Wow – Just Wow
Sometimes I need to pinch myself to believe that this is my life. I am so relaxed, happy and content that it seems like it must be temporary or at least an illusion.
We moved on from Alvor last week and had a more exciting (as in more wind than forecast) sail along the coast from Alvor to the mouth of the River Guadiana. To be exact, we had wind for about 5 of our 13 hour sail so most of it was motor sailing but when there was wind, there was wind. I was plane spotting as we were passing Faro and Neil was more intent on watching the other boats out on the horizon. I didn’t see the point of giving them too much attention, they were so far away and moving so slowly. The planes were in and out of the airport and much more fun to watch.
There are two towns at the mouth of the River Guadiana, Vila Real (Portugal) and Ayamonte (Spain). We anchored on the Spanish side near our Dutch friends on J&B. They had just hauled their tender (dingy) up on to their fore-deck as they were planning to leave in the early hours of the morning. Neil quickly blew up our tender and we rowed across to see them to say hi and bye and to get information about anchoring up river as that is where they had come from.
We spent 2 nights on anchor and for a couple of hours a day were rocked more than gently by the Spanish fishing boats zooming in and out of a small harbour. We took our tender over to Vila Real and topped up with fuel. We had been told that fuel was a problem to source ‘up river’ so took the chance while we could. Vila Real was a lovely town. When we had arrived no Sunday evening it was the Portuguese version of a local derby footie match between Ben Fica and Sporting (Ben Fica won) and we could hear the celebrations quite clearly across the water. In the town there is a big square and it looked like a big screen had been set up for the match. Along the waterside was a wide boulevard lined with trees and overlooking was an old hotel which looks as though it has been granted money to be restored. It looked kind of 1930’s maybe and would of been a grand old dame in its day. I’d love to see it restored. Very “Chocolat”.
The town had all the main shops that we had in Lagos but with quite a few more independent shops, or at least it felt that way, maybe because they were grouped around the square and not up little streets as in Lagos. Looks a great place if you want to buy towels and textiles! I didn’t see a wool shop although June from Friendship had brought me round 4 balls of cotton yarn from Lagos to Alvor to keep me going. Yay June. We didn’t spend long in town. We found the Municipal Market (fruit, veg & fish) and a supermarket then headed back.
The next morning (Tuesday) we hauled anchor and headed up the river. We had approximately 20 nautical miles to go and it is definately recommended to go with the tide. As we passed the entrance to Ayamonte marina, a boat waved us down. It was Ian on Moody Queen who had been in Lagos for a few months and Margaret had joined Coffee Klatch a few times. I guess this will happen more and more regularly that people we have met in one place pop up in another. In fact, it had already happened. We saw Les and Marie on Gee Bee Jay in Alvor for a few days. Les was moored just behind us on the Party Pontoon (C) in Lagos (Les won the Christmas lights competition) and we’d seen J&B the day before. We knew up river where we were heading that Ian and Jackie on Rivalady and Pat and Duncan on Samji were already up there.
The trip up river was fun. We motored up with the tide and after a very close, too close, encounter with a trailing fishing net (pulled right out into the ‘driving’ channel) we just enjoyed the changing scenery. Although still in the Algarve region of Portugal, the area is very rural. A million miles from the Albufeira/Vilamoura scene. The channel was well marked with port and starboard markers which gave me the confidence to take the helm. Not so much after the fishing net encounter, but it was good fun. We passed another Tiki 38 called ‘Tinto’. The only other Tiki I have seen and only the 2nd one Neil has ever seen (apart from Gleda that is). I motored us past slowly so Neil could take some photos. She looks lovely. Burgundy and cream with a nicely curved deck pod. Neil contacted the original builder who has now sold her on. There was no one on board and we think that she is only used for holidays. It would be good to be able to catch the owners on board and have a look.
We arrived in Alcoutim/Sanlucar around lunchtime and after taking a fair bit of time to get anchored (thank you Ian and Duncan) we were in. We had reached the border and have now sailed the coastline of Portugal. It is spectacular here. We can hear so many birds, the chiming of the hours from both the Portuguese side (which has 2 churches) and the Spanish side which is one hour ahead in time and although only has 1 church, they sound the bells twice so as not to be outdone! You cannot tell the time by the bells though. I have noticed that one set goes off about five to the hour, sometimes. Another set will not actually sound enough chimes for the actual time on either side. A not unpleasant eccentricity.
The night we arrived we went ashore with Pat and Duncan to the Riverside Tavern for a meal and then Jackie and Ian joined us a bit later for music night. People just turn up with their instruments and play. There is no organisation and anyone can join in. It was great fun. Lucky for all the others, I did not sing (not that they played anything I knew; there was no Wham). We had a great night and felt really relaxed. I was convinced our bill was wrong, but I was assured it was correct. We both had a meal (venison stew) off the special menu which also included a dessert and a drink. In addition we both had another 4 drinks each; beer or wine is a € a drink. Our bill was €19! Yup, that is for the two of us. It was a lovely stew too.
On Friday, the 6 of us caught the bus to Mertola. It was warm. Duncan’s wizzy watch read 39.8 degrees in the sun mid afternoon. It didn’t feel that much cooler in the shade. The bus ride was fun. Mertola is about 50km north and the first part was very much climbing up windy cliffside roads. Apprehension of the drivers competence was not helped with Neil humming the theme tune from the Italian Job. We left the Algarve into the Alentejo region and the scenery changed from very green to more sparsely spread out trees and very few houses. Apparently this area is the 2nd least populated area in Portugal. Mertola is an historic town and has the remains of a large castle and a church which is now Christian but still has the original architecture an structure inside from the original Mosque which was built by the Moors when they ruled the area. Very pleasant town and we visited two houses which had been reconstructed to be “as they were” in their day. One was a small town house which was lovely and cool inside. Very small windows and very thick walls. The other was an Islamic house which was one in a row by the castle and was very ‘forward’ in it’s construction with having an inside loo which drained away from the houses. Bit frustrating that all the museums and the library closed at 12.30 – 2.30 and our bus back was at 3pm. By the time we found the tourist information and saw what there was to see it was midday. We did walk up to the castle and admire the view of the valley and river in the nearly 40degree heat.
Saturday lunchtime saw the arrival of June and Garry on Friendship. That’s it we have enough for a Coffee Klatch now. I’ve been designated as taxi tender as we have the largest dingy. This will be interesting as I didn’t practise in the tender with the engine in Alvor as planned and only rowed the once. This is a strong tidal river with lots of debris. The debris is mainly bamboo and branches. Neil’s job usually twice a day is to free the debris which gets tangled around our anchor bridle.
Saturday was also laundry day. For those who want to know what I do all day. I can give you a quick summary of the first 4 hours – breakfast, washup, get laundry together, get into tender, motor up river chatting to friends in passing, arrive at laundry, only one machine and someone already using it, take rubbish to bins and recycling, go to hardware store and Chinese shop (like Woolworths but cheaper and no pick ‘n’ mix), go back to laundry to make sure no one jumped ahead in queue, wait until their laundry has finished, try to find someone to pay, unload washing machine, put own washing in, fold other persons laundry (don’t like to leave it in a heap), have to wait an hour for own washing to finish, go to bar and have a coke, get chatting to other couples from other boats, pick up tips on wintering this year, go back to laundry, try to find someone to pay, unload laundry, back to tender, back to boat, hang up laundry. The whole morning gone just to do one bag of laundry. No didn’t find anyone to pay so will pay for laundry service next time we are ashore and I can find the right person. Additionally, shopping can take a few hours too. Not just getting ashore and getting (and finding if it’s a new place) to the shop but when we get back it can take up to an hour and a half to unpack the new shopping, move things around to find space to put it away, inventory where it has been put and what has been moved and ensure any old fresh stuff is used or binned. Not quite as quick as when I could go to Asda during my lunch and then take 10mins putting it away in roomy cupboards and fridge/freezer when I got home.
Sunday morning just before 9am – I could hear the thrum of engines. I looked out and a bloody great river cruise boat was passing. The Belle de Cadix. It was quite something to see her turn around as she was almost the width of the river. Alcoutim is a regular feature on the river cruise itinerary and there is a purpose built concrete dock to take the gangplank. When we saw her turn and head to the pontoon it very much looked like a small boat ‘Tingaling” was going to be squished by her stern. However, we went ashore and the stern of the cruise boat had missed her by about 5m. However, if I had been on Tingaling at that point, I think I would need a change of underpants. The cruise ship barely stayed 2 hours from docking to pulling away from the pontoon. No idea what the passengers could do in a sleepy town that early on a Sunday morning. It’s the type of place where the supermarket doesn’t open at all on a Sunday and I can’t imagine the historic castle opening before 10.30am and the passengers would barely have enough time to walk up to it and back. Still they have “done” Alcoutim.
Sunday afternoon we popped ashore to see our ‘neighbours’. A British couple who came here 3 years ago on their boat and last year bought a plot of land in Sanlucar and have made this their home. They have put a caravan on the plot and built decking for their home. There was already a small caravan there which is now for visitors. They have a nice size plot and are growing an amazing array of fruit and veg (I am very jealous) and they have access down to the river, currently via a ladder but building a pontoon is high on their todo list. They don’t have vehicular access and had one-off permission to cross someone else’s land to site the caravan. They have quite a hike up hill and across to reach their car on the track. It reminded me of us at Messack Creek in Cornwall; water, supplies and gas having to be carried a distance from car to home. They were most welcoming and gave us a tour of the plot and showed us what he was growing as well as a couple of courgettes to take home. We saw lots of these types of plots as we came up the river on both sides. We had a quick search on the local estate agents sites and their are a fair few plots some nearer the riverside than others, none with electric or plumbed water, from anything from €8,000 to €21,000 which included access and a 2bed caravan. It looks appealing.
Not yet been here a week but loving it and we can see why people stay. At music night we met a number of folks who got this far on their travels and have then stayed. Either on their boats or done the same as our neighbours. Another couple are living aboard with their 2 daughters aged 5 and 7 who are in school in Sanlucar. They wintered here on their boat and have decided to stay the year. I spoke to the girls who say they love loving on the boat and although the youngest wasn’t keen on going to school on Monday, liked her school friends and her teacher- much like any other 5 year old I’d say. What an experience for them and they are learning Spanish as they go. Brilliant.
This morning (Monday 23rd May) we went to Sanlucar on the Spanish side to do our shopping. It is quite odd to see how many different things are available in the food store compared to the Portuguese shops which, in this instance, are less than a mile apart. I have bought a bottle of Rioja – yay. I’ve been waiting to reach Spain for Rioja and no doubt I will be testing it out this evening. Compared to our 5litre box of Portuguese red at €4.99, it was expensive at €2.40!!
Back to the Wow – just wow. It really is a beautiful and tranquil (mostly) place. This is my life now and not a holiday which still takes some getting used to. I still sometimes think oh I should have a job and do the “normal” thing. But why? This is an experience and again I’m amazed at the amount of people who are doing a similar thing. There is a huge community out here of people on boats, in motorhomes, caravans etc who have left the “norm” and are enjoying their time in a less stressed way and in better weather.
We intend spending a few weeks here before going back towards Culatra near Faro. It gets very hot up here in the summer so we came up early and then when it gets scorchio we will head back to the coast.