logo Lady Stardust Faro-Portugal to Barcelona - 2010
Date: 28 Aug 2009 19:42:46
Title: Journey to Ayamonte via Culatra

Monday 17th August – Vilamoura


After saying goodbye to Yaz who got her taxi for the airport at 10am we got the boat ready and motored out of Albufeira for the 90 minute journey to Vilamoura.  The boys took on the steering and cleating duties so I was able to relax and sat on the deck enjoying the cool breeze and watching the changing coastline.  We reached Vilamoura at lunchtime.  The place is huge- the marina has several millionaire yachts among numerous others and is surrounded by multi-storey hotels, pubs, bars, cafes and designer shops.  There is also a McDonalds, Pizza Hut, O'Neill's, several karaoke bars and English pubs advertising live football matches.  The boys thought it looked a fantastic place while Paul and I thought it seemed like any other large purpose-built marina: lacking in character and overpriced.  The man who dealt with in the marina office was off-hand and not very helpful in his responses to our questions (granted we did look rather scruffy and dirty after such a hot journey but I took exception to the way he looked us up and down when we walked in).


After our usual supermarket shop and a short walk looking at the other (expensive) shops, the boys went off to explore further on their own while we got the boat tidy and had a siesta.  Later, we all went for a walk to find the beaches for next day’s swimming and found that the marina promenade had livened up considerably.  Music was booming out of the bars, some with live singers, including a band of six ‘authentic’ Portuguese musicians in black suits who were entertaining diners by playing lively traditional music, beaming happily and singing hearty, catchy songs.  We were accosted all the way along by staff urging us to come and eat in their establishment or drink in their club and I was disgusted when one girl gave me a leaflet advertising a local bullfight.


The beach we found was next to one of the biggest hotels and seemed very big.  It was quite dark by the time we’d walked to it and the sand was lovely and soft and cool on our feet.  There were lots of people swimming and having barbecues but Gabe wasn’t tempted to get in the water this time so after a short paddle we walked back along the lively prom to get the beds ready on the boat.


Tuesday 18th August


A late start to the day today, begun (rather excitingly) by sorting some clothes for the laundry and doing some cleaning jobs while Gabriel and Isaac went off to find an internet café.  On one of his trips to the laundry the lady who works there warned Paul not to go to the beach until after 5 because of the dangers of U.V burning.  It was actually that time by the time we were ready to go anyway and still very hot but the sun was lower in the sky. The boys had found a better beach than the one we went to which was further away but the walk was nice. We passed some stylish buildings which we guessed were holiday apartments in a quieter, more serene area than the marina.  The beach was nice and clean and the sea was warm so I had my usual quick dip to cool off and read while the others stayed in for longer. On the way back Paul booked a jet-ski for the following morning (not something I’ve got any inclination to do so I didn’t mind at all that only 3 could participate).


Isaac and Gabe went to Pizza Hut for dinner (because it’s thereJ) and stayed out walking around until almost 1am – can’t think what they found so interesting to look at! I cooked pasta for me and Paul on the boat and we discussed where to go next.  We’ve decided to leave Vilamoura and anchor near a smaller place – either Olhao or Culatra. At least I won’t have to listen to the resident singer in one of the bars near our boat who has a fondness for singing Prince’s Purple Rain over and over – he’s quite ruined what was one of my favourite songs.


Wednesday 19th August


I went off to get a shower when they left for their jet-ski experience at 9. When they returned, an hour and a half later they had to call me to let them in at the marina gates because Paul had lost the facility access card during a stunt on the jet-ski that had capsized them all!  They all enjoyed it anyway but it proved to be a costly stunt because the charming marina man charged Paul 30 euros for the loss even though we’d paid that as a deposit for 2 cards and still had one.  We weren’t sorry to be motoring out of Vilamoura which we did after a quick lunch at 2pm.


The journey to the region of Olhao was smooth and uneventful. Gabe had taken a precautionary seasick pill so slept most of the way. I dozed and read in the cabin out of the hot sun on deck and we arrived at the entrance to Olhao at just before 6.  We had to cross what can only be described as rapids due to the fast running spring tide going over a ‘bar’.  The experience was similar to a Colorado-boat style theme park ride: exhilarating but a bit scary – waves crashed into the cockpit, soaking Gabriel and splashed his phone which luckily seems to have suffered no drastic damage apart from making some curious noises when charging.  We anchored in a calm lagoon among several other boats and relaxed for an hour or so while taking in the surroundings to be explored the next day and watching the sun go down.  An early night for our first night at anchor since we were all tired.


Thursday 20th August-- Pont Cais, Culatra


Ready by late morning, we got in the dinghy to go ashore and check out the small Portuguese island of Culatra.  Here, there are no roads so no cars and it’s only recently acquired electricity and water.  As we neared the harbour which we could see (and smell) was full of fishing boats that had seen better days, while the buildings next to the beach looked like dilapidated beach huts so my first impressions weren’t too favourable.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Walking further in, those buildings weren’t at all dilapidated but charming and pretty.  They were houses – one and two-storey which were rather like Wendy houses so compact are they. Each one is different and has a little patch of garden at the front or a shaded veranda.  Beautiful coloured flowers decorate the windows and doors and I longed to see what the interiors were like. The long main street has two sides with a stone path down the middle and sand on either side next to the gardens.  I discovered later that these are the permanent residences of the island’s population who exist from fishing and harvesting shellfish.


We didn’t see many people because as ‘mad dogs’ we were out in the midday sun again and we guessed there were few other tourists on the island.  It was blissfully quiet due to this fact as well no traffic and noisy bars.  Even the heat didn’t spoil my enjoyment as we walked the width of the island to reach a beach on the other side.  The views got better and better.  A wooden boardwalk had been constructed to form an environmental pedestrian trail across the coastal dunes and salt marshes.  This unique environment is a haven for a wide variety of birds for feeding, nesting and shelter as well as a resting place for migrating ones.  I took lots of photos and we cooled our feet in the water below the boardwalk. The beach was lovely, full of pretty shells, soft sand and warm water with no big waves but we only stayed long enough to cool off because we’d forgotten the umbrellas for shade.  Back in the small town we stopped for lunch in a small café near the harbour.  No one spoke English and we’d forgotten the phrase book so Paul had to order using hand gestures and the few words we remembered.  We weren’t sure what we’d end up with but the cold beers and cokes were welcome.  A man nearby was cooking fish on a small barbecue creating a lovely smell and it turned out that the tuna steak Paul had ordered for him and Gabe came from there and they said it was delicious. The salad and fries were nice too and we sat enjoying the food and atmosphere until it was cool enough to return to the beach for swimming, reading, dozing, bat and ball playing...  We had no idea what the time was when we began walking back– only that it must be getting late because the sun was lower in the sky but it didn’t matter: the decision to stay another day was unanimous.  More people were out on the pretty street now that it was cooler and were very friendly as we walked past.


It was almost 7 when we got back to the boat and Paul and Gabriel attempted to catch some fish for dinner but had no luck so we ended up with individual dinners of pasta/pot noodles, cheese and salad.  Paul had to resort to flashing a huge torch at a yacht that was using a strobe light as the anchor light.  If it had carried on all night it would have been like having a search light flashing onto the boat at regular intervals but luckily they took the hint and turned it off.  That sorted, we played Trivial Pursuit on the computer until 1am.


Friday 21st August


We didn’t leave the boat until 3pm today.  After a lie-in and a late fried breakfast we tidied up and set off for the same beach.  This time I went for a short walk while they swam to have a closer look at the vegetation in the dunes.  I know there is Marram grass but didn’t know the names of the flowers and plants – some have pretty white flowers like lilies.  It was late again when we left and we needed things at the supermarket but they were all shutting when we got into town since it was 8 o’clock.  One kind man who’d just been about to lock up let us in to get some bread and milk and drinks and after stowing these in the dinghy we looked for somewhere to have dinner.  There aren’t many restaurants on such a small island and we knew choice would be limited.  The first place we went to looked aghast and then scornful at the word vegetarian and informed us they didn’t open until 10.  The owner pointed at the place we’d had lunch the previous day but that looked closed, too.  A bit further on we saw a restaurant where people were actually sat eating so went in to ask what they had to offer – answer: fish, salad, lamb and potatoes!  Isaac and I are the difficult ones in the sense that we don’t eat fish but the barman seemed to think the chefs might do some pasta and some cheese.  The waitress soon put us right on that – declaring that our only options were fries, potato salad and tomatoes.  We managed anyway because there was plenty of bread and olives and Isaac was happy to make a chip butty while Paul and Gabe tucked in to locally caught sea bass. The ride back in the dinghy was slightly nerve-wracking what with being laden down with shopping and beach stuff and it was very dark but we got back safely and had another couple of rounds of trivial pursuit (which I keep winning by the way) before bed.


Saturday 22nd August


I woke early and had a coffee in the cool morning breeze before Paul got up and we prepared to leave while the boys slept on.  By 8: 30 we had weighed anchor and set off for our next destination: Villa Real de Santa Antonio in Portugal, an impressive-sounding place close to the border with Spain.  There was a nice breeze in the cockpit all morning but blisteringly hot as the temperature soared to 40 degrees.  We had to watch constantly for nets in the water but the 5 hour journey was made for the boys when they saw their first dolphins.  They didn’t stay long unfortunately but it’s always exciting when you spot them.  Approaching our destination we saw the bridge which divides Spain and Portugal in the shallow river and were also able to get a good look at each marina.  We decided we liked the look of the Spanish side best so headed for that instead.  It’s called Ayamonte and is situated on the Rio Guadiana.  The heat was at its most intense at 3pm when we arrived and I went with Paul to the office to show passports and paperwork etc.  The walk back from there was like walking through a furnace.  Paul had gone to see where our berth allocation was and while waiting I felt myself wilting so went back to the boat.  Heat gets very claustrophobic when you can’t cool down so when Paul returned he had to hose me, clothes and all, with the marina hose – that did the trick! 


While the boys went off to look around we did the usual boat jobs, along with a glass of wine to celebrate our arrival. An hour or so later a man from a neighbouring boat came over to chat, having seen that we were from Liverpool.  Originally from Liverpool he’d moved to Fleetwood but now spends most of his time here and it was useful to get some tips about the place from him.  He recommended a good supermarket and after another trip to stock up on food for boys who appear to have hollow legs and a never-ending thirst for diet coke we came back to cook pasta and pesto for them while we snacked on breadsticks and avocado dip (too hot to eat a meal).  We had to put our clocks forward an hour because Spain is an hour ahead – strange when you can actually see another country across the bay on a different time zone. We discovered a pretty town centre when we went out later. There were stalls selling the usual tourist gifts but also a charming square lined with benches formed of pretty ceramic tiles where children were displaying their skills on skateboards and people were enjoying drinks and meals in the surrounding bars and cafes. We stopped for a nightcap in one of them where Paul was delighted to get his brandy served in a huge glassJ.  Ayamonte is lively and pretty and a far cry from both Albufeira and Vilamoura – definitely worth a longer stay.


Sunday 23rd August


I went off for an early morning shower then came back and prepared breakfast for the boys while Paul had a much-needed lie-in until 12.  We had a lazy day today and didn’t venture out in the hot midday sun.  It was mainly spent playing cards, reading, browsing the internet, phoning home and writing.  After a late lunch Paul, Isaac and I went into town to see if there was a tourist information place.  It was completely deserted in the town – the busy, lively square of the night before was empty – I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a tumbleweed go past!  We had a small beer in one of the few cafes that was open and then carried on our walk – without Isaac who’d gone to practise on his new skateboard.  I saw something I thought I’d never see as we walked further in – a bullring.  I didn’t look too closely and felt saddened at the thought of all the pain and suffering experienced by the bulls over the years.


Back at the boat I spent an enjoyable hour chopping the veg we’d bought the previous day to make another Briam while they played cards in the cockpit. After dinner we all went to town and looked at the products on offer in the stalls.  I bought a head massager made from soft metal spikes which feels absolutely wonderful when applied to your head. We had a drink in the square watching all the children displaying their talents on the skateboards (Isaac’s getting there) and on the way back the boys bought a candy floss on a stick because you can do that here instead of eating it out of a bag due to health and safety regulations in England.  One quick game of Trivial Pursuit – won by my team again and then bed.


Monday 24th August


There was a nice cool breeze blowing this morning and we were all up early to get to the Tourist Information place before it shut at 12 and also to find a doctor who could advise on Isaac’s earache.  First, though we went to the local market and bought some fruit, veg and fish and a few presents.  Due to the rate at which we’re getting through drinks – both soft and alcoholic – we stocked up with more of those before Paul took Isaac off to the doctor.  We’d planned to have a huge lunch made from the things we’d bought but Paul text me to say there was a long queue at the doctor’s which wasn’t moving very fast so the feast will have to wait until tomorrow.  Gabe and I had a small salad and then read and listened to the local radio (not very good). Paul and Isaac returned two hours later, hungry and fed up at the long wait. It’s an ear infection, curable with drops so at least it means he’ll be ok to travel on the plane.  We paid for another day of internet because we didn’t plan to do much today due to the heat – lovely when the sun goes down though.  We went to the square in the evening after dinner for a drink and a walk.  The narrow streets tucked away further back from the marina are pedestrianised and they link the small and pretty plazas with their beautiful buildings, pavement cafes and more tiled walls so it’s a pleasant walk in the evening when everyone comes out to eat and socialise.










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