Monday, 24 October 2016

Heading for Spain, a small glitch and an averted disaster.

Costa de Caparica to Serpa, 129 miles, Camping Municipal €10. 

Rain dodging is not an exact science. Having consulted every weather oracle known to man we woke to blue skies and sunshine the day after our Lisbon visit. Still, we are sticking to plan B and heading for more reliable weather in Andalucia. We planned for an early start. It was not to be. Sometimes this atheist malarkey seems overrated and stuff happens that seems so inexplicable and at odds with a simple rational explanation that it is tempting to stop at the next place of worship and demand the priest signs you up on the spot. What is certain is that today's mystery of the vanishing key seems much easier to put down to, if not exactly an act of God, then the workings of the fairies at the end of garden, or in our case a small, but active family of gremlins living in the gas cupboard. 

To stop we thieving motorhomer types nicking the electricity, the cunning owners of Costa da Caparica Camping furnish each customer with a small key to turn on the ECU. Now fully packed, Maisy widdling waste water at the service point, Gill prepared to wander off to reception and pay. Picking up her purse and the ECU key from the dashboard tray...."Pete, have you see the key?" The answer, not since I watched Gill place it in the small map tray a mere ten minutes earlier. There followed three quarters of an hour of turning the van and our belongings upside down and inside out, interspersed with periods of walking up and down staring at the ground. In the end we had to agree that the key was annoyingly and inexplicably lost. We had no option but to admit our error. We incurred a €25 charge. Had I realised the little key was made of platinum I might have been more careful. 

The problem with glitches is that they have a tendency to return to haunt you. The whole notion of bad luck happening in threes is probably the psychological effect of losing grip or self assurance when something slightly untoward occurs. By being thrown off-kilter, you become more accident prone because you end up thinking about the glitch (lost key, €25) and not concentrating on what you should be doing. So, under normal circumstances we have a kind of informal pre-departure safety check - roof lights and windows closed, hatches battened, fridge locked and so on. Today the routine was disrupted by looking for the lost key. What l had forgotten to do did not emerge immediately. Despite bendy and potholed roads it took most of the day for the rear garage door which I had forgotten to lock to unbolt itself. As I negotiated a roundabout in Beja a couple of sharp blasts on the horn from the car behind us made me glance in the mirror, where to my horror I could see the metre-plus square rear door flapping open and shut. I stopped immediately, provoking more annoyed hooting. Luck was on our side, nothing had fallen out, the door was undamaged, and I had not brained a passing motorcyclist. Moral - no matter what happens, check the van, always, without fail, notwithstanding acts of God, prowling gremlins or simple human incompetence. Other than that, it's been an average humdrum day in rainy Iberia. 

During the morning the showers held off and visibility was good allowing us a great view of the miles of undulating hills south of Setubal. In some ways the landscape is reminiscent of the great swathe of pine planted old dunes you find in Les Landes, south of Bordeaux. At these latitudes, however, the forest cover is mainly umbrella pines interspersed with cork oaks, most looking somewhat denuded. The long avenues of pines lining the roadside produced an unfortunate side-effect. Either Portuguese umbrella pines are unusually vigorous, or the asphalt is feeble, either way protruding tree roots create undulations on the roadside somewhat reminiscent of a crinkly pie dish. Some of the lumps are at least 9" high and would make short work of the suspension if you hit them at speed. The authorities have taken care of this by decorating the bigger lumps with traffic cones. This led to stupid comments from the driver about Portuguese pine cones being two feet high with orange stripes. Time for a belated lunch.

Umbrella pines and crumbling roads, that's rural Portugal for you.
By mid afternoon the period of persistent rain gave way to half-hearted drizzle. Now we had left the pines and crinkly roads behind and were crossing a high plain of dun coloured fallow fields interspersed with acres of newly planted olive trees. It was good to see such investment as generally the area felt remote and impoverished.

Endlless straw coloured plains - that's rural Portugal for you
The trunk road (no pun intended)  ran in parallel to a new motorway which seemed to be in various stages of construction, from scraped soil sections to parts that were all there bar the white lines. Later we came across what appeared to be earlier attempts at road improvement, abandoned, one presumes in some budget crisis decades ago. Disconnect flyovers stood in weedy fields. Odd concrete monoliths of abandoned raised sections punctuated the skyline, and unused piers sprouting rusty wires were piled in lay-bys. It was as if you were driving through the ruins of a lost civilisation that had dispensed with the conquest, apogee, decline and fall stages and had cut to the chase by becoming an archeological wonder in one fell swoop. 

Finally we arrived in Beja which has an aire and an interesting looking old centre visible from the ring road across a sprawl of newer developments. We had our almost accident, which put us off stopping for entirely irrational reasons. Instead we pushed on to Serpa to the camping municipal. The place was a bit basic, but clean and cheap. We headed for the Lidl on foot, planning to go on to look at old walled town. What started as drizzle became a steady downpour. If it fairs by morning we'll look at the town we agreed, and hurriedly headed back to the van.

Two Lidl days...
and dog poo on the pavement... that's rural Portugal...


Just before bedtime there was an almighty thunderstorm. One lightening bolt must have been very close as the van actually rocked as the thunderclap exploded. Rain drummed on the roof right above us as we lay in bed. It seems very cosy and burrow-like tucked up in the van with the storm raging around us. 

 It's been a funny old day.

e

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