Wednesday, 26 February 2014

And back to Portugal

Palacio do Rocina
Once we had showered off the sand from the aborted cycle ride at dusk on Sunday, we left El Rocio campsite next morning and drove to the visitor centre we had not yet been to, El Palacio do Rocina. It was a grand house set in fabulous grounds built by a private individual in the 1960's and had since become the property of the Coto Donana estate and housed an informative and interesting exhibition. We had a short walk around a lagoon and were delighted to spy a group of 13 night herons, just sitting stock still in the reeds but easily visible.

Our 4 x 4
In the afternoon we had our trip in a 21 seater 4 by 4 unimog. And very enjoyable it was too. We were the only Brits aboard, most of the passengers being Spanish except for one Dutch couple. The driver was very knowledgeable and gave us just the right amount of interesting information, translating into good English after every spiel. He took us on an 80 k drive around the park which is fenced on three sides and bordered on the fourth by 35 k of beautiful Atlantic beach. We drove first along the beach, past cockle pickers who have to have a license to fish here, it looked exhausting and tedious work which they carry out every day at low tide. As the tide rises, they then have to sort their catch, only cockles bigger than two and a half centimetres can be kept. The rest have to be sieved out and left for the tide to take back to the sea. Many of these are then sold at local restaurants at about 7€ a kilo but some of these hardy souls drive all the way to Madrid and back to offload their catch at a higher price of up to 17€ a kilo.
Audouins gulls, easier pickings for them!
After the beach we drove through the forest, mostly pine and olive trees, had a look at some traditional buildings, some of which are still lived in, past the very grand Palacio de Las Marismillas which world leaders often stay at, on past the vast marshland which is unusually dry this year, so the only birds we could see were miles away .... hard to believe after all the rain we've had in Portugal. Then we drove back through the sand dunes, back along the beach and on to the centre. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of Spanish Imperial Eagles which are increasing in numbers since the park has been supporting them but as they have just started laying their eggs the route was changed to ensure they were not disturbed. Also there are a number of Iberian Lynx, mongoose and genets living and breeding here but these are mainly nocturnal and difficult to see.
We did however see Audouins gulls on the beach which we first saw in Morocco last year and Kentish plover, wild boar, red and fallow deer. One fact I have remembered....(useful or not) is that there are a mind blowing 1,380 species of flora in Coto Doñana of which I could probably name about a dozen!

The deer are just about to shed their antlers
and could be seen rubbing them
against the trees

High Rise living
3 pairs of storks sharing 1 pylon!

Monster tracks!
Our visit to the Coto Doñana over, we headed back next day to Portugal and stayed again in Castro Marim just over the border. Today we have started our journey north towards home, finding a lovely little lay by for lunch near a stream where we saw a wood sandpiper fishing and crag martins zooming about overhead. Now we have come to Mértola which is in the heart of another national park. We spent the afternoon parked by the river Guadiana watching lesser kestrels on the ledges of the castle which we will visit tomorrow. This is also where rare black storks breed but they have not yet arrived back from Africa. However we hope to see great and little bustards which are resident here and which we've never seen before.  We're staying in this area...the warmest and most arid in Portugal for a few days before making our way further north up along the border.

Oh no, we were being followed!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Spain for a few days .... or the Wild West?

We've just popped over the border to Spain for few days so that we can spend some time in the Coto Doñana National Park in Andalucia and are pleased to say that for the last week, since last Sunday we have had a lot more sunshine and relatively little rain. We've even had a couple of tee shirt and shorts days and are both enjoying the change enormously. It rained on the day we left Portugal and was wet for part of the journey but other than that, things are really looking up!

The bridge from Portugal into Spain
from the fort at Castro Marim

The Nacional Parque is a massive 50720 hectares and includes a large variety of different ecosystems including dunes, lagoons and marshlands and is therefore home to many different species of birds, mammals and amphibians.
Purple Gallinule
This was taken at Olhão
but they breed in this reserve too
Access to the park is strictly limited, there are 5 visitor centres where there are marked trails and if you want to venture further you must book onto a guided 4 by 4 vehicle trail which lasts for 4 hours and takes you to many parts of the parque you would not otherwise be able to see. We are booked onto one of these tomorrow afternoon.
Meanwhile, after leaving Castro Marim in Portugal we came here, to a campsite in a little town on the edge of the park called El Rocio. We didn't know anything about the town as we don't have a rough guide to Spain but what a shock we got upon arrival.
It's like being in the Wild West. There are horses being ridden and horses and carts everywhere. All the streets are covered in thick sand, so you can only guess where the white lines should be and there are no pavements, the buildings all have verandahs with rails for tying up horses. You expect Clint Eastwood to come strolling towards you any moment! There are naff gift shops galore and I had to suppress the urge to buy a flamenco dress or a pair of leather boots with spurs on but thankfully I didn't take any money with me yesterday when I walked into town. (For anyone who is wondering...tongue firmly in cheek here!). Apparently this is the site for a huge pilgrimage every year in June where up to half a million people come from all over, mostly on horseback to take part.

The Church at El Rocio

EL Rocio across the marisma (marsh)

Well, one walk around was enough! Nigel cycled into town whilst I walked the dogs and we were both of the same mind but we can safely say we have seen El Rocio! Today we cycled to the visitor centre and walked around the hides, saw many glossy ibis, purple herons and two marsh harriers who were flying over the marsh and putting the fear of God into the other birds. As we made our way along the board walk we saw many little lizards scurrying along, they had come out in the sunshine for a warm up! We came back to the motorhome for a late lunch and decided we would cycle back just before dusk to watch the ibis, herons and egrets coming in to roost but when we tried to do so, the wind had got up and it became very gusty. We cycled part way into a sandstorm which was most unpleasant so we turned around and came back with sand in every orifice!

But it's nice when you stop!
We're driving to another visitor centre tomorrow in the morning and then having our 4 x 4 tour in the afternoon …. watch this space. After that we'll be heading back into Portugal to travel inland up the border on our return homewards as there are some more places we want to visit before we leave this part of the world.

I might be getting on but I can still run

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

What a difference the sunshine makes!

Firstly I need to tell you that the photos for this blog entry were all taken with my phone, the photographer has gone on strike! There may be some better ones in an update, we'll see.

We're now on day three of blue sky and sunshine. I know how difficult things are weather wise in parts of the UK and how people are suffering with flooding and storms so it feels slightly shallow and uncomfortable to be saying this but ...... the main reason we are on this journey is to escape the British winter. It has been disappointing so far to have had so much rain and high winds and little sunshine but since Sunday, the weather seems to have turned a corner and it's really lifted our spirits!

Ironically Nigel tweaked a muscle in his back the other day (so that's both of us with bad backs!) and has been suffering quite badly the last few days, so it's been good for him to be able to sit out and rest and relax in the sunshine. There's a cool wind though and the temperature plummets at dusk, not a problem as we're warm and cosy at night times. One problem at this spot was the number of cats around, I counted seven on one walk through the car park and they sent the dogs wild as you can imagine!

Castro Marim Fort
We have just arrived in Castro Marim, a small but interesting town almost on the south eastern Spanish border and in the Reserva Natural do Sapal where flamingos stop to feed and which is also the home of the Mediterranean chameleon, a harmless slow moving lizard that is severely threatened elsewhere by habitat destruction. We are unlikely to see any as the best time to see them is September. There is a vast ruined castle here which we will explore later.
Looking down onto the motorhome
 aire in Castro Marim from the castle

Since my last update, we have not come far, just meandered along the Eastern Algarve coast stopping at aires for a night or three.

We stayed at the campsite in Olhão for nine nights, which surprised us as it wasn't really our kind of place but it was a good spot to stay during a period of really bad weather where we didn't need to worry about solar panels and no sunshine or collecting water and emptying waste! It was also good to catch up with Gary and Annette and meet some of their British friends who spend all winter here. The showers were excellent too, always a bonus! And there was good dog walking and bird watching opportunities direct from the site. We saw purple gallnules here and we walked to the hide at dusk and saw hundreds of egrets coming in to roost.

Gradually almost every available space
 was taken up but not without much squabbling!

We've just had a few nights at Pedras D'el Rei which was very pleasant, just a huge car park, no facilities with thirty or so other motorhomes, some of which looked like they had taken root for the winter. From here we could walk over a causeway and floating pontoon and on over the mud flats at the side of a little tourist train track for a couple of kilometres onto Barril beach on Ilha de Tavira .....kilometres of peaceful dune-fringed beach stretching in each direction, ideal for the dogs and they just loved it.

This lovely almost deserted beach is your prize
after a 2 kilometre walk across the mud flats.

There's some information  and many more photos here about the anchor graveyard below.

Anchor graveyard at Barril beach

Gary Garlic

And today's trivia .... yesterday we became the proud owners of a new mascot for Liberté Too. Meet Gary Garlic. We've been saving tokens on our Lidl shopping, the promotion during January and February was for "The Goodness Gang" soft toys, once you had collected enough tokens you could take the toy of your choice, imagine our excitement as we peeled off the last sticker we needed and went in search of Nigel's favourite. There were seven fruit and veg characters to choose from, we could have chosen a banana (my favourite), a stawberry, brocolli, a pear, a carrot or an aubergine. So Gary Garlic now sits in our windscreen waving at passers by and announcing that we shop at Lidl and are proud of it!

A few extra photos.....

Cattle Egrets

Liberté Too at Pedras d"el Rei

Pink sky at night....

Sunset over the Ria Formosa reserve

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Where have all the teaspoons gone?

It's just a small container that holds 5.91939047 ml and yet the mystery surrounding it intrigues me (or do I have too much time on my decide!)

What is it about these small treacherous items that makes them disappear so readily? There they sit in the drawer just waiting to be used, you counted them all in and yet ..... next time you look half of them are missing. We still have the four knives, forks and dessert spoons we started out with, the teaspoons could learn a lot about loyalty from them if only they would listen.

They claim to have no other purpose than to stir your drink or have yogurt licked from them and yet I fear they have an ulterior and suspicious motive for it seems they cannot be faithful, at least not to me.

When we started this trip in December 2013, there were just three in this motorhome...yes only three from the original six which started out on their European and Morrocan adventure just a year earlier. I find it hard to accept how ungrateful these well travelled and cosseted spoons are, some of them have been to Scotland twice, and not just any old boring bits of Scotland (sorry Mandy!) but the Outer Hebrides and Skye, France, Luxembourg, Spain and Morocco and yet three of these originals have felt the need to jump ship as it were and go who knows where on their own paths. They had their very own comfortable drawer to sleep in and were lovingly washed and dried but no, they were still unfaithful and escaped at the first opportunity.

And so, the three were supplemented by four more, slightly smaller ones before we left home last time and off we set in December with seven. Now barely six weeks later we're down to four again. Only one can I account for. The other day I emptied my washing up bucket into an outside drain and heard the unmistakeable tinkle of one of my friends getting away, the drain was too narrow and too deep to reach into and so another one bit the dust. The others I cannot account for, they have gone the way of the first three, silently and surreptitiously. I am thinking that maybe I need to drill holes in them and wear them on a chain around my neck to stop them getting away. Any other restraining ideas would be very welcome!

Whilst looking for a suitable image for this daft post I came across this, (from which I quote, below...) seems I'm not the only one to be plagued by this phenomenon!

Somewhere in the cosmos, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, a planet is entirely given over to spoon life-forms. Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Not every day you can watch azure winged magpies whilst washing up!

Another week has passed and we are currently in the eastern Algarve at Olhão, near Faro. We are staying on a campsite for a few nights to catch up with some friends we met on our Moroccan trip last year, they have spent all winter here ....... and also to do some birdwatching at the Ria Formosa Natural Parque.

Plans have chopped and changed over the last week, we were going to travel here slowly, stopping along the coast whenever we could but after the first day or so when we found out how busy and overdeveloped this part of the Algarve is, we decided to miss out some of the coastline, rush here to see Gary and Annette and then maybe go back to the west coast where it is far more "us". From Lagos to here, there are high rise blocks of apartments crowding the coastline, the campsites are full to bursting even at this time of the year, we knew it would be busy but we underestimated how busy by a long way and we are not really comfortable with it. We've still not firmed up our plans for the next few weeks but here's a quick resumé of what we've been up to since last time.

Boats in the harbour at Alvor
but look in the background to see what we mean
about over-development!

After our lovely few days at Praia do Amado we headed further south and spent the next few nights around Cabo sao Vicente under the most powerful lighthouse in Europe. Then we explored the old Fortaleza at Sagres, here allegedly be blue rock thrushes but despite keeping eyes peeled we didn't see any during the three days we were there.

Cabo St Vicente lighthouse
just lighting up towards dusk

Yellow legged gull

Fishermen take it to extremes here,
that ledge is on top of a 200 foot drop and
this particular guy must have been
in his seventies, one stumble and it's curtains!

After that we headed into the mountains and spent a windy night at 902 metres at Foia, the highest point in the Algarve when on a clear day the views are outstanding and you can see for miles but you've guessed it, it was not a clear day for us! It was however, clear enough from our walk with the dogs, for us to see a rude Portuguese man get out of his car with his wife, go round to the side of our motorhome and urinate on our back wheel! Nigel hot footed it back and took a photograph of his car number plate and then a photo of him, thanking him sarcastically for p*****g on our caravan, he and his wife looked suitably shocked and ashamed and rightly so and scuttled off but not before I went and got our disinfectant spray and theatrically sprayed it over the offending wheel.

The observatory at Foia

Heading back to the coast, we tried to park at an Aire in Lagos but it was full so we travelled along to Alvor, a little fishing village further along the coast, it was during this journey that we decided we were not going to enjoy this part of the Algarve very much. At a very sandy and muddy Aire we pulled in quite dispirited but after a dog walk on the beach and a nice meal we decided we would walk up into the old town the following morning which we did and had a coffee in a little bar while it rained as we hadn't taken waterproofs with us.

Alvor Church

Pretty flowers, don't know their name,
some variety of ice plant, we think

Grand Moustaches on a
statue in Aljezur

Random stork

In the afternoon we decided we would travel inland a bit and visit the town of Silves for an overnight stop, we thought it would be less crowded as it was away from the coast but when we got there there must have been about 400 motorhomes there already crowding out the car parks...again not for us so we came to Olhāo and booked in at the campsite for a few nights.

Annette and me in the bar at Camping Olhāo
I bought my Poncho the day before at Foia

Annette getting up close and personal with the
Saharan locals in Morocco

We had always intended trying to catch up with Gary and Annette who we met in Morocco and we did the first night and had a drink and a good natter and we will see them again before we leave. We might have an extra couple of nights here whilst we decide what to do next. Last night we met them again to take part in a quiz organised by some of the Brit contingent on the campsite. Our team came second, pipped at the post by a three man team who got an extra point each round because they were a man down, so technically we got more right answers than they did but coming second we at least got our entry fee back and it was a fun and convivial evening.

Black winged stilt
photo courtesy of wikipedia

It's good here for birdwatching and cycling and dog walking, yesterday we saw another winged stilts and today as I washed up the breakfast dishes I could see azure winged magpies flitting about in the trees. I was actually daydreaming and thinking about our lifestyle choice as I washed up outdoors in a sink on a crowded campsite compared to a holiday with full board in a swanky 5* hotel (which I've never actually experienced) when I caught sight of these beauties just above me and knew where I'd rather be!

Azure winged magpies, one of Nigel's shots
captured last year in Spain