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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 11

Mojacar to Braganca – Spain to Portugal – 840 miles

11th Map

21 July

Mojacar to Guarda, Spain to Portugal – 582 miles

We spent the last 5 days in Mojacar just chilling, catching up on the family gossip and sorting out our next leg. We hired a car (shock! horror!) so that we could take Sam out and we went to a theme park called Oasys. It used to be called Mini Hollywood as it is based around the film industry that used to be here filming Westerns (‘Paella Westerns’??). There is also a zoo there and we walked round in the heat feeling very hot; it was quite sad to see a lot of the animals cooped up in the heat as well – at least they had access to water. At the end of the day there is a western show, where a few guys on horses ride around the square shooting each other. That was a job which I didn’t envy – one baddy got dragged behind the horse (deliberately) – but it was OK ‘cos all the baddies died and the good guy saved the day. 😉

(Sam, don’t laugh but your Dad’s photo’ of the monkey was out of focus!)

Spain

Two monkeys who did come out in focus: Kevin and Sam at Oasys

As we were here on a Sunday Jacky (who we didn’t seen much of as she works in a restaurant in the evenings) booked us all into a local restaurant for a traditional English Sunday lunch – Mojacar has a large British ex-pat population so getting British food is no problem; we had one of the best lunches we’ve had in a long time. The company was good as well although Sam was suffering a bit from a late night out.

Spain

Sam’s choice of headgear to protect her hungover head from the sun was fetching (as in men in white coats coming to fetch her!)

So onwards and upwards…our Sat Nav route had us retracing our steps to Murcia (near Derek’s) and then on up towards Madrid. Looking at the map it seemed a very odd route but going the ‘obvious’, to me, way (left and up) was actually more miles and took a lot longer – Sat Nav 1, Lyn 0.

We started off quite early to avoid the heat but it was already really sticky (it’s a very humid heat there) so it was good to get going along the motorway and have the breeze come through our jackets. Not much to say about the road except that it was quite boring but we seemed to eat the miles up quite quickly. We chose the toll route and that was a good choice; as before, the lorries and most of the cars went the other way so we had the road pretty much to ourselves.

Spain

On and on and on …..

The landscape is very desert-like with quite a few large outcrops of sandstone and sometimes slate. Another landscape to learn about when we do some geology! The farms are quite different to the ones in the UK. There are a lot of large fields that seem to be arbitrarily divided into odd shaped sections, each with a different crop growing. As we moved eastwards the fields became larger and mostly one crop per field, most of them seem to have been harvested and there were lots of square hay bales left to dry. Even further east, now almost in Portugal, there were more trees growing – these looked like crop trees, but were not so closely grown as the usual olive trees, or citrus trees. Another crop is ‘energy’. There are numerous wind farms on the tops of hills, and fields full of solar panels that turn to the sun have also sprung up.

About 100 miles before the border the dual carriageway disappeared and all we could see was the construction for the rest of the route. Sooner or later there will be a full motorway between Madrid and Portugal. The landscape also changed – this time the rocks were black with, what looked like, quartz shining in them and they seem to have appeared from nowhere – glacial drop maybe (or perhaps Dinosaur droppings?).

We arrived at our hotel and turned our clocks back an hour – Portugal being on the same time as the UK (very civilised!). Kevin had got a bit wriggly towards the end – he declared that he now seems to have a ‘500 mile bum on this bike’ – but it is only numb bum, not Coccyx, which has been fine.

22 July

Guarda to Alfandega da Fe, 259 miles

This is about 80 miles via the most direct route; we did a circuitous route that took us west towards the coast, through the Estrela National Park which is beautiful and on through some other hilly areas, just for the ride.

The route started out with a ‘Sat Nav special’…turn left down an unpaved road which looked suspiciously like a farm track and was presumably a few yards shorter than the main road. Luckily the GS didn’t care!

Spain

Sat Nav Special

Still, mustn’t grumble, we took a wrong turn in a very steep village and it got us going again via all the little back streets. The 2008 Garmin map update has vastly improved the mapping of Spain which was a bit sparse when we were last here.

Portugal

Portugal loves its cobbles

Portugal

Even the mountain twisties have cobbled edges!

As we came through the mountains there were still a lot of those large boulders just casually dumped. It’s difficult to know what they are made from but they did look a bit like the Meteora rocks so maybe they’re from river silt. Whatever they are they are very impressive and must be a real pain to the people wishing to use the land for crops etc. There were a lot of fields with the crops carefully arranged around the outcrops of rock.

Portugal

A small diversion of the road round the rocks

After the hills we came to forest. I couldn’t make out what the beautiful smell was and then I realised – Eucalyptus, one of my favourite scents. Lovely! We came through miles and miles of the forest, taking it nice and gently to really take it all in.

Portugal

Through the forest breathing deeply!

By mid afternoon we turned round and went ‘the quickest’ way, which was along twisty A-type roads and motorway. Kevin said that if all motorways were like that he wouldn’t mind them at all. It was reasonably quick but still picturesque, Portugal is much greener (in the literal sense) than Spain.

We have stayed in some fabulous hotels during this trip but the one outside Alfandega da Fe certainly gets the ‘best view out of the window’ award. Standing on our balcony looking over the valley that was carved by a glacier some eons ago, all that could be heard was the buzzing of insects, the twittering of dozens of swifts and the bells from the sheep (goats?). The loudest noise was the occasional ‘baa’ from one of the sheep as it objected to being herded home. No traffic, phones, music, people…just sounds that someone hundreds of years ago would recognise. Bliss!

Portugal

Part of the panorama from our balcony

23 July

Hotel to Alfandega da Fe 8.7 miles

Well, this wasn’t quite the day we had planned. We left the hotel and as we were riding down the road we noticed the bike was a bit hesitant. We stopped for petrol and then continued. Just as we got into the village of Alfandega da Fe the engine just died. Nothing we did would make it start again so we ended up calling the breakdown service. It would have been a lot worse to have broken down in the middle of nowhere so we appreciated the bike’s consideration! Those of you who remember our Tiger RAC breakdown debacle in Spain a few years ago and the hassle we had then will not be surprised to hear that we were dreading what would happen next. There’s obviously something about this region and off-road styled bikes as we’ve been through Spain 4 times on a bike and on the 2 occasions we were on this type of bike it has broken down! It’s somewhat ironic that this occurred when Kevin and one of his mates were arguing the merits or otherwise of the GS; Richard, I don’t know how you managed it but you made your point!

Portugal

It was hard work waiting for the tow truck! (but someone had to do it)

Alfandega de Fe is a very quiet place. Not a lot happens here apparently so we were the centre of a lot of attention. One bloke stood for ages watching us. When I moved ‘out of sight’ round a car to change out of my bike gear into something cooler he even walked round to get a better view – every village has to have its idiot and we think he was it. While we were waiting the same learner drove past 4 times, the one and only bike we saw – a Green Kawasaki Ninja – went past 3 times, the police drove past 3 times; a lot of pedestrians walked past us, usually giving us a smile or wave. One of them, a really old boy, staggered past us then stopped; it looked like he was trying to cross the road. Another man walked up to him, put his hand on his shoulder and sat him down on the kerb about 5 feet away from us. He didn’t smell very pleasant. A little later a nurse zoomed up in her van, got out, talked very loudly to him, then drove off again. A bit later on a taxi turned up and took him off, I assume by arrangement from the nurse, who did another drive-by half an hour later. By the time we’d been there for a couple of hours it almost felt like we knew these people!

We had about 2 and a half hours to wait before a guy turned up with a tow truck and he put his single word of English to good use when Kevin asked him if he spoke English – “No”! He looked at the bike, Kevin demonstrated that it wouldn’t start, the driver mimed ‘it’s broken’ and then phoned the Portuguese side of the recovery company (not the RAC this time) who arranged for the bike to be moved to a BMW place about 50 miles away. Kevin dozed in the sunshine in the tow truck on the way to Braganca and decided he quite liked being driven!

When we got there the guy told us that they couldn’t do anything today. They’d have a go tomorrow but there was a small problem – the BMW mechanic was not there until Monday. The non-BMW mechanic is going to have a look but it all depends what’s wrong; fingers crossed. An aside for the bikers among you – Kevin was surprised to see a Yamaha GTS (the hub-centre steered model) in excellent condition for sale at the motorcycle shop; he hasn’t seen one of those for years and did briefly think about it but decided we probably had enough bikes to be going on with.

In the meantime we’re chilling out in the local Hotel Ibis where Steak, and apple pie and ice cream are on the menu :).

Hopefully our next bulletin will be from the road and two wheels…watch this space!

[Later] They can’t figure out what’s wrong with the bike so no-one will now look at it until the BMW mechanic is back on Monday which gives us some extra days in Portugal to have a wander.

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