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Published: January 5th 2012
Motorhome News from Europe 48 5th January 2012 Continuing our travels through Portugal and Spain en route to Morocco by motorhome, with friends, Kit and Morag from Norfolk, UK, and Brian and Kathryn from Adelaide, Australia. Off to Morocco!
Silves, Sagres, Monchique, Tavira, El Rocio and Tangier Med, Morocco
With a few days in hand before our sailing to Morocco, we had all gone our separate ways, treading water so-to-speak, and we continued west from Vilamura to Silves, the red sandstone Moorish capital of the Algarve, a walled town topped by a fascinating Cathedral - and Castle as one would expect; a true delight in the bronze glow of the falling sun. A hundred motorhomes shared a special car-park for motorhomes only here. We joined them overnight, parked up by the river for free; spacious, clean, and a gift for local traders.
Rumours abound about the introduction of tolls on the IC4/A22 Motorway along the south of the Algarve. Some tell us the electronically controlled charges have already started but nobody knows how to pay or where to pay, if at all. If we've been clocked we'll proclaim innocence!
We've been on and off it a couple of times; on our way to Lagos, out to see the lighthouse and craggy golden rocks at Ponta da Piedade and then on to the Alvor estuary for some great birding: spoonbills, flamingoes, bluethroats, golden and Kentish plovers, darting to-and-fro amongst the industrious clam-fishermen, bent backed, turning the muddy sand with their trowels before the incoming tide.
Later that evening we left the somewhat tired campsite just beyond Sagres to venture to the most westerly point of the Algarve, at Cabo de Sao Vincente, unable to resist the magnetism of the moment, rather in the manner of climbing mountains because they're there. It was a spur of the moment thing as we were preparing dinner in the motorhome; Janice studiously researching the area and discovering it's at its most romantic at sunset! Clearly every tourist within a hundred miles had been reading the same book and couples old and young were there, holding hands, sitting together arm-in-arm on the rocks above the cliffs, patiently waiting for the moment when the sun breathed its last sigh on the horizon. Quite lovely - as we would say back in England.
Ponta do Piedade
Our travels over the past few days have really been on familiar territory and an excuse perhaps for us to see a little of that sand-strewn Atlantic coast northwards along the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano Costa. Sunny blue skies continued to light our way each and every day, so much that it's now quite easy to tell the locals from the tourists in these parts. We're the ones in shorts and tee-shirts. They're the ones in coats, scarves and hats. This wonderful coast road winds through pine and eucalyptus forest to Aljezur, with rolling hills like the swell of a rising tide to the east. A brief diversion took us out to the prime surfing beach at Praia do Amado; miles of windswept sandy beaches and huge white horses on the shore and all the signs of a permenent hippie encampment on the car-park amongst the dunes.
At Aljezur, we turned inland, eastwards across the sweeping tree-lined hills of the Serra de Monchique, through miles of managed eucalyptus forest to Foia, the highest point in southern Portugal, just to stand and stare - to savour the magnificent views across the hills all the way to the
coast. Our chosen campsite for the night was at Caldas de Monchique (we drove the very narrow one-way road through the village looking for the campsite before realising it was totally unsuitable for motorhomes), a mile or so south of town. A most wonderful spot and campsite, up a steep unsurfaced road where many Brits and predominently French would be spending a friendly winter in the sun.
Before venturing to Morocco we wanted to meet up with our new motorhoming friends from back home, Sheila and Gilroy, enjoying a few months in the sun in Tavira, a long drive back along the coast. They're old hands when it comes to Morocco and with their guidance our travels will be more rewarding. Parked on the same campsite, Rio Formosa, beside the Rio Formosa National Park, we teased their brains over coffe next morning and then set off, first for lunch at a local seafront bar and then into the Park for some superb birding - another common interest it seems. Thank you both for your help and company.
We ventured into El Rocio after a long drive on New Year's Day; it's high on the
list of the most enigmatic of towns in Europe, dominated by the dazzling white church of Ermita del Rocio looking out over the shallow waters and mudflats of the Donana Marismas. We last visited El Rocio on 26th October 2004 and our memory is of a ghost town, its sand-strewn streets of delicate, white, balconied houses deserted and ringing of the wild-west. Indeed the town is empty for most of the year but its fame arises from the Romeria del Rocio, a gathering of hermandades, seemingly 90 or more 'clans' or 'lodges' of pilgrims, who travel here in their hundreds, on foot or by horse and gaily covered wagons, from around Andalucia each Whitsun to carry aloft the golden figure of the Virgin from the church.
This year things were rather different. We arrived around midday on New Year's Day, a Sunday, and the dusty streets were teeming with sand-covered cars, horses, mule- drawn carriages, prancing horses, partying people, raising their glasses and bottles, thousands of people smiling and singing their way through the day. It appears the hermandades were there to celebrate the coming of a New Year, happy couples, sad looking mules, carriage-drawn families waving, enebriated young
men calling us to take their pictures from shadowy doorways, laughing, shouting, offering us drinks, setting off fire-crackers, packing the bars and swaying gently over the hitching posts outside every house on their sun-drenched verandahs.
Wednesday came around again as it seems to do every week, though quicker as we get older, but this one was special. Our convoy of three motorhomes arrived in the Lidl car park at Algeciras, in accordance with the motorhomer's guidebook, ready to book our ferry tickets to Morocco with Carlos in his office across the road. He tempts everyone with his free chocolate cake and bottle of cheap bubbly - and does the required vehicle export papers on his computer, saving considerable hassle. With only an hour before the next ferry across to the smart new port at Tangier Med we chose to take the 2pm boat and use the time to stock up with essentials (bacon and booze in particular), scouring the shelves of Lidl and Carrefour.
That later and 'slow' boat, was perhaps a mistake. It left port half an hour late and we eventually disembarked at 4pm local time (we got an hour back half way across) and
Sheila and Gilroy
Our Morocco consultants - birding on the marshes
cleared customs, amongst much confusion and general merriment, papers and passports going hither and thither, in half an hour. Those in the know told us this is the best route; free from touts and the least hassle.
The two hour drive on the toll (100 Dirham) motorway to our first Moroccan campsite at Moulay Bousselham by the coast meant we arrived just after dark; not at the top of the motorhomer's first-choice list, and our first experience of Moroccan Motorways presented us with people wandering along the hard-shoulder and climbing over the central reservation in the dark, a broken-down vehicle every mile-or-two - and goats, cows and sheep wandering beside the barrier. The 'Diesel' warning light came on as planned just as we left the port and we were fortunate to find a garage on the motorway some 20km down the road to fill up at 7.34Dh/litre, around 66p/litre in English money.
There's a heavy police presence everywhere; smart guys in their grey-blue uniforms, checking papers, directing traffic, attending breakdowns on the motorway, motorbikes and cars with flashing blue lights. We feel safe enough but this was a long and stressful day for all
of us, particularly Kathryn, who, with Brian incapacitated, had to do all the driving. An earlier boat - or even a faster one, could well have been the better choice - plus a good grasp of Spanish to ask more questions of Carlos in the first place! We're still learning.
Early morning mist shrouded the Camping Caravanning International campsite at sunrise, drifting gently across the Merja Zerga lagoon beside us. When the mist finally burns off we should see the migrating egrets, flamingoes, shelduck and gannets that are said to winter here.
There was some particularly good news from the 'Bertie' (our motorhome) household over Christmas; a new addition to the family. Todd says it's nothing to do with him, so we don't know what to make of it all. Susie keeps looking innocent whilst trying to convince us it's a Virgin birth. We really have no idea what they get up to while we're not around. Any suggestions for a name for the baby would be greatly appreciated. At the moment he's known as BB (Baby Bear).
So, this is where our Moroccan adventure really begins. It will be a journey of compromise that's for sure,
for us all to see what we came to see, to savour the cuisine and embrace the culture.
David and Janice
The grey haired nomads
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