Friday, 21 February 2014

Over the Border

We are in Portugal, we crossed over the river just ten kilometres west of Isla Cristina, and were in a whole new country. The road signs changed subtly, the road surfaces changed sharply ... Portugal’s roads are not nearly as well maintained or as smooth as Spains, the wording and spellings different (though to be fair the whole Romance thing means they look mostly identical except for `Isimos, Uios, Ooios, Eiros etc ... with a bit of effort we could get them all speaking the Queens English in a few weeks). Seriously though once you’ve got your eye in reading isn’t an issue, it’s pronunciation that makes you sound like a tourist.
A Road Sign Above a Road
As an aside border control consisted of driving under a big blue sign welcoming one to the Algarve, the tourist office that indicates that tourists should stop and take note appeared to be closed. We stopped, made sure the Satnav was set to avoid toll roads and carried on.
Spain Ends in 500 Metres
It’s been an odd day, this morning it was all `Ola and Gracias’ this afternoon it’s all `Ola and Obrigado’ ... so nearly entirely different.  Portuguese sounds so different to Spanish, that if you didn’t know better you would wonder if it wasn’t an eastern European language when spoken, as I did when I first heard Portuguese at AON while escorting a computer room cleaning crew. I asked their team lead where they all came from and he said Portugal ... I was taken aback.

First impressions; I like Portugal, and the Portuguese we’ve met so far. They have been, helpful, friendly, funny and generous (and their English makes me ashamed of England’s approach to foreign languages).

We arrived in Tavira about an hour after leaving Isla Cristina in Spain ... Oh I haven’t mentioned Isla Cristina yet ... Amanda and I spent two nights in Isla Cristina in Spain. There you go now it’s been mentioned (dirt town, shithole full of Spanish chavs on scooters, twats with car stereos they use to define their manliness and the lots of girls too young to be pushing prams, pushing prams ... salt marsh and salt pans ... beach ... anything else? Er um er not that I saw ... no I tell a lie we saw loads of these:Iberian Azure-winged Magpie (rare as hens teeth all things considered)
The DMZ, No Mans Land, Goats Beware etc
Tavira just over the border looked OK, but the campsite didn’t, (a carpark in a housing estate albeit the houses seem to be less concrete utilitarian than Spanish `fringe’ towns). We drove through and around the town looking for another campsite or Aire, but failed, so we moved on. I should add: we both woke up grumpy from the experience of Isla Cristina, and I was well up for a three hour drive to Sagres at the very Southwestern tip of Europe just to wash the disappointment of the last two days in Spain (for now) from my id. However Amanda reminded me that the Faro area has islands just off shore, so we re-programmed the Satnav to take us to Olhao, saving Sagres for a few days time. Portugal is tiny compared to Spain, we could do it one side to another in a morning, so we will have to be careful not to rush or take massive steps, or we will miss it.
Portugal (warning us of estrangerios ahead ... don't accept sweets or go and see puppies if approached)
Following our pattern we arrived in Olhao, hungry because we blew out of Isla Cristina without breakfast, and arrived in Olhao for lunch (our pattern is every other place we stop is shit). We spent a short amount of time looking for a restaurant bypassing the obvious tourist places, and ended up on a back street next to the creek that runs in from the delta here; which is a mix of salt flats (Salinas), both salt marsh and salt pans.  Lunch was €10 each regardless of what you had, that included a half carafe of wine, bread, olives, two salads, a Dorada for me and another fish (name forgotten in a winey haze) for Amanda, boiled potatoes rolled in oil and salt and two large complimentary brandies ... I should be napping not blogging.

The town is small (village size) there is a railway just up the way, and we may make use of it for a few days (I’ve already ordered lunch for tomorrow ... massive prawns). The train we saw looks fit for the scrap yard, the station looks like it needs a lick of paint, but who cares, if it goes to Faro, and back as far as Tavira (where we can get an Indian meal), then it means Moho can stay safe in the confines of this `municipal’ campsite for a few days, save me some driving and diesel, leaving us free to take in the sites and take pictures.
Me With My New Raybans and Fresh Beardy Thing (because I buggered the last one up and had to shave it off) ... Looking Well Cool You'll Agree :-)
Beyond the campsite by the sea are dunes separated from the land by creeks. Inland the land looks like `Hobbiton’ from The Lord of the Rings, lots of bumps and hills, nothing too high, nothing too craggy. The immediate area is very rural, small holdings of oranges and olives, pretty, shallow valleys, low walls separating plots twisty thin roads rising and falling like swell on the sea set in iron coloured soil tilled and furrowed ready for new crops. Fresh green shoots of leaves just burst from bud adorn the trees, and roadside spring weeds are in full flower ... I was reminded of Springs walking pace, its strolling north slowly as the sun heads towards June and the solstice. Be patient England, its coming.

I was my usual worried this morning, as we left the comfort of the now familiar Spain, almost two months to the day after we left the familiar cold comfort of December cold England. We’ll be back in Spain in a few weeks (briefly) as we make our way into France and probably down as far as Rome, before zigzagging back up and through the rest of western Europe, before continuing our travels in the land of our birth for the rest of the summer (after we’ve made a stop for a week or two for some engine tweaking, and adjustment to the habitation area and LPG cupboard).

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