Portugal – Wild Camping Paradise!

Following our free three night stay in Évora, we reckoned we’d continue the “wild camping” theme for as long as our batteries would let us and, with the sun nicely topping-up our batteries via our solar panel, we had our breakfast and found a “freebie” spot for Monday night. We were heading back towards The Algarve, through the Alentejo plains and after a couple of hours, found ourselves alongside the Barragem do Monte da Rocha just north of the town of Ourique. By the time we parked-up, the sun was beating down and our weather station was showing 28C! Out came our chairs and out we sat, soaking-up the sun’s rays until it cooled-down enough to comfortably go for a walk! The dose of “vanflu” suffered by Roy last week had now managed to infect the other half of the Semple Duo but, with a degree of stoicism (and a handkerchief permanently attached to her nostrils!), off we set to see what the reservoir (barragem) had to offer. Harley was delighted to be given free reign to cool down in it’s inviting waters….

Our sleepy spot for the night was quiet enough – surprisingly so, considering the adjoining cafe/bar, barking dog and a selection of free roaming poultry (chickens, cockerels, turkeys, guinea fowl!) and we slept well and awoke fully refreshed the next morning and ready to continue our journey south.

Monchique was to be our next destination –Fóia to be precise, it being the highest peak in Southern Portugal and thus, ripe for a spot of hillwalking….or so you would think. Further research revealed that, actually, the usual thing here is to drive up to the top, park up, then walk down and back up! OK, a tad different from our usual routine but, hey, when in Portugal and all that….!!! THIS time, we were prepared – we even called at the Tourist Info in Monchique on the way up to pick up Trail Maps – yeah, I know, we’re learning! Unfortunately, the darned office was still closed for lunch when we arrived. Dammit! With nowhere handy to park Sebo whilst waiting for it to reopen, we headed on up to the top, thinking there’d surely be an Info place up there (there wasn’t!). The drive up was pretty spectacular until the clouds came down to meet us and, after a near miss with a dude driving without lights, on our side of the road (!), we finally pulled into the car park in almost zero visibility! Mmmmmm…..the promised views of the “whole of The Algarve” were here somewhere but, hell, we couldn’t see ’em! In fact, we could barely make out the outline of the huge building to our left which housed a bar/restaurant, huge artisans shop, chapel (?) and exhibition centre which lay just 20 metres away!  Not to be outdone, and neither of us fancying the drive back down, we did what any other self-respecting motorhomer would do – we poured ourselves a beer and settled in for the night! Patience being our biggest virtue….and, sure, isn’t the parking free???

Once again, our patience was more than rewarded when we awoke on Wednesday morning to blue skies, sunshine and the awesome views from the summit. Who knew we were actually surrounded by umpteen telecomms towers, radar stations etc?…..We certainly didn’t, ‘cos we couldn’t actually see any of them until this morning! !!!

We donned our walking boots and, after a quick check of the Information board (does this sound familiar…?), we were confident we could manage to follow the marked trail and do the 7km looped walk down to Monchique and back without getting lost. Mmmmmm….about that??!!?? We managed to follow the markers for a couple of km then, somehow, managed to lose them! This is becoming a habit….. Luckily, we spied the town below us and somehow, with more than a little help from Google maps and Roy’s generous Vodafone data roaming allowance, we landed at the now open Tourist Info office in Monchique!! On explaining our predicament, the nice fluent English speaking lady handed over the required trail map, clearly marked so that we “wouldn’t get lost again” (how embarrassing!) and informed us that it’s a good 6km walk back to Sebo! Oh well, we’ll just have to get lunch in town before heading back up! Result! Monchique is, actually, a very pretty old town, with a cute little town square, surrounded by cheap eateries, so we found one with a table in the sun, ordered the unhealthiest food imaginable (burger and chips for Roy and egg, bacon and chips for me – I know, not at all Portuguese nor healthy BUT, hey, we have a long, uphill walk ahead of us!). Together with a pint and a half of beer each (it was hot and we were thirsty!) and two cappuccinos, the whole bill was €25! With our stomachs full and our thirsts well and truly slaked, off we set, trail map in hand, to tackle the uphill schlepp!

As we reached the uppermost echelons of the town, we happened upon the ruins of the 17th Century Franciscan Monastery – once an impressive building, it now lies in ruins, with graffiti-like notices announcing that it’s now private property. We were attempting to skirt around it – or, more truthfully, trying to suss out from the map whether the marked trail passed in front or behind it- when a gent who we collectively took to be a gardener at the place, called us over and, in a flow of Portuguese, made it clear we should follow him inside – the only word we understood (in fact, the only word he spoke in English!) was “dog”. In we went – wondering what on earth was gonna happen next (call us naive!) – through an entrance hallway full of junk and a display stand of aromatherapy oils for sale ( you couldn’t script it, really you couldn’t!) and a courtyard full of chickens until yer man stopped and pointed to a gap in the wall – then he stepped back and in we went – into the said ruined monastery! In retrospect, and having read Lonely Planet’s take on this, we reckon he was, indeed, “squatting” in the ruins but, had we been Portuguese speakers, he would, in all probability, have given us the whole history of the place rather than just showing us inside. A fine building in it’s day, it now lies roofless but it’s magnificence still showed through. We thanked him and he bid us farewell without any expectation of a hand-out, even pointing us in the right direction as we stood outside still trying to fathom whether to walk around the front or the back of the place! God bless his l’il cotton socks!

We hapless walkers just about managed to stick to the trail markers all the way back – apart from one near-miss when we nearly hung a left too early which would have taken us back down to town! Phew! By the time we got back to Sebo, rejoicing in a good day’s walking (12km in total), it was late afternoon so we decided to chance our arm and stay in our free sleepy spot for another night.

This morning, we drove the short distance to Portimão – Intermarche has a free motorhome service point and a laundry onsite so we emptied our waste, topped-up our freshwater and did a bag of laundry before driving to our chosen spot for tonight in Alvor. The motorhome Aire in Alvor is NOT free and gets pretty bad reviews – we can quite see why after having walked around it earlier. It’s absolutely jam-packed with long-stayers and the surface is orange muck, well-rutted after recent rain and, since we’re only here for the one night, we’re not prepared to venture there when there’s free parking on a better surface just opposite! Hellooooo??? No brainer!

We took a walk along the beach this afternoon and had a mooch around town – much to Roy’s delight, we found a “Made In Belfast” restaurant! Seemed too much of a coincidence since he was wearing his Ulster Rugby shirt at the time!


You can take the man outta Belfast……

Tomorrow we’re heading for Lagos – rumour has it there’s a farmers’ market there every Saturday morning so we need to be in situ tomorrow night – Team Sebo don’t do “early mornings” these days!