ we were joined daily by the local public as this we discovered was the only ‘public’ parking area around the whole of the ‘Barragem’. Some were bemused by the presence of our two large white Motorhomes and others just drove up, parked their cars around us, or in amongst the trees, went for a walk or set up their sun chairs and enjoyed their own Sunday constitutional. The local ‘Guardia Civil’ drove around but didn’t bother us. After deflating ‘Kevin’ and packing him away in the garage of the van we spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing and sunbathing in the heat of the afternoon sun. ‘Cees and Trees’ asked if we would like to join them for a drink of wine at Four O’clock and ‘Trees’ said that the photos she had taken of us in the Kayak she would download to a ‘USB’ stick so that we could upload them on to our Laptop.
We packed away our sun chairs, got freshened up and joined ‘Cees and Trees’ in their Motorhome for early evening drinks, we had gone armed with a bottle of wine, as you do, and we sat talking for what was to be several hours. ‘Trees’ prepared some ‘nibbles’ and we drank even more wine, their ‘English’ was excellent as was their company and we did not feel like strangers who had only recently met. They had decided to stay for another day at this very beautiful place before continuing their journey South. We were pondering on whether to stay another day ourselves, after all it was free and apart from re-fuelling ‘Big Momma’ we had not spent any money in the last 48 hours, in fact in the two weeks since we got off the ferry at Santander we have spent very little. We were well in surplus on all our budget areas except for Diesel, but we knew that this was going to be the case on this ‘Retirement holiday trip’. We were having such an enjoyable travelling experience, seeing some wonderful places, meeting lots of really nice friendly people, doing things that generally cost us little or no money, what a fantastic time we were having. Perhaps it was time for us to continue our journey South, we do not know whether we will see ‘Cees or Trees’ again but we certainly hope that we will. They gave us a list of some places that they had already visited in their seven and a half years of travelling, places we could park up, ‘Aires and other Barragems’, places where we could do our laundry without having to pay to use a campsite, good local places to eat etc. This is another good thing about meeting fellow travellers, the exchanges of information. We were still novices so had little to offer in return, other than Shazza’s mobile barbers services that is, but that didn’t matter, everyone was just pleased to be able to help and offer the benefit of their own experience and knowledge. Would we move on, we will make that decision tomorrow, there is no hurry……………..