Thursday, 29 January 2015

Campervan Travels in Portugal | A Weekend with Chris & Rio

If you were following my blog last year, you'd know that I make longer trips in Europe possible on a budget, by arranging a placement through the website - I then generally do this monday to friday and use my free time and weekends to go exploring. This way, what might only have been a two week trip can go on for months with a little financial planning. This weekend was no exception and Rio and I hit the road east for a change, on a mission to fill up our gas bottles and see what we could find, out in the direction of Faro..

There are two options when traversing the Algarve region; taking the big motorway, or using the N125, which is the original main road. I always opt for the main road, as although it might take a little longer, there is so much more to see along the way, and isn't that the whole point of travel? Portugal has a lot of colour, sunlight, and culture just waiting to be discovered when you slow down and take things at the local pace. So off east we headed, bouncing along an uneven road with Rio gazing out expectantly from the passenger seat.

After successfully getting my gas refilled at a GPL not far east of Albufiera, I turned to the sat nav and looked for a camping spot suggested by the FurgoVW plug in. I previously wrote a post about that here. Second to word of mouth, and tips from other travellers, I find this a useful way to get started in finding good camping spots nearby. The plugin suggested a place called Praia dos Arrifes, which was about 12km away so off we went. Soon we were winding through some narrow streets near the coast, and onto a rough and stony dirt track which led to some clifftops above an idyllic sandy cove.

Rio enjoying himself on Praia dos Arrifes

Rio was soon excitedly racing about on the beach, and I sat on the cliff-tops in the afternoon heat, chatting to a Dutch guy called Peter and some Russians - also travelling in their vans through Portugal's Algarve.  Sitting there, enjoying the calm as the waves gently roll into this peaceful cove, we can't help smiling and agreeing it was the right decision to come south for the winter! Its late January and the weather is beautiful; around 21˚C and I'm in my shorts. Later that afternoon as the sun begins to sink toward the western horizon, I watch fishermen sitting on the rocks - earlier I'd spotted fish swimming below in the clear water. I decide to take Rio for a walk on the next beach along, where there is a clear view of the sunset. As Rio explores the foot of the cliffs, I meditate sitting on the sand in the orange glow.

My view on returning to the campervan after sunset

After an evening in the van watching some Portuguese TV, (the signal is stronger here and I can pick it up through my laptop receiver) and doing my best to recognise some of the phrases I have been learning in my time here, we lay our heads down, and listen to the wind and the waves as we settle down for the night in our mobile cabin..

Next morning I'm up at dawn. Its so natural when living in a van to become closely aligned with the rhythms of the day and night, and become gently awakened as the energy of the dawn grows in intensity around me. Rio is keen to get out and explore a bit further along the cliffs, not leaving any path untrodden with his sure footed little paws.

Looking back from a vantage point on the cliffs to our camp - spot the Hiace?

There are many interweaving paths along the mesozoic limestone cliffs with some dropping of to ledges used by fishermen, not so high up as further west, in fact in places it wouldn't be difficult to climb down to the shoreline. There are also many signs of the continual erosion and sections where the cliffs have collapsed into what I think of as Jurassic gorges - they look like something from the land that time forgot, edged by huge cactuses, shrubs and leaning trees. Its not a place to get easily lost - all paths eventually lead to the same destination.

A 'Jurassic gorge' as is common along the Algarve cliffs

Back at camp its not long until we have the pan on and the bacon sizzling, and I'm sipping coffee in my deckchair in no particular hurry to be anywhere other than right where I already am, yet with a sense of freedom that anything is possible in the hours that will reveal themselves when my wheels again start rolling. What will I discover, and who might I meet? Time will tell, yet for now it feels like its all but stopped.. I watch Rio lying lazily in the sun and stretching - there is so much to be learnt from a little dog about taking things as they come..

The beach at Lagoa dos Salgados

Half and hour after hitting the road, we arrive at a place called Lagoa dos Salgados. The final stretch getting there we were driving through a ghost town of out of season appartment buildings, their homogenous metal and glass structures flashing in the afternoon sun as the sound of my exhaust echoes among the palm lined streets. At the estuary car park there is life - a number of big Hymers have made this their home for now, and locals are out for a sunday stroll along the wooden walkways that span the wetland sanctuary where the river meets the sea. Rio raises his nose to the air - he smells his namesake, and soon we are playing with bamboo sticks on the beach, or lying in the sun squinting under my sunglasses to watch yachts in full sail. This place may only be half an hour from where I awoke, but its a million miles away in mood. I laugh to myself with enjoyment on this vast open beach.

View through the side-door at Ferragudo

I decide to make one more stop for the day before heading back to meet friends for an afternoon market to the west, but as soon as we arrive, and pull up next to the beach at Ferragudo, I know I'll be staying on here for the night. The atmosphere is immediately calming and as the temperature is now about 22˚C I'm soon sitting outside, feeling completely at home in the time it takes me to unfold my chair from where its stowed by the front seat. There are a number of vans and motorhomes here on a large expanse of rough land forming a peninsula opposite the village, and overlooking the big town of Portimão. I've parked beside a transit camper van with a large GB sticker on the back - maybe someone interesting to talk to later?

After an hour or so relaxing, Rio and I are off for a walk around the village. We cross the river on the bridge and walk along the harbour on the other side, in the direction of a castle I'd studied through my binoculars from the beach. Now, looking back I can see my van on the far side. I'm thinking, this really is an interesting place, and an amazing setting like no other. Wild camping by a peaceful beach so close to a fishing village, with the city right across the bay. Much is within walking distance, and there is a lot of activity on the water and in the village to arouse curiosity. Today there is even a Portuguese Navy vessel moored opposite at Portimão..

The village has a number of cafes and restaurants open this afternoon, and people are sitting out, enjoying their coffee and lunchtime banter in the cobbled square by the riverside. I greet an elderly man on the narrow footpath as we cross the bridge, 'Boa tarde'; a Vespa scooter buzzes past Rio on the corner. He's sniffing the concoction of sunday afternoon smells. Walking along by the harbour we pass by a collection of lobster pots with their marker buoys lined up in the sun, as laundry dries,  dancing in the breeze high above our heads..

After a bit of exploring around the shaded narrow streets leading up to the church that overlooks the scene, and crossing the sands to gaze up at the old castle, (Doing our tourist trail, following Rio's nose!) we return home to enjoy the evening sun and watch the sunset, however that might display itself from this place at exactly this time, like no other. Intriguingly my neighbour's van still shows no signs of occupation, when most are alive with evening cooking, chatter and laid back domestic activity. As the sun begins to dip towards the towers of Portimão, the navy vessel is preparing to set sail, engines starting, horn occasionally blasting and all hands can be seen on deck through my binoculars.

Ferragudo aglow after darkness comes

No sooner has the sun dropped below the backdrop of the high-rises across the bay, than the water becomes alive with small jumping fish, catching late evening flies on the surface of the rippling orange water. We watch mesmerised until darkness closes in an the temperature drops to around 12˚C. I go in to listen to M80, a local station playing 80's classics, and we fry up some potatoes and sardines as Simple Minds sing 'sanctify yourself' from my beat up Sony speakers.

Next morning I am awoken just after 7am by the sound of gentle guitar notes from next door. I roll open my bedroom wall to hear better, and Rio runs out into the morning light. As my coffee pot starts to gurgle, Steve introduces himself, 'I bet you thought no one was there!' I am only half surprised, and as we share a morning coffee he tells me that he's been at work, enigmatically in his van most of the night, and was sleeping much of yesterday. He's been travelling in Europe for two years and financing himself with bouts of online work - just enough to meet his needs. 'I've learnt a while back, not to get too greedy', he says. We compare notes and exchange a few tips and ideas.

As I hit the road later that morning, I wonder what lies ahead, which new friends I'll see again, and how my life will unfold in the coming months. Its all wide open, each situation is completely whole in itself, and I'm continually learning and adapting along the way, yet home is always with me, and friendly company just around the next corner if thats what I want. Solitude too is obtainable at any time, just by the turn of the magic key I carry on its carabiner in my pocket..

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  1. What a fantastic way to spend the weekend! Thanks for sharing your story and the beautiful pictures.

  2. No blogs for a while then a massive was worth the wait though.I always check in on you,and envy your life I live In my van while working six days a week in freezing Britain.I hope to follow your footsteps one day as soon as my boy doesn't need me around anymore.until then I keep waiting for your next update and dream.keep em coming Chris.

  3. Thanks Matt, to be honest I've had so many great experiences, and my camera memory card has filled up with so many photos, I haven't had time to write about them - just living them has been amazing. I do hope to keep putting more energy into the website though, and there will also be a few guest posts coming soon from other Hiace camper travellers I've met. Have a great weekend, Chris.

  4. Yes it was! Thanks for commenting and have a great weekend yourself next time around!

  5. Richard & Tracey Allen31 January 2015 at 19:28

    Hi Chris been home a week now and it's cold and wet ! Never thought I would miss the Algarve but we do !
    On the way back we wild camped near a place called Troia ? Not the Turkish one but a Portuguese one ! Well worth a drive ? But don't take the wrong sand track as you will get stuck ? Get back if you need directions

  6. Great post, properly jealous! Keeping a note of some of these locations for visits.