Full Circle

Once more no photos or formatting. If anyone has any suggestions for a blog platform that doesn’t result in a nervous breakdown then please let me know🙂

We stayed at Vivonne far longer than was sensible. One night became three and, even though we planned to set off first thing on Saturday morning we woke to find a market was being built in the car park around us and a visit seemed too good an opportunity to miss. This is not the first time we’ve woken to the sounds of metal poles clanging together and erections erected. Our most famous occasion was in Tivoli in Italy where we sat the night before the market and marvelled at the exodus of vans from all around us until there was only us left. How unusual we remarked, there were twenty vans here an hour ago and they’ve all gone. Oh well, we thought, at least it will be peaceful. And it was, at least it was until 5am the following morning when I awoke to the sound of metal poles clanging. I had no idea about the erections at that point as I lay awake for some time wondering what on earth could be going on. Sadly, it was some time later before I carefully opened the front curtains a crack to take a look outside and there we were in the middle of the biggest street market I have ever seen. Every square metre was covered in stalls and tarpaulins and we were half a metre away from being included in the display. 

Bill isn’t what one might call a morning person. Nine times out of ten I’m up first, have the kettle on, get the back sorted – table cleared and tidied, blankets folded, cushions sorted and then make tea for a Bill in bed. It works well for us, we’ll, most of the time anyway. Once in a blue moon I get geeky about getting up first and start dropping hints about how it must be lovely to have tea in bed every morning. Sometimes it is a successful venture but more often not. Reading back over our old travel logs it’s clear to see this has been an ongoing issue from time to time and we’ll come across entries that state that every Sunday Bill is going to get up first to make me tea in bed. The fact that it’s been going on for eight years and every Sunday I still get up to make the tea is a testament to how successful that thought was. And it suits me really. I do love the mornings. And I love to potter while my man is all cosied up in bed drinking endless pots of tea. Yes. Yes I do. 
There was no tea in bed that morning in Tivoli. I had to wake him to say that if we didn’t move and fast, we were going to be incorporated into the biggest street market we had ever seen. It’s amazing how fast a non morning person can move when they really really have to. We were up, packed and away in ten minutes, and, I seem to remember, straight into a motorway where we had to travel some distance before we found a service station where we could park up, walk the dog (yes, I those days we travelled with only one beast), have a shower and take breakfast. 
So yes, we have some experience of early morning markets. The one at Vivonne didn’t get going until some time after nine and we probably spent far too long wandering around taking in the sights and smells. A french village market is a wondrous things. There’s the usual fresh fruit and vegetables, the cheese stalls (of which there were many in Vivonne) a fish stall and a stall or two selling French fast food – a massive cauldron of beans and a horrific, to us, looking white sausage affair. The huge queue told us we were in the minority. And so we wandered buying some regional apple juice, some amazing olives from a selection of hundreds, and some dried fruit – apples, pears and melon that cost about four times as much as we thought it might. And to the cheese stall, where after a wait of half an hour our order was taken for ‘un petite morceaux’ of a selection of our favourite cheeses. Four ‘petite morceaux’ that cost twenty euros! Half our shopping budget for the week gone on olives, apple juice, dried fruit and four tiny bits of cheese. And yet the locals were buying stuff up in baskets full. The quality was superb but the cost?  Well a little too much for us to shop there all the time that’s for sure. 
And so, instead of setting off early early to make good time we set off late an decided for once to take the Peage. The Peage is the French motorway and the Peage bit means you have to pay. We avoid them as much as possible as, obviously, you have to pay and we’re on a limited budget but also the roads that run alongside are nearly always just as good and for us with a top speed of eighty kilometres they’re good enough. And of course, using the smaller roads means we get to see so much more of France. Leaving Vivonne however meant a long trip around the outskirts of the city of Potiers, a journey we already knew only too well thanks to Andy McDriver.  It had taken us nearly two hours previously to circumvent the city and so the decision was made to take the Peage. And it’s very very fast. Well, for most people, the ones we see whiz by us, it’s very very fast. For us, it’s just the same speed, only its straight and we don’t have to negotiate a roundabout every half a kilometre. 
We’re still, way behind time though and even as we pull in along the banks of the Seinne in the city of Rouen late afternoon we know we still have a long way to go and not much time left to do it in. We’re taking a bit of a chance sleeping here. It’s a bit rough and, after a dog walk, we can see a man sleeping rough in the doorway of a warehouse  but I make supper, we walk the dogs and the cat and we settle down to what was, thankfully, an uneventful evening. 
In the morning I wake (first), put the kettle on, open the blinds and behind us I see a massive french lorry converted to a motorhome, last seen parked behind us in Ingrina beach in Portugal the day we lost Spiddy. The people in the lorry were just some of the kind souls who went to look for Spiddy on that hellish day. And there they were, two thousand kilometres later, parked behind us. 
And we decide that today is the day that we shall get many more kilometres under our belts. Cheered by the discovery that yesterday we only paid eight euros for the whole journey today we make straight for the Peage and, taking it in turns we do one hundred, two hundred, three hundred kilometres. And then we get to the pay booth, insert our ticket and find that it has cost us fifty five euros. FIFTY FIVE EUROS!  We are now officially skint. Despite us discovering one hundred euros tucked away in our wallet that we didn’t know about, yesterday’s visit to the market and today’s fifty five euro extravaganza has seen the whole lot off. Fifty five euros. Can you believe it?  Just to drive on a road?  Sheesh. 
We came off the motorway after that (funnily enough) and spent what was left of our journey to Calais pootling up the west coast, which, incidentally, was just as windy as it was three months ago on our journey down. 
And, almost as if in a whisper, we pulled into the aire alongside the docks in Calais where we set off from three months before. Only this time we weren’t the greenies setting off on journeys unknown with white faces and a shiny van. This time we were the ruddy faced travellers with a filthy van, on our way home full to the brim with adventures. 
It’s a odd place Calais. It’s not very pretty with most of its old town wiped out by the bombs of the Second World War and, in its place, modern concrete buildings as farm the eye can see. It’s not somewhere you’d choose to hang around for long but for people like us travelling with animals it requires a minimum stay of twenty four hours in order to comply with the regulations of the Pet Passport Scheme. Any pet travelling back into the UK has to visit a vet a minimum of twenty four hours and a maximum of one hundred and twenty hours before travel. The vet checks the animal to make sure it’s fit for travel, makes sure the microchip is in place, administers worming treatment and signs off the passport. The rules change every year and it’s always a topic of conversation in the road so important it is to get everything right. 
On our very first trip we were told we could not travel home as Spiddy’s date of microchip had not been stamped. The French last official told us with what seemed like some glee that we could not travel and that Spiddy would be quarantined for six months as we had not complied with the rules. “And these are YOUR rules, not OURS” she spat as us. So yes, the French aren’t that keen on our efforts to keep rabies out of Britain and if you get a grumpy one then it can be stressful to say the least. On that occasion, we had to ring our vets at home who had to ring DEFRA who had to ring the French (who incidentally demanded they put it all in writing) and we had a good few hours sitting on the dockside watching our boat sail away while snuffling into hankies.  (Us, not the boat). 
I’d already telephoned the vet to make the appointment for Tuesday morning and was given an appointment for 9am, so, no morning tea in bed that morning either. Off in the pouring rain and horizontal wind to find the vets only to remember that the hundred euros we found was actually set aside to pay the bill. A five minute appointment with a cursory glance at the beasts, a decline in accepting my perfectly acceptable, within the rules, worming tablet together with an insistance that he inject the dogs with his treatment and a bill for ninety four euros and a thought from us that maybe we shouldn’t have bought quite so much cheese, or dried fruit, or olives. 
But still it is done, the passports are signed and we are ready to travel.  
And that’s us. Back in the aire at Calais dock in the very last space at the very bottom a stone’s throw from where the ferries comes in every half hour or so. And the rain stops and the sun comes out and we do just what we did in our night here at the very beginning of the trip. We get out every fairy light and tealight, we fight the horizontal wind and driving rain and we go to The Frites des Nations for supper. This little chip shop was just a wooden shack when we visited it first many years ago. Now it is a prefabricated plastic building, hermetically sealed against the four winds that lash these shores. And Bill has his usual of a baguette with mayo and enough crispy chips to feed a small village and I have the smallest portion, the two euro child’s special with still enough crispy chips to feed four people and we sit at the window of the van and watch the ferries come in and out and watch the people sitting in the lounges, drinking coffee, eating sandwiches (yes, we’re that close) all with their own stories to tell. All with their own adventures. Just like us. And tomorrow we will be on that boat and tomorrow night we will be in Canturbury in England and I will open our fridge and will be surprised to see that the cheese we bought at the market in Vivonne is still there even though we are in England now. And instead of it being 5pm it will be 4pm and all night and for the next few days I won’t know if I’m getting up earlier or later. 
Full circle. 
For Harry. X

Lost in France

addendum. WordPress have changed updated their app and it’s not for the better. I’ve spent hours trying to add photos to no avail. This blog is just text, sorry. It’s either that or someone is going to get hurt. 

By the time we left Spain we’d convinced ourselves we liked it far more than on the way down. It’s just a question of trying to live as they live, getting up late, sleeping in the afternoon and staying up till the early hours we told ourselves, as if that was all there was to it.  At one time it would have suited us quite well but these days we’re early risers and early to bed. So I can’t see us ever fitting into the Spanish way of life and really, who needs to be able to buy a mattress or a car or a pair of shoes at ten o’ clock at night?  Really? Is there ever any need? 

One concept that I fitted right into however was my choice of leg wear. There is hardly a woman in Spain who does not wear black leggings and boots in the winter. I love my leggings me. Despite my best friend Hazel sneeringly reporting to me an article in the newspaper entitled, “When Did Leggings Become an Acceptable Alternative to Trousers?”  So, there’s one big thumbs up to me for Spain – leggings. It’s a start. 
We’re usually quite glad to cross the border over into France but on this occasion it was a little more difficult. For one, we had just enjoyed a superb lunch from a cheap tapas cafe where we lingered over fresh bread with thin slices of aubergine in tempura batter topped with goat’s cheese, and a tapenade of juicy olives topped with a fresh anchovy. So, there was a certain reluctance to leave it all behind as we crossed the border but that was OK for, in our efforts to find somewhere to stay for the night, we crossed back over into Spain, and back again to France three or four times. A bit like Frank Sinatra’s retirement where he just couldn’t let go of the revolving doors. 
We’d driven down so quickly in search of sun that we’d decided to take the return journey a little slower which was just as well as two things conspired to hinder our progress. The first was Dugal whose love affair with all things foodstuff related the finally came back to bite him in the ass – quite literally as it transpired. The second was not unrelated and that was a series of unfortunate decisions by Andy McDriver the Sat Nav to send us on a variety of wild goose chases. 
Anyone who’s travelled any distance with the aid of a Sat Nav soon comes at some point to hate it. I have come to despise the sanctimonious voice of ‘Jane’ who tells us to ‘make a U turn wherever possible’ in the middle of the motorway and to take the exit, take the exit, take the exit.  We try to flit between the voices trying to find one that does not get on our nerves quite as much as the other but really, nothing works for long. Bill visited Korea once and so, in a moment of illusion suggested we changed to the Korean voice and he would see how much he remembered. I could write a whole blog about that day. Oh yes. 
Our least hated by a long chalk is Andy McDriver, a Sean Connery impersonator who tells us that he is our drrrrriverrrr and that he will take us to our dessssshtination. For the first few hundred kilometres he’s almost funny but like anyone not installed with the inside knowledge of what makes a good joke, he just goes too far. “You make a U turn (and I’ll make a high turn) is vaguely amusing the first time ’round but, when you’ve taken the wrong turn more than once it becomes an annoyance to the soul. Similarly, when we reach our destination, he announces, “You have rrrrrreached your deshtination (and I hope no-one sees what’s under yer kilt!”  Oh how we laugh when we really have reached our destination but when he takes us to the back of a warehouse in an area that you wouldn’t really want to open the door never mind sleep, well, then, it’s not so funny. In real life of course the comedian would pick up on your unease and keep his trap shut but not Andy McDriver. Oh No. Andy McDriver is the Bobby Davro of the Sat Nav world. 
So, Dugal is sick and has been for some time. He’s still up for walks, eating and playing with his ball but he’s stopped boinging and has an empty look in his eyes. For the first time in forever, he looks just like Spiddy.  A bit like going on holiday for a fortnight and eating too much rich food and drinking too much wine, Dugal’s digestive system has finally called halt on his pizza/pasta/baguette/raw fish/french fries/manky meat snacking habits. It started as a bit of loose bowel movement which we thought would settle itself after a few days but soon progressed to the equivalent of projectile vomiting only from the other end. We always pick up after our dogs but no plastic poo bag would cope with this. This needed a pressure hose and a bristle brush. It was three or four nights of getting up three or four times in the night when we knew he needed professional help. 
And that’s where Andy McDriver came in.  Before we left on this trip I uploaded many points of interest for the Sat Nav; places to stay, places with water, LIDL, CASA, and veterinary surgeons – the important stuff. So, with a thousand vets to choose from, it should have been an easy enough task. Easy you might think but no, every point of interest was a no point of interest. Travelling up hill and down dale only led us on one wild goose chase after another and Andy telling us that we’d reached our destination and that he hoped no-one saw under our kilt really wasn’t helping. And then the thing that you really hope never happens suddenly did. We’re two kilometres away from the next possible vets when Andy gives us an ambiguous instruction, we take the wrong road and find ourselves on some kind of motorway and the two kilometres on the Sat Nav screen changes to fifty seven kilometres. “Do a U turn”, he bellows. “If he says, and I’ll do a high turn, says Bill then he’s going out the window”. “And I’ll take a high turn!”  It was a time of some uncertain fraughtness. No exits, no turn offs, no u turns possible and there we are travelling in the opposite direction to where we wanted to be. For fifty seven kilometres, and fifty seven kilometres back again. And we hadn’t had lunch. As I say, a certain amount of fraughtness was incurred. 
So, Andy got the hoof and Jane gets another chance. I wanted Tim, whose calm voice of reason often soothes us back into normality, but not today for today he sounds as though he’s laughing at us for our error and anyway, Bill says, I’m sure he fancies you and I don’t like him. Yes, seriously, that’s what he says.  
We eventually found a vet, no thanks to Andy, Tim or Jane or the Korean gentleman. We just so happened to be driving through a village on the way to yet another imaginary vet when Bill spotted a sign on the wall, pulled in and they saw us right away. Eighty euros later and a host of probiotics and stomach calming medication with instructions to starve for twenty four hours and then four days of boiled rice and chicken. A little more bland than his recent diet of tuna, cheese and tomato pasta bake, but a damn sight better for him. It took nearly a week and two or three get ups a night for emergency dashes to patches of grass but slowly he improved and continues to do so. 
It rained for a week all the way through France. Torrential rain that made driving difficult and sleeping almost impossible, which was handy really as we had to keep getting up for the dog. The repair we made to the roof on our way down on the delightfully named, ‘Chemin de l’Abbatoir’,  had we thought, held firm for weeks but we now discovered that it was less down to our craftsmanship and more to do with the lack of downward direction water. Now we were having to place the van carefully. Non of our usual efforts to make the van level, now we had to park on a slope to ensure a certain amount of run off. If we were careful and got it right it didn’t leak. If we didn’t make the effort then yes, a certain amount of dampness did occur. Nothing like before but yes, it was still coming in. 
On Thursday we landed in a small village called Vivonne. In the Department of Poitou a little over half way up France.  A lovely little village on the edge of a small river with everything we needed for a night’s stop including, if advice was correct, free wifi from the tourist information office next door. We parked with our back window right over the river and very lovely it was too. It’s unusual for us to find a park in the middle of a village with everything on the doorstep but here it was and we loved it. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the sun came out. And so we stayed. The wifi worked for a few hours, enough to catch up and download a film or two and we spent some real downtime wandering the village, calling to the boulangerie and having a superb three course lunch at the cafe for ten euros. It was amost like being on holiday. No worries about finding water, showers a plenty and a chance to catch up on a large bag of washing. We had some British neighbours who seemed to be the font of all knowledge on just about every subject under the sun and they told us of a place where we could dry the big towels, where all the vets within a fifty kilometre range were, how to get to Calais, how to park the van, where the best bread was, how to use the water from washing to clean the windscreen, where to hold your ipad to the window to get the best wifi signal.  You get the picture. Anyway, they also knew everything there ever was to know about levelling vans too and told us that we should always leave the van on an angle in case it rains. Yes, yes we know that, we said once a tiny gap in the conversation eventually appeared. 
It just so happened that our van at this time was fairly level. The sun had shone, we planned to be away in the morning so we were fairly happy it would be OK for the night. 
The rain started about 9pm. We’d normally be in bed but I’d downloaded a cheeky episode of Come Dine with Me to and had forced Bill to stay up to watch it with me.  It was torrential  (The rain, not CDWM) but it was OK for we had forgotten that we had a problem with the roof, that was, until Bill reported having a wet head. A quick look with one of the torches from Bill’s special collection of special torches, confirmed that the water was indeed coming through the hole for the handle of the rooflight and was dripping down in a fairly alarming fashion.  Ignoring it wasn’t an option as already it was beginning to spread along the ceiling. There was nothing else for it, we were going to have to move the van to drain the collected rainwater.  
A quick look outside seemed to confirm that a metre’s reversing would lift the back wheels high enough to drain the water off the front. Our back wheels are over a metre from the back of the van so we can go back much further than other vehicles. There was an issue in that we were backed quite substantially over the river and there was very little space for me to stand in order to wave Bill back. A few steps and there was a steep bank and then the river. You’ll have to reverse very very slowly Bill I said, it’s a bit dodgy where I have to stand. I know I know he said in that way he does, that way that means that he doesn’t really know at all. 
So, there I am, in the dark in the torrential rain, balanced on the end of the sloping bit that goes down to the river, and Bill starts the engine and for some, unexplained reason reverses back at such a speed that, if I’d had a second to think about it, would have put me in fear of my life. As it happens, there was no spare second to think. 
I never been good at climbing ladders. In fact. I’ve never been good at anything that involves having one foot off the ground unless it’s walking. I’ve joked in the past that even if there was a fire I would be unable to climb it due to my uselessness at ladder climbing. On this occasion however, my theory was disproved. We have a ladder at the back of the van. The first rung starts very high up and there’s no way I could reach it. I discovered however that if its a choice between sliding down a river bank and entering a freezing cold brown river, or making some attempt to cling to a ladder, then cling to a ladder I will. And I did. And I’m now dangling over the river, clinging to the ladder, and I’m still there when Bill comes out to see where I am. 
Ever after he has no idea how it happened. Didn’t you hear the van hit me I asked?  No, he said, I thought that was just you hitting the back to tell me I’d gone far enough. And in a way, he wasn’t wrong. 
Now I know I have a tendency towards exaggeration. I know this. So here.  Here is the evidence. See where my face hit the window, see how my hand, not one minute before had been extended ready to wave the van back and see now it’s claw shape as I struggle to grab onto a piece of sheer acrylic to save myself?

In the end we worked out, undeniably late, that it was forward the van needed to go, not back. There was a little dip in the road where, once the front wheels were dropped, resulted in the dumping of twenty gallons of water off the roof, over the windscreen and onto the floor.  Sadly, for us, it hit the deck at the very moment Mr and Mrs Camping Know it All came back from their late night fact finding trip around the village. We all smiled but we all knew that behind the smiles lay sanctimony, oneupmanship, a bit of shame and imagined middle fingers with exaggerated swivelling motions.x

Processions of the Spanish Variety

So, said Bill as we crossed the border over into Spain once more, apart from bits of dried pig and killing bulls, what have the Spanish ever done for us?  Flamenco, I ventured? Paella?  Andalusian horses? Sherry? Juicy oranges? The Armada? Tapas? Pink lacy frocks? Castanets and men in tight trousers?  Yes, but apart from that, he said. Well, you know the rest. 
We’ve decided to give Spain a second chance. Spain must be falling over herself in abject gratitude I’m sure. This time, we’re going to only look for the positive as we make our way (quickly) up and into France. 
Before we know it we’re back in Caceres on the Aire where we spent Christmas and nothing much has changed. It’s a little colder and a little busier but we’re surprisingly surprised to discover that little has changed in two months. Why we thought it might I’ve no idea, but there you go. We park up in the same spot, the best spot, the one with the view over the graffiti wall of the motorway and the olive groves, open the door and Skanka is immediately out and across the busy road dodging the traffic. 

I didn’t mention it before as with it being Christmas and all and the time of all things merry, it didn’t seem seasonally fair, but she disappeared at Christmas. An American woman knocked on our door very early Christmas morning to wish us merry Christmas and, as an aside, if she could look inside our van, and Skanka got spooked by her voice, ran off across the busy road and wasn’t seen until nearly Boxing Day. You will no doubt be completely unsurprised to learn that we’d completely forgotten that when we parked up this time. And she’s off again fighting her way through cars, mopeds and a million barking dogs taking her chances once more. 
The aire continues with new arrivals and soon they are parked everywhere, on the aire, in the pavement and all up the road outside. It’s at this point that we work out that something is afoot. You already know that we are fairly rubbish travellers. We know nothing about anything before we arrive and learn (or not) everything about a place when we get there. We like it this way. Our life is full of few enough surprises so it’s always a bonus when something takes you unawares (unless it’s something like the roof leaking). 
And eventfully we discover that it’s a festival weekend and it’s at this point that we remember that the Spanish do festivals rather well. It’s also at this point that we remember that another thing about the Spanish is that they have a tendency to enjoy noise. I know one can’t generalise but this is my blog and I’m damn well going to. The Italians are certainly noisy. They can’t have a conversation with someone a metre away without bawling their heads off. We once stayed in a car park and were in bed at ten and woken at two (am) when the Italians got the pasta pans out and began making tagliatelle with a seafood sauce. So yes, they can be a tad noisy but nothing but nothing compares with the Spanish when they are enjoying themselves. But we are ready for this. After weeks of splendid isolation in remote locations we are ready for a bit of life, a bit of noise. A bit of excitement. 

Saturday morning we are up, showered and dressed in our best colourful Portuguese clothes and sandals and out and up the town before you can say Hola! Our first mistake was going out in our best colourful Portuguese clothes and sandals. We stand out like a sore thumb. There are two thousand people in the square and one thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine of them are dressed in black. The other two are in turquoise and orange. Also, despite the sun shining, it is actually freezing but we stay the course, stand our ground and maintain our status as shivering beacons of colourfulness in a sea of black jollity

And then the noise starts. I wish I could post a video to this blog as it’s the only way I’m sure to convey to you the amount of noise generated in the square. Two thousand people welcomed two thousand children from every school in the region and some bright spark thought it clever to give every one of the children a whistle. Add to this a procession of fancy dress and some very stubborn donkeys  who refused to move and then decided to move very very quickly scattering groups of old ladies. The procession carried stuffed effigies, we never did find out what they signified but their arrival was heralded by an extra few decibels from the crowd. 

And then, in the middle of the square, in the middle of all these whistle blowing children, dazed old ladies and stubborn donkeys, a massive fire was lit and the effigies thrown upon it with a good dousing of petrol to make sure it all got going good and hot. Bedlam. 

But consider this. There was not one ounce of organisation. No police, no firemen, no security services in orange jackets. No water on hand to douse the escaping fire or two thousand school children. Nothing. And, apart from the donkey incident no one appeared to be injured, or dead or require compensation from Injuries R Us (.com). 

We stopped off in one of the many cafes in the square to pay an extortionate amount for two decaf coffees – extortionate at four euros after being used to Portuguese prices of one euro twenty. I greeted the waiter in my best Spanish and ordered in Spanish and he didn’t understand me. In fact, he thought we were Portuguese. We were secretly delighted. Anything other than being thought of as British don’t you know. I have feeling it was the turquoise trousers and the sandals rather than my accent but every cloud and all that. 

And joy of joys, we had lunch in the city. We don’t often have the cash left over for lunch out but this weekend we did and we bravely headed to a place where the Spanish eat and had the most wonderful meal that included many lentils and other things that we could not entirely distinguish. The TV was on the wall and all eyes upon it and for the whole time we were there the news room was discussing an incident earlier in the day when some Spanish TV presenter walked out of a restaurant without paying his four hundred euro bill. We watched it in astonishment, not only for the time given over to such nonsense, but that someone could run up a four hundred euro bill in a restaurant. For some reason a nun was involved in the discussion and it got very heated and noisy and, well Spanish. I think it’s due to all the coffee they drink. If you think of all the noisy nationalities, the noisiest ones are the ones who drink the most strong coffee. There you go. Any other problems, just see me. 

We’ve become very fond of Caceres. 

It’s rough and ready with few frills and although there is a modern shopping area somewhere in the city, we’ve never gone looking for it, preferring to spend our time gazing through shop windows, many of which seem little changed from the 1950’s. 

And who could resist stopping off here for afternoon tea?

We planned to visit the evening celebrations too. In fact we had every intention of doing so until we found a programme. In true Spanish fashion, it all kicked off at 10pm with another procession, then paella at 11, Zumba at midnight, and the biggest ever disco starting at 2.30 pm with the firework finale at 3.30am. We convinced ourselves we could do this. We were in a Spain and would do as the locals do and how many locals go to bed at 9pm?  Not many I’m sure. So the plan was to go home, have a little sleep, get some warm clothes on and make the journey back into the city but our plans were scuppered by a different kind of procession altogether. 

Spain is plagued by the pine processionary caterpillar. Portugal too, and France to a lesser degree, but Spain is the daddy of them all. The caterpillars overwinter in tent-like nest in pine trees, coming out at night in a huge procession to feed on pine needles before returning to the nest by dawn. They are one of the most destructive species to the pine trees in Northern Africa, Asia and the Southern European countries. There are usually many nests in one tree and and we’ve seen thousands of them in trees at the sides of the roads as we’ve travelled from Portugal into Spain. Usually around March/April, they leave their nests in the trees and move to the ground in their characteristic nose to tail processions where they look for soil to bury themselves until they pupate at the end of the summer. These processions can be made up of three hundred or more caterpillars and are most spectacular but deadly. Although they are described as a major forest threat, they are also dangerous to humans and, more importantly to pet owners, to cats and dogs. Cats and dogs find them extremely interesting as they weave their way along the ground and, should the caterpillars feel threatened, they eject hairs like harpoons that penetrate the skin with an urticating protein that at best irritates and at worse kills. Dogs and cats are especially at risk as they sniff the caterpillars and the harpoon like hairs become embedded in their noses and tongues. Death can follow in as little as fifteen minutes. Everyone who travels with animals knows about the caterpillars but no-one, including us, expected them to leave the nests mid February. 

The aire is surrounded by pine trees and the ground is now covered in processions of caterpillars. Its a spectacular sight but also a very frightening sight and we are nervous. The vans that were packed tight around us earlier have fled and we would be gone too but Skanka, who is battling with cars, mopeds, a million barking dogs and now processionary caterpillars is out, destination unknown, estimated arrival time unknown and all we can do is wait. The dogs still need to go out of course and we carry them or walk them with heads held high, using the torch to search as we walk and still Skanka does not come home. In the end we go to bed and try to sleep, all thoughts of going to the festival over but it’s OK for the festival comes to us and despite it being a kilometre away we can hear the procession and the paella pan and the Zumba and the Biggest Ever Disco and Dugal, who we carried earlier to a football field where there was no risk of caterpillars but there was a massive risk of an entire fourteen inch cheese and tomato pizza with dried pig that he found and ate before we could get to him, decided that he just had to go out and evacuate and, as we’re both wandering around at 3.30 am in our dressing gowns with torches and plastic bags over our feet carrying a frantic dog to a place of comparative safety that a mortar bomb goes off to herald the arrival of the fireworks. 

Which was nice. 

Santa Clara Magic

Unless something really spectacular happens between now and landing on the Gem of God’s Earth, then our time at the Barragem de Santa Clara will, without doubt, be the highlight of this trip. 

Portugal needs a lot of water and, in a country of high average temperatures and little rain, some ingenious plans were required to ensure enough for everyone. One thing Portugal and Spain has plenty of are mountains, so Portugal used the run offs from the hundreds of mountain streams and rivers and created a system of dams (barragems) to collect the water. 

The Portuguese have embraced these barragems and turned most of them into community areas where locals and visitors can partake in leisure and relaxation with provision made for camping, picnics, fishing and water sports. Some even have beach areas created so it’s possible to have a beach experience away from the sea. The barragems are also home to the visiting and local van owners and they are welcomed and encouraged to spend time there. 

People we’ve met along the way are always keen to tell you good places to stay and places they think might suit you. One name that came up again and again was the Barragem de Santa Clara en Velha. So many people told us we would love it there, so many said that we would fit right in. It seemed that we could not turn it down and so decided that our last few days in Portugal would be spent there. 
It was a strange journey to reach it. For one we knew that it was so far inland and to the north that there would be no turning back and after this we would effectively be in the way home. I’ve recently decided that nostalgia is a quite useless emotion. All that getting het up about where you’ve been and what you’ll miss, it does a soul no good whatsoever. I’m still trying to convince Bill of this however. Bill who hangs onto every carrier bag with Portuguese writing on as a reminder of a shop we’ve visited. I’m forever going in a cupboard and finding another one stashed hidden and out of my reach. It was such a beautiful day and despite my nostalgia decision, I was still lamenting somewhat about it being the last time we would see the sea, the yellow clover, the mimosa in full bloom. You get the picture. 
We had to traverse for an hour or two up and down mountains only travelling for maybe ten metres before a corner, then another corner. Every tree looked the same, every corner looked the same and there was a distinct Groundhog feel to the whole journey but fun too, just like in the film.  
We had no idea whatsoever what to expect when the road finally opened out to reveal the barragem but nothing could have prepared us for it. No picture can do it justice. But here, let me try. 

You may be able to see in the picture some vans in the distance and yes, as we approached we could see what looked like a fairly established camp with no spaces for visitors. Before our hearts had a chance to sink, a little boy trundled out into the road ahead of us. He was no higher than my knee and was playing with a tyre three times his size. As he saw us, play stopped, the tyre was allowed to fall to the ground and the little boy immediately turned into car park attendant and waved us most expertly into the middle of their camp where he allocated us a prime spot with a view right over the barragem. 
And that was us. Moved in and accepted as part of the ‘travelling’ community of Santa Clara en Velha for as long as we wanted to be there.  I put travelling in inverted commas because some of the residents haven’t travelled for some time. Noel, the two year old car park attendant has spent most of his life in the shores of the barragem. His mum and dad have lived there for sixteen months. They told us later that Noel has been trained as soon as he could walk to spot interesting vans as they enter and a space is always reserved for a potential new resident. The ‘white boxes’ are greeted with the international sign for, sorry mate, we’re full. 
And they live there. All the time. About eight of them are full time residents and others, like us, come and go. And the Santa Clara council are quite accepting of this and have given them their blessing. They’re just happy that people who care are looking after the place. Can you imagine this happening anywhere else?  
So we ‘moved in’ and were made very welcome with home made soup and an invitation to join them that night for a log fire, music and stories a plenty. I made brownies in the Coleman collapsible camping oven and they almost cried with delight, It was heaven on a plate for us too. Just like home, but then, we were home. 
And so the days passed. Bill struck up a friendship with Momu and I with his partner Eve. As we cooked, played poi and jumping sticks, washed clothes and fetched water from the barragem, we talked and found out about the magic of Santa Clara and what it had brought to them all. They told us that the water is full to the brim with bass but they needed a boat to move out from the shore to catch them. They told us that for two days they thought about a boat and how it would arrive soon. Sure enough, the next day they saw what they thought was the nose of a boat sticking out of the water. They swam out with ropes and there was a sunken boat that they dug out, dragged to land, repaired and made worthy. Then, they decided that they needed a jetty to launch the boat from and to make it easier to collect water. And yes, unbelievably, after two days, a storm broke and from across the water a whole jetty floated to shore. Manifesting your desires in action. 

The day we arrived Momu had been sawing wood with a saw that would have had trouble cutting through a baguette. Since the time many years ago when we stayed in one spot so long the trees grew around us and cut off our escape, we have carried a small bow saw.  We gave it to him with pleasure and enjoyed the results when the sun set. 
They all had dogs, mostly dogs rescued from hellish situations, all with stories behind them. Kristoff, our nearest neighbour, an adorable Frenchman who spoke English like an English person pretending to be French, travelled with his dog Pillow, or Peelo as he told me. What does Peelo mean, I asked him and he looked at me as if I were mad and said, Peelo, like you lay your head on when you sleep. Of course. 

 It was a good opportunity for our guys to learn that not everyone is their friend and gave Skanka an opportunity to hone her staring skills.  

Eve and Momu had lost their dog only the week before and Eve talked to me of her sadJness but also of the synchronicity surrounding his death. It felt very special to have her talk to me like that and I was acutely aware of the privilege. 
On the Sunday   was great excitement for on Sunday comes the arrival of the Tutti Frutti man. Now, just about everywhere we’ve been has come this man in a big white van. He announces his arrival by tooting his horn incessantly but he never pulls up unless you stop him and he gives no clue to what he is selling. We’ve had many conversations over the weeks about how he could make ever so slightly more money if he wrote on the side of the van what was contained therein. 

Could it be the same man?  Yes.  It was. He arrived blowing his horn just as before only now we knew he was the Tutti Fruity man. The Santa Clara crew walk for an hour and a half to the only village shop in the region to buy essentials but the Tutti Fruitti man brings fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, flour and ‘eggs from places that are not bad’, as Eve solemnly told me. 

And at night another huge fire and so welcome as the temperatures were well below zero. Out came our thermal vests, socks and wooly hats and gloves. The sky was as clear as could be and, with stars from horizon to horizon it was as perf ct as it gets.  We all sat for an hour or more in absolute silence star gazing and feeling the wonder of nature and the universe that takes care of us so well. Away from the fire it was black. Yes. It was pitch black. They who live out there were quite used to it and walked around freely in its blackness. For Bill and I, not so easy and so we relied on the torch to get us safely to and from the van without stumbling over wood, kerbs benches and a sideboard, where, we were told, housed the books in many languages, as well as being the lost property area. It was on one of these trips that Noel appeared, fascinated by the torch beam and I spent some time playing with him, turning the torch beam to its most concentrated and turning it off and on and flashing it in unknown locations while he ran in the dark to find it. And that’s all it took. The beam of a torch. 
Oh how we could have stayed. We could have stayed forever. Living outside, being so close to the weather, to nature, to the water. And we fitted right in and brought skills to the group that would have complimented theirs so well. You might not be surprised to learn that I had already penciled myself in as fire monitor becasue, for all their living outdoor skills, they really could have done with a wood store, and someone to place logs In the right order on the fire, oh yes, and a wafter and they were crying out for a pokey stick. I do know that only some of you will understand this but the ones who do will understand. They will get my drift. 
We actually left before we had to. We had to, for if we hadn’t we may still be there now. Will we go back?  Probably. They’ve all told us they will be waiting for us and September has been vaguely agreed for the reunion party. 
Bill and I are so lucky. It has taken us a lot of years, but we have found our tribe. Our luck comes from us finding our tribe outside our own door in Laxey. The Salmon River tribe. And the most wonderful thing about our tribe is that once you are in, whenever you go you are recognised and taken in by the splinter tribes. We are all one. We are all connected. We are all made up of the same energy and we thank Santa Clara and her tribe for the reminder. 


Winners and Losers

There’s a lot of wealth here. A lot of people have made a lot of money from the ever growing tourist industry (Portugal’s tourist industry grew four times that of Spain in 2014) and the evidence is there to see in vast sprawling villas tucked into the sides of hills and mountains.


Even small cafes have benefitted from this growth and have moved from being one cafe at the centre of village life to expanding onto every street and corner. They all look the same – basic – serviceable – and they all sell the same stuff. Alcohol, Coffee, tea, rice sponge cakes (bolo de arroz) and the ubiquitous pastel de nata – a custard tart nestled in crisp filo pastry.


At lunch time, they serve home cooked local produce and every cafe is busy. The Portuguese eat out a lot. It’s possible for two to eat well at lunch time for fifteen euros – about ten pounds and many take advantage. The cafe is also where old men congregate, a place for them to have a drink, converse, have a laugh and watch the world go by. I often think as I watch them how lucky they are and I think of our old men at home often isolated and wish our cafe society offered more for them instead of catering for the ‘Macchiato Mums’, the shoppers and the workers. Maybe for our old men they are caught between the closures of the pubs and the image of the cafe – no such catch for old men here who have grown up with the cafe society of food, coffee and alcohol.

And they are great equalisers too. We’re just as likely to be sitting alongside a rich business person as we are to be alongside someone selling socks or packets of tissues. I don’t know who it is who buys all these small packets of tissues but there are certainly a lot of people selling them.

Travelling in a van is also an equalising experience. Right now in Carrapateira on Amado beach we’re parked alongside two hundred and fifty thousand euros worth of Niesmann Bischoff motorhome. Top of the range. He pulled up earlier today on the same uneven ground as us and within minutes he was perfectly level using his onboard hydraulic levelling device unlike us using plastic levellers, stones, wood and appalling hand signals.


Now, we paid three thousand six hundred pounds for our van. I know the Niesmann Bishdorff has a fancy levelling device and some fancy LED lights and is a metre higher and three metres longer than our’s but two hundred and forty thousand euros extra? What on earth do you get for all that money? Sheesh. But still, he came over and asked if it was OK to stay and looked at our van and gave us the thumbs up. And it’s like that all the time. There are vans even older than ours out there and in far worse condition but we all just get on and when one of us is in trouble someone is always there to help regardless of how much their vans cost. I like that.

Something that ties the cafe society and motorhoming community here is the throwing out of food for wild animals. I was aware of it in Sicily but there the food was confined to the area around the dustbins, here it’s everywhere. If it doesn’t get eaten it gets hoofed out. Dugal is in doggie heaven. I’ve have never known a dog who lives, sleeps and breathes food as Dugal does. He’s always had it in him but it’s never been as much of a problem as it is here. From the first walk of the morning, if I take my eye off him for a second, he’s off and somewhere, somehow, he comes back licking his lips. We’ve tried keeping him on the lead, we’ve tried keeping him on an extending lead but no matter what, he can seek out scraps of food and locate them from a distance of fifty metres. If someone is having a barbeque two kilometres away he’s up on his hind legs, sniffing the air, licking his lips in anticipation. He’s a high energy hound and needs lots of exercise and being on the lead really doesn’t suit him so, every so often, when it looks as though there couldn’t possibly be anything anywhere for him to eat we let him off and invariably he comes back with half a baguette in his chops. And of course, not all of the stuff that gets thrown out is fresh. He went through a stage of waking us every morning at 4am to throw up – it wasn’t good – especially for Bill who sleeps closest to the door and, at best has to let him out and at worst get the rubber gloves on.


After Spiddy did a runner at Ingrina, we stayed for two days. One day to recover and the other day to do a bit of washing, go walking and make sure she didn’t do it again.


Both mornings a Portuguese van turned up and the man got his wet suit on and went into the sea with a harpoon to catch his lunch. Every day he caught something and he and his wife cooked it and ate it. On Monday they had tuna and pasta. I know this because I saw Dugal’s back end hanging over it as he began to investigate it with his teeth before I got to him. They’d left it right outside our van and there was bloody loads of it. Even the cat had a go. All afternoon we kept him away from it but when we went on the beach later I noticed he was gone and yes, he’d legged it back up to the van and finished the lot.

Now, I don’t know what it is about pasta and dogs, maybe it’s a common thing maybe not but that evening just before bed we heard a funny noise. We have lots of funny noises in the van, most of which we can identify easily but this was something new. It sounds, as Bill said, for all the world, like someone squirting a high pressure water pistol on the floor. And it was. It was Dugal’s high pressure water pistol and yes, he had squirted it all over the floor. He’s never done such a thing before so we could only guess it was something to do with the pasta. We’re nearly ready for bed, all quiet and calm, teeth brushed and shiny clean and there we are on the floor with kitchen roll and hot soapy water. Fast forward to 4am and we have a repeat performance only this time it’s all over the floor and our slippers.


LIDL also gets rid of its food waste in a fairly unorthodox manner. It all goes in unlocked wheelie bins in the car park and, without fail, when we visit LIDL, someone’s back end will be hanging out of a bin helping LIDL to recycle its food items. Only yesterday a young girl from a German van came back with armfuls of carrots and coriander. Someone, somewhere is going to be eating a lot of soup this week. Since our break-in we always visit supermarkets one at a time so someone stays with the van, and it was in Lagos, while I was in LIDL, that a Bill witnessed three men filling their bags with produce from the bins. Not just foodstuffs but fancy goods from the middle isles too. Not only that, when they had finished loading up, they wrote what he swore was a shopping list and left it attached to the inside of the bin. We were almost tempted to return next week to see if all their items had been delivered.


We heard two sad stories this week from people who thought they had everything and found they had nothing. The first was when we met a French lady in the car park at LIDL in Vila do Bispo. She had her van broken into on Figuera beach the night before and lost her handbag, her money, her passport, her identification papers, her phone and her laptop. She met Bill and asked if he had some tobacco which he did not but they got talking and she told him the story. She was left with her van, the fuel that was in it and some clothes. She said she had never been a person to hold great store on material items but the loss of her passport and identification papers was a blow and it was going to take three or four weeks to get replacements. We had twenty euros and, although she was reluctant to take it, we gave it to her saying get some tobacco, get something to eat and take it from there. Life seems so much better when you’ve some food in your belly. Apart from a hug and a kiss it was all we could do.


And yesterday morning in this idyllic location between the beach and the forest, two tall tanned Dutch girl surfers called to ask if we had seen two white cars. Two white cars? We thought it was some kind of joke but it was not. While they and their friends had been surfing, their hire cars had been taken with all their clothes, their money, their phones, their passports and their tickets for their flights home to the Netherlands tomorrow. And we, who had been sitting out drinking tea must have seen the cars leave and thought nothing of it. All we could do was say sorry for their loss. They had the rental company looking after them and the police and each other. There are times where all you can do is what you can do and sometimes that is nothing except a sad smile.

And, on a smaller scale, we are into the last of six collars we brought with us for Skanka. The penultimate collar was put on her on Christmas Day in Caceres and only yesterday I mentioned that she’d kept this one for six weeks. Bill said he had been going to mention it too but did not want to tempt fate. We laughed for neither of us believe in fate. It was as we were going to bed when we heard her jump on the step to get in but we did not hear the jingle of her bell. Yes. She’d lost her collar and is now wearing the last one. We’ve still got two ID tags left – if she loses this collar I’m going to have to super glue one of them onto her chest.

I stood outside early this morning and watched the sun making its way over the hills that Bill says looks like me when I’m lying on my back. There was hardly a sound and I just stood, looking, taking it all in and just ‘being’. We have so much to be grateful for, our old van, our old clothes (not counting my lovely lovely new trousers), our bewildered dog, our scavenging dog, our collar losing cat and each other. We are safe, we are well and we want for nothing. We are truly blessed.


Today we head north for the pizza night in Marmelete. A huge farm that makes money for its Woofers (people who travel from farm to farm working in exchange for food and a bed). It started as a small venture but now caters for two hundred plus travellers each Friday night making pizzas in giant outdoor woodburning ovens. We’ve been told the music is good, the craic is good and the pizzas to die for. And it’s Friday. And you know how we feel about Fridays.



Missing in Action

Over our eight year travelling history there have been some significant days. In fact, there have been many significant days but some are truly more significant than others. These are the days given their own titles – The Day the Boiler Blew Up, The Day We Slept Next to a Lion, The Day we Were Broken Into, The Day of the Accident and The Day we Did a U Turn on the Motorway. Yesterday was also a very significant day and shall ever after be known as The Day We Lost Spiddy.

We woke early on the harbourside at Olhao. The fishermen were out in force from 5am so there was little choice. Given the previous day and lack of sleep we were actually on surprisingly good form or, at least we and the dogs were, Skanka, who had been kept in all night wasn’t on good form at all and spent the morning prowling the van meowing at the windows in protest at her incarceration. This was a rough place. Even the wild dogs walked around in pairs. It was no place for our cat.

We were breakfasted, packed and away before nine and our first stop was only up the road to the promenade, short of the sewage outfall, to let the dogs have a good run and for us to get some air and blow the cobwebs away. On the way out we stopped at LIDL to buy some drinking water for, despite our super duper water filter, our tea mugs have taken on a rim of dark brown foam and, frankly, it’s worth paying 40 cents for a gallon of clean water. It was at this very LIDL eight years ago that our last van was broken into and it felt a little weird coming back. Even now I wondered if I might find my lovely handbag bought for me by Bill in Tarifa and taken from me by persons unknown. For old times sake Bill did the LIDL trip and I washed the van at the car wash next door.

We had so much water that we decided to rinse off some clothes ready for hanging out at our destination of Ingrina later that day. And it was one of those strange things where a small incident leads to a stupid over reaction and that builds until, before you know it you’re scrapping.

For all the time we spend together, we get on remarkably well. I think maybe we’ve fallen out two or three times this trip. The first time was the day after I ordered a descaffeinatto coffee and got real ones, the second was the day after Crystal and Jeork invited us for pancakes and gave us real coffee and today. Yes, there is a pattern here. You’ve worked it out and now, so have we.

So, I pass Bill the bucket of washing to go outside and somehow on the way to the door the bucket gets dropped and the floor gets soaked and the dogs get soaked and our carpet gets soaked and, worst of all, my dearly beloved trousers get soaked. And instead of just taking it in our stride as we would normally do we get narky and before we know it we’re snarling at one another

We set off amid low level growlings. Fifty kilometres pass in silence. Bill tells me later that he’s trying to save the situation by giving us some space but we both know that really, he’s in the huff. Time passes and we begin tentative negotiation settlements and we can see that it’s the coffee and the lack of sleep that brought us to this situation and that all we need is some good food and a good night’s rest to get us back to normal.

Late afternoon we land at Ingrina, a beach we visited some weeks before only this time we’re overlooking the beach through a vista of Palm trees. The sun is shining and it’s quite idyllic. Bill is desperate for a brew with clean water and I get the kettle on while he takes the dogs for a wee. Times passes and more time passes and the tea, despite the excellent insulating properties of the tea cosy bought from a church sale in St Andrews priced at nine pounds and somehow negotiated by Bill to only fifty pee, grows cold and my imagination takes advantage of my distraction from the present and begins to wield it’s dastardly power.

Bill can find anyone to talk to. We can be two thousand metres up a mountain in the middle of nowhere and Bill can go out to take the cover off the water boiler and come back an hour later full of tales from someone he’s met. And people love talking to Bill. He’s good at it and if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have made half the friends on the road that we have. Sometimes however it’s not best appreciated. Times when lunch is on the table, or I’m holding a half folded duvet cover waiting for him to come back from picking up a dropped peg to help me. And today I think that’s what has happened. He’s met someone, forgotten about the tea and he’ll be back full of excitement and stories.

It was not to be. When he arrived at the door, panicked, red eyed and breathless he told me the reason he was so late was that he had lost Spiddy. Instead of just going on the beach he’d taken advantage of the sun and the clean air and he’d gone further up higher onto the cliffs, a chance for the dogs to have a good run and for him to clear his head and one minute Spiddy was with him and the next minute she wasn’t.

He’d spoken with just about everyone parked in dotted coves along the cliffs and everyone it seemed was on the lookout. We had an hour before sunset and we checked with the binoculars and on foot every cliff, every gully and every white spot in the heath land that might just have been Spiddy instead of the white boulders that they were. We revisited the path where she was last seen and found there were five, six, seven paths through the heathland, any one of which she may have taken but she was nowhere to be seen. And then the camping collective took over. A German lady with two dogs organised the searches enlisting the help of people in vans, cars and houses. She was amazing and told us to stay positive and she would return and we tried so very hard to do just that but we were suffering, from the coffee, from the squabbling and from the lack of sleep and tears came easily to us both. As darkness fell we knew in our hearts that it was useless but still we walked and walked using Bill’s selection of many useful torches and, as we walked, we could hear the calls of “Spiddy” in a variety of accents along the coast. We were stopped in our searches by the arrival of the wild dogs, the night shift of the most vicious of the variety whose eyes and, more worryingly, their teeth shone in the beam of our torch and we knew we could go no further. Back to the van we limped where Dugal and the cat were delighted to see us and we went through the motions of feeding them and walking them, neither one of us mentioning the empty bed on the chair and the spare bowl and lead lying redundant in the cupboard.

We try hard to live in the present. We follow the teachings of Echart Tolle and his message of shutting down the mind’s chatter and living in peace but tonight we were not his best students, not by a long way. Our minds worked overtime and we ran with them. Thoughts of where she might be, the dark, the cold, her constant state of bewilderment and how she was unable to fend for herself. And worst of all was that she was separated from her beloved Bill. Bill who she could not bear to be separated from for more than a few seconds. We tried to sleep but none came and the sleep that did was punctuated by the thoughts of Spiddy, her loss and the hellish feeling that we might never know what had happened to her.

Up at first light and ready to begin searching again. The German lady had already visited with search plans and the husband of a lady who ran marathons said she was heading over the five kilometres to Barranco beach to see if she’d made it to there. We were not hopeful and we’d gone beyond even pretending to be hopeful. We were beyond tired, frazzled and left reeling by a conversation with a Portuguese man about people spending time in cars looking for dogs for experimentation and that it happens all the time. Of all the things he could have said it was the worst.

And then, as we were struggling to swallow our breakfast of oats, nuts and seeds, Bill shouted, “She’s here!” And she was. In the arms of a British man who was parked up right at the very top of the cliffs, almost as far as one could go before dropping down to Barranco. They’d woken that morning and spotted her under their van. Exhausted, starving, dehydrated and covered in the red dust from the cliffs but alive and home. I grabbed the man and bear hugged him and covered him in kisses, then Bill did the same. And without any more words we were back in the van and she was so glad to be in our arms. She drank a whole bowl of water and a massive bowl of dog food and rubbed herself over every cushion and us and back to the cushions again. She was overjoyed and that’s a big deal for Spiddy but all the time with her eyes closed, so exhausted she was.

We had planned to travel to Barranco beach today but now all we wanted to do was rest. We slept, we read, we walked a little but mostly we just calmed down and came back to the present. Our day was punctuated with visitors rejoicing in her return. Everyone it seemed was happy to know she’d come home. Well, perhaps, not quite everyone. I think Dugal would have been quite happy to see the back of her. Already he’d been eyeing up her bed and thinking he might try it for size and we could see him quietly ruminating about all the extra attention he might get, but it wasn’t going to happen on this day for this day we are all back together again. Just as it should be.

And we have learned many things from this weekend :-

Keep in the present – for when disaster strikes you need your wits about you.

Keep your eye on Spiddy

And most importantly, keep off the coffee.

Oh yesh.

And here she is. Fifteen minutes into her return. Happy but so tired she can’t keep her eyes open. Our Spids. x



An Eventful Week


Despite us never travelling the N125 ever again (three times) this week we found ourself travelling back and forwards more than once for a variety of reasons. I wouldn’t like to guess just how many times we’ve been back and forwards but it’s definitely been more than three and possibly just less than ten. We’ve had a grand time though. We spent some time in Monte Gordo again and, having discovered that our weekly budget had been underspent for some weeks, we hit the shops and got ourselves some hats and a pair of trousers for me. How much do I love these trousers? I love these trousers so much I keep opening the wardrobe door and going ahhhhhhhhh. That’s how much.


This time around we embraced the Dutch village and mingled with the Netherland Wives. We visited a Dutch cafe and as we sat with all the Dutch, a backpacking couple walked by and gave a kind of a smirk that was just the same as the kind of smirk that we gave last week. I wanted to jump up and shout no, you’ve got this all wrong. We are not like these people, we are travellers just like you. But instead I sat in the sun and drank my ‘koffee met slagroom’.


We spent an amazing night right out by the Island of Tavira parked on the sand flats in one of the quietest locations we have ever visited. It was here that I fed scraps to Skanka who sat on the step while I cooked. It was then that I noticed she had lost her collar, and look, said Bill, she’s also changed her eye colour and yes, the eyes of this cat were golden, not emerald and I had been feeding and talking to some strange Algarvian cat who sat in our step for two hours.


As often happens, we met up again with Stephan and Eve and they introduced us to Blaine, Julie and their ten month daughter Elly.


If you’ve ever thought about travelling but think there are too many reasons why you can’t then consider this family who’ve been travelling in a small van on a small budget with a baby in terry nappies and they have no hot water, no toilet and no heating. Despite this, Julie feeds them with the best of produce from markets and from the hedgerows. They were truly an inspiration and a mine of useful and interesting information.

Travelling with them, was their large dog, unfortunately called Dicky. So yes, we had two days talking about Dicky and Wee. Roxy, as you can imagine, had a field day.


We ate with them all, we walked with them and we talked with them. It was also with them that we got picked up by the fuzz on Friday night. Well, I exaggerate but they certainly paid us a late night-visit. It being Friday night, every tea and fairy light in the van was lit and we were well underway onto our second glass of fizzy water when the knock came to the door and we were told, very politely, by a young man of fourteen carrying a gun, that it was forbidden to be camped where we were and that we should be gone by 9am the next morning.


And we were. We were about to say goodbye to the guys heading to Spain as we headed west when they said they were visiting a fruit and veg market in Tavira and would we like to come. We said yes, despite it being in the direction from where we had just come (three times). We rather assumed of course that they did actually know where they were going but it’s a funny thing travelling with young people because invariably they don’t give a damn about stuff like directions and it’s good once in a while just to follow on blindly knowing someone else is taking the lead – or not. We got split up three or four times. Once when a young lad threw a bottle in the road in front of us and I went out with a dustpan and brush and suggested he clean it up using the international sign of a sweeping brush motion followed by a kick up the arse. We’d only just got going again when a white transit van blocked our path and held us to ransom while we pretended to argue over how much we would pay for two kilos of strawberries (it’s June here in Portugal now) before paying him what he wanted in the first place. We caught up with Stephan and Eve (the other two long gone) only to find Stephan had run off to find one of those glass structures you find in towns showing you a map and where you are now. We just stood, in the sun, with Eve and Wee, laughing at our situation, eating strawberries and not giving a damn about anything. And that’s mostly how our life is. Most of the time.

We found the market and we found the others and the market was ace and full of the freshest fruit and veg with massive bunches of bay leaves and oregano and plump seeds of pumpkin and sunflower. We bought new potatoes and raspberries and foraged asparagus and sea salt from the sand flats of Tavira. Although we were having the best of times it really was time to say goodbye. We had no idea (there it goes again) about where we were going to spend the night but had a load of ideas to explore along the way so we said our goodbyes to Stephan and Eve, went looking for Jukia and Blaine – found them, said goodbye – and then Blaine said that surely we could not leave without a farewell cup of coffee?


When I first met Bill he used to drink a lot of coffee. He told me very soon into our relationship that he used to drink a litre of black coffee every morning before breakfast and then drink coffee all day at work. He was also, coincidentally, a nervous wreck. I too have issues with coffee. For me it’s the ritual – the smell of the beans, the slow grinding (of the beans) the cups, the saucers, the little metal pot from Sicily that I froth the milk up in – the whole kaboosh. I love everything about it other than the fact it makes me feel dreadful. My heart races, my body shakes and I join Bill in his little corner on the nervous wreck spectrum.

Now here’s the funny thing. When we used to drink gallons of the stuff it didn’t seem to affect us quite so badly. Maybe our bodies just reached a tolerance level where, apart from the odd late night insomnia experience, we coped with it quite well. When we’re on the road however and our diet becomes quite ‘clean’; we follow a good lifestyle, early to bed, early to rise, with no interference from Internet or TV, then every tiny intolerance becomes magnified.

So, we haven’t had caffeine for months now and boy are we better without it but today for some reason and I’m not entirely sure why – although afterwards I reasoned that I was tired of having to say deshcaffeinatto – yes, I know. It’s a totally rubbish reason. Anyway I ordered two coffees. Not only did I order two coffees I also ordered a long coffee for Bill that was interpreted as a double. And then, Blaine got us another two. So I had two and Bill had four. Four strong coffees.

The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. I remember Bill’s jaw set in a vice lock position but I remember little else. I do know we found a superb sea side location at the edge of a vibrant and energy filled village called Fusetta but turned it down and set off once more, destination unknown, wired and hungry. Never the best combination. And it’s Saturday too and there’s only one day we like better than Friday’s and that’s Saturday. It’s movie night and we have a special supper and get the barbeque out as well as lighting all the tea lights. It’s all go you know.

Our last visit of the day was to Olhao. We spent a lot of time there once and wanted to drive through to see how much had changed and much of it had not. We recognised the police station we went to to report the break in, the restaurant where we bought food to takeaway and ate it in the van outside, and the camp shop where we bought our gas bottle and we enjoyed the feeling of familiarity once more. One thing that was very new to us was the amount of vans parked up on the harbourside. A hellish conglomeration of vans parked close by one another where neither of us would wish to stay and where we could never imagine anyone else would either. We’d seen some vans at the other end of town at the end of the promenade so made our way over there. It was late afternoon and the sun was low and mighty hot. We just managed to squeeze into a tiny space at the very end, I got the windows opened for ventilation and we took took a very deep breath and thought that no matter what, we were stopped for the night.

Just at that moment, two cars approached at great speed and with much noise and four or five black tshirted shifty looking young men got out with their bull terriers for a bit of a chat. Well, when I say a bit of a chat, the boys had a chat and the bull terriers played with a stuffed man shaped thing that was unfolded and thrown out of the boot.

We’re still in the front seats at this time as we’ve barely parked so the whole scene is quite vivid. It’s just then that we notice the smell.

We stayed in the centre of Barcelona once. In a park truck and it was probably one of the noisiest places we’ve ever stayed but we loved it. It was right bang in the centre of Barcelona and gave us an excellent base from where to see the city. It was Bills birthday while we were there and I set a table outside with candles and music and we had his birthday dinner there with all the trucks driving by waving and shouting greetings. Anyway, one of the things we remember about Barcelona is the smell of the drains. It’s particularly hellish. Since then, when we smell drains, we just mention the word Barcelona and the other nods in agreement.

This smell was Barcelona time ten. This smell was the smell that goes up your nose and into your intestines in three point five seconds. The smell that sits on your skin and permeates the epidermis and flows around your bloodstream. The smell that even with your mouth tight shut, it circles your tongue and threatens to make you throw up. That smell.

It couldn’t be anything in the van. Nothing we own could make that smell, not even if we all combined everything together. We had to be parked over some kind of sewage outflow. I opened the door to make sure it was definitely coming from outside, and that’s when the cat got out.

So there were were. Wired up, jaws tight, getting just a tiny bit angsty, no food since breakfast as we were waiting to have a Saturday night barbecue, hemmed in by shifty looking boy racers, parked over a sewage outfall and our cat has just gone off to do battle with two, seven stone mansack eating dogs. Things were a little tense.

Skanka got a whiff and an eyeful of the dogs and was back in as quickly as she left, Bill made eye contact with one of the boys and made the international sign for Something Really Stinks Around a Here and We Need to Leave Fast sign and we were off, passing once more the police station we went to to report the break in, the restaurant where we bought food to takeaway and ate it in the van outside, and the camp shop where we bought our gas bottle.

Right says Bill, we’re going back to Fusetta. So, despite it being twenty kilometres and it being late and despite us travelling back and forth over that same bit of road for what now seems like a whole lifetime we head back to Fusetta and hope that there is still a place left. And there isn’t. They are all taken and this is very bad news, especially for Bill as I have now remembered that it was he who did not want to stay here in the first place. That he just had a ‘gut feeling’ that it wasn’t right and I had reluctantly agreed to move on and, I’m now really really hungry and tired and I’m on the comedown from my two coffees but Bill is still on the up from his four and frankly, it’s not good.

And so we limp back to Olhao, trying not to mention the police station where we went to to report the break in, the restaurant where we bought food to takeaway and ate it in the van outside, and the camp shop where we bought our gas bottle. And we squeeze into the very last space on the harbourside and I make supper but not on the barbeque for there is no space to get the barbeque out and, because it’s Saturday and movie night we watch an episode of Sherlock but instead of falling asleep at 9pm as usual we’re still awake at ten and Bill suggests we go to bed before we miss our window of opportunity for sleep but the opportunity had been missed by several miles. Still, we go to bed and are still talking as though we’ve only just met and our legs are bicycling imaginary bicycles and we listen to the Portuguese fishermen outside who talk so loudly in their local lingo that sounds just like Russian secret service agents and that gets us giggling uncontrollably, and then, unbelievably, the Portuguese van next to us starts up his engine and he leaves it running for one hour and twenty three minutes and before we know it it’s Sunday. And we don’t like Sunday’s nearly as much as Fridays and Saturdays. And we think that this is probably as worse as it gets and that we shall never ever drink coffee again as long as we live but we had no idea that this was, in fact, the calm before the storm and tomorrow things would take a hellish hellish turn that neither of us could ever have anticipated.