16 Jan 2018

Back on Track in South America

We are now 30 miles from Patagonia and less than 200 from Penguins and Elephant Seals. 

Just before we set off a number of people asked if we were excited, at that time the honest answer was no! But now we are!

There is always apprehension about something going wrong on such a long journey but this time ours almost stopped at check-in at Heathrow when they asked if we had a visa for Argentina! Never needed one before, but this time we were going for 114 days and anything over 90 requires a visa. We explained we were crossing to Uruguay after 2 days and they asked for a confirmed reservation. In fact I had tried to book a ferry crossing with Colonia Express, but it transfers to another site to make the payment (in Spanish) and I could not work it out so planned to pay when I got there. The BA staff were very helpful and 2 Spanish speakers were drafted in to assist, but they could not work out how to pay either, so I changed ferry company and 15 minutes later we had a confirmed booking on the Buquebus ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia and they let us through (just over an hour after arriving at check-in).

After that it was all plain sailing (well, flying), a film, a Tangerine Dream LP followed by the Nutcracker Suite whilst reading Game of Thrones, 30 minutes sleep and 2 more films later we were landing at Buenos Aires at 09.00 on Sunday morning. After being collected by our lift we rested in the appartment for a few hours and then went out for some lunch, a walk in the sun and a coupls of beers.

Monday was spent walkig round Buenos Aires, collecting our car insurance, changing money and obtaining a sim card for my phone (in order to avoid chasing wifi all the time), but I still can’t get on the internet with the damn thing! Followed by an amazing steak and a bottle of wine in our now favourite restaurant in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday we crossed to Uruguay where Sandra was waiting for us to take us to the cruiser, but it wouldn’t start, batteries were turning it over OK but would not fire up. Then her husband produced a monster starter booster which did the trick. I think the issue was that the diesel had evaporated and needed the extra boost to pull the fuel through and with a couple of coughs and a splutter she roared back into life. We were booked into a mechanics the following day so made arrangements to camp in his yard that night (after a visit to the supermarket) so we would be there first thing.

Wednesday, possibly our biggest issue to overcome was the steering pump, which had been leaking badly during the whole of the previous trip. I brought a repair kit with me and the mechanic had it re-built and ready to go by lunch time and we were on the road! We only did 60 miles to a site we have been to many times, that is usually empty, but now it is summer and we struggled to squeeze in, but people were very helpful and one even moved her car to give us more room.

Thursday, tired from travelling and walking round Buenos Aires in the heat we decided to rest for a few dayso, but was so hot we almost expired, so decided to move on the following day.

Friday started as hot as before, but just after we crossed back into Argentina there was a massive thunderstorm which cleared the air and cooled things down somewhat (it’s still nice and hot though).

So now, 5 days and 1,000 pretty boring miles we are finally approaching Patagonia. It might be 2 years later than it should have been, but we are finally headed for the bottom of South America and we really are back on track.

First night on the road we camped outside a steak restaurant (Parilla) on a motorway service station, we tried to stay in the truck park (as we have done in many places) but they wouldn't let us, so the restaurant manager let us stayin the car park.

Second night we took a slight diversion to find this camp site in a small mountain range.

At 350 meteres it was a bit cooler, and so pleasent we decided to stay a second day and really have a rest. The site was full of various groups of scouts and guides and this group came down to practice their english and find out where we had come from

Night 4 we came across this site on the river.

This afternoon we decided to stay at a beach site, but the cheapest site was £20 per night (we have not paid more than £6 so far this trip, and when we went to look at the beach this is what we found!

So we moved on and found this pleasent little spot behind a fuel station, complete with tables, BBQ and lights, we were first there but soon there was a motorcycle and a number of tents being put up.

22 Nov 2017

Intrepid For 10 Minutes rides again (this time in comfort)

With the Land cruiser still in South America and us spending more time in Europe we bought a hi roof, long wheelbase Renault Traffic and have had it converted to a camper and after 2 short trips in the UK we crossed from Dover to Calais on 6th September and headed south.

Our first target was to catch up with Paul who was cycling the length of France (from St Malo to Sete), had circumstances been different I would have been cycling with him, but fitness dictated that this was not possible. We caught up with him in the Dordogne and because the forecast was so bad for the next few days he reluctantly accepted a ride with us down to the Carmargue. Where, although the weather was good the wind was horrendous and my plan to cycle with him failed after about 8 miles and I just let the wind blow me back to where I started (even Chris was struggling on her electric bike!). Paul did manage to cycle on to Sete and we followed on in the van.

After Paul flew home we crossed into Spain and then headed East for Portugal. We had intended to cross the Pyrenees, but again the forecast was for heavy rain for the following few days so we took the good weather route.

By the time we crossed into Portugal a cold that had started in France had turned into Bronchitis and having had this before I knew that it would not go away without antibiotics. I discussed the options with the camp site owners at Lamego and took their advice to go to the local hospital and a couple of hours later, after blood tests, chest xray and 45 minutes on oxygen (not sure what that was about, maybe they thought I had Pneumonia) I left with the appropriate prescription, and I must say the service was excellent!

After a week recovering we carried on down the Douro, then doubled back to the border and south, visiting many of the old castles along the border down to Evora. But then we heard that Chris's Mother had been taken into hospital. Although she was only in overnight our daughter Sarah went over for a couple of days and said she thought someone should be with her, so Chris took the decision to fly home. Unfortunately flights were in turmoil with loads of flights being cancelled, but we managed eventually to get a flight from Lisbon and our other daughter Jenna, picked her up from the airport.

I carried on as planned, spending a couple of days with friends near Seville and then on to our house in Spain to either put it on the market (as we are now travelling too much to go there) or look into long term rental.

After a coupe of weeks of painting internal walls and seeing friends I, in many ways reluctantly, headed slowly home (reluctantly as although late October the weather was still amazing), spending a day cycling on the Via Verde, another night with our friends near Seville and then back up through Spain and France to Calais. Finally leaving summer behind in northern Spain, spending a few days of autumn in France and arriving at Dover in the Winter!

First night, we line up with other motor homes by the beach at one of the many free Camping Car Aires.

We catch up with Paul in the Dordogne.

Paul tries to get all his ducks in a row.

Now in the Carmargue Paul sets off into the wind.

We find another free camping car stop in a car park 100m from the entrance to the old town of El Burgo de Osma between Zaragoza and Valladolid as we cross northern Spain

A few hundred metres from the camp site at Lamago we find this,

With amazing views over the town and surrounding area.
We drive past this at Sabugal and have to go back for a look.

Most castles are free to enter and some are in a really good state

This original Moor fortress at Monsanto is pretty much as the Crusaders left it after defeating the Moors, interesting because it was not really used for later conquests. Quite a walk to get to, through the old village of Monsanto, which was had also been fortified for later conquests.  
Pehna Garcia, just down the road from Monsanto, which does have a castle, but more interesting for the walk  from the castle over to the reservoir and down through the valley past the old mills.

A short cut through Spain we aimed for a camp site just outside Alcantara, this was closed so we camped at a car park by a reservoir (keeping a tree between us an the town down below.
With views down the valley of a Roman bridge, still in use today.

That night we camped under the castle at Marvao (at another free spot)

And had a walk round the castle before moving on in the morning

We stopped in Evora for 3 nights

and managed to catch this free classical guitar concert, where they played a number of famous Spanish and Portuguese pieces

Then we had a beer and watched the sun go down over the roof tops.

We then followed the Aqua duct which extends from near the centre (where at the end it is too low to walk under 

Getting bigger as it goes out of town

Until it reaches the car park where we were parked for the last night (we stayed in the camp site for 2 nights and cycled into town, but the bikes were a hindrance once we got to town, this location was easier as the entrance to the city is just across the road (and the car park is free so a bonus)

The old town & castle at Estremoz, our last stop before Chris flew back from Lisbon.
After dropping Chris at the airport I took a detour to Monsoraz, where I stopped on a cycling trip across Portugal about 15 years ago, a beautiful walled town

With a castle at one end
With fabulous views over the Lake
My last stop in Portugal was at Serpa, which I only stopped at because I put Moura into my camping car app instead of Mourao, when I found I was in the wrong place I carried on South to Serpa, which ended up as possibly the best stop in Portugal. I found a nice camp site right in the town with an excellent restaurant just opposite the site. Whilst having dinner I decided it was too late to catch that afternoons Grand Prix so watched the 6 minutes highlights on utube. The exact moment it finished a full race replay started on the TV! so I had to have a few glasses of port to watch the whole race.

Another town with an aqueduct

And yet another castle in the middle

Now in Spain and I find one of my favourite roads!
But not in the camper (I hasten to add) I joined some friends 'on safari' showing their Danish visitors round the area.
Ronda, from a different perspective to normal.
Serpa, where all of the house are built under the overhang (which are now virtually all restaurants as this is a real tourist trap)

The day ended with a short walk down a valley

into a cave.

With my bronchitis just about gone I manage 1 day cycling on the Via Verde on the way home. The Via Verde de la Siere is a railway across Andalusia commissioned by Franco, which has a vast number of tunnels and bridges but was abandoned before they laid any track and is now an excellent 36.5 mile cycle track

Although it is now 28th October the temperature is still in the 30's (and has been virtually since we entered Portugal)

Stopped over night at Caceres

A wonderful place for a wander

And stopped for a couple of hours at Salamanca

An impressive place that really does need more than a couple of hours

Getting a little cooler, but still a very pleasant 22 with blue skies
Half way through France, the nights are drawing in and its getting cooler

but I stopped early enough at Confolens (west of Limoges) for a quick ride, before heading back to the UK and Winter