Month: April 2018

13 to 16 February 2018 – slowly eastwards along the Algarve coast

With an approximate route, and even more approximate timings, we aimed at getting half way up the Mediterranean coast of Spain in a week or so.  The plan was to tootle along the eastern Algarve coast before joining the main road that crosses the Guadiana river border and straight to Seville – time for some history! My WildCamping forum had been full of posts from fellow campers at various sites along the Algarve coast.  One in particular, Manta Rota, seemed a very popular aire – right on the beach, handy bar/restaurant and quite cheap.  It was pretty full though and the advice was to arrive about noon to coincide with any leavers leaving.  To get the timing right we needed an interim stop and Hanneke showed us a place a couple of hours from Mikki’s in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, right on the coast/mud flats/estuary where you could get a little train across the sandbar to the sea.  Pedras D’el Rei sounded interesting.

Clottie at PedrosaRolling wistfully out of Mikki’s we topped up the LPG and took to the N125.  Portia started first time despite having stood idle for four weeks! After a couple of hours we engaged in battle with the barrier across the entrance to the Pedras D’el Rei parking place – surprising how many different systems there are for something as simple as opening a barrier.  Once in we get a lovely sea view spot – well – the sea is there beyond the estuary and the dune at the far side.  Never seen such a profusion of cacti and prickly pears. They fought all attempts to pick and eat them: despite using cloths and tongs I got hair-fine prickles in my fingers. The beautiful beetroot-coloured juice they bled narrowly missed my white linen trousers – a small win against the vicissitudes of nature!

There is a bridge across the mud flats which leads to the terminus of an ancient narrow gauge railway complete with diminutive steam engines (no longer steam though). Pedras trainFor exercise we chose to walk across through the trees and dune vegetation – a lovely walk with bird-spotting panels along the way.

As you cross the final line of dunes before the sea there is the truly remarkable Anchor Graveyard.  As far as the eye can see are hundreds of anchors from the former tuna fishing fleet rusting quietly in peace embedded in alignment along the dune.

more anchorsAnd then, as the sun sinks in the west, a sandy beach several hundred miles long…Pedras beach shadows

and what appears to be a concerted effort to move the whole thing two feet to the left. Must be an EU project.beach worksWe have earned a cheese toasty a la Portugaise at the converted fishermens cottages fishermens cottages barril beachand are in time to catch the last return trip of the day back to reality. We get front row seats at the back of the train as it reverses all the way. What a great day out.Pedras train returnThis place is too good to leave after only one night. It has waste emptying facilities but no handy tap for water.  For that you have to drive the couple of miles along the sea to Santa Luzia, find somewhere to buy a token, tap st Luzialocate the modest shed-like building near the fishermens’ cottages and figure out how it works. Sorting this out is our first task when we set out for a bike ride next day. The Post Office (open) obliges with the token and eventually we find the tap. Triumph! Now just to come back tomorrow and fill the van. A mother and daughter on bikes had told us the little town of Tavira was only a short ride away and on very accessible cycle paths. Off we pedal – what a joy these bikes are. Tavira is a relatively quiet riverside town with Moorish roots followed by later Portuguese development – a charming mix beautifully placed beside the Gilão River. We look around a small church – its inside as ornate as its outside is plain.

and then find an amazing garden/cemetary – cool, ancient and green. We wander in its shade for a while taking way too many photographs

before pedalling on through old streets to the huge town square to write postcards and taking way too many more photographs.

By now it is late enough for lunch – about half past two. We had ridden past several small waterfront restaurants in Santa Luzia – being a fishing village they all promised fish lunches. Neil had sea bass and I had prawns with garlic. I’m going to miss those prawns:-(

The evening idled by in its usual leisurely fashion – still cool enough for us to be glad of the external silver screens. Next morning, next challenge – filling up with water from the shed. As it happened we had a demonstration of how it worked from several fishermen one of whom was engaged in using the water via a pressure washer to blast out the inside of his exhaust manifold, and the rest of whom were engaged in watching him.  We filled and headed for the promised land of Manta Rota all of twelve miles away.  Hoping for a beachside spot in a sociable setting our enthusiasm plummeted as we drove through the little village to the sea front. It was completely taken over by tourism of the kiss-me-quick kind. One stick of rock short of being Blackpool on a summer bank holiday, red faced campers sweated jovially in the midday sun outside bars promising big-screen football and late night opening. Aaaah!  The lady in the booth by the aire came out to motion us away from the overfull cheek-by-jowl rows of motorhomes lining the car park. She did not need to – we were in the process of turning around anyway – not easy as other vans were arriving all the time. Nightmare!

Hoping for something quieter at Altura, the next town along, we were again disappointed. This time, not by too many vans but a complete absence of them.  A beautiful and completely empty sea front car park had a big sign banning motorhomes – I guess they had seen Manta Rota and and voted with their by-laws! Just outside town though there was a piece of land where motorhomes were allowed to overnight.  Not an aire as such, no facilities, just an area of rough parking by a (long!) boardwalk path to the sea. It was also pretty full but parked much more casually than the serried ranks in Manta Rota and seemingly well established and tolerated – a world food van had set up shop at one end and the bread van came hooting by in the morning. The short evening walk back into town was pleasant and we did see that one van had decided to try its luck in the car park!

That was our last night in Portugal.  I had considered a little inland detour before leaving but given how crowded it was in that corner of the Portugal, Spain seemed all the more appealing. Apparently the Algarve coast gets less crowded the further west you go. This year the Beast from the East tearing through northern Europe had the knock-on effect of directing more of the Atlantic winds than usual to the south. It had been breezy! And it increases as you go west. Spain now looked a good bet. snails poor

 

 

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16 January to 13 February 2018 – one week ran into the next at Mikki’s

We ended up spending four weeks at Mikki’s Place. It was not the plan to park up and stay put for so long but we began to see the appeal of just sitting out the winter in a swiss bunkerquirky, tranquil corner many degrees warmer than back home. We were at pitch number 3 and our Swiss neighbour at number 1 had been there on and off for years rather than months – he had developed quite a bunker. Luc at number 4 divided his year between home and Mikki’s. He explained all about the three restaurants in the village and how you could have the menu del dia for between six and nine euros including wine. He pedalled off everyday for lunch and had more or less given up cooking to save money. Prices for most things in Portugal are very good.

One of the first things Neil spotted in the reception/bar/restaurant was the chalk board with the menu for Tuesdays – piri piri chicken, ten euros including dessert. So that was dinner decided. Neil piri piri

It was chef’s choice on Thursdays, pizza on Fridays, and fish and chips (but not as we know them!) on Sunday. Mostly we cooked for ourselves though.  The dining was communal at long tables with service by the Swiss guy, subsidising his rent, and a young Dutch man who had come to recover from stress overload a couple of years back and stayed on as general site assistant. There seem to be a lot of people here who come for a short period and don’t quite manage to leave.

This did not apply to pitch number 2 to start with. The first party to appear was a group of three women who arrived with three smallish dogs and proceeded to find and adopt another local stray. A lot of people do this in Portugal apparently. Then it all turned rather sad. There was consternation and alarm next morning – one of their original dogs had taken ill overnight and then died. A dog belonging to another couple became ill at the same time and was rushed to the vet. There was a poisoner at work who was loading chorizo with some sort of poison and leaving it for dogs to find when out walking. Next day there were police all over the site and the surrounding lanes were searched. They took it very seriously and we heard that the culprit was found and charged a few days later – a local man who disliked dogs:-( Sadly the second dog had also died.  Understandably the women next door fled the site.

zsa zsa and meOur next neighbour was Hanneke who travels alone with her little rescue dog ZsaZsa and was in the market for another pooch as ZsaZsa was very old, rather deaf and rather blind:-( She was a sweet and undemanding little dog who did not like to be on her own, so I babysat once or twice. Hanneke cosseted her but was also pretty unsentimental – she had packed a shovel in the van in case the worst came to the worst while they were away:-(

We Met Louisa, who also travels alone, and was motorhoming for the first time ever in a new-to-her van. She was on a steep learning curve. We talked quite a bit about basic motorhome dos and don’ts and discovered Louisa was very keen to get to grips with mobile internet but did not know where to start. Neil explained it all and we drove up to the nearest mall in Louisa’s van (Shelley) to get the kit. It’s a complicated little set of slip roads to get into the car park and Louisa took a cavalier attitude to the low entrance. We ducked and braced for the crunch but none came. Apparently the missing top box had been a casualty against an earlier low bridge! Anyway – mifi up and running Louisa was delighted and wanted to buy us a seafood lunch as a thank you. An unlooked-for but very welcome treat. We went back to Armaçao de Pêra, the nearest seaside village, and found the seafront restaurant open. It was a memorable meal. We shared fresh sardines, prawns, sea bass with salad and soft garlicky potatoes. In fact everything was wonderfully garlicky!armacao lunch

We were introduced to Sangria made the proper way – rather more subtle that just red wine and lemonade. We needed a second pitcher to fully appreciate it and this became my drink of choice from that point on.  A lengthy walk on the beach was needed before going back.armacao beach walk

The weather had become warmer and sunny but with an intermittent cool breeze. I took a dip when the temperature hit 20° (briefly). And we spent many an afternoon lazing in the sun behind a windbreak on our patch of Astro turf. An odd idea but it works really well for both comfort and avoidance of dirt in the van. Might try it in the back garden at home! Some patches had white lines on and you could see that the turf must have been recycled from a football pitch – so ecologically useful as well.

 

 

 

We had a couple more days out with Louisa who had various appointments in the harbour town of Portimão and invited us along for a look round. We wandered the narrow lanes louisa and me portimao

and Neil inspected the al fresco art exhibition along the harbour side.

 

We came back via Ferrugado – the lovely little fishing village the other side of the river with an informal moho park beside the inlet.Ferrugado

Next time we went over to Alvor, the other side of Portimão to examine the reclamation of the precious salt marsh and dune environment.me alvor map

and for another harbour-side lunch.  Complete with Portuguese Water Dog.  These are fishermen’s working dogs who leap into the water to save people, herd fish and retrieve fishing gear on command.  And they are friendly, soft and furry. But Neil still does not want one:-(

pWD

We kept deciding to move on but could not quite see why so kept extending our stay. The site was relaxed and eccentric with plenty to look at and just enjoy being in amongst.

 

Once or twice we got to the bar early enough to get the fireside seats and played Triominoes (think Dominoes but with three sides).  fireplace

The ebikes really came into their own: a five minute ride into Pêra for the small shop, post office and pharmacy; a terrific ten minute whizz down the slope on the main road and effortlessly up the other side to the big Aldi and the Chinese everything shop. ZsaZsa came along for the ride!zsazsa came too

Then Neil caught a cough from Luc so we needed to wait until he felt better. Then I caught it so, lackaday, we needed to wait again. Eventually Hanneke needed to make a move to a dog sanctuary to find another pooch to adopt (in addition to ZsaZsa!), then Louisa had to go for a van repair appointment. Our little social group was breaking up. We realised we had to get a move on if we wanted to look at a few more Algarve sites and spend some time at Los Pinos on the Spanish Mediterranean coast – a wonderful site we had come across last year – and take in some culture on the way. We were commitment-free until mid-March when we had an appointment in France with a car needing an MOT in the UK (it’s complicated).

sunset mikkis