Tuesday 10th December – Alvor to Portimao (5 miles)
Although the three days at ‘Campismo Dourada’ had served a very useful purpose, as far as domestic duties were concerned, it certainly gave us sleepless nights ! The two things that we most dislike about Portugal are the amount of dog mess all over, even in public streets, roads, pavements ugh ! Horrible and then the constant howling and barking of dogs at night, every night right into the small hours. I vote ‘Alvor’ so far as being the noisiest dog howling and barking place that we have so far encountered and whilst ‘Big Momma’ may be as shiny as a new pin, the both of us are exhausted and we are hoping that Portimao may just provide us with a couple of nights decent sleep !
The 8 day weather forecast had shown that their would be a deterioration in the weather over the next three days with the likelihood of rain on Wednesday and very strong winds. We awoke to sunshine and no more than a stiff breeze and after the usual ‘ready to move’ procedures duly completed we departed ‘Alvor’ for our short but slightly nervous trip to ‘Portimao’. As you may recall from my last post, our first attempt at getting to the ‘Aire’ had to be aborted, this time I had double checked the route that ‘Snoopy’ was going to take, against the Satellite mapping ‘App’ on my iPad and both looked the same. We were of course coming into it from a different direction so that helped but until we reached our destination at the Marina I would be on tender hooks ! As it happened the trip went without a hitch and we were soon arriving at the very large Motorhome ‘Aire’ right next to the Marina. We were a little surprised as we had the choice of lots of parking places, we had thought that as lots of people we had met on our travels were heading here for the festive period that it would have been pretty full by now, it wasn’t but I will see how many arrive over the next day or two before we depart.
It didn’t take us long to get ‘Big Momma’ sorted and after a cup of coffee Shazza was keen to check out down town ‘Portimao’. I don’t know why, she had already been through it once in ‘Big Momma’, although to be fair I do think that on that particular occasion my trusty co-pilot and Navigator may just have had her eyes closed !! However, we would do the sightseeing on foot this time, although the ever reliable weather forecast, unfortunately on this occasion, hadn’t got it wrong and so the shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops have been put away and replaced by jeans, long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, shoes and socks.
We had just locked the van when another ‘British’ registered van pulled up and the occupants wound down the window and said ‘Hello’ and introduced themselves as ‘Paul & Sharon’. Now I have never met them personally, before today that is, but i do know them under a different name and that is the name they use on the Motorhome Forum (www.motorhome365.com) and we have corresponded with each other on that forum prior to us embarking on this adventure. Paul and Sharon have also been following our blog from the beginning and it was ‘Big Momma’ they recognised rather than us ! They had no way of knowing that we would be coming to this ‘Aire’ today, don’t you just love coincidences like that. This ‘Aire’ has its own bar so we hope to be able to get together one evening and have a beer ! So after a brief but very pleasant chat we continued with our stroll into the town. Now as always when we arrive somewhere new, if there is a long route and a short route we undoubtedly make the wrong choice, but by doing so we do get to see some things that other tourists wouldn’t, namely the back streets and suburbs that you wish you hadn’t found or wandered into !! We eventually found our way to the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and into the now familiar maze of alleyways that run off the Main Street. We could tell which was the right direction to walk in as all the main pedestrianised walkways were festooned in Christmas decorations, not as visually effective in broad daylight as they would be at night, but they did remind us that we were only fifteen days away from Christmas Day !! Now I have to be brutally honest at this point, when you have seen one town with its narrow cobbled streets then you have seen them all, although on this occasion we will have seen the old town twice, once from the windows of ‘Big Momma’ and this time on foot ! We had no intention of buying anything, primarily because there wasn’t anything that we actually wanted or needed but also because we had nowhere to put anything else !! neither of us were really into window shopping. Some people will of course be interested in the history of the town and or the architecture of some of the older buildings, we on the other hand preferred to visit the areas that had pavement Cafés, Bars and restaurants as they always seem to have a bit of life about them, people sat chatting over a coffee, a glass of wine or perhaps eating lunch and sometimes it was nice to just sit amongst them and people watch. There were streets with Cafés and Restaurants but many were already closed for the Winter and those that were open were mainly empty, something to do with strong winds whistling up and down them I suspect. Sometimes in my more reflective moments, which with Shazza taking me on frequent flip-flop hikes are few and far between, I think that we may not as yet have not truly ‘Slowed’ ourselves down into this more relaxed pace of life. Although we do not ‘generally’ travel too many miles from one location to the next, neither do we stay for any real length of time at any of them, two or three days is the normal duration, occasionally we may do four nights, but our routine is more a matter of arrive, see it, do it, move on to the next place. Now, in our defence, we have always been on a bit of a time limit, knowing that we have to be back in the UK in mid-January, so we have wanted to experience as many places as possible on the Algarve in this our first ever visit to Portugal. However, I am pretty confident in saying that if we were not on a time limitation we would certainly have stayed longer in some locations so let’s see what the New Year holds in store for us ?
We completed our wander around the streets and then the rather wide and grand, but near empty, promenade before heading back to ‘Big Momma’, via the shorter route this time, which I was pleased about, as this circular route had once again been a little over six miles !!
As we were walking past the Marina just before we re-entered the ‘Aire’ we got chatting with an elderly ‘British’ couple who not only had a Motorhome parked up, virtually permanently, on the ‘Aire’ but they also had a 40 year-old ‘Ketch’ moored up in the Marina. They have kindly invited us to ‘come on board’ at some point during our stay and even provided us with the security access code to their particular ‘jetty’, how trusting is that ? We may take a stroll around the Marina tomorrow and if we see them we will take them up on their offer. We said our farewells to them and just as we were entering the ‘Aire’ who did we meet coming in the opposite direction but ‘Tom & Karen’, who we had not seen since we went our separate ways at ‘Alcoutim’ many weeks ago. It really is a great lifestyle this, you just never know when you are going to meet up again with friends you have met on the road elsewhere. They were both on their way to hairdressers appointments so we had a brief ‘catch up’ and let them get on their way. Back in ‘Big Momma’ and after a welcome cup of coffee I put my feet up whilst Shazza, now refreshed from her earlier stroll, wanted to go and check out the ‘Beach Area’. I declined the invitation and so she went on her own explorations, ah yes ! time perhaps for a period of reflection, which is of course best done with ones eyes closed !!
We had known in advance that the wind strength would be picking up, today a Force 4 and tomorrow increasing to Force 5, and to say it was a bit ‘blowy’ may be a little under-exaggeration. ! But the good thing was that with the wind came a sky full of clouds, a blanket over the earth, so it was a very warm night with the internal temperature in ‘Big Momma’ remaining at a nice 19 degrees(c). There is something very nice about being tucked up in bed with a nice cup of coffee listening to the wind howling outside and the gusts occasionally causing ‘Big Momma’ to stir in her sleep. The best bit for me was no flipping dogs barking throughout the night, bliss !
I had slept really well and didn’t awaken until 08:30am, Shazza on the other hand did not have a very good nights sleep, something to do with the noise of the wind, the rocking of the van (nothing to do with me that one !!) and the flapping of the bicycle cover. Perhaps she will need a rest day to catch up on her sleep ? No chance !! Portimao is basically a ‘schizophrenic’ place, a town with two sides ! One part is located overlooking the river estuary, the old town, whilst the other part, the ‘Touristique Commercial’ side overlooks a very nice wide sandy beach and is the part filled with wall to wall high-rise Hotel and Apartment blocks, Restaurants, Cafés, Bars and the usual array of tourist ‘tat’ shops. Yesterday was the ‘Shazza Expedition’ to the old town and guess where the ‘Shazza Expedition’ is taking us today ? After allowing me my morning bowl of ‘Frosties’ we set off for a walk around the Marina, now this was the good bit for me, I like my boats, even if I can’t sail !! We walked around the first part of the marina, the bit that was primarily yachts of the sailing variety, single hulls to mono and even tri-hulled craft and all of varying sizes. As on a lot of Marinas there are services for ‘sailors and their crew’, Toilets, Showers and even Washing Machines, which we Motorhomers were also able to use. Right now with the yachts all in their moorings and wrapped up for Winter the facilities were free but i would imagine that in the height of the sailing season you would be lucky to find the facilities readily available. The Marina is surrounded by a Hotel, double story apartments and a nice range of restaurants and it made for a nice walk. As we rounded one area we came across a very old but nice looking ‘tall ship’ moored up, it was flying a ‘Russian’ flag and I wondered if this was one of those training vessels that sailed around the globe changing crews at different points, usually youngsters that were doing something similar to our version of the ‘Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme’.
We then rounded the corner into another Mooring area but this was more ‘up my jetty’ so to speak, the ‘Big Momma’s’ of the boating variety, oh yes ! If you are going to do it why waste the effort of having to put sails up and down and be reliant on wind, just use sheer mega horsepower and enjoy the ride !!
So that was it, I had my bit of pleasure ‘expedition’ sauntering, now it was time to up the pace and head for the beach and in this wind get your face sand blasted !! The wind was really churning up the waves into sizeable breakers, I wasn’t that much in awe to be honest, seasoned travellers as we now are after eight weeks, I had witnessed much bigger and when it comes to ‘Surf’, size really does matter !! However, when I saw all the hardy souls who were out ‘wind surfing’ and ‘Para-Boarding’ in these conditions I was quite impressed. After watching them for a short while it was getting close to lunchtime, that always brought me a bit of a reprieve as Shazza needed feeding ! Although we had walked a fair bit it had been a circular walk and we were only a short ten-minute walk away from the ‘Motorhome Aire’ so we called in to a small corner shop and bought a couple of crispy bread rolls then returned to ‘Big Momma’ for lunch.
After lunch it was back out for the second part of Shazza’s expedition. We walked back to the beach and then walked the full width of it via a wooden boardwalk that separated the golden sandy beach from the array of beachside restaurants and Snack Bars, several of which were still open. When we could walk no further along the boardwalk, due to a rather large cliff in the way, we had the choice of either turning around and re-tracing our steps or climbing the steps up to the top of the cliff. You guessed it, we climbed the steps to the top of the cliff and found ourselves on a promenade which was lined with all those high-rise Hotels, Apartments, Restaurants, Snack Bars and Tat Shops that I mentioned earlier. I really could visualise this place in the height of summer, all the Restaurants and Bars would be full of people, people ‘promenading’ along the Promenade, the beach full of regimented rows of deck chairs and umbrellas, a typical seaside holiday. But now it was quiet and it was sort of peaceful and relaxing. We had walked the full length back to where we had started, well almost, we were probably about a hundred feet higher than when we started but we descended via some conveniently located steps and met ‘Paul & Sharon’ at the bottom who themselves were out on their own ‘expedition’. After a brief chat we arranged to meet in the evening at the small bar, conveniently located on the ‘Aire’, as we were both heading for pastures new tomorrow. After our evening meal we met up with Paul and Sharon and spent the next four hours chatting over a beer or three and the girls with their ‘Vino Tinto’. This lifestyle certainly involves meeting new people and it is great to chat about what made each of us decide to embark on this nomadic lifestyle, the lives we have left behind, the destinations visited, comparing notes on good, and not so good, places we have stopped at. It certainly did not feel as though we had only just met Paul and Sharon, they were very nice people and just so easy to get along with. They did give us another problem though, a potential third choice for spending Christmas !! And we thought that we would be parked up on our own somewhere, the proverbial ‘Billy No Mates’ with our can of Spam and tin of Baked Beans as our Christmas Dinner…………….