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Published: July 30th 2016
Every day we monitor our motorhome’s 150-litre capacity water tank. At home, the local water authority charges us for an average of 350 litres a day. Somehow here, we can make 150 litres last as long as three days. This southern part of Portugal is parched at the moment and with rain as scarce as rocking horse dung, water is precious. Two days ago we visited a little village called Paderne where plentiful water gushes from a natural mountain spring. Local farmers came to the spring and fill tanks mounted on the trucks and on tractor-drawn trailers. A six-inch pipe attached to an overhead gantry would swing over a water tank mounted on a truck. Water gushed so fast that a 10,000-litre tank would be overflowing in under five minutes. When not being diverted to the overhead pipe, the spring water flows through a wash house where there are lines of tubs, for washing clothes, and then flows to a fruit orchard slightly further down the slope.
When we arrived at the spring, several other motorhome travellers showed us how it worked. If you wanted extra strong water pressure to clean your vehicle, well stand back; the overhead pipe pummels
water wherever it was directed. I dared not use it, for fear of the water pressure finding or maybe creating leaks in our motorhome’s roof. If after filling the tank, you wanted to wash clothes, then the procedure was to use the tubs under the wash-house roof. It seemed incredulous that in this era, local women would take their clothes to the wash house to wash by rubbing them against washboards and use natural flowing water to rinse. Not one single electrical power point or appliance was in sight.
At the time we arrived a group of women from the local village were picnicking under the shade trees. After a bit, they proceeded to use the wash house facility. Do you remember those advertisements for automatic washing machines where women of mid- eastern appearance bash the clothes with the machine’s electrical cable? It was the custom then to cleanse the clothes by rubbing them against rocks. And maybe you thought it was so impossibly funny that you paid attention to the advertiser’s message. On the left you can see the rows of washtubs, while on the right hand side shows water flow through the tubs.
In the last
week and a bit, in drought torn Spain and Portugal, we have been chasing shade. While these countries have long histories of great and cultured building, they have failed over centuries to plant shade trees. Maybe protection from a scorching sun in the middle of the day is not so important in normal seasons. But with the region experiencing its worst drought in 150 years, and hot Sahara winds colluding with the blistering sun to char everything, shade is as precious and rare as a good water supply. Adjacent to the spring was a stand of tall shade trees. It felt so cool that instead of moving on to our intended beach camp stop, we lingered soaking up the hiding under shade as if we had found the elixir of life there.
All seemed set. There was no reason to move on. We relaxed. While we enjoyed our siesta, the other motorhomes left. Despite being a bit isolated, the location seemed a perfect place to stay the night. We could have the place to ourselves. We have camped in isolated locations before on our own.
Later we barbequed some salmon and potatoes and sat back to watch the
sun setting over the orchard in the next paddock.
Then, as the bright orange ball of sun rested on the horizon, some clapped out old vehicles pulled up. Dogs, kids and junk spilt out. It was hard to work out whether the mangy dogs were more feral than the skinny urchins. Women moved to the wash house. Kids and dogs ran in all directions, leaving a trail of fallen fleas in their wake. Little kids ran wild in their nappies. Bigger kids ripped their gear off and took a plunge in the wash tubs. Trousers were dropped, flung into wash tubs as water squirted dirt free of the cloth, and then bashed against scrubbing boards, wrung out and hung on fences. Young men soaped themselves up, stood under the overhead pipe drenching themselves under the gantry as water flowing at about 30 litres a second battered their bodies and emerged soap free in seconds. Adult men were setting up for something else. It looked like the water party would run all night. It was time to reconsider the evening’s camping arrangements.
We bolted. Only 30 kilometres away was a great camp site. In under an hour, we were
sipping a glass of wine atop the cliff face of Carvoeiro overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. What a blessing in disguise it was to have our earlier campsite invaded. In this picture (above left), you may be able to pick out our motorhome among vehicles at the top of the cliff.
Over the next few days, we continued our journey through Portugal’s Algarve. The photos here cover the trip to and around Cao de Sao Vicente – Europe’s ‘Land’s End’, This bit of coast (about 160 km from the border with Spain to Cao de Sao Vicente) has surf, sandy beaches, and spectacular cliffs that would rival any in the world on scale or splendour. Away from the beach, it’s all rather pitiful, sparsely populated set in desolate landscapes.
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