Portugal – Where Time Changes, But Road Building Stands Still!

On leaving our Huelva sleepy spot on Wednesday morning, we cannily brimmed Sebo’s diesel tank – €1.14/l in Spain, €1.27/l in Portugal! Go figure!

We really do have to congratulate The Spanish on their excellent road system – virtually everywhere we have driven over the last two months has been on smooth, wide roads – even up in the mountains! We avoid motorways wherever it’s possible and reasonable to do so – particularly the tolled variety- but even the N roads are impeccably maintained, often running alongside the Autovias. We have spent hours driving the N340 around Spain’s south coast and we often compared it to our Route 66 Trip – many stretches of the N34O took us through towns and villages which had been bypassed by the “new” fast road and the derelict former hotels, restaurants, shops and houses all told their own stories. In fact, just about the ONLY badly surfaced (and signposted!) Spanish road we experienced was the one leading to Gibraltar! Not a signpost to be seen until you leave the motorway and even that is so tiny as to be easily missed! The road leading to Gibraltar from here is a mass of potholes and teensy, almost handwritten, signs. Spain are, clearly, still smarting over it not being handed over to them! Made us laugh!

Our trip down to Portugal was uneventful – we took the A49 as it’s actually quite scenic as it wends it’s way through Western Andalucia. Before we knew it, we were crossing the bridge over the river and into a totally new country – in more ways than one! No border crossings, naturally, but a huge sign telling “foreign registered cars” to pull into the right and register for their electronic toll system. No-one around to tell you how to do this and no instructions at the barriers either! We parked-up and mosied on into the handily located Tourist Info office to inquire as to what is required. Apparently, if you want to use the toll roads in Portugal, you gotta register a credit/debit card at the barrier on entry to the country and this is then linked to your registration number if and when you avail of the toll roads. We don’t necessarily intend to use them BUT, Portugal’s N roads are renowned for being in an appalling state of disrepair so we may opt to use the toll roads at some stage – for the sake of all our crockery, glassware, Sebo’s suspension and our fillings!

As it was, for today at any rate, we didn’t need to avail of the tolled A22 as we were only heading two junctions down and, as the helpful young lady at the Tourist Info had informed us, the first two junctions are free! Yippee! Nonetheless, we stuck our card into the barrier machine and registered for tolls for future reference.

Our final destination today was supposed to be a paid Aire in Vila Real de San Antonio BUT, we ended up in a car park in Manta Rota! Don’t ask me how – I’d programmed CoPilot with the GPS coordinates as they appeared in our All The Aires book but, somehow, it directed us to the Aire a couple of km down the road! We missed the turn in the village for the Manta Rota Aire and ended-up in the car park. No matter – we can see the 80-pitch Aire 200m away and it looks rather full! We decided to walk across and check if there were any Sebo-sized pitches left. There weren’t! To be honest, it was packed to the gunwhales and we suspect a lot of them had been there for the duration, judging by the “gardens” they had laid out! At €4.25/night, why not? Anyhow, it wasn’t our scene – even if there had been a suitable space! We walked back to Sebo (and the several other vans parked-up on the car park that clearly said “no motorhomes or caravans”!) via the Tourist Info office and asked for advice – the nice lady gave us a list of alternatives but, when we asked “can we actually just stay where we are on the car park?”, she nodded, knowingly, telling us that the local Policia sometimes drive around and may ask a few questions but there shouldn’t be any problem i.e we were unlikely to be moved on. Perfect!

Manta Rota is a pretty holiday resort, with not a single high rise apartment block to it’s name! We were parked-up alongside a boardwalk over the dunes which took us down to the sandiest beach we’d ever seen! Miles and miles of it! Of course, there was the mandatory “No Dogs” sign but, judging by the number of dogs being walked on it, we guessed this rule doesn’t apply out of season. Harley had a ball! He ran like a dog possessed – straight into the chilly, breaking waves of The Atlantic!

Of course, we gained an hour today – Portugal being in GMT – so, having become accustomed to darkness not descending until 7pm in Spain, it’s now gonna be dark by 6pm tonight! Handy in one way, cos we want to BBQ and, since we’re not technically “camping”, we’re not supposed to be lighting BBQs! By 7pm, it was pitch black out so Roy fired up the Weber surreptitiously on the seaward side of Sebo and we munched away on our locally procured beef and veg kebabs (awesome value at just €3.36 for three huge beef, green pepper and sweet potato kebabs!).

Rain, unfortunately, is on the horizon for tomorrow and we’re heading a few km west, towards Tavira. Let’s hope the parking situation there is a little less crowded……