Saturday, 22 October 2016

The rainy road to Lisbon

Sao Romao to Nazaré, 152 miles, Aire 
Nazaré to Costa da Caparica, 101 miles, Orbitur Site €17.40. per day. 2 days 

When we planned the trip we knew from research on Wunderground's weather database that to get a spell of calm, sunny autumn weather in Galicia and Northern Portugal you have to be lucky. Some years are like that, most are not,. So we always had a plan B, that if the weather proved problematic we would head south towards Andalucia. Looking at the long range forecast for the Iberian Atlantic coast it will be a case of dodging thunderstorms for the next ten days. Time to revert to plan B. Sunny Spain here we come. We figure, that if we head south, in a brief lull in the rain forecast for Sunday we may be able to squeeze in a visit to Lisbon before heading southeast towards Beja and Seville. That is the plan. 

Luckily it's not tipping down all the time. In fact it was a pleasant day when we skirted around Porto and headed south. For the first 30 kilometres or so the landscape by the coast is quite obviously old dunes which have been stabilised by planting pine and eucalyptus. You can see the original coastline a few kilometres inland where a line of hills reveals the outline of ancient cliffs. So whereas Galicia's rias are a flooded coast, the littoral of Northern Portugal is the opposite - a receded coastline. I like the way landscapes tell a geographical story much the same as human remains and artefacts reflect history. 

Eucalyptus and pines, for miles and miles...
Somewhere a little south of Coinbra the landscape changes. The woodland becomes more mixed and suddenly there are small olive groves dotted here and there. The vernacular building style too takes on a distinctly southern look. Whitewashed farmhouses predominate, with low outbuildings surrounded by small fields growing vegetables intensively, what we would term, I suppose, market gardening. 

We wondered about where to stop and considered a number of aires between Leira and Peniche. In the end we opted to head for Nazaré. We had stayed at the Orbitur site there in 2015. This time we headed for the free aire. On the trip so far we seen few other motorhomes, here though the main aire had a score of vans packed in. We parked on a scrap of ground nearby next to the public library along with a five or so others. Most were French, reflecting the trend noted last year for the grey-haired citizens of La Republique who formerly over-wintered in Morocco to flock to Portugal instead, due to fears about Islamic extremism.

Not stylish, but practical, Nazare's over-spill aire
It was a bit lame on our part choosing to stop in Nazaré,somewhere familiar rather than new. Our excuse - we needed an ATM, and we had used one in the town square on our last visit. One big difference, however, when we withdrew our usual weekly €200 the exchange rate offered was within three cents of parity between the pound and euro. Shocking! All we can do is try to use more free aires, which we have been doing. What is certainly true is that the claim we have made in previous years, that travelling in the south long term in the winter costs no more than sitting at home staring at the drizzle is no longer the case. Will this stop us? Probably not, but it may mean in future we need to head for cheaper countries in east of the EU. It would indeed be tragic if we were forced to follow the Danube, then head south to Greece and return through Albania Montenegro and Croatia. Poor us. 

As for Nazaré, it was good to return, even if our visit was fleeting. The place is split in half, the older whitewashed town dominates a high cliff, below is a grid of new development at the end of a huge crescent of soft sand. Tucked away in the chequerboard of apartment blocks are a few older streets that formed the original fishing village.

Nazare - the esplanade

The entire place is a mixture of the new and the old. It's claim to fame is as a centre for extreme surfing. Over the past decade Garrett McNamara has twice claimed the world record here for riding the world's highest wave. These famed giant waves are so big that surfers have to be towed out by jet-ski in order to 'catch' them. The world record wave was almost 90' - that is the height of three houses, the footage of Garrett slicing down this watery cliff is astounding, and of course available on YouTube.

The reason why the giant waves form in the bay to the north of the cliffs at Nazaré is the result of the local geology. A few hundred metres offshore is an enormous undersea canyon. If it was on land, rather than submerged, it would dwarf the Grand Canyon. It reaches a depth of 5000 metres and stretches 230 kilometres west into the Atlantic. When waves build along the coast of Portugal they become supercharged as they pass over the canyon due the the effect of the sudden change in the ocean's depth. Under these conditions Nazaré becomes a Mecca for the world's top surfers. 

Otherwise it is part small resort and part traditional fishing community. How traditional is shown by the fact that some of the older women still wear a local costume. It is rare in Europe these days to come across this, apart from when people adopt traditional dress as part of a festival. 

Drawn up on the beach are five or six brightly painted fishing boats It's a sort of informal open air museum that explains how permanently moored nets were used to catch fish around here, and these small craft served as shuttles to tend the nets and collect the catch each day. The information boards gave a few details of the people who plied this trade. One board is particularly poignant explaining that this boat had belonged to a local fisherman who had died, aged 61, in 2011. He had spent his whole working life as a fisherman, locally, but also working on trawlers in Newfoundland. He was killed when a boat overturned. It raises the question, who is the local hero? Garrett McNamara, who found world renown by consciously courting danger surfing giant waves, or this local man who spent a lifetime at sea living with its perils simply to make a living?

Each boat has a story to tel

Next day we headed south towards Lisbon. Our plan was to stay at an Orbitur campsite at Costa de Caparica and visit the city using public transport. The closer we got to our destination the worse the weather became. The view when the A12 motorway crosses the estuary of the Rio Tejo should be spectacular as the road skims across 8kms of water on a series of suspension bridges connected by sections raised on piers. It reminded us of Highway 1 on the Florida keys. Sadly, most of the time the carriageway ahead disappeared into a veil of mist and rain. 

Storm clouds over Lisbon

As we approached journey's end thundery downpours reduced visibility to a few car lengths. We were relieved to reach the campsite. Like many Orbitur sites the modern reception and well tended entrance belies a site that on closer inspection is somewhat dilapidated. The receptionists were helpful however, and provided us with timetables for transport into the city.

An hour later, sunshine
By the time we used the service point and settled-in the storm had passed. The sun even had a half-hearted attempt to shine. We decided to walk to the esplanade, about 750m from the site. Costa de Caparica is Lisbon's slightly down at heel resort. I think Cascais on the northern bank of the river is the city's posh seaside. So Costa de Caparica is more New Brighton than Crosby, a Portuguese South Shields rather than a Whitley Bay, though in terms of its Esplanade parking lot, if we are in the business of ridiculous British seaside equivalences, then here it managed to reach levels of crud reminiscent of Rhyl. 

Costa de Caprica - huge beach

big waves
The endless esplanade - north

and south

A beach car park worthy of Rhyl on a wet Sunday in March.

down to the drab graffiti
Lisbon tomorrow, rain or shine.


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