Wednesday, 5 March 2014


These are campsites dotted along the coast of Portugal, for a one off payment of €21 and a book of Passports for €99 you get to stay at any of their 25 or so sites for €9 a night, this is €3 less than the cheapest you’ll get an ACSI site for. ACSI Sites can be €12, €14, €16 or €18 per night (ACSI is a multi vendor scheme that assists lots of campsites tostay open all year round by guaranteeing `relatively’ low overnight off season rates) . We haven’t found and ACSI site under €16 surprise surprise. Most charge the maximum €18 despite the fact that the facilities at some of them are to coin a phrase `fucking woeful’. I give you `Camping Kiko Park’ Oliva; a Shitty carpark by a beach. What you’re paying for is the fact that the owners have built a lovely office block, reception, and 10 seat coffee bar come pizzeria (for takeaway only), a terrace restaurant and Spa ... the spa is closed in low season (it’s included in the deal for ACSI). The restaurant serves ping meals from the standard Spanish ping meal menu, the pool is empty, and the coffee bar is expensive (and you feel like you need to move on as soon as all the seats are taken and you’ve finished coffee, to allow some other shmuck to be ripped off). And then the bastards charge you extra for shitty WIFI service.

As a customer using the place for a night or two we want decent showers, not to have to walk behind and between four other pitches to connect  a power lead apologising to all our neighbours for disturbing their afternoon, as you scrabble through twenty metres of hedge. A fence that goes all the way around ... so that within twenty minutes of arrival you don’t have the self appointed `Ex-pat Newbie Meeter and Greeter Overwinterer’ banging on the door telling us to make sure we lock everything up especially bikes because there’s been a lot of thefts. And you definitely don’t want a prissy bitch in a suit sitting in an expensive aquarium by the front gate playing solitaire on a 22inch all in one PC and Monitor setup, trying make you feel she’d doing you a favour by letting you stay on site. If you’re going to open all winter and charge top dollar, have the courtesy to make sure your place is worth it. Kiko Park was the worst ACSI site we stayed at and how they managed to scrape top dollar shows that ACSI has very small teeth ... at some point we’ll be writing to ACSI to tell them off our pain.

Back to Orbiturs: I’ve not researched them properly, I haven’t had time, but they are `ubiquitous’, everyone you meet in Portugal asks `are you using the Orbitur passport system?’ and then follows up by telling you how cheap it is. Frankly if I was paying ACSI prices for Orbiturs I’d wild camp or fuck, the fuck off back to Spain. They are convenient, but so are Aires and Aires are usually free. We have been at an Orbitur for three days to see Lisbon. If I had a choice ... technically I do have a choice I could blow off €50 worth of Orbitur overnight stays that we have left, spend twice and put the whole grotty business down to experience. I’d rather pay more and stay at an ACSI or independent site. Here’s their website ... corporate bullshit par excellence ... or more worringly they think this is the gold standard.

And here’s why: Orbiturs, universally don’t have toilet seats, toilet paper, or hand washing soap, they don’t have hot water in all showers, they don’t have hot water at sinks for shaving or for washing up, and none of their buildings are in anyway shape or form winterised. So if like the last weeks or so, it’s rolling around 8degrees and a bit breezy, after your shower you are going to get hypothermia on the walk back to the van. Because you need to go to the shower as close to naked as possible, because there is never anything to hang your clothes on while you shower, unless you want to wash your clothes at the same time as you wash yourself. Shower heads vary from `spray in every direction except down, to single high pressure stream that soaks everything inside the cubicle and out as the water rebounds off your skin. Water temperature variance can be from `flayed and boiled to only just above ambient’, and these two extremes can be finely tuned with microns of movement on the tap, and or can vary from the time you press the button to start water running to the end of the timed stream: starts cold, then scalds, then freezes again. On from this, the buildings are generally tired and dirty despite the cleaning crews efforts to stay on top of things, black mould, algae, mosquitoes, other damp loving insects and midges, small worms living and moving around in the cubicle grouting and grotty corners where biomass has accumulated.

Portugal’s roads are shocking almost everywhere, in Orbitur Campsites they just copied what they saw outside the sites. They seem to have laid a tissue thin layer of tarmac over whatever aggregate nature left in place over geological time ... lots of these places are near beaches, so sand features a lot; these are your access roads to your pitch, with the expected results. Think back to RE at school and that `at the time’ tedious parable about the man who built his house on sand, and the man who built his house on rock ... I think the three little Pigs is an allegory of that story, with the wolf cast as Satan (who knows? maybe I’m over-thinking it). In any event, you can scrape your vehicles underbody on the bumps you can’t avoid (be they raised bumps, or great big dips), like you’re going over a speed hump too quickly, and you can be momentarily elevated so you scrape your roof on the unpruned trees. You have to do three point turns to make very simple turns at junctions, because pitches are tight. There has been one exception to this so far, Sagres, big pitches with concrete runners to park on, but the runners may not be wide enough for your vehicles track width and of course the soil around the concrete runners erodes, creating mud and or deep drops from your side door or cab ... though it’s still preferable to the other three Orbiturs we’ve stayed at. Sagres’s shower block was hideous, and to use the wifi you had to sit outside the bar that is not going to be open until July, when downslope fifty metres there was a games room, come library open 24/7, needless to say the wifi signal didn’t reach the games room.

We paid 70cents a night more than the highest ACSI price (to recap that’s €18 plus 70cents per night), to stay at an independent campsite in Alvito after we stayed at Sagres. It was a bit of a bummer because of the weather. The best weather was the day we arrived, so we had to make do with a driving tour of the area as we left, rather than sit in a pervasive mist that a hundred metres lower was the base of clouds and rain. We got damp good a proper, but we probably needed the downtime physically.

The point is, for that extra €9.70 that you pretty much pay everywhere else anyway, you get all the bits that make a site comfortable, clean bijou showers, cubicle doors that close, door locks on toilet cubicles that work, flush systems that take Mr Brown on his journey to wherever Mr Brown goes in Portugal ... I’m horribly worried that mostly, that’s just out to sea, and miracle of miracle soap and toilet paper (toilet paper that is designed to disintegrate in water) that you don’t have to screw up and throw in a `shit bin’ by the cludgy, and hope your aim is true, because your shitty paper is joining other people shitty paper. And some people don’t do `shitty paper discretion folds’. I like to think I have a strong stomach, but I am always nauseated to the core by the site of reams of arse wipe rearing its brown multihued revoltingness to my eye. And finally buildings that are all weather, with polite notices asking you to keep doors closed to exclude as much wildlife as possible and maintain a comfortable temperature.

We’re struggling with Portugal, it’s two tier in the extreme, even our Alan Rogers guide says that some of the Orbiturs are only just scraping through on hygiene and sanitation. I think they lowered their standards because the issues are endemic, and if they ditched one they’d have to ditch them all. The first site we stayed at in Portugal was the same, and that was a municipal site, its general location gave it an extra night. The independent in Alvito was Dutch owned and run, a very common theme in both Spain and Portugal: if you want quality find the foreign owned and run sites (generally). We have two days of Orbitur to use up, two overnights to take us north along the coast and then we’re out of here, back through Northern Spain, to Southern France.

We don’t like Orbiturs, and we aren’t feeling the love for Portugal.

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