Friday 29th November – Cabo São Vicente – Sagres – Wild Camp Location (21 miles)
Oh my God ! Perhaps all those other Motorhomers who had let us have this Wild Camping location perched on the side of a cliff, all to ourselves, really did know something that we didn’t !!! Yes, of course it had been windy when we parked up and when we went to bed, but ‘Big Momma’ was not being buffeted with Gale Force winds, we were in no fear of being blown off the cliff edge. Yes it was a bit noisy, but there was nothing we could do about the bicycle cover flapping in the wind, it was well secured, just flapping.
We were awoken at around 6:30am, not by the Seagulls looking for breakfast, not the Bread Delivery man in his van, not the tourists coming to take photographs of the sunrise, no we were woken up by the van being rocked side to side, not continuously, not gently, just every couple of minutes or so when the wind slammed into us !! My first thought was to go and do a weather check but I thought better of it, didn’t want to step outside and find myself treading fresh air !! So ‘Plan B’, best I just look out of the window, if I could still see a bit of land then we had not moved, if all I could see was the Atlantic Ocean and a sheer drop of a few hundred feet then we were in trouble !! Fortunately, ‘It’s bark was worse than its bite’, we were exactly where we should have been, nevertheless we decided to forego breakfast and move on, we would have morning coffee and breakfast in somewhat calmer conditions !
To be perfectly honest, we had only planned to do just the one night at ‘Cabo São Vicente’, I had read, well before we even put our retirement plans into action, about this place and we couldn’t come to the Algarve without visiting the most Westerly point of Europe. However, now we had seen it, done it, got the Tee shirt as they say, there was not a lot more to see here so one night was certainly enough although I hadn’t anticipated leaving it in quite such a hurry ! Our plan was to travel just 4 miles to an ‘Aire’ at ‘Sagres’. According to our Camperstop book there were two ‘Aires’ at Sagres, one at the ‘Fort’ which was parking only, no services, and one near the harbour that had services. We would stay just the one night at the Fort and then the following day we would stop at the other ‘Aire’ just to ’empty and re-fill’ as appropriate before heading off for three more nights Wild Camping. We arrived at the Fort, the parking area was big, proper roads and a proper parking area and there were several vans already parked up. Although there were no ‘official’ services for Motorhomes there was a Cafe within 20 metres that had public toilets next door, very clean public toilets I should add. The impressive looking Fort stood at the top of the hill, a five-minute walk from the Motorhome parking area and a visit was on our ‘To Do List’ at some point during the day.
Shazza made us both a mug of coffee and then we decided to walk into the small town and locate the ‘other’ Aire, more specifically the ease of access to the ‘Service Point’. This town was deserted, it reminded us of one of those resorts in the UK that closed its doors and left the key under the doormat once the last of the summer tourists had left. We found a ‘Parking’ area which had several vehicles parked on it, nothing more than scrubland. There were a few Motorhomes but in the main the vehicles looked more like something out of the ‘Wacky Races’ TV cartoon from many years ago, I half expected to see ‘Dick Dasterdly’ pop his head out of the window. The occupants looked like they were ‘leftovers from the hippy sixties’, we assumed that these were the ‘surfer dudes’ we had been told about. Now why did I expect to see VW Campervans, hand painted in bright colours, wet suits hanging from wing mirrors and Surf Boards somewhere in the scene ? There were no wet suits and no visible sign of any surf boards and the occupants were in or around their vans, so obviously not ‘surfing’, at least not on the watery waves, possibly the ‘air waves’ on their laptops perhaps !! What was also lacking was any visible sign of the said ‘Motorhome Services’ ? We followed the road down the hill and came upon quite a nice beach, we had been on better, however this beach had a purpose, it had big rolling waves ending in spectacular breakers on the foreshore, just the kind of conditions that I guess ‘surfer dudes’ would enjoy. There were actually a mixture of surfers and body boarders already out in the water, there were plenty of big rolling waves but very little action from the ‘surfer dudes’, not that they were not trying, just that they kept falling off !! Perhaps this is similar to ‘Nursery Slopes’ for those learning to Ski, these waves are a kind of a beginners induction for would be ‘surfer dudes’ who were still far too ‘wet behind the ears’ !!
We walked the short distance to the Tourist Information office, where we asked a rather miserable woman, sat behind the counter, where the aforementioned services were ? She informed us that there were no such services as the town did not have a licence for them !! Now we had the current edition of the Camperstop Europe Guide and up until now it had been absolutely brilliant, but whoever ‘inspected’ this particular location didn’t do a very good job, in fact, did they claim the expenses for purportedly conducting the ‘inspection’ without actually doing so ? Not another ‘Expenses Scandal’ exposed !!
We continued with our walk along the deserted streets of the town until we came to the harbour, it was certainly a nice looking harbour with lots of boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing up and down on their moorings. This was also one of the locations for the local ‘ISN’, our equivalent of the ‘RNLI’, but the high powered RIB could stay in its shed today as the sea was calm, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and absolutely nobody was out sailing, fishing or even just generally messing around on the water ! There were three or four fishermen sat on the dockside mending their nets but apart from that, even the harbour was ghostly quiet. This was certainly a town that was closed for the winter.
We needed to re-assess our Wild Camping plan, we knew that if we were to stay overnight at the Fort that, although we would have plenty of water and no urgency to empty the ‘Grey’ waste, we would only have one day before the ‘Chemical Toilet’ would need to be emptied and this would certainly curtail our extended Wild Campng plans. If we went back to ‘Big Momma’ and had a spot of lunch then did the visit to the Fort, as it was on the doorstep so to speak, then perhaps we may still have time to ‘move on’ and find a nice secluded Wild Camping location. We had been to some lovely places and done a fair bit of Wild Camping but we still hadn’t found our own personal ‘Nirvana’. This would be a place where we could park on, or close to, a beach where we could take our ‘Smokey Joe’ (Charcoal BBQ rather than the CADAC Chef gas BBQ) and sit by the shoreline. After cooking our food we could burn the giant fir cones that we were still carrying, the ones that we had collected many weeks before when we were on the Campsite in Spain up in the mountains. We had no idea wether we would find such a place on this trip but right now we just needed to find a nice isolated spot, Aires were superb and had their place but sometimes you just need to get away from a place full of parked Motorhomes !! Let’s face it, we had spent a fortune on getting this vehicle ready for such trips, ready to be self sufficient for extended periods of time, so now that we have this fantastic opportunity why waste it ?
We were both feeling a little tired and somewhat irritable. Was it perhaps because we had spent half the night star gazing, then, after little sleep, being woken by a bad case of violent wind ? Was it being disappointed with Sagres, the town that had closed for Winter ? Perhaps it was that our plans for an extended period of Wild Camping had been thwarted by incorrect information in what, up until now, had been our very useful ‘Aires’ guide ? Whatever it was, we both were in need of a bit of a ‘pick me up’.
We had lunch, we went to the Fort, that too was a disappointment, perhaps if we had the slightest interest in History it may well have been worth paying the €3 each to go inside but we don’t so we didn’t. We decided to just leave, there was only one way out of Sagres and after that…………..?
Within the Motorhome travellers world there are places, Wild Camping places, that people discover and in order to prevent them from becoming too widely known and over used or overcrowded, they keep the location of such places to themselves. The Dutch couple we had met at the ‘Barragem De Caia’ had provided us with lots of useful information but I recall them saying that they were not going to disclose some of their special secret places, which was fair enough. We just happened to find such a place, still not quite our perfect ‘Nirvana’ but pretty damn close. Now I have to be honest, we didn’t actually ‘discover’ it as in the first ones to find or use it, because there are already people here, ‘surfer dudes’ and proper ‘surfer dudes’ at that, in proper ‘surfer dude’ vehicles !
Now last night’s location was spectacular for its own quite unique qualities but this place even surpasses that. We are parked in a truly isolated place, there are no services, there are no shops, there are no street lights, we will need to be totally self-sufficient. We are overlooking the Ocean, we are overlooking a fantastic long and wide sandy beach that is within walking distance, We are ‘reasonably’ sheltered from the wind and we are parked in a spot where there is no room for any other van in front, behind or at the side of us and what’s more we are perfectly level so no need for levelling blocks here. There are miles of cliff top walks and there are views as far as the eye can see. The sun is shining, it is hot today and the forecast for the next few days is much of the same. So what could spoil this almost perfect situation, a bloody chemical toilet that will need emptying within the next twenty-four hours that’s what !!
We studied the Aires guides and our road map and whilst there were a lot of ‘Aires’ in the vicinity, they were ‘Parking Only’ with no services. However, in this lifestyle you have to learn to be flexible, how many times have I said that now ? So, with flexibility in mind, and with a bit of a deviation to our ‘intended and logical’ route we would divert to a ‘Serviced Aire’, use the facilities to ’empty and re-fill’ as appropriate, find a supermarket and stock up with supplies for several days and then decide where to go from there. A little bit of free WiFi would also be useful during our visit to ‘civilisation’ as I needed to check my bank to ensure that my first Civil Service Pension Payment had been credited, not that we needed any money but first payments always have a habit of going wrong somewhere along the line so I needed to make sure it had been credited otherwise phone calls would have to be made.
All the ‘surfer dudes’ drove off and re-located around the headland, what did they know that we didn’t ? We stayed where we were, there was no wind, the view was amazing and even if a wind were to pick up in the night we were not in a precarious position on a cliff edge like the previous evening. We thought about why they may have all moved and it dawned on us that they all had small vehicles, most were just converted transit vans or similar type vehicles so they were small enough to utilise the car parking spaces along the side of the narrow access road. However, these parking spaces were all on slopes, they were ideally placed for during the day so that the ‘surfer dudes’ would not have far to carry their surf boards but not very good at night for sleeping. So we surmised that they had moved to a more level ‘night location’. We would see if they all returned tomorrow ? So we were once again all alone, parked with views overlooking the sea, and the beach, and from inside ‘Big Momma’ all we could hear was the faint sound of the breakers crashing onto the sand below, it was magical.
I was awake reasonably early, a little before 08:00am and it felt chillier this morning than it had yesterday. The sun had only just started to rise so it had no real heat to it yet, I opened the large front Heki skylight to take advantage of when it did decide to turn its thermostat up, turned on the kettle and then kick started my lungs. Shazza was still buried away under the duvet and she still didn’t move when I put her steaming hot mug of coffee on her bedside locker, she still doesn’t do mornings !! After drinking my coffee I could not stay in bed any longer, I needed to get outside and take in the wonderful views before the ‘surfer dudes’ returned, although I dare say that we would probably not see them much before lunchtime if they were real ‘surfer dudes’ !! If only We were 30 years younger oh yes ! and if only we could surf !! Lots of these ‘surfer dudes’ were travelling as couples but there were a handful travelling solo, we had stopped and talked briefly to a young German girl, well young compared to us, she looked in her early twenty something’s, she wasn’t completely alone as her travelling companion was a rather large German Shepherd dog that barked at us when we initially approached. She spoke excellent English, as these younger generation tend to do, she was preparing herself lunch outside her van, a ‘Ryvita’ type cracker topped with cheese and tomatoe, it looked good. All these ‘surfer dudes’ were friendly towards us and for some reason they always looked happy, on and off the surf, was it perhaps that they were young and just enjoying life !!
Anyway, sorry I digressed there for a moment, so unlike me !! I took my second mug of coffee outside, sat in my chair facing the rising sun which was now beginning to radiate some warmth and just sat and drank in the amazing vista before me. What a way to start a day, hot coffee, sunshine and the sound of surf breaking on an empty beach. When I had been in the ‘dreaming’ stages of ‘full timing’ these were the images that were in my mind, now those images are no longer dreams, they are a reality and this is a big part of what our chosen lifestyle is all about.
Today we were going nowhere other than down to the beach, or so I thought ! We packed the rucksack with all the ‘essentials’, beach mat, towels, flask of coffee, cold drinks, binoculars, iPods and iPads and off we went. There was no easy way down to the magnificent sandy beach, the wooden boardwalks were not provided as foot ways to the beach, we were in a National Park and the boardwalks were to protect the fragile Eco-system. However, over time the ‘surfer dudes’ had created a trail from the boardwalk over the craggy terrain and down onto the golden sands below so we followed their well worn tracks. We had the whole beach to ourselves for a short while, it wasn’t sunbathing weather, in fact the wind had picked up and the fleeces remained well and truly zipped up ! Four ‘surfer dudes’ then arrived, none that we had recognised from yesterday, as they passed us, already appropriately dressed in full length wet suits and surf boards firmly tucked under one arm, they stopped and chatted briefly, they explained that they were early as waves were not so big today and tomorrow even smaller so they had to make the most of their opportunities. We watched them for a little while, these guys were good, unlike the ones we had stopped to watch at ‘Sagres’, these ‘surfer dudes’ could pick up a wave, they twisted and turned and really rode it almost until the surf crashed onto the beach, wow ! Yes I was suitably impressed, so impressed and mesmerised that I even forgot to take some photo’s, damn !!
Even though the sun was warm, the wind had a bite to it so we decided to return to ‘Big Momma’ where we could sit out in our chairs and shelter from the wind. As we walked back we saw the first of yesterday’s ‘surfer dudes’ bringing their vans and equipment back down from their night retreats. We also met an elderly English couple (Silver Surfers perhaps?), on their way down to take in the views, again we got chatting and they told us about a ‘Sweet Potatoe’ festival being held in a local town over this weekend, the very town that we were diverting to tomorrow to do the important essentials on the van. Shazza and I briefly mused with the idea of ‘moving on’ early but then agreed to stick with our original plan. However, we did decide that although we were parked in a wonderful location, the wind if it picked up any further would probably give us a good battering and that would entail another noisy and sleepless night, so we decided to move to another parking area at the bottom of the hill, one that we had passed on the way up to our current location, a journey of only three or four minutes ! When we arrived there were already a handful of vans parked up but still more than enough room for another half a dozen or so. One of the vans belonged to Steve & Janet, they just happened to be ‘Assistant Wardens’ with the Caravan Club and after completing their working season they were now on their four month winter break !! Naturally we spent some time talking about the ‘Assistant Wardens’ jobs and then exchanging information about ‘Aires’ and Wild Camping locations.
It had been a good decision to re-locate from our previous parking spot as the strength of the wind increased tremendously as the day went on. We were certain that it would be a noisy night with the bicycle cover already flapping away, but fortunately, as the sun lowered itself from the sky and darkness fell, so did the wind, the flapping of the cover ceased and it looked as if we would get a peaceful nights sleep……………