Wednesday, 3 February 2016

And into Portugal

And into Potugal

Thursday 28th January 2016

This morning we left camping Aldea at El Rocio and headed towards Isla Cristina, but on the way we stopped off at ‘The Marismas de Odiel’ near Huelva.  This area still falls within the catchment of the vast Donana National Park which is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and also as a Biosphere Reserve. It's described as an ‘organic mosaic that includes lagoons, beaches, shifting and fixed sand dunes and salt mashes’ and it's home to, amongst other things,  an incredibly diverse number of water fowl. Additionally the area also has a duty to provide  for ‘their special protection’.   However, as we approached Huelva we felt slightly disappointed because we had to drive through vast areas of petrochemical refineries, and the smell of gas that pervaded the air made us think twice about stopping for very long.  

However, we did drive out along the narrow peninsula of land that accounts for the main part of the sanctuary for about 24 kms, and along the way we spotted hundreds more water birds of many varieties, and we also learnt that this area is home to ospreys and marsh harriers.  Sadly we didn't spot any of them, but we were lucky enough to see a kestrel in flight.  

Following our little adventure we pushed on towards Isla Cristina with the idea of possibly finding somewhere to ‘wild camp’, and we did spot one place where several vans had pulled up beside the road.  But following a quick reckky we found that the high dunes blocked the sea views and sections of the area were quite wet with muddy sand and therefore if we'd stopped we would have ran the risk of getting stuck, so in the end we trundled onto the the Giralda camp site with the intention of staying 2 or 3 nights.

Friday 29th January 2016

This morning we set off to explore the town of Isla Cristina on foot.  It's situated a short distance further down the coast from the heavily industrialised area of Huelva and only a stone’s throw from the Portuguese border.  As we walked along the beautiful Atlantic beach there were a huge number of empty shells, hopefully testimony that the numerous ‘fishermen’ wading out on the tides edge dredging the sand would do well in catching the sea’s bounty’  

However, we eventually ran out of beach and had to cross over a tidal inlet which led us up into the town, which is described on the info boards as  ‘quite new’ (originating in the late 18th century )!  Then it became established, mostly due to fishermen who found very rich pickings, and also for the extraction of salt - both of which industries are still very much in evidence today and provide the main source of employment for the area.

Our exploration of the town led us though the usual areas devoted to shopping, but then out to The Fishing Harbour were one of the information boards described it as being ‘the most important in Spain’.  It has a fleet of 258 boats,  which divide and specialise in; trawling - catches shrimp, lobster and hake; seining - catches sardines, anchovies and mackerel;  dredging - catches clams and razor clams; and then there are 22 more boats that are devoted to catching octopuses and 'other things'.  But at the time we were  passing I think most of the days major activity had been completed, however there were still a few men mending nets and catching a beer after a hard days work!   We also managed to miss the huge fish market - 1,262 square metres, but maybe that was a good job, because the T4rdis already had a full complement of food on board and additional supplies may have been more than could comfortably be managed!

A Stork with it's nest on top of a church

After our diligent explorations (where we spotted a religious stork),  we were quite hot and thirsty, so what better way to ‘chill’ that to sit on a white leather sofa right at the side of the beach with the waves washing up just a short distance from our toes, with a cool beer and a glass of  sweet wine white - not my usual cup of tea but very nice!

Saturday 30th January 2016

This morning it was another shall we stay or shall we go discussion.  Now, the only place to go was over the border and into Portugal - we’re very excited because it's now less than a week till we take up residence in Villa Maria where some of our family will be joining us for a week.  In the end we decided to go, and it was from here that the T4rdis did a bit of ‘time travelling’,  we left Spain at 12.30 and landed in Portugal at 11.30!  

And the journey didn’t take us long because the boarder was only a few kms up the road  - and once again,  although we had our passports at the ready there were no checks.  However, there was a lay-by and a sign that directed all foreign visitors to register their vehicle and credit card for the ‘electric toll’ roads.  But, we sailed on by because, at all ‘costs’ we intend avoiding them!

We soon settled in an Aire just a very short distance form the border on the Portuguese side in the little town of Castro Marim, but when we arrived we thought our plan would be thwarted because at first glance it seemed to be full (it’s free).

The T4rdis is in the line somewhere but difficult to spot
However, as we drove down the row we spotted a space and quickly slotted in.  We had lunch and then set off to explore the town who’s main claim to fame seems to be it’s Castelo de Castro Marim  and it’s nearby fortifications that can trace their history back to about the 13th century.  

From high up on the battlements we had a bird’s eye view of the surrounding town and for many miles out towards the coast and river estuary.  We could easily see over to Spain and we had a fantastic view of the bridge that is the only gateway from Spain into the Algarve.  

We also noted that we needn't have really worried about parking the T4rdis, because although the Aire was just about full, there was also a large number of vans parked on an adjacent parking area that stated ‘no camping cars’ - but some had definitely been there for a while!  We toddled back to the T4rdis for a cuppa, and we were just settling down when a knock came on the window - it was from an unkempt gentleman offering to sell us oranges or some rather lovely looking strawberries.  At first I refused because there looked to be about 2kgs of the latter and I thought we’d never eat them before they went off, but as he only wanted 3 euros for them I rushed out and brought them just before he pulled away in his rather nice BMW!  Well, what was I going to do with all those strawberries?  In the end we did a bit of ‘trading’ with our Dutch neighbours - they gave us oranges and we gave them strawberries - a very satisfying result all round.  Oh and the strawberries were delicious - just a shame we hadn't got any cream to go with them.

Then as the evening wore on more and more vans continued to arrive so we were really quite glad we'd got here  early and staked our claim, and now we’re here we plan to stay for a couple of nights..

Sunday 31st January 2016

This morning we unleashed our bikes form the back of the T4rdis and set out to explore the coastal area a bit more.  Initially, we needed to pedal down the a main road, but only for a couple of kilometres, and then we were able to pick up a cycle trail that led us into the coastal town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.  Here we found a commercial Aire on the outskirts of the town, but again, it was almost full and as it imposed a charge of 7 euros we decided the T4rdis would be best left where it was.  We continued on our way through the town and past it’s little marina and then out onto a narrow peninsula that terminated about 200 metres out into the sea, and it was here that we paused for coffee - and where a large number of feral cats kept us company!

Following our break we peddled through the town of Monte Gordo and just as we were leaving it’s boundary we found a multi use path that led us towards the sea.  We followed it for about 3 kms till we came to a boarded walkway that ran for about 200 metres and then chucked us out right onto the beach - it was splendid - miles of deserted sand, the waves lapping up the shore and all the peace and tranquillity we could want.  We sat and ate our lunch and sunbathed for a while and then retraced our steps along the board walk, but this time we took a different track that allowed us to stumble across a long distance path  that provides 214km of coastal cycling - mostly along the entire length of the Algarve. Therefore, our plan will be to try and pick up small sections of it as we go on from here!

Monday 1st February 2016

Only 3 more days to go till we arrive at Villa Maria for our ‘holiday’

This morning we left Castro Marim and headed out towards The Ria Formosa - only a short trip but we wanted to see the  swamp/wetlands area that forms another magnificent nature reserve. It is the biggest Portuguese lagoon system and the marshes are formed by the flooding of sea water at high tides.  As you would imagine the area has a very abundant population of birds and many make it their break-point when migrating between Northern Europe and Africa.

However, we weren't so lucky with what we could spot!  We saw a couple of herons a few black winged stilks, but other than that, in the bird department there wasn’t much to see.  But people were different!  Quite a few made their way down through the muddy mire to the water’s edge to dig up some sort of shell fish from the sand.

We sat in the T4rdis for a while and watched, then we sat for a bit longer and had our lunch, and then we decided we needed a bit of exercise so we went for a walk along the paved ‘road’ that forms part of the cycle track that we'd identified yesterday.  

Back at the T4rdis we did consider staying overnight, but as the area is part of a nature reserve we decided not to, so we headed onto the town of  Fuzeta where we  knew there was a camp site.  However, when we arrived the camp site looked crowded and there was a massive ‘over-spill’ (or was it just what they preferred) out onto the car park just in front of it - about 50 vans!  

Now, the car park had much better views than the campsite, but it also had very clear signs saying ‘NO CAMPING’ - so really, we had a bit of a disagreement as to where we should spend the night.  But in the end it was a mute point because the campsite had no room at the inn, so the car park it was, and it remains to be seen if we will be allowed to stay.  The campsite owner told us that the police do occasionally move vans on, especially if they're badly parked, (we’re very well parked with all four wheels in a bay!), but if they move one you would think they would have to move all, so for now it's just a case of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best!  And if we get away with it tonight - maybe we’ll see if our luck holds and stay another.

The T4rdis is on the right
Our final treat of the evening was 'a fly by' from a huge flock of flamingos.  They circled round several times before landing on one of the lagoons behind us, but the sight of them against the darkening sky was breathtaking.

Tuesday 2nd February 2016

Only 2 more days till we arrive at Villa Maria for our ‘holiday’!

Well we had a very peaceful night and no signs of anybody being moved on - not even the badly parked ones!  Really, we've been quite amazed at the number of vans about - many many more than in Spain.   But anyway, seeing as we got away with it last night we're definitely going to see if we can do it again and we’re staying put for another night.

This morning we set off to do a bit more cycling within the Ria Formosa Park, with the aim of following more of the coastal cycle track we'd identified a couple of days ago.  All started well with a very nice cycle path running through the lagoons where we were lucky enough to spot more storks, a lonely flamingo, egrets, black winged stilks and numerous ducks. 

However, we came a bit unstuck when the path ran out!  Our only choice was to cross a very dubious looking makeshift ‘bridge’ that somebody had fashioned out of what looked like two old doors, but to get to it you needed to slid down a muddy bank carrying your bike at the same time!  John made it across and encouraged me to follow, but I told him to ‘’ and that there was no way I was going to cross that!  So we back tracked with John chuntering under his breath - I did catch the word ‘wimp’ but I pretended I hadn't heard.  And really, it didn’t make that much difference, we soon picked our way around and only needed to join the road for a short distance before we came to the town of  Olhao. 

This proved to be another fishing port with all it’s paraphernalia - and guess what else - another huge area where motorhomes seemed to have taken over, despite the fact that the usual signs forbidding this activity were clearly visible and the area was opposite the police station!  We paused for lunch under the evil eye of a large gull, but we didn’t share, and then started our return journey where we had another break overlooking the marshes while we baked in the hot sunshine.

Back at the T4rdis we found a few of the vans had shuffled around and changed their spots, others had gone, and more still had joined the party so we're fairly sure we’ll be fine here for another night.

Following today's ride we've come to the conclusion that certain parts of this long distance cycle track have not been completed yet!  We investigated this further on a map and we could see the indicated line of the proposed route  but  we now know it would need to cross orchards, roads and even a train line, so maybe some of it is still in the planning stage - we’ll have to come back in several years to see if they've finished off.

Wednesday 3rd February 2016

Only 1 more day till we arrive at Villa Maria - hooray, hooray, HOORAY!

Now today we had a bit of a mission, especially as we didn’t know (to start with) if we'd manage to find a camp site or not!  After 4 nights of Aire/wild camping the T4rdis was in desperate need of ‘servicing’ (emptying out), so John consulted our trusty Aires book and found one about 15kms inland from our present position.  Off we went down little narrow roads twisting and turning, and then when we reached the town of  Estoi we had to battle our way around the one way system until we found the very nearly full Aire.  However, that didn’t matter because we had no intention of stopping, so once the deed was completed and the T4rdis was feeling more comfortable again, we were soon on our way to Quarteira which is only a few kilometres from our final destination for tomorrow.  

Here, we had identified another Aire, but as today was Wednesday, which also happens to be market day, the Aire was closed to motorhomes until 5pm.  When we arrived the roads all around, and also the very large adjacent car park were very congested, not only with cars but with several dozen vans waiting for the Aire to reopen.  Therefore, we put plan B into action and toddled a little further down the road to where we knew there was a campsite.  Happily, they had plenty of room so our earlier mission had been unnecessary, but hey ho, at least we would have been prepared if needed.

Anyway, we entered the huge site and almost had to switch Miss Snoopy (sat nav) on to find our way to a pitch, but now we’re tucked away on a ‘rustic’ bit of land that in the ‘scenic department’ isn't a patch on the last couple of nights spot, and to say the least, it’s expensive. Also, to add insult to injury the facilities are basic - but never mind it’s only for one night.

So that's it for now, and the plan is to have a weeks holiday where we can enjoy some quality time with our family - we can't wait to see them all but we're especially looking forward to spoiling our grandchildren.

Click here to see our Spanish and Portuguese camping spots