Pueblo blancos and bike rides…. .

Our plans for an overnight stay in Arcos de la Frontera were scuppered as the circus was in town.  Our Maps.Me app showed a free parking area on the outskirts of the town but nearly the whole car park was taken over by the circus.  We had no option but to continue on to the bottom of the steep hill.  We pulled into a layby for a regroup and to have another look at the maps and guide books. Handbrake on, we got out of the van, turned around and gawped at the view of the town perched on the edge of the cliff above us.

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Arcos de la Frontera.

If we’d managed to get into the carpark further up the hill we probably wouldn’t have seen the town from that angle so a disappointment turned into a bonus.  We finally managed to park at the bottom end of the old town after a stressful fifteen minutes of driving down narrow streets not knowing what would be coming next.  As it turned out the town at the bottom was ok to drive through but it’s the not knowing and thoughts of a potential mega reverse that stress me out!

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This reminded me of the main street going up through Totnes in the UK!

Getting up to the top of the old town was a really steep climb but it was so worth it for the views, the buildings, the patios, the narrow cobbled streets and the labyrinth of white washed houses.

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The Rio Guadalete curves round the limestone crag in a U shape.

A moped seems to be the best mode of transport, and there were lots of them, as many of the streets are so narrow with wing mirror scrapes on most walls!

P1010283.JPGThe viewpoint at the Plaza de España, at the top of the town, is right on the edge of the cliff with a sheer drop down to the river below.

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The view from the Plaza del Cabildo.

I like a bit of drama!

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Gothic-Mudejar church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion

Yes, we liked Arcos even if we weren’t able to stay the night.

We’d had a recommendation from our English neighbours, Ken and Mo, at the aire in Rota, about a 36km cycleway from Olvera to Puerto Serrano on a disused railway line, the Via Verde de la Sierra.  Thumbs up from Tim – disused railway line = flat!

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Our parking spot at the disused railway station at Puerto Serrano.

We decided to park at the Puerto Serrano end, to do the ride from west to east and back, as the leaflet showed there was a slight uphill gradient practically all the way to Olvera.  Not all flat then!   We were able to stay the night in the car park at the station which we shared with two German vans.

The ride was quite simply.  Totes. Spec. Tac!

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10%??  I thought it was a disused railway line!

It rates as the best disused railway line ride we have ever done.

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The line itself, although almost complete, was never put into service. It was originally planned, among other things, to provide a market for the wine trade from Jerez in the Cadiz province to Almargen in the Malaga province.  By 1934 the tracks had been laid all the way to Olvera but with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war everything ground to a standstill and the work was never reconvened.  It wasn’t until 1995 that work commenced to reclaim the old Sierra Railway and turn it into a greenway. Four viaducts and thirty tunnels took us through the most glorious scenery.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The longest tunnel at 1km.
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The restored station at Coripe.
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It took a while to see the goats (this picture is zoomed in).  We heard their bells and then spotted them like ants crawling over the hillside on the opposite side of the valley.
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View from one of the viaducts.

16km from Olvera is a rocky outcrop, known as Peñón de Zaframagón, which is home to the largest colony of griffon vultures in Andalusia, and one of the largest in Spain.  Over 200 pairs have nests on the ledges but we left it for another day to cycle back with the binoculars to take a closer look at them.

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Penon de Zaframgon.

Peñón de Zaframagón – there’s vultures in them there hills!

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Towards Olvera the landscape opened up into Olive groves.
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36km done – 36km to go!

After several hours we arrived back at Puerto Serrano tired but exhilarated having had a fabulous day out.  We celebrated by eating nearly half the tapas menu at the station cafe next to our parking spot!

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An rare picture of both of us taken by our very friendly and patient waiter who translated all the menu for us!

We were so lucky with the weather as the day after our ride it turned quite bleak with some rain and a cold wind.  We drove to Olvera, at the other end of the cycleway, to stay at the aire there so that we could cycle back to revisit the vultures.  As it’s a protected area you can only view the vultures from the cycleway so it was a bit too far away to get any decent pictures but we whiled away an hour or so having coffee and lunch just watching from afar.

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Some of the 200 pairs of griffon vultures that nest here.

At just €2 per person, the interpretation centre at Olvera station is worth a look guiding you through the history of the railway and surrounding area with a 3D sound only film.  The receptionist gave me a guided tour in English as I was the only one in there!

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The church of Nuestra senora de la Encarnacion in Olvera.
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A view of the roof terraces in Olvera taken from the church.

After a couple of nights at Olvera we made our way to Ronda.  Our guide book describes Ronda thus:

‘The full natural drama of Ronda, rising amid a ring of dark, angular mountains, is best appreciated as you enter the town.’

We entered Ronda from the north trying to find a free parking spot indicated on our Maps.Me app.  We pulled off the main road into a housing estate where the car thirty yards in front of us came to an abrupt halt.  A man shot out of one of the houses and dragged the driver out of the car and started beating him up.  By the time I realised what was happening Tim was already reversing muttering ‘we’re out of here’!

Not the best introduction to one of Spain’s spectacularly located cities!  Obviously we weren’t going to spend the night at that end of the town so had to seek an alternative.  We found a campsite on the southern edge of the town within walking distance of the town which worked out really well even at €19.50 per night.  (Tim recovered soon enough!).

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Camping El Sur, Ronda.

We managed to do three weeks of washing which was a load off!  I was out at 7.20am pegging it onto the line in the laundry area lest anyone get there before me!  Tim predictably made the Germans and towels comment!

Ronda, being described as spectacularly located, didn’t disappoint.  It was one of the last towns to be wrestled from the Moors by the Christians in 1485.  The old town on the south side is a classic Moorish Pueblo Blanco and very well kept.   We entered the town via an old donkey track to get a view, from below, of the Puente Nuevo, the eighteenth century ‘New Bridge’ over the 100m deep Tajo gorge, which joins the old town with the new.

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Puente Nuevo, Ronda.

It really is quite a sight especially seeing it firstly from one side, then climbing up to the bridge to see it from the other side.

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The view from the other side of the Puente Nuevo.

Choughs nest on the crags around the new bridge and we spent a while watching their aerial display.  They are only seen in certain areas of the UK so that was an unexpected treat.

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Looking down to the Rio Guadalvin from the old town.

Across the Puente Nuevo near the bull ring is a fantastic clifftop paseo (walkway) with amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

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Views from the ‘paseo’.
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Looking the other way.
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A very symetrical field in the valley below – must have taken some planning.  Touch of OCD maybe!

We’d recommend Ronda but come in from the south end!

Our tour of the Pueblo Blancos is being curtailed today as we are in need of some more LPG and the only places to get it are all on the coast.  Also it’s turned pretty cold up here and we are used to being warmer now!  It has been colder here than at home by a couple of degrees over the last two days! Tim even wore trousers instead of shorts yesterday which is a sure sign that we need to get back to warmer climes.

Adiós!

 

Continuing on to Cadiz…. .

Since arriving in Spain nearly ten days ago we’ve had some rain………..boy have we had some rain!  Whilst parked up at the aire in Sanlúcar de Barrameda the rain came and went in waves for nearly forty eight hours.

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The aire at Sanlucar de Barrameda.

In the one extended break in the weather that we did have we had a mooch around the town, but, alas, we didn’t manage much of anything else!  Sanlúcar was the departure point for Columbus’ third voyage in 1498 but it’s probably better known for its light, dry manzanilla sherry made by, amongst others, Bodegas Barbadillo.

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Entrance to the Barbadillo bodega in Sanlucar.

Sherry producers are in evidence all around the town.  Nik, one of my oldest friends, will be disgusted with me for not doing a tour of one of the Bodegas as sherry was one of our drinks of choice on our nights out in our younger days!  (No, we weren’t normal!)  Ah well, maybe we’ll do a tour if we go to Jerez de la Frontera which is the capital of sherry production and not far away!

What we’d really come to this area for, though, was to see Càdiz so after two nights in Sanlúcar we made our way further south to an aire at El Puerto de Santa Maria which is across the bay from Càdiz.

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The aire (carpark) across the river from El Puerto de Santa Maria

We didn’t fancy driving into Càdiz as it’s very compact and options for overnight stays were limited.  The aire at El Puerto, another 24hr manned carpark similar to the aire we stayed at in Seville, is convenient for the ferry which shuttles regularly to and from Càdiz and takes about thirty minutes.

We had only intended staying two nights at the aire but another thirty six hours or so of rain had us confined to the van.  Normally we don’t let the weather dictate to us but it really wasn’t worth venturing out as the rain was torrential and would have been no fun at all to be out in.  We were super lucky though to be able to pick up some free wifi whilst at the aire and managed to watch the England v Wales rugby match on the laptop.

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Yay, RBS Six Nations chez ‘Ollie’!

That was a bonus as I’m not sure Tim could have coped with the disappointment as he’d set his heart on seeing it!  It was easy in Portugal the previous weekend as we just went to an English bar in Lagos to see it but no English bars were to be had in El Puerto.

We finally made it into Càdiz on Monday 13th February, albeit by bus as the ferry wasn’t running due to the weather.  I’m not sure why that was as it was sunny and calm and looked alright to me.  We got there though and it wasn’t raining which was a huge plus as we’d been beginning to get cabin fever in the van!

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Cadiz.

Càdiz, purported to be Europe’s oldest city, is set on a peninsular, and is almost completely surrounded by water.

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Looking back at the old town in Cadiz.

We started our exploration by walking the waterfront and then, after some lunch, walked the myriad of narrow streets and alleys in the old town.

P1010211.JPGIt really is very compact, with a slightly run down look about some of it, but all the more interesting for it.

 

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Narrow streets of Cadiz.

P1010238.JPGIt wasn’t as clean and well kept as Seville but had some pretty Plazas and green spaces.

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Plaza de Espana and Monumento a las Cortes.

A day in Càdiz was enough to see what we wanted to see and, with the sea now looking like a millpond, we were hoping to return to El Puerto by ferry but, nope, it wasn’t to be and back by bus we went.

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Cadiz Cathedral.

After three nights at the aire at El Puerto, which doesn’t have any facilities, we needed to find somewhere to empty and replenish so to speak.  The aire at Rota, half and hour’s drive away, fitted the bill.  It’s free and a short walk from a sandy beach so was a good stop for a couple of nights.

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Rota.

We got out on the bikes and, whilst not exactly all picturesque, had an interesting cycle along some of the local cycle tracks around Rota and Chipiona.

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The nice part of the cycleway we followed from Rota to Chipiona!

It’s completely flat, which cheered Tim up no end, and a bizarre mix of farms and smallholdings haphazardly sprawling inland with holiday homes and apartments equally sprawling along the coast.

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I don’t suppose the vans envisaged sharing the field with free range sheep and goats when they parked up!

It was good to get out on the bikes though and get some oil on them after all that rain.  We need to replace the bike cover we have as it has several rips in it now as the fabric is completely rotten.

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Coming back towards Rota from Chipiona on the coast this time.

Whilst at the aire at Rota we did a much needed clean of the inside of the van and a revamp of everything we have stored in the outside lockers.  In the planning stages of our big trip we had discussed whether we should maybe change our van, ‘Ollie’, for a slightly bigger van with more outside locker storage.  At the time, we felt that if we were living in it full time we’d need to carry more stuff than we did when on holiday.  However, having been on the road for ten months now, we are feeling we are much happier when living with less!

A couple of weeks ago we sorted through our clothes and shoes and dropped a bin liner of stuff into one of those charity clothes bins.  Whilst tidying the van yesterday we managed to fill another bin liner full of clothes to donate.  If we haven’t worn it in ten months we just don’t need it right?  There will be more to go – I’m looking at you flippers – before we get back to the UK I’m sure.  So, we’re glad we stuck with ‘Ollie’ and saved our cash instead of changing him for a more alluring model!

Anyway, I’ve gone off piste and this is getting rambling.  We moved on today to do a tour of the ‘Pueblo Blancos’, white towns, which dot the hills inland from the coast.  We’re starting off our tour at Arcos de la Frontera and we’ll make our way round several towns probably finishing in Ronda.

Nos vemos!

Goodbye Portugal, hello Spain….again…. .

Today was going to be a day of biking.  I had it all planned out in my head.  We’ve not been for a ‘proper’ bike ride for what seems like ages and I was looking forward to it.  We awoke this morning, however, to grey skies and the drumming of rain on the van roof.  Tim has sloped off back to bed muttering something about needing ‘to check the back of his eyes’ so it looks as though the planned bike ride has now been postponed!  Ah well, time to catch up on the blog then.

We left Donkey HQ in Aljezur, Portugal with a plan to walk some of the ‘Rota Vicentina‘, a network of walking trails covering the south west coastline of Portugal.

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View looking back to Monte Clerigo.

Unlike the Algarve to the south, the south west coast of Portugal is wild and rugged reminding me of parts of the north Cornish coast or sections of the Pembrokeshire coastline.

DSC00749.JPGWe spent three days walking short sections of the Fishermans Trail, a 120km route following the tracks made by locals to get to the beaches and fishing spots.

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On the rocks above Praia de Amoreira beach.

It’s quite hard going as much of the paths are single track soft sand but it’s exceedingly quiet and, of the three days we spent there, we only passed a handful of people.

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View above Praia de Odeceixe (we are reliably informed it is pronounced Odd-a-say-sha).

The wild flowers were starting to emerge and I think March/April would be a perfect time to walk the whole route.

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Zambujeira do Mar.

That’s maybe something we’ll do in the future though as we wanted to retrace our steps back across the Algarve to start exploring Spain again.

We made a quick one night pit stop at the aire in Lagos to watch the start of the RBS Six Nations and then had a day relaxing on the beach at Manta Rota, east of Faro and close to the Spanish border, before crossing  back in to Spain.

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Relaxing on Praia da Manta Rota.

Our first destination was Seville which we had intended visiting after we’d been to Córdoba but couldn’t face doing two cities back to back!  We have very short attention spans and don’t seem to have the energy for too much culture in one go!

Seville had several options for motorhome aires so we decided on the one closest in to the city.  It was just a city carpark but had 24 hour security and was a ten minute walk into the historic part of Seville.  At €10 per night we thought it was a bargain and would recommend it although it doesn’t have any facilities for waste emptying.

Seville, the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, famous for Flamenco, Don Juan, Carmen and Figaro, is quite simply stunning.  As soon as we walked across the river into the historic old town and saw the Cathedral our jaws dropped.

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Seville’s huge Gothic Cathedral with Moorish bell tower.  It’s the largest Cathedral in Europe.

The streets are clean, car free, lined with orange trees and an absolute feast for the eyes.

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Avenida de la Constitucion.

The whole atmosphere in Seville felt safe, friendly and welcoming.

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Plaza de San Francisco.

We spent our first day wandering the streets of the old town and the surrounding areas trying to take it all in.

DSC00780.JPGIt was surprisingly quiet on the Wednesday so we were able to see all the buildings without being impeded too much.

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Metropol Parasol – designed by Jurgen Mayer and opened in 2011.  Houses an archaelogical museum, market and several bars and restaurants.  Apparently the locals call it ‘Las Setas’, (the mushrooms).

As usual for me I hadn’t done any research before we arrived, other than have a quick flick through our Rough Guide, but in some ways that’s a good thing as we don’t have any preconceived ideas on how things will be.

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Plaza de Cabildo.

We tend to just prefer to wander around with no set itinerary getting our bearings as we go.

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Entrance to the Cathedral.

With zero research we were then surprised and delighted when we strolled through the Parque Maria Luisa to reach the Plaza de España, such a pleasant and relaxing place to while away an afternoon.

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Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares set in the Parque Maria Luisa.  The museum displays traditional Andalusian folk arts.
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Plaza de Espana.
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View of the Plaza de Espana from the first floor balcony.
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Regional scenes on ceramic tiles – the work of Anibal Gonzalez.

On our second day in Seville we discovered more of the old town and whiled away a couple of hours mooching about in the Santa Cruz area which hides many plazas and flower decked patios.

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Square lined with orange trees.

Then more walking of the river to the north and over into the Triana district, which was once Seville’s gypsy quarter.

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Puente de Isabel II conecting central Seville with the Triana district.

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View across the Rio Guadalquivir towards the Triana district.

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Internet binge using the cafe wifi!

There’s so much to see in Seville that we couldn’t do it all and after two days we were feeling a little bit overwhelmed with information overload so decided to hit the road south following the Rio Gualdalquivir to the sea.

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Sanlucar de Barrameda.

We arrived in Sanlucar de Barrameda last night which seems to be a lively small coastal town at the mouth of the Gualdalquivir overlooked by a Moorish castle.

The rain has now stopped so it’s about time we got out to have an explore!

Hasta Luego!

 

 

Some of my best friends are donkeys…. .

Ok, so long time no blog post!  It’s fair to say I’ve left myself somewhat lacking on the blog front over the past few weeks and have left my multitude (aka – handful) of readers in the lurch so to speak.  Desculpe meus amigos!!

So, where are we?  We are currently parked up on the cliffs above Monte Clerigo beach, just outside Aljezur, Portugal watching the surf roll in whilst the rain comes and goes in waves.   Our time at Donkey HQ came to an end yesterday after eight donkey filled weeks and we were sad to leave but also ready to continue with our travels.

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Donkey HQ.

When we first embarked on our fifth Helpx assignment we didn’t think for a minute that we would stay for as long as we have but we had such an enjoyable time there that the weeks just went on by without us noticing too much.

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A terrace of pines.

We so enjoyed looking after all the donkeys and getting to know all their different characters.  Romano, the wise old grandaddy.

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Romano taking a nap.

Margarida, Miss Greedy.

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Margrida, eyes bigger than her belly!

Gentle Mocca.

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Gentle Mocca bringing up the rear.

None too bright Olivia – unfortunately I don’t seem to have aphoto of her:(

Xiquito, Olivia’s shadow.

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Xiquito gearing up for a roll in the sand!

Cheeky Emilio with the most beautiful ears.

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Beautiful boy, Emilio.

Elfrieda, Martha and Isadora, the guest donkeys, or ‘Algarve 3’ as I’ve been calling them.  Still sticking together and working as a team even after nearly two months at donkey HQ.

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Elfrieda, Martha and Isadora (aka the ‘Algarve 3’)

Jeco, the stoic little guy.

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Jeco seems to have Margarida’s bowl!

Xico, aka gnasher!

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Xico with the big teeth!

Steady Emil and friendly, inquisitive Falco.

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Emil (L) and Falco (R) enjoying breakfast in the sun.

And last but not least, and my all round personal favourite, Margalhaes now renamed Kali as no-one could remember or pronounce his name!

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Kali’s first trek to the beach and he’s working the crowd like a pro!

Sofia is passionate about her donkey family giving them a life that most donkeys in Portugal and around the world could only dream of.

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Our last walk with Emilio and Kali 🙂

They are so well cared for and it was a privilege to be able to be a part of their lives and routines for the time we were there.

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Romano checking out the new area of pasture.

Madan, our Nepalese housemate, has taught us much about Nepal and Nepalese cooking and we’ve enjoyed getting to know him.  We now have Nepal on our list to visit in the future!

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We have shared many meals.

We also mustn’t forget the hospitality Sofia’s parents, Raban and Nelly, have shown us sharing stories of their colourful lives with us.  Their zest for life at 81 years old is inspirational.

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Sofia, Raban and Nelly on New Years Eve.

The small community we have experienced here has been one of neighbours helping and looking out for each other sharing ideas, skills, machinery, equipment and time.

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Lovely, gentle Florin.

It has been a fantastic learning experience for us and we are leaving with very happy memories and would definitely like to return in the future.

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Walking the local area.

So, Kali says goodbye and wishes us safe travels on he next chapter of our journey wherever it will take us 🙂

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Tchau!!

Até a próxima!