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.