Mmm, where to start? We’ve had a whirlwind of a week which has, once again, shot past. For the past eight days we have, along with Madan, our fellow Helpxer, been holding the fort here at Donkey HQ, up a lane, near Aljezur, Portugal.
When we originally talked about housesitting being a part of our travels I never expected our charges to be thirteen donkeys. Dogs, cats, maybe a few chickens or the odd rabbit yes, but donkeys, well, no. But that is what we have been doing for the last eight days as Sofia, Raban and Nelly flew off to sunny Paris last Thursday to spend Christmas with other members of their family.
We were a little bit daunted when the idea was mooted, a couple of weeks ago, that we could look after the house, donkeys, dog and cats whilst the family were away with lots of questions going through our minds. What if they get out? What if one has an accident? What if we get the feeding wrong? What if they throw an all night party? Or invite friends over through Facebook and everything is trashed? What if, what if, what if……?!
It has, however, been almost completely stress free and a pleasure to look after them all. We’ve only had a couple of incidents. Olivia was missing in action on Tuesday at the morning roll call. Tim and I split up to go and look for her and I heard her before I saw her as she was calling to the others. She’d managed to get her leg caught between the barbed wire on the fence in the bottom field. I don’t think she can have been trapped for too long as there wasn’t a mark on her. She just let me lift her leg up and out onto the right side of the fence and then went skipping off to regroup with the others.
Then yesterday morning we had an escapee. Well, it wasn’t exactly the great escape as she’d only gone a few steps from the field to the big pile of straw in the barn and was busy gorging herself! She was, nonetheless, free range and could have gone on a joyride in the car should she have so desired! It was one of the new ones, either Martha or Elfrieda, I still don’t know which is which. We’re still not sure how she got out but think she got through the bungey fence by the barn which is electrified. We’ve already had to put another bungey up at the far end of the field as she managed to limbo under the higher one! I think the three new donkeys are working as a team and plotting something. Them donkeys is organised! They seem to be one step ahead of us (not difficult).
So, all in all, the donkey care has gone extremely well and they all seem to be content. They’ve all been groomed up and look lovely until they then go and have a roll in the sandpit! Only Chico, or I should spell it Xico (he put me right on the spelling!), hasn’t been groomed as he has a mouth full of big teeth and he’s not afraid to use them! He caught me the other day on my thigh (through the trousers) leaving a cut and big bruise so we are a bit wary of him. Tim always keeps the wheel barrow between Xico and himself as a mode of self defence!
It’s like living on a safari park with all their chat though. Tim managed to record some of their conversations which will hopefully upload here.
Aside from the donkeys, Madan has been the dog and cat daddy for the week and sorted them out with feeding and the like whilst Tim and I have enjoyed having them as company in the evenings.
Christmas has obviously come and gone but we did make an effort on Christmas day to create as near to a traditional christmas lunch as we could for Madan, but sans the sprouts, as we couldn’t get any, and a chicken instead of turkey. I was pretty chuffed with my giant Yorkshire Pudding which came out a treat.
The gas oven here is a bit temperamental so it was touch and go on the YP front!
We’ve had time to cycle to the nearest beach which is about eight kilometres away and nearly all downhill on the way back.
Madan has cooked some epic food which I’m trying, and failing, to emulate. He manages to create such intense flavours from just a few ingredients.
I’m picking up quite a few tips from him and will be joining him for a ‘Madan Masterclass’ sometime soon to learn the secret of how he does it.
We are now looking forward this next week to a few days off to explore the area a bit more once Sofia returns.
So our donkey extravaganza continues 🙂 We have been at Burros and Artes for two weeks now and the time has just whizzed by.
The weather has been warm and sunny every day which makes the work a pleasure and never a chore. Tim and I have been doing various jobs alongside the donkey care. We needed to prepare a small area for three new donkeys which were arriving so that they could be separated from the main pack for a few days before gradually integrating them.
The electric fence needed to be repaired and the ground strimmed free of vegetation before their arrival.
They are on a two month trial here to see if the land here suits their feet/hooves better. There was much excitement when they arrived last week.
It was the first time they had been transported so they were a bit stressed when they arrived but soon settled down.
They are oh so pretty but a bit shy. They are beginning to get a bit bolder now though.
We had quite a noisy two days after they arrived with much donkey braying and general boisterous behaviour from them all. The original plan was to keep the three new arrivals separated from the resident pack for a few days but Falco managed to get through the electric fence to say hello and took quite a shine to the two new ladies! Best laid plans and all that! They are all in together now and seem to be getting on.
Sophia’s plan for the donkeys is to split them up into two groups during the day in different pasture areas. The large field behind the house is to be one area but we needed to repair the electric fence and strim the vegetation around it.
It was quite a big job but we made good progress over a few days and the field is now ready.
Sophia showed us how to tether three donkeys together to walk them up to the field which was easier said than done! As long as they keep moving it’s fine but if one decides to stop for a snack on the way then everything disintegrates into chaos!
Sophia, with her mother, has managed to walk eleven donkeys at the same time in this way but I think three were enough for us especially if Margarida is lead donkey as she does like her food!
Romano is the eldest donkey at around thirty years old. Up until a couple of days ago he was allowed special privileges and roamed free range around the garden.
Unfortunately, he has been eating the roses and damaging some trees so he is now back in with the other ones and he’s none too happy about it! He tries to escape back into the garden at every opportunity! He’s a wise old boy!
We’ve also been doing some grooming which goes down well with most of the donkeys. It’s a bit of a treat for them as they do enjoy it.
Aside from the donkeys we have been to the local Christmas market in Aljezur. It was mainly frequented by Dutch, German, French and English families who live in this area making and selling their own crafts and produce.
Music was laid on too.
We’ve also been learning about Nepalese cuisine and culture from Maden, our fellow Helpxer who is from Nepal. He showed us how to make Momo, a type of South Asian dumpling.
I think it’s fairly obvious which one I made without Tim pointing his sticky mitt at it!
So, all in all we’ve had a busy two weeks and we love it here. The countryside is beautiful and we are planning on doing some hiking on our days off over the next few weeks as I think we’d like to stay here at least six weeks.
Finally, we have at last had the boiler repaired. Yay! We drove back to Camperserv at the end of last week so we now have heat and hot water again. Not that we need it at the moment as our Helpx accommodation is great with the added bonus of a wood burner which we are making full use of!
Having spent just over a week in Lagos it was finally time to move on.
The weather improved on Monday 5th December 2016 so we moved 30km up the south west coast to stop in Aljezur for a couple of nights before starting our fifth Helpx assignment. More on our current Helpx later on in this post.
We were first introduced to Aljezur by our friends Chris and Di who have come here over the Christmas period on several occasions in their van. In 2013 we gate crashed their holiday by flying out to Portugal to meet them and we were really looking forward to coming back here in the van this time. It has been a really refreshing change leaving the hustle and bustle of the Algarve as this area is less touristy and much quieter. The area around Aljezur is mainly cork oak, eucalyptus and pine. There are also plenty of orange and lemon groves.
The weather since being here has been fabulous with warm sunny days so we took the opportunity to break out the bikes for a cycle up to the small town of Monchique. The market town sits below the mountain peak of Foia which is the highest peak in the Algarve at 902 metres above sea level.
We knew it was going to be mostly uphill all the way but I had miscalculated how far it was going to be. I thought it was about 20 kilometres but it is actually 20 miles to Monchique from Aljezur.
It took us over two hours but the views of the surrounding countryside were worth it!
By the time we got there we only really had enough time for a coffee and a quick sandwich before heading back down again.
So after a couple of nights in Aljezur we were welcomed at our current Helpx assignment. This one is turning out to be our dream Helpx! We are staying with a German family – Raban and Nelly (both 81!) and their daughter, Sophia. They have just over 50 hectares of land and Sophia runs a donkey trekking business 🙂 We are in donkey heaven here!
Sophia currently has thirteen donkeys, ten of which are here and three that are on their holidays with another farm. She also has another three arriving tomorrow.
They are sooo well looked after and we’ve spent the last five days, amongst other things, learning all aspects of donkey care! It’s just lush!
There is a clue in the title of this post as to what we have been doing this last week. In two words – not much! We arrived in Lagos last Saturday and amazingly, for us, we are still here. We have been staying at an aire on the outskirts of Lagos which is effectively a large carpark but it is inexpensive, has super fast wifi and a washing machine at €2 a go!
We’ve walked the coastline both east and west of Lagos and explored the old town.
The beaches, caves and rock stacks to the west of Lagos are amazing.
I love this type of coastal walking as there is always something interesting to look at along any given stretch. Huge sinkholes, caves, birds, the sea state and the changing colour of the stacks according to the sun and cloud cover.
Several boats were out taking people to see the caves. We had done a similar trip last year near Benagil which is definitely worth the trip to see the coastline from a different perspective.
Lagos has a very nice laidback vibe to it and we like it. It’s quite lively for this time of year with plenty of people about and most of the town centre shops, restaurants and bars open.
The weather has been pretty unsettled with a couple of huge thunderstorms and plenty of rain. It’s still warm though and a lot of the rain has been overnight. We’re still managing to get out and about everyday and stay dry!
We had a ‘day out’ to the south west coast to Praia da Cordama hoping to see some surfers out. We arrived just before a major thunderstorm which lasted a couple of hours before the sun reappeared.
As soon as the storm was over a mass of surfers emerged from numerous different vans to make the most of the clean and green surf. We walked the length of the beach and enjoyed just watching the surfers do their thing.
Praia da Cordama.
Tim celebrated his birthday yesterday in style by cooking a curry on the Cobb! It is his favourite thing to do and it keeps him quiet for ages with all that chopping to do! The weather yesterday was really warm and sunny just for Tim so we made the most of being outside for nearly the whole day.
We hadn’t intended staying more than a couple of nights in Lagos but we seem to be procrastinating over our next move. We have effectively come to a standstill paralyzed by indecision! Camperserv, who have custody of our boiler at the moment, aren’t able to get the parts they need to repair it until sometime between 14th December 2016 and 23rd December 2016. Aaarrrgggghhh! It’s frustrating, not so much in practical terms of managing without it, but the fact that we feel a bit tied down to not straying too far from the Algarve until we have the repair done.
Mmm, what to do. Galvanize ourselves into some sort of action is what is needed! We’ve got a few options kicking about at the moment.
Option 1. Apply for a housesit.
Option 2. Apply for another Helpx.
Option 3. Carry on up the south west coast of the Algarve and shoot back down to the garage when the boiler is ready to go back in.
Option 2 of applying for another Helpx is currently favourite as we’d really like to have a couple of weeks or so of doing something completely different.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Our next stop was at another reservoir, Barragem do Arade.
This is a great area for walking and cycling with numerous trails heading off in all directions.
We love the landscape here with Cork Oak and Eucalyptus trees intermingled with Medronho trees.
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.
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.
The castle is the most prominent monument in the town followed by the cathedral.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The old town was practically deserted but enjoyable for a wander around even in the rain.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The route returned via the old contraband tracks where coffee, sugar and flour, amongst other things, were traded.
We 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!
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.
Set on a steep hillside, Mértola’s history goes as far back as Phoenician times where it was an important river port.
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.
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!
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.
We stayed at the aire there on the quayside just outside the town.
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.
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.
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.
We are just outside Manta Rota now and will move a few miles west tomorrow.