Thursday 2nd January 2014 – Coruche to Figueira da Foz (121 miles)
We had re-located back to the ‘Aire’ in town on New Years Day as we needed to catch up on sleep and had decided we would not be going anywhere until the 2nd of January.
The rain had fallen quite heavily in the night and we awoke to it still beating its rhythmical tune on the roof. We now had only fourteen days before we needed to be at Bilbao. We could of course just take a direct route but that wouldn’t be very adventurous would it ? There were still places along the West Coast that we wanted to try to visit, however when we made a ‘provisional’ route it reflected a distance of 700 miles, that would mean travelling Fifty miles every day and not having much time to see places. We had already by-passed Lisbon, saving that for another trip, the Capital city was deserving of some time spent looking around. However, if we are missing out on Lisbon then we must do ‘Porto’, and their were also a lot of places in between here and there. I was happy to drive One hundred miles or so in a day, that would enable us to get to a place and then have a day sightseeing but we would have to be very selective as we just cannot do it all, not on this trip at least. Being now on a much tighter time frame was frustrating for the both of us. We had been used to just pottering along a few miles, stopping for as long or as little as we liked then pottering on to the next place. This is no longer a potter, it feels more like a ‘gallop’ !!
Whilst I did the necessary ‘services’ on ‘Big Momma’, Shazza popped next door to see our neighbours, namely the ‘Lidl’ supermarket and yes, I let her go without the supervision of a responsible person and she had the ‘wallet’ !! We had elected to drive to ‘Figueira da Foz’ on the Coast, many people had told us how beautiful it was, a lovely, quite large seaside town. Our ‘Tourist Bible’ had also given it a good review and our ‘Aires’ guide reflected that ‘they’ would ‘tolerate’ us parking there, but there were no services, which is why we needed to ensure that we were ‘Empty and Full’ as appropriate ! So my tasks duly completed, shopping done and wallet emptied (I had deliberately hidden the bulk of the cash and just left a handful of notes in the wallet, but don’t tell Shazza, I may need to use that ploy again !!) it was time to get ‘back on the road again’.
We always elected to programme ‘Snoopy’ to take us to our destinations via ‘Non-Toll Routes’, which has led to some very interesting route variations on this trip and today’s would be no exception, especially as the rain looked as if it was in for the day !! As far as fuel was concerned we had a range of 140 miles left so I wanted to fill up at some point on this journey, we had topped up with LPG when we left the Christmas Rally site and had been off-line for just six days but that meant we had been reliant on it for cooking, heating water and habitation heating, we certainly were not desperate as by my estimations we should still have a good 75% (a bottle and a half) based on our limited usage, the actual level gauges on these bottles are worse than useless, there must be better gauges available so another thing to research when we get back to the UK ! However, as we have planned to be off-line for a while longer, we would be using Aires that may not provide any facilities, including electric or may end up just using ‘tolerated’ parking places so if we do come across any service stations we will top up just to be on the safe side. The other thing that had been playing on my mind, although I had kept this to myself and not worried Shazza with it, was the tyre pressures, especially one of my back tyres. The roads are so badly worn and rutted that the tyres and wheels have been taking a fair bit of punishment and one of the back ones looked a little deflated. The problem with a lot of the service stations is that the air-lines are not long enough to reach right around, or even ‘under’, the van which makes it awkward as there is seldom sufficient room on the forecourt to manoeuvre a vehicle of ‘Big Momma’s’ length !!
Apart from the ‘persistent’ rain the temperatures were holding up at 15 degrees(c) and the roads were pretty quiet. The route ‘Snoopy’ had elected to take us was a little bit confusing as it was not the most direct route, according to my co-pilot and Navigator ! However, I seem to recall, earlier on this trip, ignoring ‘Snoopy’ and trusting in my ‘human’ Navigators directions on more than one occasion, on all those occasions it proved to be the ‘wrong’ choice !! so, today we would rely on ‘Snoopy’. We climbed up into some lovely wooded hills, passed through ‘out of the way’ typical Portuguese villages and towns and up, down and around several series of hairpin bends that ‘Big Momma’ coped with very comfortably. We were making good time until we came across a ‘tanker lorry’ that was unusually slow. Our experience of lorries has been that they more often than not drive with one side of their truck in the opposite lane, they travel fast and expect ‘other vehicles’ to get out of their way and they will overtake slower moving vehicles, including other large lorries, even when the road signs clearly indicate ‘No Overtaking’ !! So it was a little unusual to be behind one that refused to go any faster than 30 mph !! I did eventually find a place to overtake it but by that time our own travel time had gotten longer !! Not long after we saw a ‘Pingo Doce’ Supermarket which was selling diesel at €1.31Ltr, since leaving the ‘Algarve’ the diesel prices had been around €1.42Ltr so this was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as I needed almost a full tank. ‘Big Momma’s’ fuel tank could hold 90ltrs and it took 70ltrs to fill her up so quite a saving !!
Back on the road once again and to my next encounter with a truck on a very long bridge, one which was wide enough for two cars travelling in opposite directions to pass comfortably but not wide enough for a car and a truck to pass and definitely not a truck and ‘Big Momma’. So, I could see that in front, already on the bridge travelling in the same direction was a truck with a car behind so I entered the bridge and commenced my crossing. Their were a line of trucks at the opposite end of the bridge waiting to drive across. The lorry and car exited the bridge as I was about 80% of the way across, at which point the front truck waiting to cross decided not to wait any longer !! I heard the scrape along ‘Big Momma’s’ lower skirting and looking in my door mirror I could see that it was the side crash barrier. There was nothing I could do, the truck was not going to yield and I had nowhere else to go but forward. I drove off the bridge but there was nowhere to stop to inspect the damage, I was bloody furious to say the least !! Why did the truck driver not wait for another ten seconds when I would have been clear ? I kept driving, there was silence in the cab, Shazza knew that I was not well pleased and although I was not angry with her, she knew it was best to just let me curse silently at that moron of a truck driver !! There was nothing I could do, my only hope was that the damage would be only a few scratches that could be polished out, rather than gouges deep into the plastic !! We were just passing through one of the many small towns, just stuck in the middle of nowhere and we saw a sign advertising that LPG was available and at only €0.69ltr !! We had been paying €0.80 or more per Ltr on the Algarve Coast so another ‘must stop and fill up’ moment. This was one of those little service stations where the attendant fills your vehicle for you. I hadn’t been far off with my LPG estimation, it took just 10 Litres. I took the opportunity whilst he had been filling the LPG to inspect the damage from the ‘bridge incident’. What damage ? Not a scratch ! Not even a scuff mark ! The only explanation that I can think of was that the crash barrier must have been made of a hardened rubber material and not metal, but I could not believe it, so whoever is ‘up there’ looking after me I say a very ‘Big Thank You’. And is if my day couldn’t improve any more, this little out-of-the-way, up in the hills service station had an Air-Line with enough hose to reach all my tyres !! I checked them all and they were just fine with the one exception, yes the one that I had had some concerns over. The tyre pressures should be 5.5bar, this one was 2.2 !! So, quite an eventful morning so far but good fortune had smiled on us once more, all of our essential services have been sorted, by some miracle ‘Big Momma’ remained unscathed and so now, no more excitements please and the next stop will not be until we reach our ‘Tolerated’ parking place at ‘Figueira da Foz’.
We had prepared ourselves, mentally at least, for a big change in the temperatures as we commenced our journey Northwards. Prior to our departure we had been ‘advised’ to steer clear of the West Coast as it was notorious for being Wet, Windy and Cold during the winter months. Even other fellow travellers had ‘sucked their teeth’ and shook their heads when we had told them of our planned return route. We knew if course than we would be returning to England in what are traditionally the coldest months (January/February), but ‘needs must’ as they say. Well they were right about the Wet and the Wind but fortunately so far the night temperatures are holding up pretty well and over the past two nights and mornings there has been no need to use the heating, this morning the internal temperature registered 18 degrees(c). We are reliant on our two Solar Panels which provide a maximum of 170w to trickle feed our two 105amp Leisure Batteries, so far they have proven to be sufficient and with longer journey’s now, driving is assisting in keeping the batteries topped up. So we should be able to cope, but this is our first time ‘on the road’ and so far we have been fortunate with the weather but as it deteriorates we will have to keep an eye on it and if needs be we may have to use the odd campsite here and there. The other thing is the lack of readily accessible WiFi as we move out of the more popular ‘tourist’ locations. On the Algarve we were fortunate to have found that most of the ‘Aires’ provided ‘Free’ WiFi, or where they didn’t there were plenty of nearby Cafés. However, as we have commenced our journey North we have been without WiFi now for six days !! We could hunt some down, most libraries provide it, as do a selection of Cafés but it is certainly not as prolific as it was further South. We can live without it, we still have our mobile phones so have been able to keep in touch with both our families back in the UK and also some of the friends and travelling companions we have met here in Portugal. I only really need the WiFi for my Blog although I am able to write them ‘Off-Line’ and then can ‘publish’ them once I manage to get some Internet Access, which does sometimes mean ‘posting’ two or three at a time !!
It was still raining when we arrived at our ‘Tolerated’ parking place in ‘Figueira da Foz’. There are in fact two places available, one on one side of the harbour, away from the town and the other in a large car park on the town side of the harbour, we chose the latter and when we arrived we were once again the only vehicle, let alone Motorhome, on it !! We were overlooking the entrance to the actual harbour and the wind was smashing the waves into and across the sea wall, but we were far enough away not to be worried about getting carried away on the tide !! Although very wet and very windy it was still remarkably warm, thank goodness. There was no need to have to go outside, we parked up, Shazza got out the home contents, kettle on and soon we were sat drinking a nice hot cuppa whilst looking out the windows and observing our new temporary surroundings. Although it was quite obvious that many of the shops were closed up for the winter, there were still a lot that were open and we could see their bright multi-coloured neon lights shining through the gloom. Even the shops and offices that were closed still had lighting on, there were brightly lit festive decorations on walls of buildings, trees, street lamps and even on the roundabouts (rotundas). There was also a lot of vehicle movement on the road, so this certainly was another town that still had a ‘lived in’ feel about it.
Having been ‘Confined to Barracks’ for nearly two days, New Years Day was recovery day and the biggest part of today was spent travelling, we were hoping that their would be some respite with the rain to give us an opportunity to stretch our legs along the long promenade just a hundred metres or so away from where we were parked. According to our ‘Travel Bible’ this promenade stretched for over 2 kilometres, not that I had any intention of walking all of it, at least not today !! Shazza prepared a wonderful Chicken Kiev, stuffed with cheese and Salami and wrapped in ‘Sorano’ ham, small boiled potatoes, a tomato, onion and lettuce balsamic salad with some home-made garlic bread, absolutely beautiful, I knew I had brought her along for something other than her ‘Compare the Supermercado.Com’ research !! We certainly needed a walk after that and as good fortune had it, the rain subsided and off we went. It was dark, a little windy but quite warm and we strolled up the promenade looking at the bright lights of the shops and cafés on the opposite side of the road. We returned on the opposite side and found ourselves a small Cafe/Bar/Restaurant and ordered two coffees whilst we availed ourselves of their free WiFi to check our Emails and update on the Weather situation. It did not look good !! The temperature on the Algarve Coast was going to be 19 degrees(c), we were missing it already, our temperatures would be holding at around 15 degrees(c) but five days of rain !! Our next stop was going to be Porto, but with this whole coastline going to remain very wet we needed to make a decision ? The intention had been to stay here tomorrow and explore the town, find some WiFi and get all my Photographs downloaded to my Blog Page, insert them into their respective pre-drafted ‘posts’ and then get them published, all three of them !! This alone was likely to take a good couple of hours and the charge on both our iPads and iPhones were running very low. It also seemed a bit of a waste to have spent a day travelling here and then not to stay? But there was just not enough power to re-charge all our devices and with the poor weather conditions forecast to last for an extended period there would be very little or no Solar to provide enough to top up the Leisure Batteries to meet all our needs, on board essentials as well as devices. So should we move on to Porto but find a Campsite which would provide us with Electricity, WiFi and with Public Transport close by to enable us to get into Porto or should we ‘bite the bullet’ and remain here. We decided to see what tomorrow would bring…………