Alcoutim 37:16.75N 007:28.38W Cuttlefish, housecoats, low bridges and zip wires!

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Fri 17 Oct 2014 16:25
Dear Family and Friends,

Our journey from Faro to St Antonio was more endurance than pleasure with the following swell at the height of our bimini some 3+ ms, but as we approached the berth our fellow ralliers were there to help us secure the boat. With our typical last minute timing, we arrived just in time to meet our port officer hosts Peter and Irene, and a welcome dinner in the yacht club, where we met a some great characters from the local British sailing community.

13th October
The following day we had organised trips to Castro Marim a typical traditional village, historic medieval frontier forts and a good view of the coastal salt pans. These places seem sleepy communities where people stop and chat, the cafes and bars the local social hotspot. The traditional houses single storey, brightly painted decorations to the white houses, decorated chimney pots, tiled courtyards, the BBQ and if land permits a vegetable garden. With the help of EEC money they are working to present their heritage and monuments in modern ways but it has made me realise how proficient we are at presenting our own heritage. Our journey through the countryside in an aged taxi, in need of new axle bearings which had Alan gritting his teeth, was a taster of contrasting lives, apartments of the town gave way to houses with a little land, businesses trading beside the road, some in disarray, some closed and decaying. There are some olives, oranges and vines grown, but as much of the land is scrub as is cultivated. In stark difference we saw 4 families travelling by horse drawn cart, an extra 1 or 2 horses tethered behind. The children of all ages, stared back at us, grimy faces, worn clothing and willowy thin, riding the cart, their belongs bundled in the middle of them. From such a picture it felt like this was living on the edge.

Self consciously we enjoyed another great meal with many local English residents, a very good 60-70’s singer, and a wonderful cake to celebrate the Ocean Cruising clubs 60 years. Here I must sound a note of caution should you be enticed to try Choco! Choco is cuttlefish, in our meal, cooked in its own ink. Its is much like octopus in taste, the ink gives it quite a mushroomy taste which is pleasant, but when we turned to each other our lips, teeth and tongues looked like a walk on part from some horror movie, beware!

St Antonio was also hosting a big fair and street market with some amazing stalls, plenty of artisan food products, wonderful kitchen utensil stores, look out for the pictures. I couldn’t identify all of the pieces, interested to know what they are used for! Now if some of you remember house coats, those ubiquitous housewives uniform of the 50’s and 60’s, Portugal is the place to come, as they are still the bees knees with ladies of a certain age! Given more time it would have been wonderful to visit a local cork manufacturer. I have been very taken with the cork products, shoes, hats, belts, handbags, shirts and waistcoats as well as many tourist gifts! With very limited storage I have to be strict with purchases!

As part of the preparation for the rally we had to measure our mast height, to see whether we could get under the Guardiana bridge. We were anxious as we started up river, timing is everything! We motored under the bridge above St Antonio, at the lowest part of the tide. The bridge has a clearance of 22m, our air draft is just over 20m, but believe me it looked much closer than that! Breathing a sigh of relief, we put the sail up.

14th October
As I write we are making our way slowly up the Guardiana river to the historic town of Alcoutim, pushed by the tide and a following wind. This is the farthest east we will go for sometime, its all west from here. The La Guardiana river forms the border between Portugal and Spain. There are narrow meadows and river valleys, rush lined river banks, untended orange trees dipping their roots in the river mud and steeply rising slopes to low hills. Abandoned farm houses sit atop riverside hills, a few inhabited buildings do too. A few grazing cattle stood along the riverside, on the Portuguese side, the hills are covered in scrub, prickly pear cactus, pine and deciduous trees, and olive groves. Here there seems a gentle agriculture, olives being harvested and sheep grazing, their bells tinkling. Vines have just come into view, grown on patches of ground between the steeper slopes. Further up the slopes regular rows of orange and lemon groves between the more usual scrub. A modern village clusters near a bend in the river, cockerels crow in the late afternoon. To the Spanish side, wind farms, terraced hillsides with chestnut trees, olives, oranges and date palms. Prized for its bird life, there is plenty to see, storks and herons and many more I cant not name. Apart from the rumble of a lone tractor it is very peaceful, just the chuckle of the river.From here there is not much to choose between the two countries!

Reaching Alcoutim, we anchored and went ashore for supper with the only other boat, Hurrah, to undertake this part of the rally. David and Angie, have been great fun and their company has made this trip so enjoyable. Visiting yachtsmen in the restaurant advised us that we had anchored in a rocky part of the river, a leftover from Spanish and Portuguese hositilies, when the Spanish had thrown a load of stone there. They were right our anchor was dragging on the turn of the tide, so we moved. The towns on either side of the river are small, castles sit a top the hills glaring at each side, today they are museums, the church bells clang out of tune, amusingly it is an hour later in Spain, so 9 bells in Portugal is 10 in Spain, but they cant agree the moment of O’clock, so they peel one after another.

15th October
I still cant believe I did this, the highlight of this part of the trip was a zip wire ride from Sanlucar on the Spanish side of the river to Alcoutim on the Portuguese side. The morning broke cool and grey, with heavy rain, we knew it would not run in the rain. As arrangements had been made in advance for us, we felt duty bound to turn up, even if it was to be told its not running. We arrived at the office in Sanlucar, David the English owner, was upbeat, just let it dry for a little while, I’ll go down myself and then we should be good to run. Arghhh. We were driven to the launch platform in the company 4 x 4, winding up steep roads and then precipitous tracks to the hut on the top of one of the highest hills around, several hundred feet at least, to be launched from here along a wire running down to river level in Portugal, 720m, where we were cheerfully advised we could reach 70-75km an hour, lovely. There is a breaking station on the other side, where we would slow gently, to the platform to step off. I am afraid I didnt offer to go first! But when the moment had come, I stopped thinking about what I was going to do and got on with it! You are in a harness which takes your weight and you hold onto the pulley which is fitted to the wire, having checked for safety, you lift your legs, they open the gate and off you go. I am not sure I breathed on the way down, it was amazing and for me way out of my comfort zone! You quickly pick up speed, descending over the hills and then the river towards the field that is rapidly heading your way. I didn’t move an inch and was looking forward the whole time (about 70 seconds I’m told!). When the brakes caught, (not quite the gentle stop I had been expecting and a loud clap,) I wobbled to a stop, trying to make the jelly in my legs work and got unhooked. It was certainly an amazing experience, I am not sure I would ever become a zip wire junkie though, definitely needed a beer to steady the nerves. Alan who is more adventurous, was a bit hesitant as the photographs of strained jollity captured!

16th October
We went down the river on the ebb time to anchor in a lovely quiet stretch of the river. Whilst waiting for the lowest point of the tide to get back under the Guardiana bridge, we went ashore to walk through a tiny village, waking a few dogs in our path. With no shops, vans come to the village, toot their horns and the villagers come to buy, on the day we walked by it was ladies clothing. Old ladies sit at their front doors, curious and welcoming. A dirt track wind away through the countryside, a proper road ran beside the river, passing a tourist restaurant. Whilst we were wondering how it made a living, 2 boat loads of tourists arrived for lunch!

17th October
We are on our way back to Vilamoura, to pick up our repaired sail, the wind is good, its sunny and the motion gentle, so different from the previous trip

Photos to follow.

All our best to you,

Lynne and Alan