Sunday 3rd November –
It was a lot warmer inside the van this morning, something to do with the blanket of cloud we had during the night. This was the first morning we had awoken here without the sun to greet us. It was dry, warm, but overcast and certainly a day for the ‘wardrobe check’ to be carried out for real and today was a jeans and sweater day as the breeze carried a certain chill, have we acclimatised already ?
But today was a good day to get all the domestics done. It doesn’t matter what sort or size of home in which you reside, it needs to be cleaned, probably more so in something that is as confined as a Motorhome. So, after our second mug of coffee we set about our respective tasks, ‘Kevin’ was feeling rather deflated at being packed away in his holdall, having to share this limited space with the seats, paddles, life jackets, Skeg and his ‘life giver’, namely the inflation pump ! I then unpacked and re-packed the garage, sorted out the rear bicycle cover and tidied my ‘shed’. Shazza in the meantime, loafed around inside, feet up, reading a book and scoffing chocolates…………….no not really ! She lifted all the rugs and carpets, washed the wooden flooring, cleaned the bathroom and shower, relaid the carpet and then hoovered it then she stripped…………..!!!!! the bed and changed the sheets. All in all a productive couple of hours and we were looking good again. The rest of the day was spent ‘at leisure’ as they say, a bit like the rest of our lives really !!!!
I enjoy writing this blog for many reasons, not just as it is a journal to look back on, to places we have been and things we have done and not only to allow you, the readers, to hopefully feel part of our adventure. But having so many people reading it, and thank you to all of you, those we know and the vast majority that we don’t. However you are a mine of information and when I mention something that I have no knowledge of their is always someone to educate me. I mentioned in a previous post about that strange but nice ‘Alcoholic’ berry but I didn’t know the name of the alcoholic drink produced from it. Thanks to Brian, who has told me that the drink is called ‘Arbutus’ and is 42% proof !! Now I just have to make it one of my next missions to ‘acquire’ a bottle of said falling over juice !!!!
Also on this adventure I am using my wealth of ‘diplomatic’ experience to foster good Anglo-Portuguese relations, only today whilst relaxing in one’s current domain of luxury, a car pulled up on the ‘Aire’, the three occupants alighted, the driver was probably fifty something, wearing a black leather jacket that had seen better days and his grey longish hair was in need of a good wash. The other male passenger was much younger than the first, someone who had obviously not suffered from starvation and was an ideal candidate for the next televised edition of the Portuguese fat club, he also needed a shave. The third occupant was a female, dressed in another leather jacket that had also seen better days, and although not overweight I did wonder if she too needed a shave ! The older man lifted the bonnet and stared in at the mass of steam emanating from it. My Understanding of this foreign language has improved greatly as although I could not understand the words I knew immediately that it was our equivalent of “oh dear, I appear to have a problem” or words to that effect !! Being of an inquisitive nature, and at the risk of being told to “Go Away“, or words to that effect, I enquired as to nature of the problem. Fortunately, one of the occupants was able to speak ‘Inglese’ rather better than I can speak ‘Portuguese’, and I ascertained that they had a split water hose and required the use of a screwdriver. Well, a fellow traveller in need of assistance, of course I could assist and I duly provided said implement. Then their were four people staring under the bonnet at the steam emanating from it, well I was now more than a mere spectator, I was the saviour who had provided the screwdriver, I had earnt my place at the bonnet staring at the steam emanating from it. I did however get somewhat concerned when the driver barked an instruction at his female companion, she disappeared inside the stricken vehicle and re-appeared with a knife, oh my god ! Brown trouser time again !! Where they going to try and rob me in broad daylight ! They can have the bloody screwdriver I thought, it isn’t that valuable ? Perhaps they wanted the whole tool box, take it !! I thought. I started to think about my year’s of experience in the military and weighed up my avenues of escape. They handed the knife to the driver, he was obviously the leader, he then proceeded to cut off the damaged bit of hose, replaced the good bit, and used my screwdriver to tighten the jubilee clip, they were lucky, I was about to explain how these hands of mine are registered as lethal weapons, but of course, I knew what the knife was for, what do you take me for…………………?
Monday 4th November – Mina de São Domingo’s to Alcoutim (33 miles)
Forty days now since we pulled off the drive in Swindon to start this new nomadic lifestyle and day twenty-two since we got off the boat to start our foreign affair, it feels longer, as if we have been doing this for months. We have gained so much confidence, taking ‘Big Momma’ along roads that we would never have dared try before, winding our way through Northern Spain, through small villages and towns not on the usual ‘run to the sun’ route, just pulling over for lunch stops at some incredible places that we hadn’t known existed. We had no pre-determined route, just generally head South. Although we had always planned to try and visit Portugal on this first trip, the weather would be our determining factor and although it had prevented us from starting at its Northern border, by the time we had travelled a little further South the weather from passed and so it was that we made the decision to cross the border at Badajoz. We again had no pre-determined route other than head South and eventually arrive down on the Algarve and as I start to write this latest post we are still making our way down. ‘Big Momma’ has coped with everything we have asked of her so far without complaint, ‘Snoopy’ has also proven to be reliable and we have trusted in it on numerous occasions, the couple of occasions we have chosen to ignore the directions provided have proven to be our mistake and not ‘Snoopy’s’. We still have lots of new things to experience, as yet we have not had to re-fill our LPG using one of the provided adapters, but that day is coming, although a check shows that we still have one full bottle so it is still not an issue. We have not yet experienced any issues with finding places to stay but perhaps that will that change when we get to the ‘winter camping grounds’ on the Algarve ? We are just fifty or so miles away from arriving on the Southern Portuguese Coast and could do that easily in a couple of hours, however, we are still in no hurry and so we have another couple of places we are aiming to stop at first. I am conscious that most of the people we have encountered on our travels, of all Nationalities, have been heading South so they will have claimed their places by the time we get there. Decisions on where we go, how long we stay, and what we do remain flexible although we have decided to stay in Portugal and head West then slowly wend our way back North, visiting Lisbon and Porto along the way to our pre-booked reservation on the Bilbao ferry to Portsmouth in mid January, but that is still some way off and their is still a lot to see and do on our ‘Big Adventure’.
Monday morning arrived and whether it was the knowledge that today was ‘moving on’ day I don’t know, however, we were both awake early, we still had time for the usual morning ritual of kettle on, water boiler on, kick start the lungs, make the coffee, back to bed and drink the coffee, I like this leisurely start to the mornings. Once up, washed and dressed it was the ‘get ready to move’ routine so Shazza stowed everything away, she has become so proficient at this that there is very little rattling from contents in the cupboards whilst we are driving, more importantly though, once we arrive at a new destination there are no contents leaping out trying to cause you physical harm when you open the cupboards. We had decided to travel just a short distance of ten miles to our next night halt, the small town of ‘Mertola’, or as Sharon keeps referring to it ‘Motorola’ !! However, after now being static for five days we needed to ’empty and re-fill’ as appropriate as our next destination was a ‘Parking Only’ area with no ‘Motorhome Services’.
It appeared that we would not be parting company with our new found friends and fellow travellers as they too had decided to stop at ‘Mertola’, there is a certain amount of comfort when you know that when you park up in a new place that there are other Motorhomes as company. Although our current parking area had no Motorhome Services there were facilities a few hundred metres up the road so we all gathered there and took our turn in using them.
We were first to arrive in Mertola, the parking area was large enough to accommodate us however, it was on a roundabout next to the busy main road and it was on a steep incline !! The town looked nice enough so we decided to explore to see if there was a better location. The town was nice but small and after one trip up the Main Street we had seen it and in doing so had not identified anywhere more suitable to park up. On our return to the van we made a short detour into a ‘Mini-Mercado’ and stocked up with a few more provisions. When we returned we could see Tom & Karens van and Brian & Carole’s van parked next to us. Brian & Carole’s van was empty so they had obviously done as we had and gone to explore, I could see Karen in her van but no Tom but assumed they were having coffee or like us when we arrived, discussing whether to move on. That question was soon answered as we saw Tom & Karen pull out of the parking area and head away from town. We elected to stay and have a coffee and a sandwich and as we did so Brian & Carole returned from their explorations. We both agreed that this was not a suitable location to overnight and we had already seen the town so decided to move on. We had discussed during the previous few days about visiting another small town, ‘Alcoutim’, which was only another twenty miles drive but still along our Southerly route, and the ‘Aire’ at that location had full ‘Motorhome Services’ which were ‘free’. When we arrived, Tom and Karen were already parked up and half way through their mugs of coffee.
The ‘Aire’ itself was in an elevated position above the town, it was a very basic gravelled parking area but it was pretty level and would suit us fine as an overnight stop. We gathered outside our vans and were discussing whether Brian would have the capacity to fit another 7kg ‘Gaslow’ cylinder into the locker. He currently only had the one and this was almost empty, a second cylinder would be advantageous. Tom produced a tape measure and various measurements were taken and we all agreed that there was sufficient room in ‘Brian’s’ gas locker to house another cylinder. Measurements taken, opinions provided and agreed, we each returned to our respective vans !!
From our elevated position I used my binoculars to scan the town below, it appeared to be distinctly separated in two halves with what looked like a harbour in between them. Using the binoculars I could see yachts moored, not small yachts but large sea going one’s. Now I have a love of the water, whether that be Lakes, Canals, Rivers or the Sea and to go with my love of the water I have a keen ‘landlubbers’ interest in water craft, any watercraft of any size, so this was worthy of further investigation. As we were about to head off, Brian and Carole informed us that they would be moving on as they were a little concerned at their gas situation, which is quite understandable as when you are not hooked up to an electricity supply your essential services are powered by gas, water boiler, cooker, fridge and freezer. So we said our farewells as this time we certainly did not know if or when we were likely to meet up again as we were planning to head for a campsite so that Shazza could get some laundry done, we hadn’t done any laundry since we left the campsite in the Mountains near Madrid !! Brian and Carole were planning on staying on another Aire. Tom and Karen were still inside their van when we set off on our voyage of discovery so we would see them when we returned.
We followed the road down the hill towards the town but a short way down the road we saw a sign that said ‘Praia Fluvial’ (Beach River) so decided to make a detour to take a look. Just a short walk brought us down to a well manicured park adjacent to the river and with quite a reasonably sized sandy beach. Of course being winter it was completely empty and apart from an elderly lady sweeping up fallen leaves we were the only other people enjoying this beautiful and unexpected place. We followed a wide well paved footpath up and away from the river, a different route to which we had entered, until we came to the top and met a small main road. Running right along the roadside, on a wall, were the most beautiful tiled pictures, this place was beginning to grow on me already and I hadn’t even found the harbour and the boats yet ! We walked just a short distance until we came to a bridge that crossed the river, our little detour to the beach river had in fact just taken us in a loop, we turned right and found ourselves immediately in the town, completes with its handful of combined cafe/bar/restaurants, banks, general shops and even a library that provided ‘free’ WiFi access, on this occasion I didn’t stop to use it. Around a couple of corners and there it was in front of us, quite a wide river and on the opposite bank what looked like another little town. I had assumed that this was still ‘Alcoutim’ and expected to see a bridge spanning the wide river permitting access to the other side. We walked along the quayside and went to a Cafe that overlooked the river and which gave good views both upstream and downstream. Whilst our coffee’s were being prepared I asked the ‘proprieter’ what the place was across the river, she explained that the ‘River Guadiana‘ was the border, we were in ‘Alcoutim’ which is ‘Portugal’ and directly across the river was ‘Sanlucar de Guadiana’ which was ‘Espana’ !!
We drank our coffee and then continued to explore the little narrow alleyways of this really very beautiful riverside town before returning to the ‘Aire’ where our van was parked. When we returned we were surprised to discover that we were alone as Tom & Karen had also departed. However, we assumed that as they preferred to stay on ‘Aires’ and not campsites, and knowing that our next planned stop would be on a campsite, that they had chosen to travel with Brian & Carole. It was unfortunate that we had not been able to say farewell as we had travelled together for the last week and they felt like friends, it would have been nice to have had the chance to say goodbye, but no doubt our paths will cross again somewhere on our travels along the Algarve.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the van and decided to stroll back into this lovely scenic little town later in the evening. Perhaps for the first time on this trip we could enjoy a meal at a local restaurant, ideally one overlooking the river so that as darkness fell we could see the lights of the buildings on the opposite side of the river reflect in the water. Well it was a nice idea, we strolled back into town, without taking the detour this time, although some shops were still open all the restaurants had that familiar ‘closed’ look !! It would appear that ‘Mondays’ in Portugal means ‘closed’. We strolled back to the van and Shazza prepared a very nice ‘Chilli & Rice’ with her home-made garlic bread all washed down with a glass of ‘Vino Tinto’.
We were not quite all alone on this ‘Aire’ as it was located adjacent to a row of houses and although the only Motorhome parked up for the night we felt perfectly safe. The ‘Aire’ was well lit, we saw some of the occupants of the houses from time to time throughout the evening and with our elevated views over the two towns, one in Portugal and one in Spain, with the lighting from the buildings and the street lamps it made for quite a nice ambience. It is sometimes quite interesting to sit in the van and watch what goes on around you. One of the local residents came out, under cover of darkness, with two rather large tubs with handles, a bit like the very large plastic tubs of paint that you would buy from a DIY store. He proceeded to fill the tubs with water from the water supply at the Motorhome Service Point. I smiled and thought “Why not”, it gets provided for foreign Motorhomers free of charge, someone must have to pay for it, quite possibly the local residents as part of their equivalent to our ‘Water Rates’ so why shouldn’t they help themselves. However, I soon discovered that this was not water to be utilised inside his home, as I watched, he proceeded to water his plants and vegetables that he had growing on a small little patch outside his house. No more than half an hour later I heard a strange sort of noise from outside the van that I can only describe as high pitched wailing. I pulled down the window blind and saw a woman, sat on the raised kerb stones that surrounded the Motorhome Service Point, she appeared to be calling to someone or something. I waited and watched but could see nothing, no dog came to her, none of the local ferrel cats that I had seen in the area earlier came to her in fact nothing came to her !! After about five minutes she stood up and walked across to one of the houses, went inside and closed the door. Apart from that and of course the dogs barking, the bells jingle jangling around the necks of the goats and the hourly melodic ringing of the church bells, it was a fairly quietish sort of a night !!