Friday, 13 April 2018

Overlanding Portugal

A few days ago we left Portugal after a lovely, but wet, 3 weeks there. We’d started on the Southern Spanish-Portuguese border and intended to travel all the way North, but we didn’t make it quite that far, instead we turned east along the beautiful Douro River and headed back to Spain. 

Our time was running out and when I checked the weather forecast it was obvious that staying longer in North Portugal would mean looking at more rain. It has rained for a lot of our stay in Portugal. 

Despite the rain, we’ve both enjoyed Portugal and intend to come back, one day (years from now). It has beautiful buildings, amazing tiles on buildings, spectacular beaches, great history, scrumptious food and the people are worth seeing and meeting too. 

My favourite part of travels is always the ‘human element’. We found the people of Portugal to be friendly (if approached). Often we noted some basics in life there: women doing laundry by hand in public purpose built facilities, and hanging the clothes on rudimentarily constructed clothes lines; people traveling by horse and cart; hardware shops selling new kerosene lamps and fuel burning cooking stoves. (These are just a few exceptional things we saw, for the most part people seem to live as you might expect in a European country: washing by machine, travel by car or public transport, cooking and lighting via wiring and plumbing to appliances.)
Clothes lines next to the public laundry facility. I didn’t photograph the women doing their laundry by hand.
Clothes lines next to the public laundry facility. I didn’t photograph the women doing their laundry by hand. 

Eating out or having a coffee out in Portugal can be very affordable. A shot of espresso: €0.65, a ‘menu of the day’ meal of 3 courses with wine €7.50; coffee with a famous Portuguese custard tartlet €1. So, we made sure we tried a few specialities while we were in Portugal. 

Our favourite eats were: the spiced bbq’d chicken we had at a Sunday market - olives, bread, whole chook, salad, wine for me and beer for H, total cost €11;  The delicious octopus meals we had in Algarve (not so cheap, but worth it); the delicious Portuguese custard tarts, which we ate again and again across Portugal, and often trying a different type of cake or tartlet. Oh, and let’s not forget the cafe overlooking the ocean in a tiny coastal town where we had 2 coffees (for H), tea (for me) and a big slice of cake still warm from the oven all for €2.90!

In Portugal it’s also really nice to shop at the local market: there are permanent fresh produce and fish markets in many towns. 

The Portuguese also have great festivals. We accidentally arrived in Alcoutim during their ‘Festival of Contraband’ and it certainly was a lively and fun festival, but I guess any festival with wine sold for €0.50 per serve is going to be lively! And we went to Sao Brás de Alportel’s Easter Sunday procession of flower torches. For that they decorated 1km of streets with flowers laid in patterns on the bitumen and then the men, carrying torches made of flowers, walked through them in a religious procession. It was such an effort by people to stage this fantastic event. 
Volunteers laying down the flowers in São Bras de Alportel.

Volunteers laying down the flowers in São Bras de Alportel. 

The procession of the flower torches in São Bras de Alportel.

The procession of the flower torches in São Bras de Alportel. 

We saw some stunning coastal scenery from long beaches to rocky headlands. A brief break in the wet weather allowed us to stand in front of the old fort at Nazaré and excitedly watch the massive waves and a Jetski tow a surfer out to surf them (they are said to be the biggest surf waves in the world). 

Inland we saw the forests of cork trees with their bark removed, and many plantations of olives, and citrus, and, of course, grapes in the Douro valley. 

We saw grand castles and palaces, and impressive buildings of religion, as well as admiring the ‘average’ houses adorned in fantastic tiles and the striped houses of Costa Nova. 
Striped houses in Costa Nova. The effect in town was sometimes by tiles, sometimes paint.

Striped houses in Costa Nova. The effect in town was sometimes by tiles, sometimes paint. 

Despite our dislike of cities we enjoyed both Lisbon and Porto, rode old trams in each, cycled the river of each, and in Lisbon we  were gobsmacked by the Jeronimo Monastery and from a Regua-Porto river cruise we were struck by the beauty of the Douro Valley. 

In an artesan’s shop in Nazaré the owner described to me, with passion, the various types of Fado music after I returned to tell him how much I liked the music in his store. And on our final evening in Porto we saw 5 different and wonderful Fado singers acompany the Fado string instrument musicians at a local bar (with local, not tourist, prices). 

Fado in a local bar in Porto. The singers name was Patricia and she was one of 5 talented singers who accompanied the wonderful musicians.

Fado in a local bar in Porto. The singer’s name was Patricia and she was one of 5 talented singers who accompanied the wonderful musicians. 

So, yes, we liked Portugal a lot. And we really do intend to go back one day. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Pesky insects inside the RV

Insects can be quite a bother when you’re living in a motorhome or any type of RV. We’re living in confined spaces and we need open windows to take in the best of the local environment, as most of us don’t have the luxury of air-conditioning while we are parked. 

We have wonderful windows in Blu with built in insect screens. I say wonderful as I think the concept is quite fantastic, but it has its faults which you can often see discussed on RV online forums. The screens are on rollers from one side and the blinds are on a roller from the opposite side and the 2 meet in the middle, it takes up minimal space and the idea is really quite clever. 

Blac has pleated screens and blinds on the roof hatches which are pretty cool too. But I’m going to talk about how we’ve dealt with insects in Blu, as Australia is the country to really test the insect proofing of any system.

So, the screens in Blu do keep most insects out. But still, due to the attraction of light or us insects will still come to the screens. Tiny insects will come through the screen and the occasional larger insect will crawl around the side of the screen where it’s not fixed (it can’t be fixed since it’s a roller system). 

Our solution for the attraction of the lights is to cover some of the LED lights with yellow cellophane. Then, in the evenings where insects are problematic we’ll only turn on these lights. This system has worked really well for us. But, if you intend to do this then do be careful as cellophane on a hot light would potentially be a fire hazard. In our case it’s been fine. 

Then there’s the attraction of human blood. It seems that I’m particularly attractive to midgies (sand flies). They hardly bother H but given the chance they’ll feast on me while I sleep and I won’t know it’s happening until I wake up in the morning. 

Our solution to this has been to spray the insect screens with Permethrin. It’s the same stuff as is sprayed on mosquito nets, hikers clothing, and dogs (for fleas). It works but insects that land on it are indiscriminately killed (which seems a terrible thing to do) and then the land on the bottom roller (for our rolling blind) and get squished in its action. Also, the screens, with Permethrin, do seem to get dirty really quickly. 

So, that’s our 2 solutions for keeping insects out. You might also be able to install yellow lights directly. If it is your lighting that’s attracting the insects then having yellow lights instead can really improve things for you. 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The pleasures found off the beaten path, Alhama de Granada

I think that what I like most about this means of travel (ie, travel by RV) is being able to visit small places. Places that aren’t easy to get to when you are reliant on public transport and a tight budget become available when you have a motorhome, even with the tight budget still!

Most the top attractions of the world seem to be in cities, but I don’t think it’s because they are any better than some far off places, it’s just that they are more accessible to more people: there’s a big population right there, airplanes fly in, buses and trains stop, and hotels and restaurants are available. But with an RV you don’t need these conveniences. You just need a road to bring you within some proximity of the site. 

We mostly avoid cities. They’re not fun to navigate in a big vehicle and although Blac (our European motorhome) is roughly half the size of Blu (our Australian one) it’s still a big vehicle for Europe. But occasionally we will visit a city. Last month we did Amsterdam and yesterday we visited Granada. We enjoyed attractions in both. But between those two cities their isn’t a major city that we visited, but plenty that we could have. 

This place we are in now is particularly nice. It’s called ‘Alhama de Granada’. The town is high up above the river, which is carved into a gorge, and the edges of the old town are built right to the edges of that gorge. It’s spectacular.  

Within the gorge are the old flours mills, one in ruins, the other restored. From a distance, you see the old town of white buildings clustered around a tall grand church (at the highest point), all this sitting about the gorge. 

Alhama de Granada

In town the locals are friendly and we’ve observed an old man leading an old donkey with big panniers (empty) into town from the fields and also watched a flock of sheep be brought from the town area out to the fields. 

We had coffee this morning in a bar where they played loud flemenco music, gave us a map and told us what we should visit whilst giving us a taster of their homemade ‘nutella’ with fresh strawberries. Then we stopped later for tapas and were given a plate of lovely roast pork to try (as well as the selection of cured meats and cheese we’d ordered). 

This is the stuff I really like. The friendly locals and the locals doing their thing. 

Not so many tourists make it to Alhama de Granada but those who do, I believe, mostly come for the thermal pools. They’re free! Okay, normally there’d be some more that aren’t free (at the site of the old Roman Thermal baths that, I also believe, have been restored) but that establishment is currently closed and work is being done. 

Right beside the river, a couple of kilometres from town, are the thermal pools (both the free and not-free-but-closed). They’re nice. The middle pool is a nice temperature (the top pool is the warmest but also the smallest and almost always full so I didn’t try it). 

Aside from soaking in the warm waters (and it’s been cold and rainy here) I also liked the local aspect here too. The locals simply wear their underwear in the pools. And sometimes a local will go down to the bottom pool (there’s just 3) to wash with soap. Some people might find that idea horrid and some will not like it environmentally but I just found it interesting to observe that this is how things were done, and I’d read that these people may not have washing facilities in their house. 

Thermal pools, Alhama de Granada

Thermal pools, Alhama de Granada

So, we really did like Alhama de Granada. It’s one of many places that proves why travel like this is so good. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Ali’s brilliant method for getting a mouse out of the motorhome

It happens, we camp in various parts of world, we have food on board, and our land-yacht isn’t mouse proof. So eventually a mouse will get into almost an RV. 

Horror stories are around of mice or rats chewing wiring, especially in the motor compartment. It’s not so bad if they get into your food, it’s easier to replace, but it’s still horrid. 

So, one night while I (Ali, the Aussie) struggled with some insomnia I heard a mouse in a kitchen cupboard of Blu. ‘Bugger!’ I thought. ‘What will I do?’ I had no traps and no poison (not they I would have used poison... I’d rather not have a dead rodent stuck somewhere I couldn’t get to.). 

I got up. I rattled things in the cupboard. The little bugger was hiding, of course I wouldn’t see it. I went back to bed. I heard it again. I couldn’t sleep with this! (I already had insomnia!) I got up, I rattled things, I went back to bed, again. Again!

Then I thought of something. Amongst my amoury of tools against insomnia I had downloaded various podcasts. One of which was the sound of a cat purring. 

I grabbed my smart phone, hit play on the purring cat podcast and left it on the kitchen bench. 

In the morning I found the ‘calling card’ left by the mouse. ‘Calling card’ used in this way means mouse poo. I cleaned up. I never saw that mouse or heard it or saw another calling card again. I believe it left. 

So, I think it’s brilliant but maybe it’s not. But, I do recommend that if you’ve got any type of RV, caravan, motorhome, or land-yacht, then download a purring mouse podcast or sound recording. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Back in Blac, our European Motorhome

It’s been a while since I wrote a blogpost. In truth I didn’t feel much like writing about our travels in Australia. It was as if it was too personal, or, as they say, ‘too close to home’.  

Now we are back in Europe, and I don’t know if I’ll be much better at the writing. Blac has been ‘resurrected’, and we are a few days into some European travels, heading South to find warmer weather. 

I say ‘resurrected’ regarding Blac and by this I mean that batteries (that were removed and left on a charger while we were gone) have been reinstalled, the water tanks refilled, mechanical things checked, general cleaning done (we had to scrub mould off the side!). 

A few days into the trip and a few things have given us trouble: The heating in a cab died, leaving us with just the diesel heater in the back. A ducting hose of the diesel heater became disconnected, blew hot air on a water hose, and burst that hose. And we have a persistent problem of nothing happening when the ignition key is turned on multiple attempts and then it going as if there’s never been any problem. For this we’ve had the solenoid in the starter motor replaced and the battery checked and H’s tried many other things but still no resolution!  

That is a problem with leaving a motorhome for an extended amount of time, things deteriorate and you’re not there to notice or do maintenance. Not just motorhomes but almost anything, shoes left behind in a cupboard have looked fine when I’ve returned a few years later but in one wear they’ve been known to fall apart. 

There are a number of ‘good-housekeeping’ things one should do before leaving a motorhome sit for an extended period. My recommendation is that anybody needing to do this do some research to get things as best as possible for their setup before they go. 

Some things we do: with Blac we take the batteries out and leave them on an ac charger. (Blu has lithium so different allowances on what you can do). If we are leaving our vehicle in a place that might get below zero temperatures we empty all the water out, otherwise we add a little bleach to the water tank, I believe other people use peroxide, the reason is to not have mould, algae or anything living in your water system. Of course, this must be released and flushed out on your return! When we parked Blu my instinct was to pull all the roller blinds closed (stop prying eyes) but H opened them up and informed me that because the mechanism is spring operated we wouldn’t want the spring getting overstretched by leaving the blinds in the pulled out position. Good thinking! And, just like leaving a house fridge, once it’s emptied and cleaned out it needed to be propped open or it might become a stinky fungal mess. Ventilation, if possible, is a good thing. When we left Blac in Brazil we asked our ‘caretaker’ to open it up in dry weather. 

I’m sure there’s lots more tips that could be added to this. As I said, things will deteriorate regardless, you just need to minimise the problems you’ll get on your return. 

And finally, I just have to add a photo to the post. We have been travelling south to find warmer places and, as such, we decided not to bother too much about sightseeing along the route. Otherwise it would take too long to get anywhere! But on Sunday we stopped for a break and decided that our rest stop, in a place called Remoulins was nice so we’d stay the night. As always I decided to find out what was in the area (we had no idea) and soon discovered that just a little way up the road (2.7km by bicycle) was this! The highest Roman aqueduct ever built, still very much intact, beautiful, about 2000years old. It’s called Pont du Gard. It was a truly serendipitous moment!