Miranda do Douro – Free Camping at a Baragem (53 miles)
The decision to move on had already been taken the evening before, but the question remained, was it to be parked up with hoards of other Motorhomers on an ‘Aire’ in Bracanca or the possibility of being by ourselves on, or close to, a Baragem ? We weighed it all up and very quickly we both came to the same decision, it was time for some ‘personal space’, the Baragem it would be then.
I can’t say that either of us had the best nights sleep, I remember vividly that on last years trip I always had a bad night just before a ‘moving on’ day, perhaps it was the excitement of parking up in a glorious location with an opportunity to get the sun chairs out and bask in the sunshine, go for a swim and finally to let ‘Kevin’ (the Kayak’) see the light of day after such a long time of being trussed up and stored in the blackness of ‘Big Mommas’ garage. Or perhaps it was something a little more significant, an Anniversary perhaps, no not of our Wedding, but today, the 25th September 2014, marked the last day of our first year of fulltiming. It’s hard to believe that on 26th September last year we drove away from our cherished ‘Bricks and Mortar’, and all the tat, prized possessions we had both accumulated over the years, and took our first ‘nervous’ steps on this Nomadic lifestyle, here’s to the start of our second year !!
When morning did finally arrive I didn’t feel too bad for my lack of any consistent period of sleep. There was no hurry to depart and first I needed to get to the WiFi to get my Photographs downloaded and my ‘pre-drafted’ blog posts finally published. I checked out the ‘Library’ first and although they had ‘Free’ Internet access it wasn’t WiFi so only accessible via their desk top machines. I needed to get access to the Internet on my iPad so I thanked the very nice lady and explained the best that I could, by pointing to my iPad, that I needed to look elsewhere. Although I knew exactly where to find my WiFi fix she took the time to provide me with directions, which was all in Portuguese and which I fully understood, but only because I already knew where she was directing me to !! I entered the Cafe and asked if they had WiFi, although I already knew the answer this also prompted the nice Cafe owner to provide me with the password, I ordered a coffee and he said that he would bring it to my table when it was ready. I sat down at one of the outside tables in the morning sunshine, logged on and was more than happy to discover that it was a very fast download speed so in no time at all I had my Photographs copied from my iPad ‘Camera Roll’ to my WordPress Blog ‘Media Library’, inserted them into the appropriate ‘pre-drafted’ posts and then ‘published’ said posts. I also updated my ‘BBC NEWS’ App for reading later and had a quick look at the Caxton FX Euro exchange rate. Seeing that it was the highest it has been for some considerable time at €1.25, I decided to top up our Euro Cash Card and although we hadn’t started drawing on the balance we already had, I was conscious that I hadn’t changed all our allocated budget for this trip from £’s into €’s. In an earlier post I had quoted the rate I was working on as €1.216 but that has now changed, only by a few ‘cents’ in the grand scheme of things but I know that some of you are interested in such things, so the new rate that I am working on, taking into consideration my other ‘top ups’ is £1 = €1.227. Also of note, for those who like to keep an interest on budgets and expenditures, in our first week we have only spent the following; €60 on Diesel, €9 on Personal Expenditure and €7 on Fruit and Vegetables !!
I was well into my WiFi fix when I heard a cheery voice behind me say “Hola“, I looked over my shoulder and saw my beloved, dressed in shorts and a short sleeve blouse and her bright pink ‘Crocs’ and she was wearing a huge radiant grin as she announced “I’m going shopping“. It seemed like no time at all and she was back, I heard no clinking from the thin plastic carrier bag she was holding and so I enquired “What did you buy” ? She reeled off half a dozen items in Portuguese, I wasn’t impressed as she was reading from the receipt she was holding, although I was a little more impressed when she could remember what each item in Portuguese was in English !! I still hadn’t completed everything I wanted to do whilst having WiFi access, she declined the invitation to join me for a coffee in the lovely morning sunshine and stated that she would return to ‘Big Momma’ and get ready to move. I interpreted that as “You’ve had long enough on the WiFi, I’ve done my shopping and am ready to go” !!
When I returned to the van we were, as I had anticipated, ‘ready to roll’, ‘Snoopy’ was programmed and off we went. I get a great deal of enjoyment getting to new places but I have to admit that part of that enjoyment is the journey itself, with the exception of the ‘Portimao Experience‘ last year, which still haunts me, even to this day !! Today we would travel on mainly ‘C’ roads or as my co-pilot advised, “We have a lot of Yellow roads with lots of scary wiggles“. Yes there were a lot of ‘wiggles’ as we climbed up mountain roads and of course down again but as you will see from the photographs, these were very good ‘C’ roads, the hairpins were absolutely brilliant and the scenery magnificently stunning !! ‘Big Mommas’ three-litre engine and six-speed automatic gearbox coped easily with everything that was thrown in her way, it really is a joy to be behind the wheel and being able to travel at a speed where I too can appreciate the scenery.
‘Snoopy’ took us right to the front door, again, my god ! what a good decision it was to come to this location it was absolutely fantastic. Now I have to be up front straight away for this is not a ‘Wildcamping‘ location, it is a ‘Tolerated Parking‘ Free Camping location. There are no Motorhome services here but we didn’t need any. What it did have was loads of Water, as in it was quite a large Baragem, Cloudless Blue Sky and oodles of lovely hot sunshine. Oh yes ! and a choice of three sandy man-made beaches, a Cafe/Snack Bar/Bar sort of facility, very modern it was too and with ‘flushing loo’s’, it also just happened to be open from 11:00am to Midnight every day so we would have to time our personal bowl movements to fit into a 13 hour window of opportunity which would of course extend our usage, before emptying was required, of our own toilet facilities !!
I would imagine that in the peak Summer Season this place would be crowded all day every day and perhaps even at weekends at this time of year. The parking area was empty when we arrived and so we could choose our prime position. We do however try not to upset the locals, this is after all ‘their’ local beauty spot so parking across the front car parking bays and obstructing the view is never a good idea. We parked to the side but still had prime views on three sides !! We were followed in by a French registered car towing a really small caravan, they parked on the opposite side to us and when I saw them walking around the parking area I went across and said ‘Hello’, as you do. They were a youngish middle-aged couple, probably in their mid-thirties, with two very young children and they told me that they were from ‘Perigeux’ (not sure about the spelling !!) in France and were returning home from an extended touring holiday.
Throughout the day we were joined by people in their cars coming and going, just enjoying the views, as were we. Many of them gave us a friendly smile, a wave and some even stopped and spoke to us, just passing the time of day. We went for a stroll to explore this wonderful environment, stopping at the Cafe/Bar to purchase two ‘Magnum’ ice creams and then we wandered onto the two beaches either side of us before returning to the comfort of our sun chairs, placed ‘discreetly’ at the front of ‘Big Momma’ and we enjoyed a chilled beer from the fridge. Our French neighbours were also set up, complete with table and chairs spread outside their small van. I don’t think that they were intentionally flouting the rules, more a matter of they were not aware of them. The French man came across and seemed a little nervous about staying with his car and caravan and enquired as to whether we were staying for the night. I told him that we were planning on staying for two nights and he said that they would stay too. I think he was more concerned about the safety aspect and felt more comfortable knowing that they would not be alone. I casually mentioned about the ‘Camping’ rules and he was quite apologetic. I told him not to apologise to me and that it was just that I didn’t want him to get into any trouble if the local police turned up to do a patrol, as it could result in a ‘on the spot’ fine. He put his camping table away and like us positioned his chairs a little more discreetly behind the caravan and not at the side in full view. Like us he also had an inflatable Kayak and later in the afternoon he took it out on the water with his two young children, both I hasten to add were wearing buoyancy aids !! We would leave our outing on the water with ‘Kevin’ until tomorrow.
After 5pm a few of the locals turned up to have a swim, the water was not freezing cold but it wasn’t a hot bath either ! We just decided to remain enjoying the remaining warmth of the early evening sunshine. By the time the sun had started to set, at around 7:30pm, our ‘day’ visitors had left and it was perfectly quiet with the exception of the fish that were still leaping out of the water to feast on the insects that dared to hover just above the water line. I don’t know what type of fish were in these waters but by the sound of the splash they must be quite sizeable beasts. I wondered whether fish actually slept ? I know that they have to move to be able to allow water to pass through their gills to absorb the oxygen, but surely they have to stop at some stage. I posed the question to Shazza, she being a former Science teacher she would surely enlighten me, she told me that she only knew of one species of fish that did that, when I asked which one she responded “Catfish of course, they take a Cat Nap” !! She giggled and I groaned, I think that perhaps she has been ‘on the road’ with me far too long already !! As we were preparing to sit down and enjoy our evening meal, oh yes, gone are the days when ‘Dinner’ was as soon as we got home from work at around 6:30pm, we are now getting into this Continental habit of a wee snackerooney at 4pm and Dinner at around 8pm. Anyway, we heard a car start and then saw our French Caravanners move off, had they changed their minds about staying here for the night ? Then they pulled past the front of ‘Big Momma’ and parked just off to one side, they had re-located to be just a little bit closer, I don’t think they have done this ‘Free Camping’ sort of thing before.
Again I didn’t have the best nights sleep, perhaps after the ‘security’ of being static for so long within a fenced compound and now being ‘out in the open’ it is still taking me a while to settle back into this years Nomadic adventures. I had heard two vehicles pass by in the early hours but heard them drive away again, no, what had unsettled me was a noise that I couldn’t fathom out, until I did I would remain awake, listening for movement outside or until my brain had worked out what the noise was. It sounded like the kitchen windows being slid open, I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to get up to investigate. It wasn’t a fear of anyone getting in, especially through the small sliding kitchen window, we were pretty well secure, It was more the damage that could be caused by someone attempting to make a forcible entry. However, as always with these things, it was nothing to be alarmed about and on opening the blinds on both the kitchen and lounge windows I could see the culprit. We were parked next to a tree and when the night breeze blew, a branch would rub against the side of the van, just above the sliding kitchen window, I returned to bed and slept soundly !!
Irrespective of my disturbed sleep I awoke at 08:30am and got up and put the kettle on then went back to bed until I could hear it just start to build up a head of steam. The thing with the Electric kettle is that when boiled it will switch itself off, a gas kettle doesn’t, it whistles and whistles and whistles !! So being aware of potential neighbours it is a mad dash to turn off the gas before I have a queue at the door all wanting morning cuppa’s !! Now here is the thing, when you have to get up, you long for the time when you can just lay in bed and enjoy that first morning coffee, now that I can do that until my heart is content I just can’t lay in bed. I have to go out and do the morning weather check and yes of course I could just open the Heki above the bed and look out but what fun would that be. I stepped out into beautiful warm sunshine and a blue but totally cloudless sky, today was going to be a hot one !! The plan for today was…………well actually there wasn’t one, it was a day for placing the sun chairs, ‘discreetly’, in front of ‘Big Momma’, facing the Baragem and the magnificent scenery and just drinking it all in. Shazza and I had talked about giving ‘Kevin’ a bit of an outing but that wouldn’t be until much later in the afternoon when it cooled down a bit, “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out In The Midday Sun……….”.
This place was getting much busier today, I could only presume that’s because it was Friday and that people finished work early, on a day as hot as today why sit at home, or cut the grass, when there is a Baragem and sandy beach on your doorstep. Our ‘French’ family went out for the afternoon but told us that they would be back later, they were leaving later this evening to start their long journey home and the roads would be quieter at night, although that must mean that they would be the only ones on the road if the daytime traffic is anything to go by. We had been joined by two other ‘French’ registered Campervans, was this a takeover, memories of our encounter at Quarteria last year sprung to mind !! Actually they were both very friendly and for the time being we had three neighbours. A Portuguese registered car pulled up and a man got out, he had obviously noted the UK registration plate on ‘Big Momma’ as he greeted us with “Hello“, I of course returned the compliment and replied with “Bon Dia“. I watched him as he rooted around inside his car boot, he produced a new pair of flip-flops out of a bag, I knew that they were a recent purchase as they were still joined together by those irritating plastic tie things and he had to pull them apart before he could put them on. Next he produced a rather long fishing rod, well it wasn’t long when it was in the boot but once he had assembled it, it was. I asked him what sort of fish were in the Barragem, he told me ‘Carp’ and something else that he couldn’t interpret into English but he said it was a nice fresh water fish to eat. I told him about the large leaping fish we had heard the previous day and he confirmed that there really was a monster ‘Carp’, they called it ‘Lucio’ and that it had been estimated at weighing 20-25kg !! Many had attempted to catch ‘Lucio’ but no-one, as yet, has been successful. We chatted for quite some time, he appeared to be in no hurry to go fishing and spent some time telling me about the history of the Barragem, the local area and the villages and small towns that surrounded it, his English was absolutely excellent and I told him so. He then went down to the water’s edge and cast his first line.
We retired inside ‘Big Momma’ for a spot of lunch, hungry work all this ‘Chillaxing’, although the internal temperature gauge reflected a little over 27 degrees(c) with the breeze blowing in through the open door and windows it felt a damn site cooler than it did outside. After lunch Shazza decided to retrieve her ‘Summer’ clothes from storage under the bed, I left her to it and decided that it was time to release ‘Kevin’ and get him inflated. This is not as straightforward as it may at first sound because although ‘Kevin’ is an ‘inflatable’ kayak he still takes up a great deal of space and ‘other’ stuff gets packed around him. Such ‘other’ stuff needed removing before I could get ‘Kevin’ out, then this ‘other’ stuff needed to be put back !! All this had to be done in scorching temperatures and I know, I can hear your cries of sympathy from here, but don’t worry I just get on and do what needs to be done without any complaint. Once I had completed my task I went to see how Shazza was doing, well actually, I was checking to make sure that Shazza’s ‘Summer’ attire wasn’t so extensive as to require additional wardrobe space, my wardrobe space !! It didn’t but she had got my bag of ‘spare’ clothing out as well in case I wanted to have a wardrobe change, I took the opportunity as these bags are pretty heavy and we don’t tend to drag them out very often. With ‘all’ our missions accomplished we returned to the comfort of our sun chairs and waited for the allotted hour. That hour would be around 4pm, it’s when the breeze fades away into nothingness and although still very warm the sun has begun to cool down.
We carried ‘Kevin’ down to the water’s edge and rather elegantly we each, in turn, boarded our craft and paddled out onto the Barragem. We didn’t know how long this piece of water actually was or for how long we would stay out, we did know that their was a largish island on it and so decided to take a look. We passed close to where our Portuguese fisherman was, not close enough to disturb his line but close enough for him to recognise us and give us a cheery wave. There was the merest hint of a breeze out on the water but not enough to trouble us, the water was calm and extremely clear and our paddling was effortless. We circumvented the Island like the intrepid explorers we were, unable to stop and have a wander around it as this is a ‘protected area’, our fisherman friend had given us that information during our earlier chat. Occasionally we would both stop paddling and just enjoy the serenity and calmness but on more than one occasion ‘Shazza’ stopped paddling in the hope that I hadn’t noticed, but I had !! This place is so beautiful and stunning when looking from the land out upon the water and beyond, however, it is also wonderful to be on the water looking landward. We paddled some more then we would stop and just allow the momentum to carry us slowly forward until we came to a halt. We would peer over the sides and look down into the clear water to see if we could spot any fish, in particular ‘Lucio’ the beast from the deep but we didn’t see anything except weeds, underwater tree’s and mossy covered rocks. We started to head back into shore and the bathing platform, the kind that sits on plastic floats, you would swim out to it from the beach, climb up onto it and either use it as a diving board to launch one’s self into the cooling water or just sunbathe on it. We paddled up to it and Shazza climbed up onto the platform at which point I paddled away !! I thought she may have protested but she knows me too well and had expected me to do it, am I really that predictable ?
We had our hour or so of fun on the water, we had even missed our 4pm aperitif & snacks, and now it was time to return to dry land. As we paddled around the corner to our landing beach we again saw our fisherman friend, sounds a bit like one of those medicated throat sweets ! He held his keep net aloft triumphantly, no it wasn’t ‘Lucio’ but the fish inside was going to make him a very decent tasty supper. After carrying ‘Kevin’ back to ‘Big Momma’ we left him to dry off, ‘Kevin’ that is and not the fisherman, whilst we put the kettle on to make a lovely cuppa. Our Fisherman returned to his car with his catch and we spent at least another hour just chatting away.
As day progressed rapidly into evening I enjoyed a nice cold beer whilst stood watching the sun lower itself behind the hills that surrounded this beautiful place, Shazza was preparing the evening meal, our ‘French’ family were preparing to leave to commence their long drive home and our other two lots of ‘French’ neighbours were sat in their sun chairs still enjoying the warmth of the evening, but something was bothering me, something was lacking from this perfect picture of idyllic tranquility, it was the lack of any ‘chinking’ of wine glasses, surely there is no such thing as ‘Tea-total’ French people……………is there ?