11 June 2014

Portugal by Morgan 4/4

Santander felt colder than South Devon on the day we arrived aboard the Pont Aven but the hood of the Morgan stayed down and we wrapped ourselves up multi-layered heading for our first stop at Salamanca. At the end of four hours on the road our night’s stop was at the “Camping Olimpia”, the same hotel used last year. A woodstove was alight by the bar and a Spanish Coffee and a hilarious spaghetti western for me was much enjoyed while Helen rested her head. Unseasonal late snow had fallen here the same day but just melted before we arrived.

By 9.30am next morning we find ourselves on the road heading south through showers and a cold north easterly wind. Over the high plain and mountains west of Madrid there was plenty of snow and not until we approached Huelva did the temperature rise. Turning south west we took a more scenic route through the extraordinary Rio Tinto mining area before linking with the motorway into Portugal. Tanked up with more coffee and a fuel stop with very little traffic we pressed on to Silves, a full eight hours of driving. The ford-engined 4/4 two seater performed well to cover the second leg 450 miles with ease. Oil pressure settled down at three or four bar and engine temperature never raised above 90degC.

From here into the hills our timber chalet is hidden between orange groves and deep little valleys where getting lost would be very easy.

On arrival our hosts Bear and Beth (not their real names) welcomed us to their quiet retreat in the hills. An English couple who had arrived here en-route back from world travels in an old bus. The bus was just visible at the bottom of their own valley beside a couple of beaten up caravans, two tepees and a couple of chalets. Three children now grown, had been raised in that bus and Bear hastened to add that he had replaced its engine before setting out from the antipodes with intentions of returning to the UK.

Three dogs soon made friends with us as did their youngest daughter who is still attending school in Silves.

Bear has a shiny bald pate and stocky frame. He is a man on a mission, has eco-friendly ideals, keeps bees and with this chosen lifestyle is perfectly relaxed. Beth is his stoic long term partner and very welcoming. He assures us security here is not a problem. Any intruders would first need to get past him and his three dogs.

Our first nights’ sleep is enjoyed quietly well away from any town. The brook at the base of the valley is too small to even babble but water is in short supply.

One of the house dogs leads us along a nature trail beside the stream. The valley sides are laden with cork oaks and eucalyptus plus myriad scented plants. All is very much a wilderness.

It’s the 1st of May and we take ourselves off towards Monchique, an historic Spa resort. Bread was being baked in the large outside oven. The baking ladies are identical twin sisters dressed in black. Each as round as the bread rolls which come out of the great domed oven. Their speciality bread rolls contain slices of spicey sausage.

Sagres lies at the south western tip of Portugal and a fishing port similar to Brixham nestles in the shelter of a quarry cut into the cliff. We take a trip Dolphin watching from here. All manner of fishing is highly rewarding off this rich shoreline. The plentiful Octopi are sought out by the whales and the fishermen alike. A string of earthenware pots laid amongst the rocks are soon filled by the octopus seeking refuge. The rib takes us six miles out to sea and the reward is close up contact with common dolphin.

The fish market held each afternoon at 3.30pm swiftly deals with the days catch in Dutch auction style. The price starts high and drops as displayed on a TV screen until one bidder clicks his electronic sender and the job is done. We dine in style at Carlos Restaurant where barnacle comes highly recommended, it was very good.

The Morgan suspension is firm if not harsh on these roads and a cocktail shaker - definitely not a smooth ride. The power of this vehicle to attract attention is a little embarrassing if not irritating at times. Returning back to the chalet we are nobbled by one of the hippy commune number. He was awake and listening out for our recognisable exhaust note and scrambled out from his humble abode waving to attract our attention. His hair is shoulder length, wispy and grey, his skin is nut brown and his build very lean. His grin is toothy but enthusiastic, showing an eager need to get to know the driver of this vehicle. We get an RSVP to visit the camp from this WOOBFF, one invite that is alarming yet just a wee bit tempting. The chance to become an anthropologist for a day, maybe I am the one who needs studying - If you are wondering what the acronym stands for it is this; “works only on bio friendly farms”. How silly of me not to guess!

The little estuary port of Alvor and the much larger thriving fishing / tourist resort of Lagos offer something for everyone including us today. Pleased to enjoy some cooling sea breeze I am eager to find some boats to picture.

Getting to the water’s edge was hampered by blocked off narrow lanes not recognised by our Garmin GPS lacking its updates. Fish restaurants dominate the Alvor waterfront each having alfresco barbecue style grills outside with chimney stacks to waft away the blue smoke. This sleepy little place is another marred by high rise blocks along the seaward eastern approach but the beaches are of soft white sand. I spotted a pile of small crab pots, one with a golf ball inside. The Portuguese seem fond of golf.

There is camper-van compound and we chat to a Canadian and a UK couple parked there. Many of the apartments are on time share of the sort aggressively sold.

Lagos offers a fully-fledged boating scene with replica Caravelle 14th centuary sailing ship of an early type with rounded hull shape. For 15 Euroes there are scenic ventures along the coast to explore grottoes and coves. A busy marina caters for the wide variety of pleasure craft and expensive yachts.

Each time we park the 4/4 the roof has to go up as we chose not to laden ourselves up with a tonneau cover. We select a spot in full public view to deter the light fingered. One German couple we spoke to had unfortunately had their camera stolen from a locked hire car. The time is now arriving for me to grease those king-pins but all is prepared and to hand in the tool kit beneath the spare wheel.
Link to more images of Lagos: https://plus.google.com/photos/109722530072288888502/albums/5874251255750101905

For those mechanically minded followers who may be curious, I shall delve below the bonnet and under the spare wheel today and reveal my tool kit complete with Draper lever action grease gun, essential for keeping those sliding pillars sliding and the steering light. Armed with some rag wipes to clean away the surplus grease, rubber gloves and grease gun, the job is to raise the front end slightly to get some elbow room. Keeping the brake discs clean is vital, hence the wipes.Fortunately this model 4/4 is fitted with thrust bearings beneath the suspension springs and once freshly greased the steering becomes noticeably lighter and driving most pleasurable. At first this light feel at the steering wheel is unsettling because the vehicle seems to have a desire to wander. It is in fact the driver input that causes that light and flighty feel. The magic of the Morgan only becomes apparent after several thousand miles and I have put roughly 13000 miles on the clock in total. The first owner had put in just under 7000 miles.

As well as a basic tool kit we have spare bulbs and fuses, a couple of relays, plastic ties, rope, fire extinguisher, the ubiquitous umbrella and a stout walking stick with which to deter raiders!

En-route to the sea today through the old town part of Silves at the foot of the castle where stalks nest on ancient pinnacles and swifts squeal amidst russet coloured Roman archways and the pink blossom trees.

The 4/4 developed a rattle from the front end and a quick check around the bonnet area revealed two wood screws into the scuttle had worked loose. Also had to replace a bulb in the offside front indicator.

The west coast sea breeze kept us comfortably cool at a little known beach near Aljezur; wandering among sand dunes and a super beach we met a young German couple on two months sabbatical living in their 1970s Mercedes camping bus together with two little ones. A recently installed re-conditioned engine is fitted and the inside is well equipped with all mod-cons. We enjoy a light meal and a very pleasant hour in their company exchanging tales of the unexpected wanderings and some family matters.

Another hot day in prospect so the choice to head west again was made and off towards Arrifana we go to the coastal Nature Park Reserve. Side screens come off the 4/4 in 30 deg C. heat this Monday the 7th of May.

The sea breezes were cooling the coast and we enjoyed stunning scenery and dramatic cliff walks. A surfer’s paradise is here at Arrifana and another at Amada where surfers cafes, hire shops and surf schools are to be found. Aromatic plants thrive all along this coastline and add to the ozone haze which is drifting in today. The coastal foot paths wind through dunes and up onto a complex geological wonderland of red cliffs one minute, grey shale, red and yellow banded slate the next. Wide sandy bays are exposed to the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing for the delicate flavoured Goose Barnacles and Sea Bass is a hazardous pastime for the locals brave enough to take the risk of dodging the waves at the foot of these sea cliffs. Helen spotted a Crested Lark.

The drive leads on through little villages and hidden valleys. Abandoned little round windmills are found dwarfed by the present day wind farm turbines. The road has a lovely stretch through an area of Umbrella pines and another through Eucalypts

There seems to be more retirees here than at home in Devon. We exchange a brief few sentences with a Brummie between sipping coffee at an adjacent table. He says he has enjoyed 7 years at Arrifina. We tease him about his pension prospects but he is not moved or worried in the slightest. His body mass index looks to be a shade on the high side.

We keep getting asked how old our 4/4 is and the whistles and hoots keep coming. Helen often asks me to guild the lily and say that it’s a vintage model but I quit like mentioning it’s only a 2008 model with a very ordinary Ford engine. That’s what Morgans often are – an extraordinary amalgam of fairly ordinary bits and pieces that add up to more than the sum of its parts. However there are some puzzles I would like to solve and the web world has chat forums that are full of enthusiasts offering a variety of solutions to a variety of niggles. This is the way many vehicles have evolved but this is one of the very few to have retained so many original features and survive. Said to be the one and only remaining car marques left in Britain.

The following day began with a wedding invitation at the Silves courthouse. As we drove past we could not help but notice a smartly dressed father of the bride, his arms were flailing and waving a camera at us. It seemed only polite to halt and oblige. The bride his daughter was about to be given away by him to wed her Portuguese boyfriend. He explained that he had recently flown down from Belgium and was waiting outside the building for the rest of the party to arrive. He was in posession of a +4 four seater in a similar cream colour to our 4/4. We had to bow out from his invitation to join the party with the excuse of not being sufficiently well dressed for a wedding. Now with snaps of our 4/4 and mug-shots of its two well-tanned occupants recorded by a total stranger and delighted Belgian it was time for us to move on.

Road going towards Alto, we found a little hilltop village with an interesting church. Because of an allergic reaction to some biting insect Helen had to obtain medication. Fortunately the pharmacist there spoke good English and was able to help.

I forgot to mention yesterday’s surf resort Amado had a cliff top upmarket restaurant where the fish dishes were £40 a head and so we had to settle for a starter and fizzy water. We parked the 4/4 between a “Chelsea tractor” Porsch Cayenne and a Nissan desert vehicle bristling with GPS aerials and promotions for Sahara adventures. As we settled down in the shade of the veranda a foursome straight out of a Poirot murder mystery sauntered past us and settled at the cliff edge table under a sky blue umbrella. One of the four was tall and lean, sporting a straw boater, long cigarette and faded pink slacks that complemented his blush white complexion. A retired Oxford Blue rower perhaps but I had no chance of discovering anything akin to hard fact. The two ladies had that fixed expression that was never going to be challenged, and the fourth gentleman, non-descript over-shadowed by his companion.

To date, we have listened to more varied English accents here in Portugal than ever we hear at home from the BBC - and the characters are real. I took our host Bear out for a spin along the lanes and past one newly built gents des-res with pool tiled on the bottom with Tottenham Hotspur insignia, an English entrepreneur intent on starting up a shooting school.

After two weeks weaving along the lanes and dual lanes of the Algarve we leave the climbing temperatures behind and our rustic chalet buzzing with bees and scuttling geckoes are a happy memory. Going north along the Motorway to Viseu the tolls amounted to over €30 which explains why they are practically empty.

Our second venue is quite different in style; a granite converted farm building appointed with every modern convenience including the important power shower en-suite, ceramic hob and granite work tops and a very helpful host who offered to conduct us back out through the maze of lanes between Viseu the Cathedral city and our retreat in Guimaraes.

Wandering through the narrow shopping streets we chose one little cheese shop where confusion reigned supreme as Helen attempted to buy a quarter cut cheese but left the shop with four quarters. A little further on I spotted some corks – not for wine making but dinghy bungs – they are difficult to find at home. Still Inside the shop an elderly local with walking stick was finding it difficult to make the top step of the entrance door so I gave him a hand and pulled, his free arm shot up into the air, afraid I would pull him over. So began a humorous exchange of sign language, Pidgeon English and Portuguese dialect during which time I was asked if I was American (first accusation), German (second accusation), Dutch (compliment) and finally “Bingo”, I hit the jackpot, an Englishman; wearing a leather kangaroo skin hat and sporting a black umbrella, could I have possibly been in disguise?

Tom and Tomlynn retired here about ten years ago and have no wish to return to the UK. The tiny village has just one little shop and if the lady is there its open, if she’s not there - it’s shut!

The first trip out from here was to the Serra da Estrela granite mountains range. The village of Linhares is topped by a Medieval castle and the streets all cobbled. From here we followed the high road (3000ft) and then onwards between hillsides swathed in the bright yellow flower of broom.

As rain approaches from the North West our next trip out was to be a dash to the coast. The glacier cut valley of Zezere will have to wait for a fine day. First of all I have to get beneath the 4/4 to grease those king-pins once more. By 10am we are on the road, an amazing motorway route through mountains (the Ip5 – E80) from Viseu to Aveiro. About 60miles of sheer joy to drive across a dozen viaducts and several bridges the views along the twisting dual carriageway way are peppered with blossoming yellow broom, forests and deep valley gorges.

First impressions of Aveiro indicate an industrialised built up port and resort marred by motorways and traffic. Once in the old quarter by the water the impression is altered by canals and bridges more akin to Venice. After a wander through the street and arcades beside the water we took to one of the traditional high prowed boats offering scenic trips and ferried by a couple of chatty boatman. A 40minutes crash course in Portugese conducted in the rain beneath the blue umbrellas provided. We passed under low bridges along the waterfront and were shown the redundant ceramics factory and the salt factors where a 50Kilo sack of salt may be had for under €3 but Helen says we don’t use much salt and haven’t the space to cart it back to Devon.

At the Café Greto Prata we rested up over coffee and pastries for a pleasant half hour but I was left alone for ten minutes while Helen visited the ladies powder room. Fiddling with my phone I suddenly received a call and immediately cancelled it thinking I had pressed a wrong key. A second call soon came through and it was Helen on the line to say she had become locked in the loo and please call the waitress to let her out! I made my best attempts to explain but the waitress remained seated at her table enjoying her coffee alongside the waiter. I managed to encourage the waiter to the ladies loo but he promptly returned to his table leaving me to fiddle with the door which had lost its handle. I managed to release Helen by putting the car key through and turning it (much to her relief).

Portugal report 8

At Guimaraes our lodge deserves a fuller description than given so far, so I shall start from the ground floor and work up.

It’s half of a detached barn with meter thick granite walls and ceramic tiled floors. The bedroom en-suite on the lower floor includes a bidet which neither of us is adept at using, a circular mirror with an outer circumference of bright blue LED lights to show up every wrinkle. The replica brass bedstead with bronze lacquered finish has large knobs at each corner. There is a three seat sofa and, in addition, one royal blue plush velvet chase-lounge with foot stool extension that Helen refuses to adorn. Neither of us is much in the mood for chasing or lounging and a photo shoot for posterity is quite out of the question. I threatened to do a risqué studio session of myself on the chase lounge in white sheet Toga; one jesting hint of a Roman grandee that sinks like a lead balloon.

The little windows are fitted with very substantial wooden shutters of red hardwood to match the rest of the woodwork and the very tall wardrobe remains almost empty.

The Lounge and open plan kitchen upstairs is nicely equipped with every accoutrement that a tourist might wish for, including the guide to places of particular local interest. For all its comfort and attention to detail the ambiance is a trifle upset by alarms, fire buttons and glowing red switches designed to alert the management to any distressful occurrence, (a mishap at the bidet for example).

We have freedom to walk extensive gardens surrounding the old farm with its Roman tile roof in terracotta. The wide balcony has views towards the Sera de Estrela mountain range (on a clear day).

Next door lives a retired engineer mariner, a sea dog Dutchman I met while busy on the 4/4, he nobbled me for a natter from over the garden wall and is kind enough to invite Helen and I for a get together any time. He has lived here twelve years and before settling had sailed his own ocean yacht for ninety thousand sea miles before “swallowing the anchor”.

Friday the 17th and we are listening to the gutters, brooks, irrigation channels and lashing rain on red tiles. It does not deter the older generation of growers from tending the land as they carry produce on large baskets balanced on their head while deftly wielding an umbrella.

At Torreria we manage to escape the rain and catch sight of the fishing fleet of small wooden boats of ancient origin resembling Gondalas. There is a lovely waterfront onto the shallow lagoon where the men take out these flat bottomed boats. As the tide drops some wade out from the anchored craft with a long hand held net strung out between them. Others use a pronged rake with trailing funnel net attached to drag along the sand gathering shellfish.

It is here we learn of a sad loss in the family and our travels are to be brought to a close sooner than expected.

A visit to Trancoso with its medieval castle and walled village includes coffee and cakes then a climb up along the ramparts. The beautiful drive and a circular tour home took us through more granite hills, rocky outcrops and dolmens. Searches along forest tracks for those ancient monuments proved fruitless and after three attempts we had to stop at a small café/filling station. Chilly outside here in the afternoon as the cafe owner decides to bend our ear. It’s an ailing business with little prospects of success and too far off the beaten track. He is content to watch his wife behind the bar doing the work while he chats to customers or watches Tv. He has worked in France and Canada but then retired on what he thought would be a good pension but fortune has not favoured him and he would go back to Canada tomorrow if he could. The price of his business is €500,000 but he is trapped in hard times.

Back at the lodge our host invites us to see over the estate. Their pets include a grey parrot and their floors are tiled in polished granite.

The Dutch couple next door invited us across to spend time with them later the same day. We are shown over their very beautiful home and meet their little terrier and three cats, treated to some tasty home cooking and select Koch port wine. The view from the balcony is grand and the Estrela mountain tops are dusted in snow. Next day we head for these snow-capped peaks and explore the Zezere glacier cut valley and get caught in a white out snow flurries while traversing the top in the 4/4. The dramatic climb made close up to the 4,800 foot cloud base. Unfortunately Torre the tallest peak is hidden and the choice to continue on heading north takes us into swirling mist and the drive down into the next valley is blind. A popular Sunday trip to the snow slopes, traffic here is busier than at the coast. Along the way shepherds are seen leading their goats to roadside forage and lower down the local mountain with a local breed of sheepdog, a smaller cousin to the St. Bernard, with golden brown long shaggy coat.

An unexpected treat at Vido was had when we happened on a very local market selling everything from wardrobes to whistles, Sardines to socks and the lorry selling joints of meat included wild pork chops. The cook while you wait barbecue set up was a simple wire mesh grill over log fire and the smoke was blue. No health and safety rules apply here.

A final visit to the motor museum Museu do Caramulo next before we head to Santander and the ferry home. And what a museum this - not only artworks and antiquities but one outstanding motor vehicle collection that includes La Creme de La Creme of motor vehicles. All beautifully presented and in working condition.

Monday dawns sunny and by early Wednesday we must hit the road home to catch the Santander ferry home …

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