Heading west along the Algarve…. .

So my quick flit back to the UK, courtesy of a cheap Ryanair flight, has come and gone and I’m back under what I would like to say are the sunny skies of the Algarve in Portugal.  Unfortunately, though, the weather has been a bit of a mixed bag since I got back!  However, leaving Leeds Bradford airport after a one hour delay because of ‘adverse weather conditions’ (aka SNOW!) I really can’t complain.  Tim, of course, had wall to wall sunshine whilst I was away!

It was great to go home though and see my parents and be spoilt with Mum’s cooking and pub grub!  And lest we forget bingeing on the internet to my hearts content!

P1000701.JPG
Bertie and Rosie (not my parents obviously…….just saying;)

I was able to purchase a list of items that I couldn’t get whilst in Portugal. Tim is now happily clicking away with his very own new camera. The photo memories of our trip should be a bit less one sided with both of us now featuring in the pictures.

We’ve been on the Algarve, Portugal for four weeks now and we’ve explored the coast east of Faro which encompasses the Rio Formosa Natural Park.

P1000621.JPG
Path down to the beach at Cacela Velha

The park stretches along the coast for around 60km from Manta Rota right round to the southern end of Faro.  We’ve been to the Algarve before on previous holidays but this area was new territory for us.  We were surprised and very pleased at how little it has been developed compared to the central Algarve coast.

download.jpg
Rio Formosa Natural Park.

The Natural Park is a unique coastal lagoon area, constantly changing with the movement of the wind, currents and tides, and a haven for migrating birds.  It also has a thriving shellfish industry with the area providing 80% of the Portuguese clam exports.  Five barrier islands protect the area from the sea and it is possible to take a boat and be dropped onto an island for the day.  We stayed a couple of nights at Santa Luzia where a boardwalk links the Ilha do Tavira with the mainland.

P1000675.JPG
The boardwalk looking back from Ilha da Tavira.

The access to the beach brought us out to the Cemitério das Âncoras (anchor graveyard).  Hundreds of rusting anchors memorialise the areas long lost tuna industry, the fishermen and their families.  Livelihoods were lost when the over fished tuna stocks crashed and never recovered.

P1000666.JPG
The Anchor Graveyard on the Ilha de Tavira.

We walked the length of the beach to the western end and back where we saw several fishermen presumably fishing for clams.  They were using what looked to be a very simple contraption to work the shellfish out of the sand in the shallow waters and into a net.  It looked really hard work especially if they had to walk the length of the beach to get there.  I suspect a boat drops them off though.

P1000681.JPG
Collecting shellfish.

We were able to find a cycle route running from Altura to Tavira to avoid the dreaded N125.  It was probably more suited to mountain bikes in several places but it did the job none the less.  It took us through the very pretty village of Cacela Velha where we were amused by hundreds of fiddler crabs disappearing into their holes in the sand.

P1000650.JPG
We watched this Kingfisher fish for a while.

The route continued on to Tavira via Cabanas passing a few salt mountains.  The salt has been traditionally harvested here for the last 2000 years.

P1000642.JPG
Salt mountain outside Tavira.
P1000662.JPG
Fishermen’s paraphernalia in Cabanes.

The old town of Tavira itself was worth a look and we had the cheapest two cups of coffee so far at €1.20 for both of them!

P1000657.JPG
Looking out over Tavira.

We stayed on an excellent aire behind the beach at Falesia where we were able to watch several pairs of Hoopoes foraging for food whilst we were sitting in bed with our morning cuppa.

P1000694.JPG
Hoopoe.

On a recommendation from our French neighbours at an aire in Quarteira (I think they’re stalking us as we keep seeing them at different places) we ventured inland again to the little village of Alte known for its springs (fontes).

It’s a pretty little town and we were able to walk part of a sign posted route which took us through traditional farms of orange and lemon groves until we were drenched by a downpour which had us scuttling back to the van.  An hour later we arrived back like drowned rats!

P1000712.JPGOur next stop was at another reservoir, Barragem do Arade.

P1000720.JPG
Barragem do Arade

This is a great area for walking and cycling with numerous trails heading off in all directions.

P1000733.JPG
We cycled to the other side of the Barragem.

We love the landscape here with Cork Oak and Eucalyptus trees intermingled with Medronho trees.

P1000725.JPG
Fruit of the Medronho tree.

We saw a couple of chaps clinging to the hillside picking the fruit from the Medronho trees which can be fermented and distilled to make Arguardente de Medronho, a very potent traditional fruit brandy.  It was also nice to see beehives in abundance.

P1000726.JPG
Beehives.

From the Baragem we dropped down into the town of Silves which used to be an important hub for trade because of its river location.

P1000737.JPG
Silves.

The castle is the most prominent monument in the town followed by the cathedral.

P1000743.JPG
Inside Silves cathedral.
P1000739.JPG
Storks were everywhere in Silves.
P1000750.JPG
Street Art, Silves.

One night was enough to ‘do’ Silves and we were in need of some LPG.  There are quite a few LPG garages on the N125 so we had a ‘doing’ day yesterday topping up with LPG, refuelling, shopping and washing.  The Intermarche near Porches had washing machines outside so we were able to get two weeks of washing done whilst leisurely perusing the aisles of the supermarket. Genius!

P1000755.JPG
Washing machines outside the Intermarche – that’s my dressing gown going round in Number 2!

Our original plan was to stop for the night at Praia da Marinha, a beautiful beach, but in the end we just spent the afternoon there drying our washing in the two hour window of sun and wind we had before it rained.

P1000763.JPG
Praia da Marinha.

We opted to move to the huge aire at Portimao as the lack of other vans at Praia de Marinha seemed to suggest that wild camping there is now a no no.  The aire at Portimao is too big for our liking really but it’s cheap and has a good wifi signal so at last I’ve managed to update the blog.  Well that’s a load off!

P1000767.JPG
Portimao marina.

Two weeks ago we took the van in to Camperserv to have a look at our leaking boiler and we are now awaiting some parts for it. Truma, who make the boiler, aren’t able to get one of the parts until at least the end of next week so we are, once again, in limbo tootling about until we get a call from the garage to say they have the parts.  Whilst we wait we don’t have any heating or hot water but, fret not, we are managing with a kettle!

We’ll head west tomorrow towards Lagos maybe stopping off on the way for a look at Alvor.

Boa Noite!

Reflections on our first six or seven months on the road…. .

In a slight detour from my usual posts of what we have been up to I thought it would be a good time to maybe reflect on the first six months of our new lifestyle.  It’s actually been just over seven months since we passed over the keys of our house to the agent, closed the doors on our storage container and said our goodbyes to family and friends.  Over the course of that seven months we have had ample opportunity to chew the fat, as it were, on what we are making of it all and how we, and our van ‘Ollie’, are bearing up!

Just to let you know, there will be some random photos interspersed with my musings to break it all up a bit as this is a long one and I wouldn’t want anyone to lose the will to live whilst perusing this post.

p1060048
This took me back – a Citroen Dyane – my first car in 1986 (not this one obviously!)

How is the van bearing up?

Ok, let’s start with our van, which is affectionately known as ‘Ollie’ (until this extended tour he had only been used for ‘ollie-days’!) How’s he been bearing up to the extra stresses and strains of full time living?  Mmmm, let’s see.  In the past 7 months we’ve had a list of little niggly minor things that have needed attention.  These being, in no particular order:

  • The small plastic catch on the fridge door, to stop it flying open when driving, snapped into two pieces
  • Various pieces of cosmetic wood trim have fallen off
  • Several door hinges have needed tightening up
  • A blocked sink
  • Various screws needed to be tightened on bits and pieces
  • The tow hitch electrical socket has grounded out several times when entering carparks and the like
  • Indicator lights on the bike rack not working
  • Glass door underneath the oven jammed
  • Slight leak on the gas pipes which needed tightening
  • The roof vent above the bed got stuck in the ‘open’ position
  • The van radio has ‘cooked’ in the sun a few times and been too hot to work properly

So, as they say in France ‘ce n’est pas grave’ with Tim able to fix them all with a bit of glue and a smile 🙂  In truth, Tim has enjoyed the whole make do and mend thing and is, more often than is surely necessary, rummaging for his toolbox at even a slight sniff of a problem!

p1060087
Street Art in Valencia.

The three ‘issues’ we currently have that we need a pro to look at are:

  • The boiler is leaking
  • The shower tray has a crack in it around the plug hole and is, once again (sigh), leaking after the last running repair
  • The habitation door catch broke three months ago so we can only open the door via the window like you do on a train

On the whole, things aren’t too bad as any motorhome isn’t really designed to be lived in full-time and we have to expect some things to go wrong from time to time.  The good thing is that, unlike at home, where a niggling problem would be left for months, if anything needs attention in the van then Tim is onto it like Usain Bolt out of the starting blocks!

P1060184.JPG
I wouldn’t fancy driving that rig.

How are we coping with living in such a small space?

Living in such a small space hasn’t really been a problem. We’ve always holidayed in a campervan or caravan of some sort so we had a fair idea of how things would pan out.

P1060429.JPG
Nice little Citroen H Van.

Throughout the summer  and autumn the weather has been so good that we’ve spent pretty much most of the day outside so haven’t really felt cooped up in the van at all.  I think being able to chase the sun makes a huge difference when living in a van for an extended period of time as does moving on every few days for a change of scene.  Winter is now upon us though so things could well change.  I, personally, prefer living with less stuff and still feel that we have more in the van than we really need.  I’ve already put half my clothes in the locker with the spare tyre just to get them out of the way as I really don’t feel I need them.

P1060549.JPG
Legal graffiti in Niort, France.

Have we missed any of our possessions we left behind?

We haven’t missed any of the possessions we have put into storage and, frankly, we can’t really now even remember what is in there.  The jury is still out on what to do with it all but we have agreed that a decision needs to be made as to whether to get shot of the lot at the end of our first year on the road……or not!  After twelve months of this lifestyle, having done a winter in the van, we hope to have a better idea of where this life is taking us and whether or not our possessions fit into it.

What about Internet access?

For internet access we have two options.

  1. Mobile mifi device using 3G cards
  2. Picking up free wifi where we can

In preparation for our trip we cut the cord on our Virgin Media internet package exactly one month before we left home.  Tim coped with this remarkably well with no complaints.   I, on the other hand, felt like my right arm had been cut off!  Boy was I frustrated when I didn’t have internet access on tap.  It didn’t help that our mobile wifi, which we’d had no problem getting a signal on whilst on holiday, seemed to have an aversion to working from the house.

P1060702.JPG
This little wire fox terrier chased us off his property!

Since being on the road we have been through the internet woes and come out the other side.  At first, I used the mifi device everyday but even just browsing the internet for short periods was just gobbling up our data cards.  Tim continued to just use free wifi when he could get it and has settled into that with no problems.  For me, let’s just say, it’s been a gradual process of adjustment!  Now we just tend to use the mifi data cards for our online banking and if we need to look something up in a hurry.  The rest of the time we try to stick to using free wifi.

We’ve purchased a wifi boost which has been working pretty well but I’ve just had to get used to not having wifi when I want it.  In my defence though, trying to update the blog with flaky wifi has, at times, been a nightmare and tested my patience to the limit.  Now I try to let it all wash over me and remain in a state of karma.  Yeah, right!

How’s the Budget bearing up?

In the years of planning for our trip I’d spent many many hours perusing the blogs of others who, very kindly, have shared all their expenditure whilst on the road.  Info from a few of them can be found here, herehere and here.  Combining all this information we were able to have a fairly accurate guesstimate as to what we thought we would need per year to do what we wanted to do.  We have also allocated a large margin for error within our budget as well.

P1070185.JPG
Spot looks so pleased to be with Tim……not!

When we left the UK in May 2016 the exchange rate was at €1.30 to £1.00.  Following the Brexit vote it has steadily tumbled and is now hovering around the €1.12 to £1.00.  Has this made a difference to us? Well, yes and no.  We obviously aren’t getting as much bang for our buck so to speak but our view is that the less we spend the less it affects us.

P1080018.JPG
Frog in a tree stump (I said the pictures would be random).

The lifestyle we are leading, which wouldn’t be for everyone, is not particularly expensive and we have several different options available to us if we felt the exchange rate was an issue.  We could do more volunteering, another house sit, stay longer in one area or even, ahem, work!

P1080463.JPG
I’ll have the one at the bottom please.

It’s not an issue though and we are still under budget by quite a margin and we are more than happy.  We’ve spent much less on overnight stops than we’d anticipated so all is good.

Is Helpx for us?

Since leaving home in April 2016 we have done four Helpx assignments each lasting between 2 and 3 weeks at a time.  They have all been different and we have enjoyed all of them.  We weren’t sure how we would get on with the whole Helpx thing but we have been surprised at how well we slotted into other peoples lives and routines.

P1080504.JPG
Oh the joys of narrow streets and balconies!

The important thing for us on all our Helpx experiences is that we want to feel we have made a difference to the hosts and moved them forward on whatever tasks they needed help with.  On balance, I think we’ve achieved that and learnt some new skills in the process.  We’ve really enjoyed the physical side of the work and improved our fitness.  Tim has shed loads of weight and is a shadow of his former self.  I’ve kept off the weight I lost working as a post woman for the five months before our trip started.

skeleton-saxophone-player-4.jpg
Mmm, maybe Tim’s lost a bit too much weight!

Overall the last seven months have been pretty amazing.  We’ve only visited three countries, well four if you count the UK, but that is all in the grand plan.  We don’t want to feel that we are in any hurry and under any pressure to get round the whole of Europe in a year.  There is so much to see that we don’t want the ‘fear of missing out thing’ to stop us enjoying the whole experience at a pace that is right for us.

P1000639.JPG
We do occasionally relax!

That may mean that we perhaps don’t see as much of Europe as others have seen on their travels but we are both in agreement that spending at least a few days in one place to explore is far less stressful and enjoyable than moving on every day.  Equally, spending three days in a city is enough for us before we feel the need to get back out into the countryside, away from traffic, to do some walking or cycling.

P1000680.JPG
Tim surfing!

So, tomorrow I’ll be off back to sunny Yorkshire to see my parents whilst Tim holds the fort here in Portugal.  We’re staying at an excellent aire at Praia da Falesia on the Algarve.  Tim’s going to spend the week here whilst I’m away.  He’s got wifi and a list of chores to do to keep him occupied in my absence as I wouldn’t want him to get bored without me!

P1000652.JPG

Adeus por agora!

Following the Guadiana river down to the Algarve… .

Gosh it’s been so long since I last updated the blog that I’m not sure I can remember what we’ve done!  Suffice to say we have slowed down quite a bit since crossing Spain and arriving in Portugal. We have no real need to cover great distances and we’re finding we do like to stay two to three nights wherever we find ourselves.  We can then explore the area by bike and on foot.

Following leaving Luz on, um, when was it, um, Friday 21st October 2016 we turned south towards the coast. (I had to look that up in my diary!) We couldn’t leave the Alqueva reservoir, though, without having a look at the dam holding it all in.

P1000473.JPG
Alqueva dam.

Being of an engineering mind, Tim was mightily impressed with it pointing out some of the probably quite mindblowing engineering feats whilst I pointed out the huge fish just below the surface of the water!  It is hard to believe, though, that it is holding back approximately 250 square kilometres of water.  Even I can appreciate that!

P1000464.JPG
Not sure why this sign was in English when we are in Portugal!

The forecast had been for rain and we weren’t to be disappointed as we arrived at the small market town of Serpa in a downpour.  We decided to splash the cash (€ 7.94 per night!) and checked in at the municipal campsite there which had free, but flaky, wifi and was only a short walk from the walled centre of the town.

p1000492
Wandering the grounds of Serpa’s castle.

 

We took two sojourns out on the Saturday to have a poke about the town to get totally soaked on both occasions before getting back to the van.  We liked Serpa though as the 14th century castle grounds were free to wander around and you can clearly see, whilst standing on the battlements, how all the old town is enclosed within the walls.

P1000493.JPG
Serpa old town inside the battlements.

The old town was practically deserted but enjoyable for a wander around even in the rain.

P1000487.JPG
 Picture of Serpa’s aqueduct taken in between the heavy showers.
P1000502.JPG
Colourful roof terrace!

After two nights at Serpa we were due to make our way to the old mining village of São Domingos but we firstly made a 60km detour to Beja to fill up our gas tanks with LPG.  Garages that sell LPG are few and far between in this area of Portugal and this was the nearest one before we hit the coast of the Algarve.  So, having made the 30km trip to said garage we arrived to find that they had sold out!  Meh!  It wasn’t the end of the world though as we have two tanks, an 11kg and a 6kg one, and we’d only just started using the smaller one.  The 11kg tank had lasted us three weeks so we weren’t going to have to start having cold showers just yet.

São Domingos had been recommended to us by Terry and Carole from Cornwall, who we had met at Monsaraz, as an interesting place to visit which has a good aire set beside a recreational lake.

P1000517.JPG
Looking back to the aire, in the gloom of an overcast day, on the edge of the lake at Sao Domingos.

The area surrounding São Domingos is in the Iberian Pyrite Belt and the dominating feature of the small village is the remains of the copper and pyrite mines which closed in 1965.

P1000514.JPG
Mining remains.

A British company, Mason and Barry, owned and ran the mine from 1859 to 1965 employing Portuguese workers.  During the 108 years that the mine was open over 25 million tons of ore mainly, copper, zinc, lead and sulphur were extracted.

P1000503.JPG
Local transport!

The village housing was built around the socio economic status of the workers with the miners being housed in often one roomed practically windowless dwellings with communal latrines and bread ovens whilst the English management workers were housed in another area with communal gardens, bandstand and tennis courts!

P1000510.JPG
The former mining worker’s housing.
P1000506.JPG
Upcycling taken to a new level!

There still exists an English only cemetery which is now largely neglected.

We did the 14km ‘Mining Route’ walk which took us along the old railroad, past the crumbling sulphur factories and out to the small village of Santana de Cambas.

P1000551.JPG
Remains of the mine.

The route returned via the old contraband tracks where coffee, sugar and flour, amongst other things, were traded.

P1000554.JPG

P1000563.JPGWe stayed three nights at São Domingos so walked another 12km waymarked circular route from the village which took us over typical Alentejo countryside passing remote farms along the way.

We were lucky enough to bump into Terry and Carole again at São Domingos.  Terry is a year round surfer and enjoys a swim so I was pleased to have a swimming buddy to encourage me into the lake.  I don’t think I’d have gone in if I’d been on my own!

P1000527.JPG
My swimming buddy for the day!
P1000544.JPG
Tim trying out different functions on the camera whilst we I was swimming – you can just see Terry and I to the right of the tree on the left!

Having seen all there was to see at São Domingos we followed the Rio Guadiana south to stop on the quayside at Mértola for the night.

P1000575.JPG
Our night stop at the quayside at Mertola.

Set on a steep hillside, Mértola’s history goes as far back as Phoenician times where it was an important river port.

P1000569.JPG
View of the Rio Guadiana from the top of the town.

The Romans and Moors expanded and fortified it before Dom Sancho II took it in 1238 as part of the Christian Reconquest.  It’s crammed with history in every building and well worth a look round.

P1000579.JPG
Mertola lit up at night.

One night here was enough though and with a pressing need to fill up with LPG we decided that it was wise to make our way to the Algarve and come back to the area at a later date.  There is definitely more that we want to see in this area with a couple more places to visit that have been recommended to us.

The nearest LPG station on our map was at Ayamonte just over the border into Spain so we nipped across the bridge to fill up with LPG, diesel and do a weeks shop at the Mercadona supermarket there.  Feeling happier with full tanks and our cupboards, once again, bursting with food, we went back over the Rio Guadiana to stop at the aire at Castro Marim in Portugal.

The aire at Castro Marim is on a main road so was noisy and, after having spent the last week or so on quiet aires, it was a bit of a comedown to say the least.  Still, it served a purpose for a nights stop and it was free so we mustn’t  grumble!

P1000585.JPG
We saw our first stork of the year at Castro Marim.

Fed up with noisy traffic and the need to find a laundrette we trundled on a few miles to Vila Real de Santo António, the last town along the Rio Guadiana, before it spills out into the sea.

P1000590.JPG
View from the front of the aire at Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

We stayed at the aire there on the quayside just outside the town.

P1000592.JPG
Marina at Vila Real.

Fortunately, there was a laundrette a few minutes walk away from the aire and we were able to get our mountain of washing done.  Hooray, no beating it over a stone down by the river for me this time!  We made sure we parked up next to a handy lamppost to rig up a washing line thus enabling us to dry said washing in a couple of hours.

P1000589.JPG
Needs must!

It didn’t look too pretty but no-one really bats an eyelid and needs must and all that.  We don’t really like using the tumble dryers at the laundrettes after an unfortunate incident in Wales years ago where two loads of washing came out of the dryer, which, unbeknown to us, had been way too hot and practically melted all our lightweight outdoor clothing.  There was so much static in it which didn’t really ever seem to go away causing every item of clothing to cling and feel uncomfortable.  Tim threw all his T-shirts out and bought new it was that bad!  Anyway, why spend wonga on a dryer when the sun and wind will do the job for free!

Our plans are to explore the whole coast east of Faro over the next two weeks before I fly back to the UK for a few days on 14th November 2016. The beaches are looooong and we are spending 2-3 hours per day just beach walking and mooching about the little towns.

P1000598.JPG
Walking the beach west of Monte Gordo.
P1000596.JPG
Fishermen tending to……whatever they tend to!

This part of the coast doesn’t seem to be too built up at all and we’re really enjoying it.  We are making the most of the nine hours of sunshine every day so have no need to worry about our vitamin D levels which are being topped up nicely thank you very much.  We have also been in the sea every day to partake in a bit of bodysurfing.

In more mundane news our boiler which heats our water has developed a leak which needs attention so we’ve booked ‘Ollie’ in at Camperserv to have it looked at next week.  Tim has done another running repair on the cracked shower tray which seems to be holding it’s own but we’ll get that looked at too whilst the ‘Ollie’ is under the knife so to speak.

P1000582.JPG
Tim’s temporary repair to the shower tray!

We are just outside Manta Rota now and will move a few miles west tomorrow.

Tenha um bom dia!