In our last few days in Lagos we met up with our friends Jo and Doug. They arrived in the Algarve just as we were making plans to head north so we quickly arranged to have a proper catch up, several coffees and pastel de natas and lunch.
We met Jo and Doug a couple of years ago in Peso da Regua, where a group of Brits ended up staying in the same place at the same time. We often think of Regua very fondly as we also met Melanie and Biz there … what a fantastic source of friends that place turned out to be!
Lagos has been our preferred resting place in the Algarve, being a town that has much to offer, a beautiful marina, lots of great eating places and a very reasonably priced aire for motorhomes where sitting out in the sunshine is not against the rules. It was in our final couple of days that we discovered, thanks to Jo and Doug, a restaurant called Adega da Marina. This incredibly popular place does a tourist menu that is excellent, cheap and generous. Jo and Doug, Mary and ourselves turned up for lunch and left a couple of hours later full of good food, beer, and good cheer. We were told by Sonia, the whipper-in for boat trips, that in summer the queue for the restaurant goes right down the street, Fortunately for us it is much quieter in winter and we walked right in. If you like a lively atmosphere, good value for money food and an interesting cultural experience this could be the place for you. We wished we had found it before but then we haven’t exactly been short of places to eat out …
The last thing we did before leaving Lagos and bidding a fond farewell to Mary was to book our sailing home. End of March … brace yourselves Scotland.
So many choices …
Campsite, aires or wild camping? This is one of the big debates amongst motorhomers. After all, there are lots of options open to us and we can pick and choose. Some people feel very strongly about one or the other, they might hate one and love another. Some operate purely practically and stay where it suits them best at the time and some are on such a tight budget that choice is very limited.
We set off on this trip with the idea that we would try very hard to live within a fairly tight budget. We don’t have huge pensions, although we definitely have enough to live comfortably and we certainly don’t have a big enough store of capital to live beyond our means. Motorhome touring for us is a way of getting lots of travel for moderate outlay. Before we left we had the idea that we would try to stay in free or very cheap places for the whole trip, rewarding ourselves with a big pat on the back when we got home with our budget firmly under control. Before long we discovered that settling down for a while in a lovely campsite can be soothing to the soul.
We’ve been doing this motorhoming thing for a number of years now and looking back we can see that our preferences have shifted constantly according to mood, the weather and sometimes for no reason that we can identify. My advice would be to give all the options a try and allow yourself to change your mind, every day if you like. It occurs to me that stating preferences and feeling you have to stick to them risks losing some of the freedom of the touring lifestyle.
Currently we’re staying on a small but delightful campsite in Zambujeira do Mar in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It is so quiet and peaceful here that we have slowed down to a gentle stop. The site has superb facilities, friendly staff, a bar, a shop, a covered swimming pool and jacuzzi and a selection of weird and wonderful pitches randomly dotted around the place.
We’re on a huge pitch but it is on a slope. Despite being on our levellers we’re sleeping head down feet up which isn’t particularly comfortable but the sleepy ambience of the place makes us reluctant to move on. There are smaller pitches that are level so even here you can choose and change your mind if you like. Once booked in they don’t seem to care which pitch you choose. The price? 14€a night in low season with an ACSI card and 16€ without. This price is inclusive of everything.
At the moment therefore, a campsite is our choice and we’re loving it. After two months in the Algarve, parked up with dozens of motorhomes all trying to find a corner in the most popular place for winter tourers in Portugal, we had had enough. We were mightily relieved to head a little north and find peace and tranquillity. Portugal is a beautiful country and much of it is rushed through by motorhomers heading for the south. Our advice would be to spend a little time exploring … you might be surprised by the treasures you find.
Living with Ambivalence
You’ll have heard the expression ‘Living the Dream’. People often say it to us when we write about our weeks or months of life on the road. When you’re at home and it’s raining, the wind is howling and mud keeps getting trailed into your house it really does look and sound like living the dream.
Returning to a previous promise to be honest about life in a motorhome I’ll tell you a secret. Sometimes we get homesick. It doesn’t happen often but sometimes we just want to be sitting on our sofa, in our warm lounge near our big open plan kitchen and stop moving around and living in a small space. Sometimes the dust and the grit getting constantly walked onto the small expanse of floor in the van gets us down. Sometimes it’s the dogs taking up more room than seems reasonable for two small canines. We miss our family, our friends, our bed and our bathroom. We miss our neighbours, our weekly trip to the table tennis club and we miss playing golf – although if truth be told the chances of playing in the winter in Scotland are small. We miss a flushing toilet and the privacy it gives you. We miss spreading ourselves out and sometimes being in separate rooms for a short time. Solitude is hard to find on a motorhome trip. But then …. we stop short and realise something huge. Many people in this world don’t have any of those things that we miss. We are so much richer than we realise and motorhoming is a luxury. Simply having the choice to be away in our comfortable, if ageing van, eating well, seeing places we might never have seen and sleeping like logs in warmth and comfort. This is luxury but at times we feel ambivalent. Despite the many blessings of the touring lifestyle sometimes we wish we were at home. I wonder how many of our motorhoming friends feel this way … is it just us?
Food and friendliness fixes everything
Saturday was not a day we were wishing we were at home. It was a day when we thanked the universe for the chance to be here. According to the weather forecast we could be suffering howling gales and torrential rain if we were at home. Here in South West Portugal Saturday was slightly cloudy, about 17c with the occasional burst of bright sunshine. We cycled the short distance to the village to have lunch in a lovely fish restaurant. It being the weekend, the restaurant was full of local families enjoying a meal out together. As always, this is a good sign when choosing a place to eat. We chose tiger prawns and clams in rice. This isn’t a paella type dish, more like a fish casserole with lots of rice in a rich gravy, numerous enormous prawns and a handful of clams. We began with the traditional couvert – bread and olives, then a large pan was brought to the table with our main course. We did our best but there was no way we could have finished all the rice and sauce. The waitress offered to put it into a box for us to take home but we declined – we’d eaten the expensive bits after all and we couldn’t work out how we could carry it on our bikes. Naturally we found room for a dessert and coffee before cycling back to the van as happy as could be. The two waitresses who looked after us were friendly and pleasant, speaking good English and chatting to us about the region and the traditional food being served. In all the years we have been visiting Portugal we have always experienced friendly service and a warm welcome and it never fails to cheer us up.
Vocé fala Portugues?
Returning to Portugal I resumed my previous attempts at learning Portuguese using Duolingo. At first I could read the words and listen to the voice but I couldn’t make the two match in my head. Portuguese looks a lot like Spanish and sounds a lot like we should be somewhere in Eastern Europe. For instance, the Portuguese for ‘a man’ is um homem. So far so good. That’s until you hear it pronounced. umwarmme … what? Say that again …
Duolingo is a bit slow going if you want to quickly learn some phrases that will help you survive alone in an area where no-one speaks English. It does however keep repeating things until they finally land in your brain and stay there. I’m still at the endless repeating stage for basic phrases and wondering when “the cat is writing a book” will come in useful. Perhaps more usefully, I know what to say when the waitress asks if everything is ok with the meal, “tudo bem” … everything is fine. If it’s not I’m in trouble – I haven’t got to “there’s a fly in my soup” yet.
We’re tentatively planning our onward route. At the moment it looks like heading into the area just north of Lisbon, a second visit to Buddha Eden and then across to central Spain. As always, plans are open to change – in fact we’re always open to the possibility of a surprise around the next corner. We have seven weeks left, we’re definitely going to visit Shirley’s brother Chris in Sitges and apart from that we’re as free as birds. Who knows?