07.02.16…….Castro Marim, Portugal
On the 7th of March we crossed the bridge over the River Guadiana and entered Portugal. Our intended first night was to be the small town, just over the border, called Castro Marim. Before I write about our adventures I do have to explain about the major problems we know we will have all along the southern coast of Portugal because of the French. Every year around 26,000 French motorhomes and caravans are driven over to Morocco so the lovely French people can enjoy the lovely warm winters there. A French citizen was beheaded by Isis in Algeria and we all know about the terrible, recent events in Paris and around so the French Government have declared a terrorist threat warning on travels over to Africa. Why, you may ask, is that going to affect us? Because they are all here in the Algarve!!! Normally getting onto sites and camper stops is no problem in the quiet, off season months and we have had no problems along the coast of Spain. As we pulled into Castro Marim we saw that the official Aire was completely full. We went round to the large town car park and found that crammed as well with mainly French motorhomes and we had already passed other vans parked up around the streets. As we had driven about 4 hours then Tom and I parked our vans among the many there. We hadn’t realised the extent of the problem until we arrived here.
So we parked up and were soon wandering around the town and visiting the Moorish castle that sat on the hills around us. We all took it in turns to be photographed in the stocks by the main tower but luckily there were no supplies of rotten fruit to hand when it came to be my turn.
Despite the fact that it was a Sunday, the supermarket was open so we were able to buy some much needed supplies. Our Portugal guide book told us that the town used to be a centre for salt production but the “Salinas” (the salt ponds) and the surrounding marshes are now home to many bird species as the area is now a National Park.
Despite this massive influx of motorhomes people were very friendly and helpful and I got into a delightful chat with a Portuguese chap that had set up a small brazier outside the supermarket and was selling hot chestnuts. The taste was superb and Jo was soon hot footing it there to get another bag. Other than the barking of a couple of dogs we had a quiet night’s stay but we were quite keen to move on the next day away from this crowded car park.
8th, 9th February……Manta Rota
We pulled into Manta Rota which was only a few kilometers up the coast and headed for an Aires in the town. Because we had only driven a few miles there we got there quite early and we just managed to get the last couple of spaces available and the French were there in force and many of them were set up for long term stays. The beach car park was already filled with mainly French vans despite the numerous signs about no overnight stays. Having got ourselves parked on this very cheap site we decided on a two day stop.
This is a very small town right by the most beautiful beach that goes on for miles up and down the coast and we soon spotted a wooden walkway that would be perfect as a cycle way to visit other places on our bicycles.
First of all we walked around the few shops in the town and we earmarked a nice looking restaurant for a visit the following evening. It was called Mar’s Bar and it was the name that caught our eye which made us read the menu. We then walked down to the beach and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the afternoon sun.
On Tuesday, it was fairly cloudy when we woke and it looked as though it would stay that way but luckily it started to get a little brighter. Elaine, Jo and I decided to take a cycle all along the boardwalk to a small town we could see back along the beach. Jo will not let me cycle behind her and always insists I go in front so she can keep an eye on me. Just because I once grabbed hold of the pannier on her bike and had a free ride for quite a way whilst she huffed and puffed, not realizing my free tow. Elaine, also, is constantly aware and I am sad that I am no longer trusted.
The three of us had lunch in a small, sports bar, just off the beach before starting on our way back. It actually started to spit with rain but it soon stopped and we enjoyed the exercise of the cycle back which gave us an appetite for our restaurant meal that evening. Washed and changed, we went off to Mar’s Bar and had a very enjoyable evening. An Irish ex-pat lady came over to chat with us and despite the fact that she had enjoyed quite a few of the beverages from the bar; she gave us lots of ideas of places to visit. She spent the whole time dragging at the waist band of her jumper as she said she had shrunk it earlier that day.
Tavira is a large town just a little way further along the coast. The large car park which our book says is designated as a free aire is right behind the very large municipal indoor fruit and fish market. We bought some lovely fruit and vegetables and Jo and I chose two large fish that we would barbecue that evening. Now we are in Portugal, we can no longer use our Three Network phones and our internet device. I went off into town and bought a MEO, Portuguese sim card with internet for my phone and another sim card for my internet device. Now we can use the internet wherever we are without having to go especially onto a site to be able to use the internet.
After lunch we all went into town, first to the phone shop for Tom and then we went around the town to see what we could see. We found the castle and the large church and saw lots of houses covered with tiles which we have seen in the other small towns we have visited. Everyone seems very friendly but so far each place we have been to, appears to be a bit shabby and in need of care and attention. Whatever the time of day the bars appear full and I presume that it is a sign of high unemployment. Certainly we are noticing quite a difference between Spain and Portugal.
Later on, back at the motorhomes, I got our barbecue out and Jo and I prepared the fish. I started and then cut a chunk out of my finger nail with the sharp knife so to stop marinating the fish with my blood Jo had to carry on with the 2nd fish. Elaine and Tom were not so keen on our barbecued fish so Jo and I enjoyed most of what we had prepared. We did have a fairly latish night as we intended to stop there the following day.
At 8 o/c the next morning Tom knocked on our door to say that the local police had arrived and were sending the French motorhomes, parked down the bottom of the park, on their way. That is the very quickest we have ever been ready for the off and in no time we were exiting the car park and on our way. It was really quite funny (and just a little exciting) but I soon became quite unhappy because I was driving along and I hadn’t even had my breakfast before starting off which is unheard of.
11th, 12th February………Fuseta
We drove straight passed the car park full of French motorhomes (despite all the camping forbidden signs) and drove straight on to the campsite in the town. Normally Elaine and Jo sort the paperwork at each new site and chose which pitch we would want so I started to tuck into a bowl of cereal. Back they came…… they wanted help this time so I reluctantly got out of the van and walked around still eating my bowl of bran flakes much to the amusement of the campers there. I explained in French to anyone who wanted to listen what had happened to us but didn’t add that it was because of all their compatriots deciding to change their holiday destination.
We managed to get pitches close together despite the fact that the site was almost full. The beach area is quite different here but the sand was every bit as golden as we have seen since being in Portugal. Fishing makes up a big part of the economy of the town and many boats of all shapes and sizes were colourfully tied up all along the harbour side.
I couldn’t get an explanation about the row of very small fishing boats we saw. We did see a lot of swallows here and, like the French, have made Fuseta their winter home.
The town is quite delightful and we had the pleasure of buying a few food items in a very small shop run by an old lady. What a treasure she was. Elaine said thank you in Portuguese but probably didn’t pronounce it correctly so with much laughter she gave us a lesson in how to greet someone and thank them. Why is there such a vast difference between the Portuguese and Spanish? The Portuguese are quick to smile; many greet you as you pass them in the street which is not a trait I have found in the Spanish.
We will move on tomorrow so we can continue our journey through this lovely country ……just how lucky are we.