Wednesday 18th December – Wild Camping Location to Alvor ‘Aire’ (43 miles)
I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would have, perhaps it was because I knew we were all alone and my subconscious mind was listening for unaccountable noises, whatever it was, I was not feeling my best. I had also developed a back ache, this always gave me some concern as I have suffered for years with kidney stones, my last being just over a year ago and the early symptoms were an ache in my back. However, another explanation may have been ‘playing in the breakers’, not only was the water cold but when some of the waves hit they were fairly powerful and contained bits of shingle that they picked up when the breaker hit the sand shelf. A combination of the back ache and unaccountable night time noises both played a part in my less than peaceful sleep !
Today we needed to get to an ‘Aire’, we were at the ‘desperation’ point with our on-board facilities. The plan had been to travel just seven miles to ‘Parque da Gale’. The Frenchman we had met very early in our travels at ‘Luz’ had told us about it and had said that it contained all facilities including Showers, Toilets, Laundry and WiFi all for €6 per day. We had pre-loaded the co-ordinates he had given us into ‘Snoopy’, so after a brief stop at an ‘Intermarche’ to pick up some bread and milk we were on our way. We followed ‘Snoopies’ guidance and ended up a ‘track’ in the middle of nowhere with ‘Snoopy’ declaring “You have arrived at your destination”. This ‘track’ was exactly that, a track that was both narrow and getting narrower by the metre !! I stopped and said to Shazza “No way am I risking taking this track any further, we need to turn around” !! I wish that I had the forethought to stop and take a picture of this ‘track’ to include in this blog post, however, I was a little pre-occupied. We saw an opening into nothing more than a field, an opening that had a small broken wall on one side and on the other a tree with low over hanging branches, not great but with no other alternative it was our only option. Shazza, now accustomed to getting out and watching my ‘rear’ !! saw me through the narrow opening and then had to do the same once I had turned around to get out again. Once on the track and facing the right direction to get back to a ‘proper’ road we stopped and decided to look at where we should have been. Here we were, on a narrow track trying to sort out ‘Snoopy’ when we heard a car horn, I looked in my mirrors and there was a Landrover behind me wanting to get through !! For goodness sake ! Of all the times we didn’t want to see any other traffic ? we had no option, Snoopy re-programmed or not we had to move !! When we got the opportunity we pulled over, now we could have given up on going to this particular ‘Aire’, but we do not like to be beaten so Shazza looked through all our Guides and found a different set of Co-ordinates for ‘Parque da Gale’ which we programmed into ‘Snoopy’ and away we went again. Because we had not been in the right place we had to try to get back onto the right road, this however involved driving through a small town, with small roads, with small cars parked on the side of small pavements, this was turning out to be not one of our better days !!
We had survived without any damage to ‘Big Momma’ but my stress level was just beginning to rise a little and so I hoped we could get to our destination without any further dramas. We saw the signs for the ‘Aire’, we pulled in to what looked like a fully occupied ‘Parque da Gale’. I stayed in the van whilst Shazza went to see if their was anyone we needed to check-in with. Whilst she was gone I looked around my surroundings, I did not have a nice feel for it !! The Motorhome Service Point looked pretty decent, the ground was clean and tidy gravel but it was all very tightly packed in. There was washing hanging everywhere, not just on individual vans but everywhere ! Although there were people stood around, some chatting with each other and others just staring at me in the van as if I had two heads or something, not one of them came across to offer any sort of assistance or information, this felt like we had just inadvertently turned up at one of those ‘Travellers Parks’ that they have in the UK !! Shazza came back and said that there was no one to check-in with, she had been told to just find a space and someone would come around to collect the money tomorrow. I decided that as the ‘Service Point’ was empty of any other vehicle that this would be a good time to ‘Empty and Fill’ as appropriate. Tasks completed we locked ‘Big Momma’ and went to see what space was available. There was one place left ! fortunately as we were walking back to the van an ‘English’ chap said “hello” and I took the opportunity to sound him out. Electric ?……. No ! Showers ?……… No ! Laundry ?…………. Yes, if you can ever find the machines not in use ! WiFi ?………….. Yes, but very weak and not good ! That was it, minds made up, we had managed to do the necessary with our on board facilities so let’s get out of here pronto !
“Right then, where to now ?” I asked, not a question directly for Shazza but one of those ‘thinking out loud’ type of questions. We both agreed that we no longer needed ‘formal’ accommodation, we had developed a liking for this Wild Camping lark and we were self-sufficient again for another three days. There were a number of options, return to one or perhaps two of our favourites or find somewhere new ? We remembered a week or so ago passing through a place called ‘Ferragudo’ which had looked a nice little town on the opposite bank to ‘Portimao’. We had seen a number of Motorhomes Wild Camping on a bit of a peninsula overlooking the river estuary and within a very short walk of the town. So that was it, we headed for ‘Ferragudo’. We had not refuelled for almost three weeks but we were now down to a quarter of a tank and we were approaching a ‘BP’ fuel station. I had used this previously to re-fill with LPG so I knew that it had good access and exit so I made the decision that now would be a good time to ‘fill her up’ and in doing so probably wouldn’t need to do so again until well into our travels back up North towards Bilbao. We didn’t have any Co-ordinates for the actual Wild Camping location but we remembered roughly where it was, we made a minor error on entering the outskirts but nothing that caused us any real concern. There were already half a dozen vans parked up at discrete distances from each other, a nice expensive ‘Niesmann & Bischoff’ and a number of smaller but newish looking vans. Nearer the water’s edge were some much older and scruffier looking vehicles but these were primarily owned by the people fishing from the bank. We drove on, their were no roads just sand tracks and although a little rutted and lumpy in places, well a lot of places really, ‘Big Momma’ Rock ‘n’ Rolled herself around to what looked like a nice spot just above the water line, our view was of the river, a sand beach and us and it would have been idyllic if the surroundings looked just as good. However, this felt as if we just parked on a Council Land Fill site !! Empty bottles, glass and plastic, rubbish of all descriptions, just strewn all over the place. We decided to lock the van and walk the very short distance into the town. Looks can quite often be deceptive, I remember when we turned up at an ‘Aire’ at ‘Alcoutim’ that did not look very inviting, in fact our two travelling companions at the time had elected to move on. We explored and discovered a beautiful riverside town. Ferragudo had looked a very pretty town on the day we had passed briefly through it but in fact it did not live up to expectations. It had a couple of very nice small cobbled back streets, in fact we finally managed to purchase two very nice ‘unusual and unique’ Christmas Tree decorations. Unfortunately that was the only good thing about the place and we were very disappointed as we had great expectations. Walking back to ‘Big Momma’ we decided that we did not feel comfortable with this particular Wild Camping location. It wasn’t that we didn’t feel safe, quite the opposite really, this terrain was not easily traversed from the road, especially in the dark. We concluded that this terrain was more fitting for a ‘quad bike’ and we would certainly hear one of those coming !! Mind you, the more wily could have approached from the water but we discounted that option. No, it was not for reasons of safety or security, neither do we consider ourselves as ‘snobs’, come on, we are homeless, living in a plastic box on wheels and even spending days and nights in places that are basically ‘public car parks’ or rough scrubland outside lighthouses ! No, we are not snobs but landfill sites, one does still have some standards !!
Right then, where to now ?” I asked, for the second time today, a bit of ‘De ja Vou’ me thinks ! We were not a million miles away from a place we had been to before and liked it, ‘Alvor’. The last time we were there we had stayed at ‘Camping Dourada’, the place where ‘Big Momma’ got some much-needed TLC. However, we now knew where the ‘Aire’ was located, right next to the beach, a short walk to the estuary and its promenade Cafés and a short walk to the harbour with all it’s restaurants and of course the town, yes, this would do nicely. The last time we went to ‘Alvor’ was by default, we had intended to go to the ‘Aire’ in Portimao, yes ! the dreaded ‘Portimao Experience’, I still have nightmares about that particular trip !! I was getting tired now, the stress of today’s adventures were just about enough for one day and I was ready to park up and unwind. So, ‘Snoopy’ was re-programmed with the co-ordinates, hopefully the last time we would need to do so at least for today.
“Oh my God” !! I said in a panick stricken sort of way, startled at my sudden outburst and sensing the less than calm manner in my tone, “What ?” Shazza replied. “I am not going over that bloody bridge again” I said, panick still in my voice. The bridge that once I drove onto would be like the sequel to my worst ‘Horror Film’, ‘The Portimao Experience Part Two’ !! I flatly refused to drive forward any further and pulled off to the side of the road, you have to remember that Portuguese roads do not do ‘hard shoulders’ in fact they do not do ‘shoulders’ at all. So here we are, on a busy main road, half of ‘Big Momma’ lopsided onto an uneven bit of ‘dirt track’ and the other half still on the ‘metalled’ carriageway with traffic whizzing past in both directions. ‘Snoopy’ was adamant that this was the route she would take me, I was adamant that this was the route I would not follow, there was always only going to be the one winner in this contest !! I decided to ‘clear the route’ from ‘Snoopy’s’ memory and re-programme her with the name of a town that was in the opposite direction and nearest to the N125, the road that I wanted to be on. That bit was fine, the only minor problem was turning around a thirty foot tag-axle vehicle on a busy main road that wasn’t wide enough to complete the turn in one move ! I waited for a rare break in the traffic, Shazza did what she normally does in such situations, she closed her eyes and said seven or eight ‘Hail Mary’s’. At last we were headed away from my worst nightmare, who cares how many extra miles this detour would add-on, it was worth every mile !!
It had been a long day, a day which when we started should have been no more than seven miles but which ended up being a nightmare journey of 43 miles !! We eventually reached our ‘Aire’ at ‘Alvor’ without any further dramas but I was to suffer for it. I do not know whether it was the lack of sleep or a delayed reaction to some of the days dramas or a combination of the two, but by the time we had parked up I had a bad headache and felt extremely mentally exhausted, in fact, for the first time on our travels I actually felt quite unwell ! If it wasn’t that I was already ‘retired’ I would have felt the need to have taken a couple of weeks off work and taken a well deserved holiday !!………………………..