“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Day 51 – 24th June 2009 – Wednesday, Still in Fuseta.

Ant has strung his entire wardrobe up around the van for an airing this morning and finally found the culprit for the hideous prawn smell in the van – so we have washed his jumper too.
I went to the post office this morning to collect the new part, which should mean we can get going again tomorrow once it’s fitted, (Provided Ant doesn’t pass out on the cat crap fumes when he’s lying underneath the van… I don’t envy him at all).

Day 50 – 23rd June 2009 – Tuesday, Fuseta.

This campsite is home to a huge number of cats; some of them we assume to be strays. The place is made all the more welcoming for them since some bright spark decided to cover all the pitches in gravel instead of grass. It’s mostly sheltered from the wind making it nice and hot for them and the number of mobile homes and permanent caravans gives them some shade whenever they need it (unlike us paying residents), so when the wind does blow you welcome the breeze and turn your face to it to cool down, only to be instantly choked by the smell of a thousand cat craps hitting the back of your throat… not nice at all, and to make matters worse it only seems to be where we are pitched! But last night we were sitting by the van with our Irish coffees as usual (bottle number 5 now Alan) when the Germans opposite shone their trillion-candle torch directly at Bee and the end of our pitch… turns out next door have 5 small kittens, look about 11-12 weeks old, and mum had brought them all out from underneath next doors caravan last night for a bit of night air – very cute.

Day 48 – 21st June 2009 – Sunday, Fuseta, The Algarve.

Ant got up to perform some routine checks on the rear brakes this morning at the same time as looking to make sure the noise we had been hearing was nothing to worry about. The good news is the noise was nothing to worry about and the brakes are all fine, but the not-so-good-news is that he noticed one of the brand new CV boots has split on the driver’s side and so we need to get hold of a new one before we do too many more miles on these unmade roads. Went to the beach to think about a plan.

Day 49 – 22nd June 2009 – Monday, Fuseta, The Algarve.

Thank heavens for Mothers, modern day postage, and ‘VW Heritage’ in Burgess Hill. Our new boot should be here within a few days.
The heat isn’t so stifling today and we have rigged up some shade next to the van with material sheets (the ground is too hard to put the awning up). So trying to stay out of the sun as much as possible today. We are still drinking the water as opposed to buying bottled and getting through a fair few litres each every day, most of which is sweated out within minutes! Eugh. We have no idea what the temperature is, but it sometimes feels on a par with African heat.
Ant has started whittling chess pieces from wood collected in different countries. Looking good so far… he has 4 rooks, 4 knights and half a bishop.

Day 47 – 20th June 2009 – Saturday, Fuseta, The Algarve.

We are in the National Park area of the Ria Formosa. Just 9kms from Olhao and we have found a site on the coast with few Brits and not many high rise flats. We spent the day on the beach, a very calm and warm sea, protected by smaller islands just off the coast which you can reach either by a passenger ferry or when the tide is out it probably wouldn’t be too long a swim. We spent the evening cooling down back at the van listening to a live band across the campsite playing such classics as The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. A few wines later and everything was all right with the world.

Day 46 – 19th June 2009 – Friday, Olhao, The Algarve.

We set off within a reasonable time heading for Albufeira, a town I had been to on holiday as a kid. Unfortunately, after driving less than an hour to the town, we then spent another hour driving around trying to find a campsite or a tourist office to find out where we could pitch. No such luck. The place was very much more built up than I remember and instead of the tiny cobbled streets with rows of craft shops and stalls that I imagined, we saw glass-fronted hairdressers and fashion shops, UK minimarkets advertising themselves with ‘feel at home here with the best of British foods’ printed across enormous British flags in the windows, I found it all a little shameful actually. So we continued towards Vilamoura, another town that my family had taken me to for my 30th birthday, but again we found no campsites, just blocks and blocks of apartments and holiday villas, golf clubs and spa resorts. Some English we had met along the way had told us about a fishing port called Olhao to the west of Faro and on the outskirts of the tourist strip which we decided to get to instead.
The campsite we found was a couple of kilometres outside the town, but had a pool and some shade, so we chilled out there for a while and decided to move on again in the morning.

Day 45 – 18th June 2009 – Thursday, Lagos

Severely hung-over – in fact I don’t think I left the van all day! Ant went down to the beach for a few hours in the afternoon.

Day 44 – 17th June 2009 – Wednesday, Lagos.

Went for a brief walk into the historic town of Lagos and spent the rest of the day on the beach. We then went to the bar for a couple of beers (intermixed with tequila and a very strange and vivid turquoise shot) before coming home for some food and a shower. We headed back to the bar about 8, which was a mistake. I think we got home after 4am – very much worse for wear having been taken round various bars in the town by the barman and his mates.

Day 43 – 16th June 2009 – Tuesday, Lagos – The Algarve

The noise we hoped wasn’t the wheel bearings has miraculously stopped – we hope it was just a stone trapped in the wheel somewhere.
We arrived in the South of Portugal in late afternoon to searing heat and a campsite with rock solid ground that we cannot put tent pegs into. But hey, we are in an area where they speak English, the sun is shining, the beer is cold and the beach is 5 minutes walk away so the world is looking good.
Found a lovely small quiet beach (Praia Batata) with its own bar complete with Kings of Leon CD collection and barman who insists each pint comes with a free shot!

Days 40-42 – 13th – 15th June 2009, Porto Covo

Arrived in Porto Covo and set up under Eucalyptus trees at a campsite on the beach, just north of the town. I feel a bit drained, so we decided to stop for a few nights to chill. The miles are hard in Portugal, the maps don’t match the road, (or the TomTom), the road signs are few and far between and driving by compass on cobbled streets is frustratingly slow and laborious.
Figure 31 Fire truck in LagosBut we went to the beach in the morning on Sunday, before rain stopped play and we came back to the van to read. We noticed the odd burying beetle during the day in amongst the masses of ants that we were parked over, but you couldn’t help but notice them at night. I knew the beetles were huge and that they sometimes flew, but I didn’t realise they all did it in unison every night. And I really wasn’t prepared for the noise that they make when large numbers of them start flying around your head in the dark.

Day 39 – 12th June 2009 – Friday, Sao Martinho do Porto

Lots of driving, it’s hard going on these roads and slow work to cover any distance, because all the villages merge into one, feels like a constant 50Km/hr speed restriction. We wildcamped (along with 17 other mobile homes) and went out for a gorgeous fish meal in the small town of Sao Martinho. It is a Portuguese holiday of some kind this week, so the night ended with a firework display and funfair on the beach.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Day 38 – 11th June 2009 – Thursday

It’s reassuring to know that the English are not the only race who insists on speaking slower and louder in their own language when they suspect someone doesn’t understand them; The French who parked behind us yesterday left early this morning – I think in disgust at the lack of understanding amongst the Portuguese.
The sea wasn’t as wild as it had been when we arrived last night, and the sun was threatening to make an appearance so we got moving mid morning after dippy eggs (that weren’t so dippy) and bread. The roads are much worse than in Spain and the map we have is almost worthless… all the numbers are different and the roads that appear as one continuous route on paper are actually a collection of different roads joined by mazes of one-way streets. Thank heavens for the TomTom.
We stopped for lunch at Mira beach and continued along the coast towards Figueira da Roz. We are currently camped in the pine woods opposite the town on the estuary. And when I say in the woods, I mean between trees only 8 feet apart which almost touch the van on all sides! Our cable is only 10 metres long which limits our parking options, especially at campsites with such huge gaps between electricity outlets.
Our Portuguese isn’t great and since we are both a country behind most of the time, many people are still getting the worst of our Spanish – we have yet to negotiate the Portuguese shopping experience. Thankfully fuel payment (although hideously expensive) is dealt with by a pump attendant.

Day 37 – 10th June 2009 – Wednesday, Portugal

This morning was at least warm, and my luke warm shower was blessed with a Portuguese singing cleaner who had a surprisingly good voice. Some English had arrived overnight too so we swapped one of the books we’d both read with 4 loo rolls and set off, optimistic of a new country and a change in the weather.
We followed the road South and made good progress until we reached Regua and we turned to follow the Douro river all the way to the coast stupidly thinking it would be a flatter drive. It took us nearly 3 hours to cover 70kms! Zig-zagging up and down mountains past endless fields of vines and olive trees, with every bend in the road featuring it’s own Portuguese widow selling oranges or cherries in her standard black outfit with pinny. Washing hung from lines along the side of the road and stray dogs wandered the streets, all the while the locals would stop what they were doing and either stare, smile, or in the case of the little kids, wave madly as we passed. Lots took photos, others just laughed but when three cars in a row flashed their lights at us, we began to question whether or not something was wrong.. we stopped to look… all looked fine.. we continued… more flashing… we rounded a bend and found people in the road cutting long sticks from the hedges ON THE BEND!! We continued until another bend and more cars flashing ??? eventually we came across some police in a layby pulling cars in – thankfully we drove straight through, the chance of us even reaching the speed limit in this terrain, let alone being caught breaking it would be a minor miracle. The flashing stopped.By 6pm we had reached Porto on the coast, depressingly it was grey, misty and starting to rain again. We found a campsite near the beach at Vila Novo de Gaia, ate and slept, Ant repeating his ‘tadtut’ mantra (There’s another day tomorrow un-touched).

Day 36 – 9th June 2009 – Tuesday

Got up to yet more rain. Decided to get on the main road south and cover some miles in the hope things would improve. That’s when we discovered just how high up we were! Oops!
We set off as quickly as possible, refuelled, stocked up the cupboards and reached the Portuguese border just after lunch. We booked into the first campsite we found just south of Chaves before it started raining again. Becoming a joke now. So we cooked some food, whilst listening to Eddie Murphy doing stand up, before digging out the trivial pursuit CD and going head to head for a couple of hours. Went to bed… still raining. ps: For Matts benefit, the photo shows the best place for a 2CV - suspended above a junk yard in the Spanish mountains!

Day 34 – 7th June 2009 – Sunday – NOT Fathers day!

we were woken by the arrival of weekend fishermen, so we got up and set off within the hour. Sun shining, but very chilly – we have no altimeter, but figure we must still be quite high up. We reached Pueblo de Sanabria and turned North to towards the lake where the signs indicated campsites in abundance. The first 3 were shut. So we have set up here at El folgroso and intend to stay two days whilst we learn some Portuguese and wait for the rain to stop… PLEASE STOP NOW – HAD ENOUGH RAIN. I can’t believe a week ago we were lying on a beach, scantily clad, using factor number 20 and now we’re sat in the awning, me wearing four layers, a hat and scarf!

Day 35 – 8th June 2009 – Monday

Still freezing and still raining.
But we made the effort and got kitted out in our waterproofs and went to see the lake. Ant lasted 20 minutes before turning back, and I went on for another hour before heading back, right before the sun finally appeared… typical.
Café shut and the fridge is looking bare, so it was a beans and rice night again! No alcohol left and still sleeping in hats and scarves. Not happy.

Day 33 – 6th June 2009 – Saturday

We were woken by fisherman arriving, so got up, had breakfast and set off again in brighter weather. The drive today could not have been more different than yesterday. Long, straight, flat roads, through arable farmland and small villages. We drove South for most of the day, passing fields full of giant White Stork grazing on insects and started to see more of the typical random old, toothless Spanish men sat in doorways or wandering aimlessly along the streets – all would stop and stare at the van. Even the children would stop and smile as we drove past. As we reached Benevente in the later afternoon, we started looking for a campsite. We found 3 – they were all either closed or shutdown. So we decided to drive another hour and wildcamp again. We had not filled the water butt, but figured we could do another night with what we had.
We turned West towards the coast and followed the 525 which runs parallel to the main road along the Spain/Portugal border. We reached Rionegra de Puente before we found a suitable spot to stop. Again on the river, the small town had very strange church bells – sounded more like those chiming doorbells some people have in their homes; We both expected to hear a tannoy announcement every fifteen minutes after they went off.
The picnic area had barbecues, tables and came with its own herd of sheep that came storming through after tea time, banging into the van as Ant managed to retrieve anything that was outside before it got munched!

Day 32 – 5th June 2009 – Friday

Today was a cloudy start again. We emptied the now brown water from our barrel and filled with clean clear water! And set off fairly early to explore the Picas De Europa mountain range. We stopped in a thunderstorm for Ant to have a fry up and continued climbing until we were beyond the clouds – very eerie. As we came down the other side, the sky cleared and we saw sun again. However, no sooner had the road flattened, when we had hail stones!!! We reached the lake at Riana in the centre of the National Park, but because the weather was so bad, we drove straight through without stopping. We had to find somewhere outside the park boundary to sleep before it got too dark.
We found a perfect spot on the River Esla just south of Cremenes. Picnic tables and parking area right on the river. Only a few fishermen and a couple of local boy racers parked up at various points throughout the evening so it was nice and peaceful. The weather even broke to allow me 30 minutes with my macros lens. There were however quite a few flies, so we decided to try out our new sticky fly tape trap thing…. a decision which cost me a large chunk of hair that had to be cut off 6 inches from the end! – won’t be using those again. I also managed to slice into my index finger with a bread knife, not impressed. Still at least the swelling has gone down in my left eye.
Due to all the rain, Ant had to remove all the under-van storage boxes, dry the contents again and empty the water out, a task which was completed by moonlight. The northern Spanish Mountains in June are not warm, not pretty and not advisable.

Day 31 – 4th June 2009 – Thursday, Noriega

Clouded over today, but our resident green woodpeckers are up and about feeding their young right outside our awning. We have decided to stay on another night here whilst Ant checks through the electrics again as the fridge is not getting cold at all now. The light comes on inside, but no change in temperature and although I’m not a huge fan of muesli at the best of times, when its covered in luke warm UHT its almost unbearable. Also the bulb has blown in Bees main interior light leaving us with the bedroom ceiling lights only and two solar garden lamps outside, which are only enough to indicate where the awning is after a midnight pee, but nothing more.
Ant has also now discovered that one of the solar panels on the roof is kicking out much less power than the other, in fact hardly anything at all, which would explain why the leisure battery is not charging when we are stationary. That along with the split relay blowing fuses, stopping the alternator from charging the leisure battery when we are driving, we aren’t doing too well electrically.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Day 30 – 3rd June 2009 – Wednesday. Noriega we think!

Found, by accident, a small and fairly evenly price (in comparison) campsite called ‘El Mirador de Llavandes’ someway past Santander. Has an owner who speaks French which is handy, a free Wifi zone in the bar which is even handier and hot powerful showers… Heaven. We are the only people here since we discovered that the Spanish season doesn’t start until 15th June and we can only use one ring on the stove without tripping the 6A fuse box. But all is looking much better today. The sun is shining, the birds are everywhere (as are the damn frogs) and the only thing troubling me is a mosquito bite that has swelled up on my left eye making it painful to open – and that was even after Ant’s 3 hour vigil in the van Monday night trying to kill it and stop it biting me whilst I slept on oblivious.

Day 29 – 2nd June 2009 – Tuesday, Loredo to somewhere West of Santander.

No sooner had the ‘jugloo’ been born when we woke to find some portaloos being installed – Typical!

Day 28 – 1st June 2009 – Monday, Ajo - Loredo

Spent the day on the beach at Ajo, Bee being admired by the surfers to the point where we returned to have something to eat in the afternoon and found three guys peering into the windows and one guy underneath taking photos of Bees undercarriage!
After a brief dip in the sea, we moved on to the beach at Loredo further along the coast where we ate, had more photos taken and slept overnight along with 3 other campers; a Dutch couple, two Spanish surf dudes and a posh mobile home.

Day 27 – 31st May 2009 – Sunday

The showers were freezing. The frogs were louder than the dogs all night and the neighbours have some very strange noises coming from their mobile home, like someone pretending to be a horse!!! I hope we haven’t installed ourselves amongst some weird swinging fetish community.
We have decided to spend tomorrow on the beach at Ajo and then move off somewhere early evening to eat and sleep, which meant we needed to fill the water barrel and charge the fridge etc before we left and here’s where I soooooooo wish I’d waited ten minutes before my cold shower, sounds like I missed a corker … Ant went to fill up the water container (it is in fact a large beer brewing barrel and so very heavy when full), our pitch is about 100 yards or so from the washing up area and although there is a long sloping hill to reach it, there is also a short and very steep bank. He could not see any suitable water taps that would normally be found in such a block, so he ended up filling from the sink into our jug and then pouring from the jug into the barrel, repeating for some time until the thing was nearly full (watched the whole time by one of our Spanish neighbours). Heaving the barrel into his arms he set off again back to the van, but decided for some unknown reason to use the grassy bank instead of the slope (?)…. And the inevitable happened. Apparently it was more a slip than a trip, but it prompted our helpful Spanish neighbour to get involved. He approached Ant pointing and explaining something in Spanish before guiding him to an outdoor water tap not more than 10 yards from our awning!!! LOL. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Ant then felt the need to demonstrate that he knew how to use the thing by turning it on and immediately off again (??). I have never seen Ant go red, but I imagine he was a lovely shade of crimson by the time he sank back into the shadows of our awning.
I returned from the shower and after hearing about the tap incident, I looked across to the bank and tried to picture the fall itself, but by the time I had stopped giggling hysterically, he refused to elaborate anymore on the details. He did admit only that he thought his bum did make contact with the ground before he sprung back up again without spilling a drop. Yeah yeah.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Day 26 – 30th May 2009 – Saturday

It was a little after dawn that we set off, spirits a little brighter and hoping for a better day. We drove straight to the coast (past the very industrial and very smelly port town of Bilbao) and stopped at the tourist office in Castro Urdiales to collect more maps of the area and a campsite listing. Feeling more optimistic, we chose a campsite near the beach at Ajo and set off again on the 40kms journey.
As we found the village and followed the signs to the campsite, we rounded the corner and saw the beach on our right and the campsite on our left…. Perfect. Surfers, sunshine, and still the rest of the day to enjoy it …. until we discovered the price!!! Way outside our budget, and way beyond what we thought was reasonable for a patch of land for two people to park and sleep for a few hours. So sadly, we left the campsite and followed the manager’s instructions to find another a bit further around the village towards the lighthouse.
We found it. It’s cheaper, not by much, but it’s cheaper. I negotiated a couple more Euros off his original price and we settled on a two-night deal.
It’s a bit chavvy and has jet fighter planes going over every few minutes; but it’s hot, sunny and I don’t feel like swimming today anyway. Good job here too as the ‘pool’ is half filled with green slime. I’ve yet to brave the showers.

Day 25 – 29th May 2009 – Friday

We stayed around the campsite reading all morning in the sun before setting off around 1:30pm. The road was again stunning, but very steep. Inorder to get to the coast, we had to cross the Sierra De Urbasa, which meant a slow and steep climb and then a very long zig-zag decline. The view from the top was awesome, the entire valley was visible as well as the red kites nests on the rocks. We drove on.
Still nowhere obvious to pull in and sleep, so we turned to the TomTom for advice. It suggested that there was a camping ground not more than 8km from where we were parked. When we got there it had been shutdown (looked beautiful and perfect for us too). It was only 5:30pm and the sun was still beating, but the drive was in deep woodland and so sheltered from the sun and the road. This campsite was the only one for miles around, so a bit dejected, we decided to back Bee up to the locked gates and stay overnight anyway. Perched on our chairs between the bumper and the gates we ate, read for a while then went to bed at 9:30pm (still daylight!), intending to make a dawn start.

Day 24 – 28th May 2009 – Thursday, the road to Pamplona, Spain.

A gloriously sunny day. If a bit stressful. Finding campsites here in the mountains is proving tricky; France seemed to be dotted with them at every town or village we passed, but Spain is a completely different story.
We travelled toward Pamplona and only saw one campsite, but unfortunately couldn’t stop as we still had not found anywhere to buy food (or even just bread for that matter!) – Gorgeous scenery, we followed the Aragon river, passed lakes and waterfalls etc, but nowhere to shop or sleep.
We eventually stopped in Pamplona itself and walked someway from where we parked to find a supermarket and stock up. Then hastily backed out of town again – too much traffic, too many people and some very confusing road signs!
We eventually gave up looking for somewhere to wildcamp when 5pm came and we still hadn’t eaten again. We got to a small town called Irache near Estella in the Navarre region and took a lovely (but expensive) pitch with its own running water, electricity and ant’s nest.
The sun was still scorching by the time we ate, but we managed to stop being frustrated long enough to formulate a plan for the next few days. Head North, find the beaches and follow the coast, with any luck the campsites will be cheaper and more plentiful there.