As the title suggests we have wondered way off track! The signs for Portugal were tempting for both of us, Sharon loves ‘Piri Piri Frango’ and I had a thirst for Sagres beer so we continued down the costal road to Portugal. Enroute, we stopped off at El Rabida which has a monastery where Christopher Columbus sought advice, and at Isla Cristina which is famed as being one of Andalusian’s best beaches. Here we lunched on cheese and ham toasties using yesterday’s bread. We are still well within budget by the way, 3 litre boxes of wine are helping both our economy and the world’s environment. We had a camper scare enroute in an unknown town where I foolishly pulled off the main drag to follow a ‘brown’ castle road sign. We ended up in a pebbled street with town houses on either side and the Suntor just fitting under the 1st floor balconies….thank you to the un-known Spanish builder who ‘signed’ us down the hill, needless to say we never saw the castle and gave up the ghost.
Once in Portugal we settled nicely in Vila Real do Santo Antonio, which is separated only by the river with Spain. We had a waterside view again……….
Camperstop at Vila Real looking back across to Spain
Friday night did not produce a chicken dinner as we actually weakened and ate at an all you can eat Chinese buffet, we were feeling ‘rich’ as we had only spent 200 euros between us during the last week, including fuel. On the way home from the restaurant, near the camper stop I almost tripped over a dog who must have been a stray. Till this day, ‘Nacho’ as we called him, calls on our hearts. We saw him the next day and we tried to call him over but unfortunately he did not know his new name.
Piri Piri Frango and Vino Verde
We stayed in V.R.S.A on Saturday too, this time to fulfil the Piri Pir Frango desire, we ate like kings in the main square for just 4.90 euros each. Mission accomplished, smiles all around. Portugal is definitely good for food.
Praia Verde was the next stop where we both entered the sea, alone. The locals walking their dogs with scarves and coats looking at us in bewilderment. It was not that cold honest.
Castro Marim, a small town with an imposing fortress was next, where we took the bikes out around a famed Flamingo wildlife park. I think I spotted a sparrow and a rabbit, none of the pink stuff today. To make up for the lack of befriending Nacho the dog, we fed the local stray cats GoCat biscuits. (A continued thanks to Chris and Co. for looking after our cats, who we miss).
Free camperstop at Alcoutin. The fort in the distance is in Spain
Carol and Ian that we met in Sanlucar highlighted Alcoutin to us, where you can zip wire it from Spain to Portugal over the river. This seemed a must for both of us, but unfortunately it was too windy when we arrived, and the zip wire was closed. We therefore spent the time wondering another walled town complete with castle…………….We did see a wild turtle though at Alcoutin’s strange river side beach.
Leaving Alcoutin we picked up Berlin hitchhiker Anna who wanted to go to Mertola, which was on our route to Sao Domingo. On a previous a visit to the Algarve we visited Mertola, another walled castle town, but this time the excavations were more complete revealing an Islamic village at the foot of the castle. Anna was interesting, her tour started in the Canaries, and she was travelling by foot (it was raining heavily when we picked her up) and sleeping under the stars, even in cities, which we both thought was brave. Power to her and the trustworthy world she lives.
Open mine at Sao Domingos
Sao Domingos was STRANGE. An old mining site and village set up by a British company called Mason and Barry. It was pretty uncomfortable learning how the British kept themselves separated by what seemed to be the Portuguese mining slaves. Small one bed cottages lay next to the British Palace where the management lived together with their private police force employed to keep the Portuguese workers inline.
On the ‘Rota das Minas’ walk
A 14km ‘rotas das minas’ walk through the ruins of what was the mine (closed in 1966) concreted our thoughts on the poor working conditions and segregation. To make a small balance we visited a very local bar and drank a few wines (2e). I am unsure how to weave in SUP boarding into this, but we did do it on our return to the van as we bumped into Carol and Ian who we met in Sanlucar and Ian turned out to be a proficient SUP boarder!
Sharon and Matt SUPing on the lake at Sao Domingos
Eight years ago I wound up at Beja and stayed the night. During the time I spent in the city (walled with castle again) I ate at a really good churrascaria called ‘Churrascaria do Alemao’ and found some friendly local bars. So the aim for this trip, with Sharon in toe, was to try and retrace my steps this time by day. We found the barbecue restaurant almost too easily, we had parked next to the place by pure chance (I can remember only that I had a good time in Beja, but the details are a little foggy!). So next up were the bars, and this proved to be much harder as I was convinced that I crossed the old town nearer to where I was staying……After two laps of the old city and a (in)famous ‘Matt’ grump brewing (“I don’t want to go out/my shoes hurt”) and a very patient Sharon, we tried the bar opposite the restaurant. Needless to say this was the one and therefore I must have stumbled out of the restaurant and headed straight to the nearest bar, typical.
Whilst walking back to the van we spotted a poster for a festival called OviBeja and this was something that we had read about in the Lonely Planet. It was the first day, so we went into the nearest café to ask for more information. This enquiry led us being chauffeured over to the festival site by Bejan local Eduardo (Obrigado che). The festival itself was a bit of a strange mix – by day it was like a ‘country county’ show full of livestock and stalls selling riding boots. By night it turned into a party with 10’s of barbeque eateries, top line bands and DJ’s until 4am. We almost stayed the distance fuelled by a really good sit down barbeque, but by 2am the caipirinhas had kicked in and it was time for bed. On the way home we got lost so we asked a couple who were passing by. This led to another lift back to the car park that we were staying in. By co-incidence they lived in the apartment block opposite and again ‘obrigado’ to whoever you were. So, by my book, Beja has now scored 2 out of 2 for friendly people and a place where you can have fun. Ate mais Beja.
Enroute back to Spain we stayed a Serpa which again was a whitewashed walled town with a castle and aqueduct. It was stunning and peaceful and we used the time to recover from OviBeja……
Trip food summary so far: Portuguese bread, French cheese and cheap Spanish wine. Consumed not necessarily in that order.