Christine

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Fire me up!

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Even the sunrise looked like a bush fire

24 hours of fire! Our first fire incident was trying out some local, home brewed firewater; cracking stuff. The barmen at the campsite said he couldn’t divulge the alcoholic percentage or where it was made.  Perhaps it is an old family ‘recipe’. (Ingredients: starch. Method: ferment until causes drinker to clutch throat and fall to the ground screaming)  It certainly reminded us of Zivania from Cyprus or even Stroh Rum and the after-effects were similar!

The second fire incident happened as I was making prawn crackers for our homemade Sunday night Chinese. I managed to set a pan of oil alight, and in an enclosed space leaping flames are a rather frightening sight. Luckily I managed to keep my wits about me and got it out the door before setting us and the van aflame! Phew, maybe we won’t be making homemade takeaway for awhile.

Making mini craters

The beach at Odeceixe is stunning. There is a long sweep of powdery, white sand framed by dark cliffs and intersected with a meandering river. The sand is incredibly fine, and a hard crust forms on its surface. Every step on the smooth sand causes a ripple of holes to form around your foot, as if someone had just fired at it with a shotgun. I thought for a second I was in some sci-fi movie, seeing a bleed through from an alternate reality, before I realised it was just my foot!

 

Aljezur

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An old motorbike parked on an Aljezur street

Aljezur is an old Moorish town with a hilltop castle and stunning views to the mountainous region of Monchique. The cobbled streets lead up narrow lanes bordered by tiled houses. We spent a couple of nights at the campsite and also wild camped at a few local beaches.

The Amoeira beach is divided by an estuary with an aquamarine river providing a home to what looked like trout. Unfortunately David hasn’t managed to catch us an dinner, although secretly I am pleased as I am not too keen on gutting a fish. I dealt with a couple of squid the other day, one had nothing inside but the other had undigested little fishies which made me jump out of my skin and squeal when I discovered them.

Children dress up in bright colours for a festival in Aljezur

Westwards

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We are now meandering up the Western coast of Portugal, we stopped at Castelejo beach and managed to adopt two doggies who inhabit a little picnic spot. We took them on a walk and fed them, much to Odie’s chagrin, especially as they gorged themselves on ham.

The western coast is less developed, the sea is rougher and the weather more windy than the southern Algarve but it is perfect for wild camping by the sea. A lot of the coast reminds us of our travels in Australia with its jaw dropping scenery.

We had an abrupt reality check when we developed a puncture after stopping in Carrapateira. Luckily the AA managed to change it for us and recommended a repair shop where two very hard working Portuguese fixed it up for only 30!

Cycling Struggles

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Next stop was Salema, beachside wild camping along with 10 other motorhomers. This spot is in a wetland, and the sound of frogs and waves serenaded us to sleep. We spent a gloriously hot couple of days fishing, sunbathing and generally lazing about. We managed one cycle ride up the rather steep hills into the town, David’s very cheap bike is currently running on one front gear and he had a hissy fit when he saw the climb out of town. Our bbq is getting heavy use now, it is magical to sit next to the ocean, glass of wine in hand of course, and cook some fresh fish or frango piri-piri.

We reluctantly moved onto Sagres, the most westerly town in the Algarve where the weather turned more windy. Consequently, it proved to be another challenging ride to Cabo St Vincent, especially after a couple of G&Ts. David was carrying Odie in his doggie backpack much to the delight of the busloads of Americans who grabbed the opportunity to take a photo, some by asking if they could and others by snapping away when they thought David wasn’t looking. The lighthouse is the most powerful in Europe and its light can be seen for over 90 miles. It’s a very good thing as the sea is very choppy and rough out there.

Sagres town has a couple of places to park in the van, we stayed at both and had a great time walking and fishing near the town. We enjoyed an incredible Sunday lunch of grilled fish and a massive steak washed down with the local beer. All cooked by an old salty looking chef who brings out the uncooked wares for you to examine before singeing them on the grill. Beats a Sunday roast hands down!

Lunch in Lagos

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Apparently Portuguese dogs walk backwards, do their business, then leap into the air !

Lagos warranted a hot, uphill walk during our short stay in Luz. We arrived on the outskirts of town feeling weary and in need of sustenance. Luckily there was a Portuguese equivalent of a builders cafe so we stopped for a very hearty 3 course lunch. David got an amazing meal comprising of a bowl of soup, a pork chop, a sausage, a gamon strip, two ribs, salad, chips, rice, desert, a glass of wine and a coffee, all for just €8 ! It was certainly the right lunch if you are laying bricks but not if you are sightseeing, and after an energizing espresso we managed a rather ungraceful waddle into town. Lagos’ museum’s main attraction is an ornately carved church. Odie interrupted our religious reverie by ensuring his barking echoed in the cavernous room and he was moved to a nearby tree in disgrace. The town is touristy but beautiful. We skipped a boat trip to the coves as we did that on a trip with my Dad a couple of years ago.

Bom Dia Portugal

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Winner of Portugal's "Untidy Garden" award, 2011

We have arrived in the Algarve, only a month late but never mind! Almaco de Pera is a holiday town we have visited before in the winter. Its beach is dotted with fishing boats and the local restaurants offer massive portions of the local catch for lunch. We chose a little shack-like place on the beach and enjoyed ‘sardinas’ in the sunshine. The weather has been incredible since we arrived in Portugal and was baking hot for February. On our walk we discovered a fabulous wild camping parking area on the cliffs overlooking the sea and the western end of town. There were at least 15 campers dotted along the cliffs, but a hefty fine of up to 30k can be levied if you get too near the edge!

It was then time for a bit of culture and history, something we have been missing for the last few weeks as we have mostly been at the sea. We made our way to Silves, a Moorish hill top town an impressive clay coloured castle that dominates the skyline. There is a massive parking area and a huge motorhome community, we counted over 65 vans camped next to the river. We explored the deserted cobble streets by moonlight and only encountered an occasional doggie, of which there seem to be many in Portugal. Silves in the brilliant sunshine was another kettle of fish, the castle and cathedral were our first stops. The castle is laid out with a Moorish garden and you enjoy wonderful views of the town from the ramparts. The cistern is supposedly haunted by a Moorish maiden but all we heard were some brilliant acoustics that David was hugely excited by and he even threatened to come back and sample the sound patterns.

Mmm, doughnuts (drool)

The monthly market was in full swing and we managed to purchase a new grill for fish for our bbq and peruse the local tat. We also caught a virtuoso performance of doughut frying by one of the local vendors and enjoyed a delicious ‘fratera’, a long, thin, crinkle shaped doughut dusted in cinnamon sugar.

El Rocio

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Being back on the road again was a bit of a shock to the system. We drove to Seville in the hope of spending a couple of days exploring this city’s incredible architecture. However our hopes of staying over were thwarted by the blustery weather and the local annual marathon. We had to make do with a drive-by-viewing of the fine buildings, but we hope to come back to the beautiful town after our travels in Portugal.

We hustled on to El Rocio, a genuine spaghetti Western town. The streets are sand covered, as wide as those in Bulawayo (for non-Zimbos that means very wide), and each house has a tethering post outside to cater for the horse population. The horsey way of life even extends to the bars where you are able to enjoy a drink from atop your horse at extra high tables.

The town was almost deserted when we visited but apparently is a famous pilgrimage site with over a million visitors over one weekend each year after Easter. The main draw is to see a statue of Mary that moves of its own accord and party like there is no tomorrow. The church is ornate with a very glittery altar.

Nearby is the Donana National Park, Europe’s biggest wetland (Dad was thinking of you especially), and it provides a winter home to a vast bird population. The enterprising grey herons have decided to use the highest structure in the park to nest in, never mind that they are electricity pylons instead of trees! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Iberian lynx, one of the animals we were keen to see on our European travels, I guess it was a bit ambitious to try and see it in one day!

Tiles on one of the El Rocio monuments

Spanglish mates

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We were feeling rather weary after our overly exuberant new year celebrations in Benalmadena and after a night of recuperation we drove southwards in search of sunnier climes. We decided to return to one of our favourite Spanish campsites, near to the Cabo de Trafalgar (where Nelson fought the Spaniards).

The area is famous in Spain for its pine trees. They were planted by Franco to stop the endless march of sand inland. The trees still produce pine kernels and in January provide a home to an apparently very poisonous caterpillar. We were told by other campers that said caterpillar was both attractive and fatal to dogs. Luckily we only saw a couple of dead specimens and Odie was not at all interested in them, so they can’t be such a delicious doggie delicacy.

There are some fantastic cycling routes which thread though the natural pine park. We were looking forward to using our bikes to discover more of the area. Unfortunately our ambitious plans were rudely interrupted by some enterprising bicycle thieves who nicked our bikes in the middle of the night. They kindly left our bike cover, which means we don’t have to replace it for a third time! After discovering our loss, I had to make a trip to Barbate police station to report it and during this tedious exercise found out that the campsite had been targeted the previous month and that eight other bikes had been nicked in one night not long before we arrived! Pity no one had mentioned this fact when we turned up or we would have locked them to our van instead of to a tree!

We did not let our loss detract from our stay in the lush Costa de Luz, there were plenty of walks to the beach, lighthouse and along the surrounding hills. We were blessed with sunshine for most of the month and this meant David could work outside, although he had to defend his laptop from the sunshine and his legs from mosquitoes!

We squeezed in a visit to Cadiz, Europe’s oldest city, with narrow streets, exotic plants and hardly any parking spaces. We replaced our bikes with some cheap mountain bikes from Decathalon, and David purchased a mound of new clothes to replace his crusty look with a smart sporty style.

The campsite was a very sociable place, which was a major draw for us to stay for a month. We participated in 2 quiz nights (one sober; one with a very random combination of drinks) and played bingo for the very first time (besht played when tipshy!)

We met Padget, a bearded collie, and his owners, Bill and Jane, who are on a traveling adventure like us. It was fantastic to have some mates about again. We went for long lunches, played some hectic tennis and table tennis, went for long walks and drank quite a few beers together. If you want to check out their blog go to: http://www.getjealous.com/Billandjayne

We also met another couple, Paul and Tracey, and all 6 of us played an interesting match of TT which involved running around the table and trying to hit one ball each before stepping out of play. It made me feel rather dizzy and David was complaining of stiff obliques the next day.  This was soon followed by a boozy curry night before we hit the road once again! Months of social deprivation were made up in just a few weeks. Keep in touch guys!

12 Grapes

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Our new friends in France gave us a great tip about where to spend New Years Eve, so we hurtled down the coast of Spain to Benalmadena.  David had picked up another bug from the kiddies in Manses so he spent two days in the back of the van suffering with ‘man flu’ whilst I drove endlessly southwards.

Benalmadena, like most towns on the Costa del Sol, is full of British (and Irish) pubs, betting shops, greasy cafes and the usual seaside shops we try to avoid at all costs.  However, unlike other towns on the Costa del Sol, it is not inundated with high rise apartment blocks and still has a pleasant holiday feel.  We parked the van near to the main drag and, in preparation for our hangovers-to-be, stocked up on groceries.  We went for a very reasonably priced Chinese restaurant for dinner, followed by complimentary shots – a warm up for what was to come!  After dinner we headed to the Alien bar where we met a great crowd, mostly made up of pub owners, and partied into 2011.

It is a Spanish tradition to consume 12 grapes, one for each chime at midnight. We chose instead to down some ‘herbal’ tasting shots recommended by our fellow pubbers and to let off some massive party poppers.  At 1am we celebrated new year all over again on British time.  It was a great night and we’d thoroughly recommend the bar and its crowd.

Maison en France

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Feeling cold and beaten by our van woes, we decamped to Mirepoix where we waited with bated breath to hear if we could spend some time under a proper roof. Some family friends have a lovely stone house in the small village of Manses, with wonderful views out to the Pyrenees. We got the keys that evening and had a glorious night’s sleep in a proper bed. Thank you all, Robin and Libby, Lorna and Brett and Debbie for sorting it all out for us!

We were hoping to sort out the van battery issues that left us with no heating and lights but Karmann had grander ideas. I went to a weekly shop the next day and she conked out completely. This time it was the fault of the starter motor. After being towed to a garage 30 kms away (in the snow), we were informed that the repairs would cost over €600. We opted to do a ‘DIY’ job instead and ordered a new starter from the UK for a third of the French price, including delivery!  It got waylaid in Toulouse for 4 weeks but eventually arrived and Karmann is back to her happy self. Thank goodness as I struggled with cycling into Mirepoix for groceries every few days, especially when the temperature dropped well below freezing! It would have been an easier cycle if we the backpack full of delicious French food and wine, but some hardships are worth the effort  ;- )

Spending a few weeks in the village has been a welcome change to our traveller lifestyle. We were invited to a lunch in the Salle de Fetes (village hall), held by the local hunting club. The menu comprised of wild boar and endless glasses of wine and we got to know some friendly faces.  There is a strong English contingent in the area and we have made some great new friends. Thanks guys for making us feel so welcome and Adian, Angie and the gang for all the countless cuppas and glasses of vin. We hope to see you when we are settled in Amsterdam!  Odie is lost without his mate Ringo : -)

As Christmas approached the weather became bitterly cold, peaking out at a real feel of -18 C. The hills had a semi permanent layer of frost and the fallen leaves sparkle like crystals in the sunshine. We have caught up on watching rubbish TV, reading, work and planning for the next leg of our trip. It was gut wrenching to leave, although the cold did make it a bit easier! This corner of France has captivated our hearts and we hope to return in the not too distant future.

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