Week 20 & 21 – Manta Rota to Fuseta via Tavira
Week 20 – Day 137 – Monday 12th February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
We crossed the Ponte International do Guadiana bridge yesterday and everything changed, the language, culture, architecture, cuisine, etc, etc and in crossing the bridge the time difference reverted back to UK time as after four and a half months of being an hour ahead of the UK, we are now back on UK time, if the Portuguese will forgive that description.
The car park we were on last night was really quiet and only the sound of the waves gently lapping onto the beach could be heard. Very soothing.
We needed to service the van today and had found somewhere online about 20 minutes away which would be ideal, so, after breakfast we set off but the entrance to the Aire was only 50 yards away and although the ‘completo’ sign was still there and the barrier was still down I decided to chance my hand and drove towards the barrier. At that the grumpy attendant who took great delight in turning us away yesterday with an assortment of hand gestures came out of his office and instead of repeating his display of yesterday, pressed a button to lift the barrier. Result!
After dumping and taking on water and sorting the toilet I reversed into the one and only space available in front of a big UK registered Concorde van. This was a really good plot as we would have the sun on the door side of the van till about 4.30 and that side was also sheltered from the prevailing breeze so we were lucky. It was warm today so the chairs were brought out of the garage and that is when we met our neighbours, Hank and Morag from Laurencekirk who we had a long chat to and they gave us some great local advice, having been here for a few months.
A Concorde is a super big luxury van and Hank had added more equipment to make their extended journeys more comfortably including upgraded solar panels attached to lithium batteries. We were not connected to the mains here and as my laptop was needing charged Hank very kindly offered to charge it for me or there would have been no week 19 blog post!
We sat in the sun all afternoon and I finished off the blog in the evening ready to go online in the morning. This next picture was taken from the dashcam and shows the view forward as I reversed into our space. Note the oranges on our Dutch neighbours cycle rack. There were dozens of vans with bags of oranges hanging here, or from wing mirrors, but no-one could explain why they did it!
Week 20 – Day 138 – Tuesday 13th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
I woke earlier than usual so took the opportunity to post the blog online, then went back to sleep till 9ish. Because most of the vans are here for long stays there is not a lot of movement early on which is ideal for a long lie!
After breakfast we sat out for a walk into the village to find Jacqueline, and who is Jacqueline I hear you all cry out as one? Apparently she is the local English speaking hairdresser that The Navigator has found out about and wants to employ to do something to her hair and I have been roped in for a trim as well. Jacqueline is duly found and an appointment is booked for Thursday. After doing a loop of the village we passed through the car park we were parked on Sunday night and got chatting to a couple from Blackpool who were on the very spot we had been on. It is easy to spend time talking to fellow Brits as there is so much to talk about and we must have chatted for about an hour.
As well as finding Jacqueline we had originally set off to buy a few things at the village grocery store and this mission was accomplished before returning to the van for lunch. I sat out in the sun leaving the culinary work to someone more skilled in that department. We tried sitting out in the sun after lunch but although cloudless and sunny there was a chilly breeze which forced us into the van. One other event worth of a mention was the return of the laundry. I forgot to mention yesterday that a woman drives around the Aire twice a day collecting washing at €1.80 a kg or €1.50 if the weight is 5kg+ and brings it back to your van 24 hours later all washed, dried and neatly folded. The Navigator was so impressed she gave the woman another load to do…
Week 20 – Day 139 – Wednesday 14th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
I don’t think I need detain you with details about today as there is nothing much to report, apart from the return of the second lot of washing from ‘The Laundry Lady’ which The Navigator was delighted with, as for €7.00 she had washed, dried, ironed and folded a heap of washing and delivered it back to our doorstep in only 24 hours.
By the way, The Navigator’s head was deliberately cut off in the following picture as per her instructions due to ‘a bad hair day!’ (pre Jacqueline!)
Week 20 – Day 140 – Thursday 15th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
Todays highlight was going to see Jacquline at 12.30 for our second haircut of the trip. Before that we sat out all morning in the sun, which was warm even though there was a slight breeze. This type of weather was what we were hoping for in Portugal and today it has delivered.
We walked round to Jacqueline’s salon, a Dutch woman who has been in Portugal 26 years and seems to do a brisk business with locals and visitors alike, and, in speaking 5 languages she puts us to shame. Her English was perfect and we had a lively conversation with her, so lively that in going first and asking for my usual No2, in hindsight it looks and feels like a No1 as she got engrossed in bemoaning the fact that she would never return to Holland “until it was Holland again”.
Next up was the more ambitious and skillful job of getting The Navigator’s hair into shape again, and to be fair, she made a good job of it as the following pics testify!
Back at the van we had lunch and then I had a siesta. In the evening the entertainment was more podcasts, first the Frank Skinner Show from Absolute Radio and then 6 episodes of Chain Reaction from the BBC.
Week 20 – Day 141 – Friday 16th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
Yesterday there was a breeze to keep the temperature in the low 60s but today there was no breeze, nor clouds in the morning, so it was hot from the minute the door was opened so the morning was spent sitting out and enjoying it. Our plot is near the one and only water tap and drain for the 100 vans on the site so we get to see everyone coming and going in their early morning routines of filling fresh water into 5 litre plastic bottles and bringing the ‘grey’ water they have drained from their vans.
As people walk past a van (we do this too) and before speaking, the number plate is checked to establish the nationality before trying to say hello, bonjour (French), hola (Spanish), olá (Portugese), hallo (German and Dutch). If its a fellow Brit they usually stop for a chat along the tried and tested formula of –
– How long have you been here?
– How long are you staying?
– Where was your last stopover? Was it paid or free?
– Which route did you take to get here?
– Dover/Calais or Portsmouth/Santander?
– South through Portugal or south through Spain?
– Clockwise round the Iberian peninsula or anti-clockwise?
– Sites / places you’ve liked the best?
– Sites / places to avoid?
– Any mishaps enroute?
– Do you prefer Spain or Portugal?
– When are you heading home?
– Which route are you taking?
– Santander/Portsmouth or Calais/Dover?
– Etc, etc, etc
Any deviation from the above can make for a memorable conversation and this mornings was with a passing Brit who had just come onto the site for a day to service his van, a 9.5 metre Burstner. After going through the above formula, made more interesting by his tale of driving past 3 metre snow drifts just over a week ago in central Spain/Portugal to get to The Algarve. He ended the conversation by saying that he better head back to the van as his “Thai wife might be up and dressed by now”. It was 12.15pm!
After lunch I stayed in the van as it was too hot for me outside but The Navigator sat out even though the daily breeze had got up by this time, and she predictably overdid it and eventually retreated to the in the van mid-afternoon.
Week 20 – Day 142 – Saturday 17th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
Manta Rota has one supermarket, well stocked but not the biggest or cheapest ever. We were led to believe the prices in Portugal were going to be better than in Spain, if that was possible but on the evidence of this place, it was not the case. Mind you, if anyone drove up to Scotland and their first supermarket was the Co-op in Tarbert, they might think that these were the prices for all shops in Scotland, but obviously not.
Todays objective was to cycle to Altura a few miles back to the east where we were reliably informed was a branch of InterMarche, the French owned supermarket chain. So off we set and found it without a problem, although the final mile or so was on the busy N125. Yes it was bigger and cheaper than Manta Rota but not by a huge margin. After topping up the 4 panniers with groceries we cycled down to the front to have a look about. It is on the same stretch of fantastic beach as Manta Rota, just along the coast but the place was larger with more shops, more restaurants, and a few hotels which Manta Rota doesn’t have. In common with Manta Rota though it has a network of wooden boardwalks going out into the fine sand.
We didn’t hang about too long as some of our shopping needed to be refrigerated again so after a brief cycle about we headed back to our site at Manta Rota, retracing the route we had arrived on. After lunch we sat out and had a chat with some of our British neighbours. In the evening I cycled up to the village take-away. I say take-away but it is not a take-away as we know them, think more some womans kitchen with commercial catering equipment and you will get the picture. Anyway, as a Saturday night treat, for €8 she did 2 huge portions of the most delicious barbecued piri piri chicken and chips you can imagine, topped off when I got back to the van with some baked beans. Cup of tea and bread and butter. Good old British fare in a foreign land!
Week 20 – Day 143 – Sunday 18th of February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
Not a lot to report today apart from it was very warm and there was very little breeze. In the morning we cycled to the nearby village inland from here, Vila Nova de Cacela where there was a large and busy market in full swing when we arrived just after 11. To me one of the barometers of a good market is how well it is fraternised by the locals and how local the produce is, rather than the tourist tat of some markets – and this one ticked the very good box. There was a wide mix of foodstuffs including local cheeses, cured meats, fruit and veg and salted cod, which looked as bad as it sounds, although I wouldn’t say that to this womans face!
There were also stalls selling plants, trees and bedding plants which looked very healthy, especially the tomato plants which will probably not be on sale in Scotland yet! Clothing was cheap and there were a few stalls selling all things non-foods where everything seemed €1 and The Navigator managed to get 2 reels of thread for that price to add to her haul of spring onion (€1), surprisingly hard to get, and another pair of sunglasses a la Jackie Onasis (€5) and then we shared a jam filled ‘thing’ for €2 so our mornings entertainment came to under €10.
Back at the van, and after lunch, we sat out in the sunshine and as the breeze had died down today I flew the drone and took some video and pictures of this beach-side location. The funny thing about meeting others and swapping tips and tricks is the love of a free site or cheap site, but out of the 100 or so vans you see in the following picture, dozens are over £100,000 and some are well over that…
Week 21 of the Grand European Tour
Week 21 – Day 144 – Monday 19th February 2018
Manta Rota – 0 miles
If yesterday was warm, today is hot, very hot, with again very little breeze. After breakfast I filled the water tank, emptied the toilet etc in preparation for moving on tomorrow. We have thoroughly enjoyed it here and would recommend Manta Rota as a first / last stopover in Portugal if arriving from, or leaving for, Spain. Beach-side location, bread and laundry brought to you daily, nice little village with everything you need, walks and cycling directly from the site, all for €4.50 a day.
After servicing the van and The Navigator cleaning inside, we both sat out until lunch but only Mad Dogs and Navigators go back out after lunch – too hot for me – in February!! Later in the afternoon we went for a walk along the superb beach and had a paddle. In the Atlantic. In February!!
Throughout this trip we have been very fortunate to meet some lovely people along the way and here has been no exception. Behind us Hank and Morag in their impressive Concorde which is their pride and joy, spending up to 10 months a year travelling around Europe. Next to them is a couple from Derby who like to chat in the passing and beside us are 2 brothers, originally born in London but now spending as much time as they can on the road, especially in Portugal. The eldest, at 76, sold his house after the death of his wife and lives full time in his motorhome, towing a trailer which seems to have all the contents of his house in it! The younger brother, who could very easily find work as a Bob Hoskins impersonator, flies out to join his brother in 3 month stretches before returning to his home in Wellingborough for some time with his family. They have all been great to spend time with but tomorrow is time to move on again…
Week 21 – Day 145 – Tuesday 20th February 2018
Manta Rota to Tavira – 19 miles
No long lie in today as we had to be up and off the site by 10am which was fairly easy to achieve as we have this down to a bit of a fine art by now. Breakfast first, breakfast dishes next then top up the water tank and empty the toilet before moving the van over the drain provided to empty the waste water from the sinks and shower. Even if we had been staying on this would have to been done as it was 8 days since the van was last serviced.
Last week we had been fortunate to get a good sunny pitch near the water tap and the word was out that 3 British vans were leaving this morning with us being the first. We knew the word must have circulated round the site, especially the Dutch contingent as a chair was placed beside the van by a Dutch woman to ‘claim’ the space the moment we moved.
We were heading further west to Tavira, a mere 19 miles away, but before heading there I actually drove about 5 miles east to a BP garage we had passed on the way to Manta Rota last week which has an LPG pump to top up the gas tanks again and this was achieved with no problem, once I worked out which adaptor to use to enable the pump nozzle to connect to our inlet on the side of the van. So much for the EU standardising everything as you need to carry 3 different adaptors to connect in whichever country you are in.
So, with empty waste tanks and full water and gas tanks we headed west further along the Algarve coast. The N125 is the non-toll road that runs parallel to the coast a few miles inland from the coast, and if we think the road surface in Argyll is bad, you want to see the state of this road!
It is a cracked tar surface on top of a concrete base and whole chunks of tar are missing and you have to get your eye in to try and spot then avoid these potholes or the whole van and its contents are jolted and rattled.
Tavira was reached before lunchtime and we found the waste ground on the west side of the river and parked up in the presence of about 30 other vans from the usual northern European nations. It was stifling hot but we set off for a quick walk up one side of the river, over the Roman Bridge (its not Roman) and back down the other.
Lunch back at the van and a quick siesta for me as The Navigator topped up her tan outside, and then we had another walk into Tavira and this time we explored away from the river into the older part of the town where we saw some old churches, the cathedral, a camera obscura in what looked like an old water tower,
and the ruins of a former castle, nowadays solely consisting of the outer walls surrounding a peaceful and shaded garden.
You can climb up onto the ramparts to get a great view over the town and into the distance out to sea.
Heading downhill again to the riverside we walked further upstream than this morning before doubling back to have a seat at a bakers come cafe where we had a drink and a delicious Portuguese custard tart.
The tide was in so the river was much higher than this morning so hopefully the pictures will look better than the rocky riverbed we saw earlier.
It was almost 6pm when we returned to the van, tired after the walkabout in the heat and the (fairly) early start this morning. Spag Bol, some podcasts and an early night.
Week 21 – Day 146 – Wednesday 21st February 2018
Tavira to Fuseta – 10 miles
Although we were near one of the main roads that pass through Tavira and the bridge over the Gilão river it was very quiet and we had a good nights sleep. Tavira indoor market is close by and we nipped in to get another bag of the delicious oranges we bought from the same woman yesterday (€1.50 for 3kg). We passed a big newish Lidl on the way out of Tavira so stopped there to top up on groceries as we are better taking the opportunity when it is there as we may end up in a little village with no supermarket to speak off – into the great unknown! We were heading for Fuseta, only 10 miles away which on the satellite view on Google Maps looked worth stopping at. We are riding our luck a bit as on entering this small town we instantly made the decision it was worth a night or two stopover and managed to get the last space in the only campsite! Once set up we just sat out on the chairs as it was another scorcher. On studying the site’s leaflets we noticed that it was about €5.00 a night cheaper if we stayed for 7 nights or more so we are taking root for the next week and explore the area by bike and go further afield on the coastal train line that stops here so we will have a day in Faro in the next few days.
Week 21 – Day 147 – Thursday 22nd February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
Now that we are hooked up to mains power, the first in Portugal, I had a lot of catching up to do after charging up the laptop again, getting this blog up to date, downloading the video from the GoPro, downloading the video footage from the dashcam and taking the photographs off my phone. All of that completed, we had a walk around the small town of Fuseta which did not take that long. We found the little train station and made a mental note of the train times to Faro which is only 20 minutes away so that is the plan for Saturday.
Fuseta has a beach of fine golden sand about 100 yards from this site with a fairly modern looking beach bar, although you would not really describe it as a resort town. It only seems to have a couple of small grocery stores which are far outnumbered by the outdoor restaurants, all with a large barbecue for grilling fish, no doubt from the many little local boats which we saw tied up on the river, and hear leaving at 6 in the morning. I’m not sure if it is the noise from their outboards or the blooming pigeons roosting in the trees on the site that woke me early this morning.
The return of power also meant we could watch a Netflix film, which was OK, but not great!
Week 21 – Day 148 – Friday – 23rd February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
A repeat of yesterday morning with me doing bits and pieces on the laptop, the main task being to draft a new blog to go online on Sunday to mark the landmark 150 days on the road. The Navigator has been jotting down her thoughts as well which was pasted in to the blog this morning. This will keep me busy as it seems her tablet is incapable of punctuation, an obvious rougue tablet from Apple it seems!
Guess what we did after lunch? Much against her better judgement, I persuaded The Navigator to go to the beach for a few hours. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, she is a martyr to her bad back and did not relish the thought at all, but went anyway. Not her favourite 2 hours of the trip it must be admitted, but the opportunity to top up her tan on a sandy beach on a February afternoon was too good to miss.
Week 21 – Day 149 – Saturday 24th February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
Up sharpish this morning as we are on the 10am train to Faro which is about 20 minutes away. As with many things in Portugal, this train has seen better days, is filthy and is covered in graffiti. The saving grace is how cheap it is, €4 return, a bargain compared with the same length of journey in Scotland, say Polmont to Edinburgh which is £13.40 return at the time of writing. The journey is not the most scenic unless you like salt marshes and tidal inlets with a few odd small boats on view.
After a stop at Olhão the train arrives in Faro right along the coast and passes the marina before the station. It is a short walk back to the marina, no super-yachts here, only small pleasure and fishing boats.
Not sure of the hairstyle…
Across the road is a square which had an old bandstand and streetlights with a white crane perched on its nest along with its chick.
As this was Saturday there was a small craft market with some nice inexpensive bits and bobs.
At one end of the square is a monumental archway built into the original Moorish city wall which leads through to what could be called the ‘old town’ and onto an open space which hosts the town hall and 13th century cathedral. The square here has orange trees all around with lots of fruit and green leafs still on the branches, making a vivid contrast against the white walled buildings all around.
We walked around this area and out the other side onto a large car park with many motorhomes parked up, maybe just for the day to visit the town, or, if they are lucky the police may turn a blind eye to them staying the night. It would be a great, if noisy stopover as the trains pass close by, which admittedly are not that frequent, but the planes taking off from the nearby Faro airport are. Dozens of them took off when we were walking about Faro, mostly Ryanair and Easy Jet as it happens.
From there we walked back through the old town and through the city gate again and headed for a pedestrianised shopping area with individual shops (as opposed to chain stores) of all kinds as well as lots of cafes and restaurants offering main courses of both fish and meat dishes at under €10, including a few with goat on the menu as well as ‘black pig’ which seems to be featured in a few restaurants. There was aldo a incredibly well stocked traditional wine/port merchant with the most amazing selection of port, from under €5 to around €500, and all price points in between.
The Navigator had been promised a slap up fishy meal for Sunday lunch in one of the outdoor restaurants near the quayside and fish market back in Fuseta so she was not going to jeopardise that by anything too expensive today, so we settled on a McDonalds, one of the first we have had in the last 5 months, if not the very first. Also a first was having soup in a McDonalds, bean soup it was described as, and it was surprisingly good. After that we had another walk around the marina before taking root on a park bench for an hour or so in the sunshine, watching the world go by, and sales people trying to sell boat trips to some nearby islands along with dolphin spotting tours, without any success in the time we were watching them, maybe due to the rather high prices and a lack of conviction in their initial contact with these potential customers. (once a salesman, always a salesman!)
Faro is a nice little town which happens to have a major international airport within sight of the centre the consequence being the noise overhead as the planes take off, almost, but not quite, right over the town. As a destination for a weekend break with one of the 3 big no frills airlines, Ryanair, Easy Jet and Jet2.com, it is a long long way short of the appeal and features of Malaga or Alicante.
Back to Fuseta on the 3pm train before a circular walk around the town along narrow cobbled streets with a few assorted shops you wonder how they can possibly make a living as the stock in them looks old and outdated. We arrived back at the van just after 5, in time to get the football results and follow the progress of Scotland’s rare victory over England in the 6 Nations Rugby.
Week 21 – Day 150 – Sunday 25th February 2018
Fuseta – 0 miles
As I mentioned in yesterdays post, The Navigator was all excited as she was being treated to a slap up fish lunch at Fuseta’s busiest fish restaurant. Not the swankiest, and (hopefully) not the most expensive but any time we have passed it has been mobbed – to me always a good sign. We passed it the other day and they had a blackboard with all the fish they do – basically anything that swims goes on the barbecue here. I love to fish, but prefer to eat meat over fish, and in passing the guy had just finished cooking a huge pork steak and it looked amazing so I took a mental note that this was going to be my choice and The Navigator liked the look of the Dorado.
We arrived at about 1pm and there was not a free table to be had, so rather than return to the van for an egg omelette, we decided to linger and this tactic worked as one became available within 5 minutes. The waiter was quick off the mark and brought some bread, olives and a large plate of salad which was either a starter or an accompaniment to the main course. We chose the latter option.
Luckily he spoke a little English so we did not need him to rhyme off the fish they had, although he launched into the list but The Navigator stopped him in mid flow to order the Dorado and when he looked at me I ordered the salmon!
I bottled it based on the logic of, I can have a pork steak anytime, but its not often I would have the chance to have a professional barbecue chef in Portugal, on a quayside, next to the fish market cooking fish for me. The Navigator questioned my decision, but my mind was made up. When in Portugal…
So there were sitting in the sunshine, sipping white wine, nibbling the bread with The Navigator demolishing the plate of olives, but cunningly putting the pips on my side of the plate to try and convince anyone watching (no-one) that it was me who was scoffing them all! The couple at the table next to us then got served. The woman had linguado (sole) which was huge and the man sitting right next to me had a silver platter with 4 pork steaks, chips and rice which he only really played with, eating no chips and only a few forkfuls of rice. He then proceeded to cut up this delicious looking pork into cube sized pieces, reached under the table to a carrier bag and tipped the whole platter of food into the bag! To say I was beside myself with disbelief was an understatement.
We lingered till after 3 with a lager for me and 2 coffees for The Navigator, then headed back to the van to enjoy a seat in the sun and a cup of tea, well I did anyway. And the cost of this meal, a real taste of Portugal, which included olives, 2 Dorado, a large piece of salmon, side salad, bread, half a carafe of wine, a lager and 2 coffees? A bargain at €25.
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To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
Next week may be our last week on the Algarve before heading north…
Stay tuned to find out if it is…
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