That evening, after the ferry crossing to Spain, I quickly find a place in the parking lot of the large Carrefour supermarket to spend the night in Algeciras . At midnight it is very quiet and therefore I fall asleep like a log. The next morning, just before I left, a Carrefour employee tells me that it is not allowed to spend the night here, but of course that can not be reversed.
Meanwhile, my plan for the coming months has gained more body. Zigzagging between Spain and Portugal, I will slowly travel to the northern coast of Spain, after which I will eventually return to the Netherlands via the western and central part of France. Only for a short time. because here and in Germany I will make some adjustments to the truck. After that the real big trip starts. Towards the East, to Asia.
But before Portugal is on turn I stay for a few days near the ancient port of Cádiz, in the village of El Puerto de Santa Maria. The large camping place serves as a base to explore the area. The village itself directly confronts me already with the Spanish siësta. Between 1 and 5 or even 6 o’clock everything is closed, streets deserted and even the chairs of the terrace are piled. This, combined with the prevailing heat wave, gives a feeling as if a serious epidemic has broken out where the people are not allowed to go on the street. What does a man do? In my case, a dip in the salty water of the ocean. Other options include: reading, sleeping or just do nothing. The latter, however, is boring. Starting at 6 pm, the epidemic disappears. The people squeeze into the narrow streets and occupy the cafes. What a party. I pamper myself with tapas and sherry. This certainly goes on until midnight, and even later. But at 11 pm I have had my day and return to the camping place.
By ferry I cross the bay to the beautiful city of Cádiz and take the train to travel to Jerez de la Frontera. I am in sherry region now. Bodegas around. Among others Osborne (the logo of the black bull adorns many elevated locations along highways), Tio Pepe and many others. In Jerez de la Frontera I tempted myself to tour the cellars of Tio Pepe. Including sherry tasting. The site is so large that visitors are driven around to linger in the famous wimpy little train with carriages from which the tourists hang out of the windows with their mobile phone windows to gladden the home front with their videos. Nevertheless, it is still worthwhile to get an insight into the production of sherry. Fortunately, much is done on foot in the large storage areas with the huge wooden barrels.
Moments later, I’m sitting on a terrace witnessing an impromptu flamenco from some friends who drink a glass of beer and regularly emit a beautiful guitar riff with vocals. Occasionally the temperament reaches its peak and the energy is channeled in a number of short dance steps accompanied by finger clicking, clapping, stamping feet and olé’s. Fernando walks past in his neat suit. He is clearly underway to an appointment, because he looks at his watch and walks swiftly, but his friends exuberantly greet him and invite him to join them. He thanks for the honor but his insisting friends let him no other choice than to join them. He is amicably greeted with hugs and kisses. Fernando appears to be a guitar virtuoso. He pulls off his jacket, a guitar is pushed into his hands and he begins a compelling guitar solo. Now the men get really excited and get even noisier. Fernando forgets the time but after 10 minutes he realizes that he must go to an appointment. After a swift farewell, he pulls on his jacket and runs to his goal.
It is told that Jerez is the cradle of Spanish flamenco. Well, this is an example of it.
My first encounter with Portugal is the southern province of Algarve. At this time of the year it is peak season. A very crowded season for this part of Portugal. And hot! At the moment there is a heat wave and 40 degrees is no exception. People find their entertainment on the coast. The sandy beaches along the eastern side of the Algarve change into a rocky coast in the west, which I personally find more attractive. Meanwhile, my niece Ivon lets me know she currently stays in Portugal and proposes to meet each other somewhere in the south. An unexpected and fun message. We agree to meet near Portimao. But first I want to visit Faro. If you’re not a beach person then this is not a place to linger long. The coast seems to be very nice with many islands, but the crowds make me decide not to go here. A bike ride in the Serra do Caldeirao, just north of Faro, attracts me more. Piggy gets an excellent location next to a cemetery and the bike is taken out for a ride through the cork plantations. The steep, unpaved paths between the plots are a drain on the condition, or rather a supplement to the final condition. It depends on how you look at it. And the strong heat also does its job. But fortunately the trees also provide some shade. I also learn that the trees are stripped of their bark once in 10 years. Some trees in the plots have a number to indicate in which decennium they can be harvested again. So a 7 means 2007, 2017, 2027 etc.
As agreed I meet Ivon at a campsite near Portimao. It’s a nice reunion and together we visit a restaurant on the beach to celebrate.
The trip continues to Cabo de Sao Vicente, the extreme southwestern tip of Europe, where I can snorkel and enjoy the beautiful sunset at the lighthouse.
The rocky coast at Aljezur has beautifully shaped rock formations of black stone. There is a strong wind, so some kite surfers go crazy and show impressive jumps in the air. When I put a photo of this on Instagram, the concerned surfer recognizes himself on the picture. It turns out to be a Dutchman. Quite special, that Instagram!
In the distance threatening dark clouds show up. The first autumn rains, I guess, but via a WhattsApp message from my sister I hear that it is a forest fire near Monchique. I’m not a fan of too many social media, but these are surely great blessings of these media. I circumnavigate the fire area to Castro Verde. Meanwhile, I am in the province of Alentejo, the biggest province of Portugal. In the small town of Castro Verde an annual festival is going on where I visit a concert of French-Moroccan band AWAY, which makes stirring music in a mix of Western, African and RAI. (See video)
Now it goes east again, to the medieval town of Mértola and the small mining town of Mina de Sao Domingos, near the Spanish border. The mines are closed, and most residents left the place to other places to find work, but for visitors it is interesting to see how the miners lived in their small terrace houses. The old mines provide a surreal impression. The cottages are refreshed in white paint now and are inhabited again.
Through Beja I travel back to the coast. As I said before, zigzagging I will pull slowly to the north.
The port city of Setúbal is located at the estuary of the Rio Sado, an area with many species of birds including flamingos and storks, but also the whereabouts of a large group of dolphins (bottlenose dolphins) which are spotted easily by boat. Apart from locations in Ireland and Scotland, this is one of the three places in Europe where the dolphins stay on one location. I am amazed by their length. It seems that they can grow almost up to 5 meters long.
Crossing the huge “Golden Gate Bridge” lookalike spanning the Rio Tagus I reach the beautiful city of Lisbon. The folding bike proves good value to explore the city in a couple of days. Every day a different area of the city. The weather is good and I’m in the mood.
Portugal as well as Spain has become more bicycle friendly in the last few years. It has built red bike paths in many places. In Barcelona it was already difficult to find the right side of the road where the bike path is. As a cyclist you should be aware that the path stops abruptly or suddenly continues at the other side of the road. Straight paths are not very common. The red bike paths make turns around trees, lampposts and bus shelters. Thus a number of times somebody almost ended up in my bicycle basket, because for pedestrians it is not always clear as well. Portugal is my favorite, because they actually take care to put signs on which side of the road the bike path continues. In Spain you need a periscope.
Of course all sights of the city are scored, as well as eating, drinking and looking at people. It feels like vacation! Especially in the narrow and steep alleys of the old Alfama district. I enjoy the silence and the space of the former Expo 98 site and its many architectural wonders. Today it is the newest district of Lisbon, with offices, apartments, restaurants. Meanwhile, 17,000 people live there.
The ultra-long Vasco da Gama bridge of more than 17 km brings me back to Alentejo where I successively admire the old city of Évora and the two fortified towns and Monsaraz and Elvas. All three beauties. Obviously I stay there more than these two rules suggest.
Further east it is going now. Back to Spain again. Into the province of Extremadura. Via the interesting old Roman city of Mérida I make my basecamp on a nice camping in the National Park Monfrague. Yesterday we had an interesting guided tour, because this is an area with many birds of prey such as the Griffon vulture and the black vulture, but also deer (reddeer). It’s mating season. The belling males can be heard from afar.
The coming days I intend to explore the region better and make a cycling tour for a few days via Trujillo and Caceres.
But more on that later.