Vila Real Sao Antonio (Portugal) – Huelva (Spain) – Punta Umbria – Wildcamping (104 Miles)
For a change, it was Shazza that came around to my way of thinking. Yes ‘Ayamonte‘ was a very nice ‘tourist’ town, good for a day trip or even two but to live there permanently ? However, with the Rose tinted spectacles well and truly off, she started to look at ‘Vila Real Sao Antonio‘ for what it was, a town that was ‘lived in‘ by local people, people who still walked the streets, shopped in the shops and drank coffee at pavement cafe’s well after the hoards of summer tourists had departed. However, when you first arrive, especially at the ‘Aire’, which is basically on waste ground by the river and adjacent to old industrial buildings, many of which are derelict, the picture I am painting of this place will not be the one that greets you. But walk just two minutes along the river frontage to the Marina and you will come to the lovely long promenade that stretches almost the full length of the town. Opposite the Marina you walk into the town and the place is transformed yet again and you enter a very modern beautiful central square surrounded by a multitude of shops, dozens of cafe’s and Restaurants, in one corner of the central square there is even an old ‘Red & Black’ English post box. The town has its own ‘Accident & Emergency’ Hospital, although those that require longer care are taken to the main hospital in ‘Faro’. There is an indoor ‘Swimming Pool’ and just a short bicycle ride away a beautiful long sandy beach. This town has every shop you could ever need, including two large Supermarkets, ALDI and Intermarche, along with smaller local ones and quite a large central produce market selling everything you would expect on a produce market, especially fish, lots of fish, many species that I didn’t recognise and a few that I did. The newer residences, primarily apartments, although not of the ‘High Rise’ variety, were intertwined amongst the older properties and there were certainly some shabby looking areas although there was nowhere that we walked where we didn’t feel safe, even after darkness had fallen. We had stayed here a little longer than originally planned as Shazza was now keen to explore the ‘Tony Christie’s‘, alright only people of a certain age would understand that cryptic reference to the ‘Avenues and Alleyways’……….. Finally, she came to the same view as myself, that this would actually make a good place for a ‘permanent‘ residence, if and when we ever decided we wanted another one. However, the time had now come to say our farewell for now, we had lots of years of travelling still ahead of us, lots of countries to explore and I am sure lots of other towns or villages to ‘fall in love’ with !!
There were the usual ‘domestic‘ duties to fulfil before we departed the ‘Aire’, namely the ’emptying and filling’ of the on-board facilities and then before we turned ‘Big Momma’ in the direction of Spain, there was a little matter of ‘topping up‘ the GPL (LPG), however, this was just a few short miles back along the ‘N125’. There was a much closer service station on the outskirts of ‘Vila Real’ that sold GPL, the ‘Blue Elephant‘, but ‘Big Momma’ was too big to get onto the small forecourt. It had been nineteen days since we last ‘topped up’, and after departing Albufiera we had been reliant on it for our daily usage as even on the Aires that provided EHU we had not used such services. However, this ‘top up’ was merely a ‘belt and braces’ approach as the availability of GPL, in the areas we now planned on touring, were somewhat ‘limited’. We had to do a bit of manoeuvering on the ‘BP Service Station’ forecourt because our filling point was on the opposite side but this was no great problem and after putting in a little over 16 litres at a cost of €13 (£10.59) we were full again. We did not know when we would next get to use EHU so having full GPL meant we didn’t have to worry about such things and we could ‘Wildcamp’ if the opportunities arose. It is also worthy of a mention that neither did we make the same mistake as last year when we left Portugal and had re-entered Spain, this time we remembered to stock up with ‘fresh milk’, which is not as easy to get in Spain.
Unless we wanted to make a very long detour, so as not to have to pay any Motorway tolls, we would have to use the ‘A22’ Motorway to cross the bridge from Portugal into Spain. Our map indicated that this was a ‘toll road’, well what we would have used in Diesel to go the long way would probably be more expensive than the tolls so we bit the bullet and decided on the shorter route. There were no ‘toll booths’ as we joined the Motorway and we were soon heading across the bridge that spanned the ‘Guadiana River’, the one we could see when we were in both ‘Vila Real’ and ‘Ayamonte’.
No sooner had we crossed into Spain when we saw several Police Vehicles parked across the two lane motorway creating a ‘chicane‘, blue lights flashing. The thought flashed through our minds, “Were we still on Portugal’s most wanted list for that minor indiscretion of not paying a toll for the Motorway we had inadvertently used on an earlier part of our trip” ? But surely they would have stopped us ‘before‘ we left the country ! Perhaps the Portuguese Authorities had been granted one of those ‘European Arrest Warrants’, could we request ‘Political Asylum’ now that we were on Spanish Soil ? All these things raced through my mind in nano seconds but I sighed with much relief when we were waved through. Something major was going on though, I counted six police vehicles, there were ‘Stingers’ laying at the side of the road, three cars had been stopped and one vehicle was in the process of being searched. The occupants, being watched closely by several of the Police Officers, were, well for the sake of Political Correctness, let’s just say that they were of Middle Eastern Extraction !! The other bonus, as well as not being detained as ‘International Criminals’, was that this part of the Motorway was ‘Non-Toll’ so our record of not yet having to pay ‘tolls’ remains in tact.
We were headed for a ‘Tolerated Parking’ location, listed in our ‘Camperstop Europe‘ guide, about 6kms outside of ‘Huelva‘ at the ‘Monument of Columbus‘. Quite apt I thought, a current European Explorer parked up near a former global explorer !! The first really noticeable thing about our journey, once across the border, was the good condition of the roads, although you tend to just get used to the ‘Bill Haley & The Comets‘ roads in Portugal after a while, you really do notice the difference when you leave them behind. ‘Snoopy’ was back to reliable self and took us right to the Columbus Monument with not even the faintest sound of a near ‘Brown Trouser’ moment !! Unfortunately, what the guide omitted to mention was that the parking bays could only accommodate smaller size Motorhomes. As it was reasonably traffic free when we arrived, I parked across four of the parking bays whilst I went for a look around, well you couldn’t come all this way (51 miles) and not take a few photo’s now could you ?
Whilst taking my walk around I just happened to stop to chat with a local taxi driver, it would have been rude not to, he was ferrying a couple of tourists around the local sights. He told me that ‘Auto Caravanas’, that’s Spanish for ‘Motorhomes’ just in case you didn’t know, park at the beach in ‘Punta Umbria’ just 10 kilometres away. I pointed towards ‘Big Momma’ and asked if it was okay for large ‘Auto Caravanas’, I really was picking up this Spanish lingo quite quickly !! He said it was fine and it was safe to sleep there, so after the short sightseeing expedition, we said farewell to ‘Sir Christopher’, the monument not the taxi driver, re-programmed ‘Snoopy’ and off we went. He may have been a very friendly taxi driver but he was still a taxi driver, 10 kilometres he said, and the rest, I am glad I wasn’t paying him to drive me around that’s all I can say !! What’s more, once we were there and had driven up and down the side streets, there was no way of parking up anywhere near the beach. Fortunately, before we headed into the town itself, eagle-eyed Shazza spotted the sign that prohibited vehicles over two metres wide !! We found a very large car park, pulled in and had some lunch as we suddenly realised that now we were back in Spain we needed to put our watches forward by one hour !! We now required another plan so we consulted our map and our Aires guides. We could have simply just have run straight to ‘Seville’, after all that had been the next scheduled destination after Huelva, but we do tend to have a habit of not sticking to schedules and so proved the case yet again. Whilst checking the ‘guides’ we came across the name ‘El Rocio‘, we had read about this place, as well as having been told about it by numerous people. apparently, this is a town where the locals don’t use motor vehicles, they ride around on horses or on horse-drawn wagons like in the ‘Wild West’ cowboy style days. Ever since reading about it Shazza had always mooted an interest in going there, seeing as we were not that far away we decided that we may as well go and satisfy her curiosity. However, rather than go straight there, we could, according to our map, be able to follow the Coast road into the ‘Parc Natural’. With the outside temperature at 24 degrees(c) it would be good if we could find a suitably discreet place to perhaps ‘Wildcamp’ for a night or maybe two if the weather holds.
Of course, being in a National Park means that there are limited ‘legitimate’ places to just park up and perhaps it’s because we are still relative ‘newbies’ to this Fulltiming and ‘Wildcamping’ stuff, but our moral consciences will not permit us to just park where we please if we consider that it wouldn’t be allowed. So we kept scouring areas for potential night stops but we kept coming across these…….
We saw a sign for ‘Mazagon‘, the map showed that it was near the sea so we turned off and headed in that direction. It was a sizeable place but the ‘Aliens’ had got there before us and body snatched all living souls, humans and animals !! There were cars parked up but no signs of the owners, it was eerie !! There was a fantastic parking area right on the beach front so we pulled in and parked up. We decided to take a look around but no sooner had we got out and we observed the dreaded sign (See above). Now, with no sign of any human life, the question we had to ask ourselves was ‘Does it really matter’ ? But I reckon that even the Aliens would be selective and if they did leave anyone behind it was bound to be the ‘Guardia Civil’ (Police) !! However, even our short walk had revealed a harbour wall with Yacht Masts sticking up above the parapets, this was worth exploring as you can normally find parking on a ‘Port’ or ‘Marina’.
The Marina actually looked rather nice but instead of turning into it, there was a road that ran behind it so we decided to check that out first. What we found was the perfect place to spend the night, it was a hard standing car park that led to the ‘slipway’. There were no ‘Prohibitive Parking’ signs, nothing to declare it as ‘Private Property’ although it had street lamps and quite a modern CCTV camera covering the area. I decided to do the right thing, we parked up and walked across to the Marina to see if we could find some sort of ‘officialdom’, harbour master or Marina manager. There was a nice Cafe, it was open and their were a couple of people sat outside enjoying a beer but they did not look like ‘officials’. We found the Harbour masters office but it was closed !! Well at least we had attempted to do the right thing.
We were settling in for the night in our lovely peaceful location when we heard a car pull up, then another, then another until there were fifteen of them, and yes I did actually count them. My first thought was that this was a ‘lynch mob’ who had spotted us from some upper vantage spot, the local ‘NIMBY‘ (Not In My Back Yard) vigilantes !! I went outside and walked around all kind of ‘innocent’ looking until I got close enough to speak to one of the ‘all male’ group, the majority of them huddled together in conversation but this one had wandered off. I said “Hola, Buenos Noches” and he replied with a simple “Hola“. I asked him what all the cars were doing and he told me that they were all ‘studentes‘ (Spanish for ‘Students, told you I was getting to grips with this Spanish lingo !!) who were taking lessons on how to sail, this evening was the classroom sessions in a building just at the side of the car park. I asked him if we were alright to park for the night and he shrugged his shoulders, much as the ‘French‘ would do, and said ‘No Problemo‘, which didn’t sound French at all !! He also told me that the classes finished at 10pm, which I interpreted as him telling me that we would have the place to ourselves again and good to his word, all the cars departed promptly at the allotted hour. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay peaceful, the ‘student sailors’ were replaced by the night fishermen, all who arrived in either cars or vans, some of them alone and some in pairs, but we heard every door on their vehicles open and slam shut again, then the conversations between them. This went on until the early hours, I finally fell asleep at nearly 1:30am but Shazza was kept awake until well after this. We both woke up completely knackered, our night parking not quite the peaceful place we had thought, where are those bloody Aliens when you really need them…………………………………………..