Constancia – Barragem Pego do Altar (130 miles)
My recent behaviour is inexplicable, it is so unlike me and it is irritating the hell out of Shazza. I speak of course of my habit of waking up each morning feeling fully refreshed from a good nights sleep, at the unearthly hour of 07:00am. Now I could of course understand it if I was still in ‘work‘ mode, but then it would be the alarm clock having to wake me, somewhat reluctantly I may add. It’s not just the waking up early that irritates my beloved but the desire to also want to get straight out of my bed and start the day !! Well, this morning I had a very good excuse, and no I hadn’t wet the bed, it was ‘moving on day’ and today we had decided to do another long journey of some 108 miles to get to ‘Barragem Pego do Alter’ and once there, we would only be a hop, skip and a jump away from the West Coast of Portugal just a little below Lisbon.
After doing the necessary with the ‘on-board’ facilities, at 09:30am we set off and after shaking off the early morning mist the sun was high in the sky and the external temperature gauge was already reading 18 degrees(c). It was quite an unremarkable journey really, mainly long straight roads with very few ‘wiggles’. Perhaps it was because the journey was so ‘ordinary’ that ‘we‘ lost concentration, I say ‘we’ because although I was behind the steering wheel it was ‘Snoopy’ and Shazza that were supposed to be acting as my Navigator’s. We had cut our journey time well down and was within half an hour of our destination when I turned right, when I shouldn’t have turned right !! But even worse than that, I had turned right onto a ‘Toll‘ motorway !! There was one lane which had no barrier or ticket machine and one that did, I took the one without, thinking that perhaps I could take an exit slip before actually entering the motorway, Wrong !! I was now heading for Lisbon, on a toll motorway, without a ticket and we were going in the wrong direction to that which I needed to be going. ‘Snoopy’ didn’t have a hissy fit, but I nearly did when I discovered that my first opportunity to get off the ‘toll’ motorway would not be for another 11 miles, which in reality meant 22 miles because I had to get off and then go back in the direction that I had just come, but hopefully this time on a ‘non-toll‘ road !! There was also one other minor little detail to be considered, how the hell do we get off the motorway, through an ‘unmanned’ toll booth barrier, with no ticket ? As we always do in such circumstances we worry about it when we have to, which wasn’t for at least another five minutes !!
We took the exit slip road and slowly approached the toll booths, now, if I kicked down on the accelerator pedal I could go crashing through like on all those car chase films ! But fortunately I didn’t have to. Like there had been at our entry point, there was a lane with no barrier and no ticket machine, we had no option. I guess we will either be hunted down by the Portuguese Police as wanted criminals or Shazza’s mum is going to receive a letter and a fine, which she won’t be able to understand because it will be in Portuguese !! Oh well, no point worrying about it now, a quick glance in my rear view mirrors and there was no sign of a platoon of ‘blue flashing’ lights or ‘wailing sirens‘ chasing me, but I would need to keep a look out in case I came across one of those ‘rolling police road blocks‘ !!
We had probably been distracted by our frequent watching of the gauge showing the external temperature, by 11:30am it had climbed to 24 degrees(c) and it kept rising. By the time we had reached our destination, 22 miles further than it should have been I may add, the gauge had hit 30 degrees(c) and boy was it a scorcher !! We had been driving with the ‘Air Con’ going and so inside ‘Big Momma’ it had remained relatively cool, but as soon as we got out, the intense heat hit us full on, the last time the weather felt this oppressive was when I had stepped off an airplane in Jamaica !! We would not be alone and there was no dedicated parking, their were four ‘French‘ vans and one ‘Belgian‘ van already parked and they had taken the ‘prime’ positions which directly overlooked the Barragem, but we managed to fit in next to the ‘Belgian’ van, however, any later arrivals would need to start a second line ‘without a view‘. Our ‘Belgian’ neighbours spoke excellent ‘English’, as they all do, and as always they were really friendly, not that the ‘French’ weren’t, but it soon became apparent that they were either travelling together as a group or had already bonded together in a show of National Unity. However, once we were settled in to our sun chairs and had assumed the position, they did look across, smiled and waved in acknowledgement that we were part of the nomadic Motorhoming fraternity.
Whilst I enjoy the sunshine I do not like it when it is too hot, today it was too hot, so whilst Shazza once again basted herself, I sat in the shade, as did my male ‘Belgian’ neighbour, so we sat and chatted most of the afternoon and evening. He came out with a really profound and humorous truth when he stated, “Northern Europeans do not have ‘just right’ in their vocabulary, it is either ‘too cold’, ‘too wet’ or ‘too hot’ never ‘just right‘”. In between our general bits of sporadic conversations, he went off to do a spot of fishing whilst I took the opportunity of undertaking some periods of ‘Personal Contemplation‘. I got a bit of a start when during one of my more lucid moments, in between the several short periods of ‘personal contemplations’, I was joined by two uninvited guests, one was sitting on the arm of my sun chair, the other sat on the floor, by my sun chair. I wasn’t too keen on my first uninvited guest, not much of a conversationalist, but the second, who I have nicknamed ‘Scruffy‘, actually ‘adopted’ us rather than the other way around. My ‘Belgian’ neighbour, who has been coming here for the last nine years, told me that ‘scruffy’ has always been here, he is not so much of a stray, more abandoned when he was knocked over by a car and then left here, presumably to die, but he survived and is fed by all the Motorhomers that use this place. All of the current Motorhomers who are located here have their own canines with them, so ‘scruffy’ must have looked at us and observed that we were without a four-legged friend to take care and protect us from people ‘or things‘ trying to enter through our sliding kitchen window or from those evil ‘night noises‘, therefore, he obviously felt sorry for us and made up his mind to ‘adopt’ us !! We have reciprocated his generosity and kindness and fed him with ‘Parma Ham’, ‘Piri Piri Chicken‘ and ‘Garlic Bread‘ all of which he ‘Woofed down‘ !! When we locked ourselves in ‘Big Momma’ for the night, ‘Scruffy‘ took guard underneath the van, bless him.
Initially our very ‘flexible’ plan included staying at this location for two or three nights before hitting the ‘Coast’ and some familiar territory. In between Shazza’s period of ‘open air solar basting‘ we discussed this option again, for it was not living up to expectations. In truth, and a bit like last years trip, we had been spoilt by our first experience of a Portuguese Barragem, the one which had nice man-made beaches, walking distance to the water, beautiful views, a chance to get ‘Kevin’ out on the water and to be able to, and encouraged, to swim in the cooling clear water. But since then there has been no comparison, on this one we are situated right next to the Dam wall, the Dam wall that is currently being ‘maintained’ or ‘repaired’ so is extremely noisy during the day with the workmen and their equipment. It is not easy to get down to the water’s edge, they have had to drop the level of the water dramatically to do their work and so swimming is prohibited, which is not good in searingly hot temperatures !! So we have ‘finally’ conceded and agreed to ‘run to the sun‘, and the sea, and the beaches and to return to some of our favourite locations from last year, and some new ones, on the West Coast and then down to the ‘Algarve’.
Barragem Pego do Alter – Porto Covo (59 Miles)
Not only had the day been a scorcher but the night temperature inside ‘Big Momma’ was just above 25 degrees(c) and that was with keeping the door and windows open. I could have coped with the heat by just sleeping on top of the bed but I couldn’t do that as we had now entered the domain of the dreaded ‘mosquito’. Several had already made their way into the van and Shazza ‘squished‘ as many as she could locate before we put the lights out, but we both knew that some would still be inside, lurking, waiting for us to fall into our deep slumber before they excreted themselves from their hiding places and flew down to pierce our skin and feast on our warm sticky blood, the bastards !!
Surprisingly, mosquito’s or not, I slept relatively well considering and I bet you couldn’t guess at what time I awoke ? Okay, next time I will ask a less obvious question !! I had survived the night-time feasting relatively well, just one tell-tale ‘itchy’ red spot on the back of my leg, they tend to prefer Shazza’s blood but even she managed to survive relatively unscathed with just two or three bites. Shazza made the coffees this morning, after I had got up and conducted the morning rituals of turning on the water heater and lighting the gas under the kettle. However, I still couldn’t remain in bed and had to go and see what the day had in store for us, to my surprise the sun was still pretty low, although the morning temperature was already 22 degrees(c). ‘Scruffy’ appeared from under the van, he came to where I was stood, yawned, stretched and wagged his tail and then went and sat right outside the habitation door and barked, I had to laugh, he was telling ‘Shazza’ to get up and get his breakfast !! We got ourselves sorted and just prior to leaving Shazza buttered ‘Scruffy’ some of her sour dough bread and gave him his breakfast. As we pulled away, our French and Belgian neighbours smiled and waved us goodbye and as I looked in my rear view mirror ‘Scruffy’ was running up the hill after ‘Big Momma’.
It wasn’t going to be a long journey today, we were both concentrating this time, but even well before we arrived at our destination we knew we were back on familiar territory by the state of the ‘Bill Haley & The Comets‘ roads, “Shake, Rattle & Roll”, it was enough to almost shake the fillings out of my teeth !! I was down to a quarter of a tank of diesel again and needed to refuel, but this time I knew that this would be our last major re-fill for some time, we would then have sufficient to see us down to the ‘Algarve’, and as our trips between night halts, once down there, would be very small distances, refuelling would become less frequent than had been of late. Even so, I was still keeping within budget on my fuel and would now look forward to seeing a lot of surplus over the next couple of months.
I cannot explain the feeling we had when we got our first sighting of the Emerald Green and radiant Blue of the sea, the stretch of Coast road leading up to the ‘Aire’ was exactly as I had remembered it, the temperature, as we arrived at Porto Covo, was already at 25 degrees(c) and it was only just 10:30am, hopefully the sea breeze will keep the temperatures at this level, which, had my ‘Belgian‘ friend have been here, I would have been able to have said, would have made it ‘Just Right‘, well for me at least. There were lots of Motor Vans all parked up along the long expanse of beaches that stretched 3-4 miles before we got to ‘our’ location, not the ‘Official Aire’ that was located in this small town, for even with its ‘full services’ it had no sea views. No, we knew exactly where we were headed for, the cliff top location we had stayed at last year that’s where, if there was any space that is. Last year we were one of just four vans parked there, but today, as we approached the ‘Motorhome Parking’ area, cordoned off from the main ‘Beach Car Park’ by a rope, we saw that it was pretty well occupied. We drove in and fortunately there was just one space left, it was near the bottom end of the ‘Aire’ with sea views, a Danish van was parked in the ‘prime’ position with ‘unrestricted’ sea views but he was a smaller van than us so we also were able to park with a partial sea view and it felt a bit like coming home. We were parked amongst mainly ‘French’ registered vans but there were also three ‘Danish’, two Dutch one ‘Swedish’ and one other ‘British’ van, this was the busiest conglomeration of vans parked in one place that we had encountered so far on our trip, a right nomadic community with vans large and small, it had a nice feel about it. The ‘Praia Grande‘ beach, that I remembered so vividly from last year, was just a short stroll away across the car park and down some steps, we would no doubt be venturing down there a little later !!
It didn’t take long to get ourselves settled, in fact Shazza transformed ‘Big Momma’ into ‘lived in’ mode in double-quick time. I got out the sun chairs from ‘Big Mommas’ garage and staked my claim on the small patch we now called home ! We enjoyed our first coffee just sat staring at the views, it felt as if we had never left, we looked at each other, no words were spoken, we just smiled, this is us ‘living ‘our‘ dream’ again, at last. Why the hell we wasted time getting down here is beyond me, yes last year was new and we were excited just to be free, yes we had ‘Wildcamped’ proper for the first time, by a river and we had lunched with Vultures, priceless !! This year, there have been three highlights in our journey down here, ‘Cabarceno’ with Nick and Cath, Barragem One and then Constancia, but now we are here and our equilibrium has somehow been restored just by this one fantastic place. How long we will stay here we do not know, we have fourteen days before Shazza’s mum arrives at Faro Airport, so we now have several choices, stay here and just drive the two or three minutes to the ‘Motorhome’ service point whenever we require to do the on-board tank essentials or, wend our way down further along the Coast, right now we don’t have to make any such decisions, the sun is hot and for the moment at least, we have everything we need. We ate lunch and then the proximity to the ‘Praia Grande‘ was too much to resist, we donned our swimwear, grabbed our towels, and the beach mats, and then headed swiftly for the golden sand and the surf.
We swam and sun bathed, then swam and sun bathed some more, and this passed a nice couple of hours, it was absolutely bliss. After drying off in the heat of the sun, we made our way back to ‘Big Momma’, although it was a little early for the evening snacks and aperitif we thought what the heck and started early, because we could ! Apart from when we were at Cabarceno with Nick and Cath, right at the start of this years new adventure, we had not drunk any ‘grape juice’ (the 13% proof variety), although I had partaken of a few ‘cold one’s’ from the fridge, but today was the day that we got back into the proper ‘chillax’ routine, out came the grape juice and the ‘snackeroonies’ and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon just lazing, looking at the sea, listening to the multi-national chatter going on around us and relaxing. I think it must have been the swimming and the heat of the day that sapped all my energy, nothing to do with two very large glasses of ‘grape juice’ of course, but my eyelids told me that I urgently required one of those periods of ‘Personal Contemplation’.
It became quite obvious, as the day had passed, that the occupants of four of the ‘French’ vans were once again either travelling together, or had again formed a bond of National unity, as at different periods throughout the day they all gathered at one or other of their vans to ‘socialise’, which involved a great deal of liquid refreshment of the grape juice, 13% proof or perhaps a little more, variety. They were not excessively noisy, and let’s face it, this lifestyle is all about getting out in the open air, enjoying the warmth of the evening and socialising with old and new friends along the way, their chatter and laughter could be heard quite clearly but it wasn’t annoying, quite the opposite, it was good to hear people enjoying themselves.
Talking of new friends, we met our ‘British’ contingent, well half a British contingent, Janine was from New Zealand and husband Dennis was formerly from Manchester, but now himself a resident of New Zealand. They had been fulltiming for over ten years and had travelled extensively throughout Europe, including Scandinavia, The Balkans, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Crete, Sicily as well as the other usual European favourites. They told us some great humorous stories and were very knowledgable about fulltiming and not only about the Countries they had ‘travelled’ in but also about what is acceptable practice and what is not when Motorhoming in these different countries. Janine and Dennis were the kind of people who you took to straight away, both were easy to talk to and Dennis had a natural humour. They had to be back in the UK by mid-December for Dennis’s sons wedding, but for now, like us, they were just drifting, they had no set plans of when they would move on, and when they did, they didn’t have any firm plans about where they were going, other than for the time being, in a Southerly direction !!
For all our talk of being just happy to explore, of visiting small towns and out of the way places, I think that the truth is, we have always been seeking the Sun, Sand and Sea. Now that we have re-discovered it, we know that in reality we had only been putting off the Inevitable. What makes Porto Covo so special is simply that it is in an absolutely fantastic location, with miles of golden sandy beaches, which some, because it is now considered to be out of ‘peak’ season, are ‘tolerated’ to ‘Wild camp’ on, and there are many vans availing themselves of this opportunity. The sea is still warm enough to swim in, once you get over the initial shock to one’s ‘nether regions’ that is, daytime temperatures are currently staying between 28-30 degrees(c) and not much less than 18-19 degrees(c) in the evenings. Although our cliff top location has no ‘Motorhome Services’, these are located no more than a 3-4 minute drive away, our nearest golden sandy beach with magnificent surf, is a mere two-minute walk away and the small town, with all the basic facilities, including a Market and Supermarket, Cafés, Bars and Restaurants, is just a ten minute stroll, either along the public footpath or along a cliff top path.
It doesn’t take long to lose track of which day of the week it is, not that it matters, each day blends in to the next. It is nice just waking up in the morning to the sound of the waves crashing on to the rocks below, not having to rush to do anything or to be anywhere. I enjoy sitting outside ‘Big Momma’ in my sun chair with my mug of coffee just looking out upon the vast Atlantic Ocean, the sun just rising behind me in the East and just enjoying the tranquility of it all. At the moment we are enjoying relaxing and not actually doing very much, a stroll into the local town perhaps, before lunch, and whilst there enjoying a coffee sat outside one of the handful of Cafe/Bars just doing a spot of people watching before returning to the van. I guess it depends on which location you are at, or more appropriately, which beach, as they each have their own peculiarities depending on the formation of the terrain. Here for example the opportunity for swimming or playing in the ‘breakers’ is between 2pm and 6pm. The beach shelves quite steeply and just offshore there are some large outcrops of rock, first thing in the morning the sea is too rough and dangerous to venture into, however, by mid afternoon the tide has receded and the waves are a little gentler, although caution still needs to be applied as some of those breakers can still bowl you over, even when you see them coming !! There is also a very nice cliff top path, with stunning views, and also opportunities to cycle further down the coastline to other beaches if Shazza feels the need for one of her ‘Expeditions’.
One of the very many things that I remember about the last time we were here in Portugal are the stunning sunsets, they are still here…………….
After being here for three days, and not knowing how long we would remain here, the purchase of the ‘spare’ cassette toilet holding tank proved a useful investment, for although we still had sufficient ‘fresh’ water and no need to empty the ‘Grey’, we certainly would have needed to take a trip to the ‘Service Point’ to do the necessary with the toilet cassette, but we were able to just replace it with the ‘spare’. Had we have moved we would most certainly have lost our very scenic and idyllic parking place. This location is very much sought after, empty spaces do not remain empty for very long. However, by Monday we will have to risk relinquishing this little piece of paradise as we will need to use the ‘Services’, although there are still lots of beachfront places along this stretch of Coastline, so we are considering staying ‘local’ and doing a spot of Wildcamping if we are unable to get back on to this limited parking area. How long we will remain here before moving further South I do not know, we do not need to be at ‘Faro’ Airport for another twelve days so we are keeping our options open.
When Sunday morning arrived we discovered that there had been some ‘early’ departures so we risked doing a ‘Service Point’ run as Shazza was getting behind with the hand washing and she does ‘stress’ when she is running out of knickers !! Anyway, as we were pulling away our fellow band of International campers asked if we were leaving, we told them that we were just going to the services, we felt sure that someone would take the opportunity of re-locating to our ‘sea view’ pitch. We did the necessary and made our way back to the ‘Aire’, not only were the early morning ‘vacated’ pitches still available but nobody had ‘moved in’ and taken our ‘prime position’ so we re-parked in our original spot. This ‘Aire’ really does have a good community feel about it, once you have been here for more than one night you become part of the ‘neighbourhood community’. Although I had said that we lose track of days, today was a typical Sunday in that nobody did very much, there was the usual morning greetings as occupants of vehicles popped their heads out to greet the day, some later than others !! When I first popped my head out, well my whole body really, as I took up my usual position in my chair watching the waves roll in, it was sunny and quite a calm day. However, just one hour later and the wind was blowing a gale, what was missing were the black storm clouds but no, the sky was still a beautiful shade of blue and the sun was still shining. This is typical weather for the West Coast but it meant a turn in what had been ideal swimming and sunbathing weather, a trip to the beach in this meant a risk of being sand-blasted, quite literally ! The wind was whipping the already large ‘breakers’ into a frenzy, far too dangerous to play in today. There was little activity on the ‘Aire’ today, well outside the vans at least !! The wind made it impossible to enjoy just sitting outside so I guess people just found things to do inside.
Shazza caught up with her washing and then went on to do an internal clean of the van, it smelt lovely when I returned from my socialising expedition with my fellow neighbours ! Always best to stay out of the way when the internal cleaning takes place !! We had lunch and then went for a walk along the cliff top path and found several ‘other’ secluded beaches ideal for another days closer exploration. The weather along the Central and Eastern parts of the Algarve is less ‘windy’ and so we made the decision, a little reluctantly because we could quite happily stay here for much longer, but the warm temperatures and swimming beaches of the South Coast were calling out to us, so tomorrow we would get back on the road and respond to the call.