Aveiro and the Portuguese heartland

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sat 2 Aug 2014 11:19
On Tuesday morning (29/7/14) we motored the five nautical miles up the Aveiro river past docked cargo ships, industrial buildings, gas holding tanks, derelict fishing boats, commercial trawlers the size of ferries, a four masted steel sailing boat that was used to fish the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, now in disrepair, all set against the completely flat salt marsh landscape. Flying overhead we saw what looked like pink stick-insects and turned out to be pink flamingos!

As we approached Aveiro we found the pontoon mentioned in the pilot 40:38.81N 8:39.80W, overlooked by buildings covered in graffiti. We signed in at the nicely painted office at the end of a derelict building. The pontoon belongs a to a small sailing club 'AVELA' and is run by members for members and costs Euro 15 per night, a lot cheaper than a commercial marina. We were made very welcome, several members speak good English and were delighted to answer our questions about Portugal. We booked in for five nights and we were given a club burgee!

View of Aveiro from Caramor on the AVELA pontoon

We walked the short distance into town, past derelict buildings, under a motorway flyover, we were expecting a run-down town depressed and suffering from the recession. We rounded the corner to find a large square surrounded by palm trees and well maintained houses with brightly painted tourist boats navigating the canals. What a contrast!

Aveiro, the 'Venice' of Portugal

Aveiro's wealth was made from salt - salt pan where they sell fine salt 'flower of salt'

A 'swill' basket, very similar to those made in parts of the UK

The next day we set off on our bicycles to explore the flat land. Centuries ago the river probably joined the sea much further north, gradually over time sand has blocked the river mouth and the water has been diverted further and further south. This has created a very long sand bar island (now occupied by several small towns, an army camp and airport) with a 27 nautical mile long lagoon inside. We headed for Ilhavo, 5km south of Aveiro where a wooden bridge crosses the lagoon and cycled through pine plantations and villages to eventually arrive at a giant sand dune protecting farmland from the atlantic swell. The dune looks as though it has been compacted using heavy machinery to attempt to stabilise the sand and windbreaks line the top. The beach is fifty miles long and we didn't have to fight too hard to find a space for our metaphorical towels (we had forgotten to bring them). We had fun in the breakers and dried in the sun before cycling back to town and an ice-cream.

For the past few weeks I have been emailing Megumi and Steve, friends of my friend Angie. We had agreed to meet, either on Caramor or, if we could leave the boat, up at their place in the hills. We arranged to meet on Thursday in Viseu, a small town 80km directly inland from Aveiro and they took us back to their home in São João da Boa Vista, 100km south east of Aveiro and right in the heart of Portugal.

Megumi and Steve have learnt Portuguese, are growing vegetables and fruit, making their own olive oil, soap, wine and beer and are active in their community trying to live more sustainably. We got on very well, discussed alternative economics, ate good food (Megumi cooked us delicious Japanese food) and went for short walks. Friday night they took us to a small café by the river Alva for dinner and the portions were typically huge, we then went on to Coja, a nearby town which puts music on every week-end during the summer. The local youth orchestra led by an impressive conductor treated us to a concert which included tunes from the Beach Boys.

This morning Steve drove us back to Aveiro and we stopped off on route in Luso to admire the last king of Portugal's palace, next to a monastery where Wellington once spent the night.

Megumi, Steve and Kath outside the last king of Portugal's palace

After a fish lunch followed by ice-cream in Aveiro, Megumi and Steve visited Caramor before heading back up to the hills.