Archive for Alcoutim

Small Bucket’s Big Adventure

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, Walking, Wildlife with tags , , , on June 24, 2010 by maidofmettle

The sun has come out and it’s pretty hot here.  We’ve had a few swims in various places and seen some slightly scary wildlife on our travels up and down the river.

About a week ago we all went to a festival in Alcoutim.  They had 2 days of music and traditional crafts on show.  The traditional American-style marching band was a bit of a puzzle with its jazz clarinet, cornet and sousaphone (big brass bass instrument that the player literally wears) and it sounded surprisingly good when combined with a medieval pipe and drum ensemble.   The food was equally interesting…Not exactly knowing a great deal of Portugese (might have to learn a few more words) we decided to go for a surprise tapas selection which comprised of some salads, dried salted fish and some kind of yellow gloop, otherwise known as papas de mihlo, which it turned out was something like corn semolina when we found it somewhere else.

I’d been looking around at a stall where they had made various instruments out of bamboo.  I wasn’t too sure how to play one of them so didn’t buy one.  When I later saw one of the festival’s organisers playing one I went over and asked how it worked.  Turned out to be a castanet made out of a big piece of bamboo that you have to strike with 2 bits of your hand.  I went back to where we were all sat and thought nothing more of it until about 20 minutes later someone walked over and said in Portugese English “here this is for you”.  He then proceeded to give me a lesson on my newly aquired bamboo castanet!  I am going to need a bit more practise before being able to play it I think.

Learning to play the bamboo castanet

Alcoutim random tapas

Can you guess who it is yet?

Since I last wrote we travelled up to a small village called Puerto de la Laja, about an hour or so up from Alcoutim and stopped there for a day or so.  Chris and I took the inflatable kayak out to the Rio Vascao for a mini expedition.  We took a tent, cooker and some food and camped out a couple of kilometres up the river. We tried to take some photos of the turtles/terrapins (we’re still not sure but a few people tell us they’re terrapins) with the camera Chris aquired from home that he is specifically aiming to use for catching animal footage.

teenage non-mutant probably non-ninja hero terrapins?

The kayak was perfect for sneaking up on them as you could be almost completely silent.  The terrapins are really quite easily disturbed and jump into the water at even the smallest sound.  One even kamikazeed into the water from about a metre high up the bank.  In fact we hadn’t even seen it before it threw itself in the water making a rather horrible clonking sound on its way down.

The day was lovely and warm and there were plenty of chances to have a swim in the river.  We decided to try and find where the river started properly and were sucessful twice in fact…The first time we thought we’d found the end of the tidal bit, went up the bank a little way to look at the view and then found that there was more river and the tide was still coming in and filling the originally completely dry river bed!


The 'end' of the river

After a further paddle along the now much clearer water of the river we got to another dead end; a narrow stream that was clearly running into the tidal river.  Ah haa we thought, this is as far as we can go.  This again turned out to be not the end of it as a little walk along some stones revealed yet more river.  This time the carrying (portage) would have been too far and it was getting a little late so we took the obligatory ‘end of the river’ picture and then turned back and made our way back to the camp site with swimming pool.

Indiana Chris

We had to do a fair bit of carrying on the way up the river because the tide was fairly low.  It was on one of these portages that I think we picked up an unwelcome visitor.

Portage up the Rio Vascao

Quite often you could just get out and drag the boat when it got a bit shallow but a few times we needed to unload all our things, carry them over to the next bit of water, empty the boat of water (it has water ballast underneath the bottom section) and then carry the boat to the next bit of paddleable water.  On one of these portages, I thought I saw a wasp had got in underneath one of the bags…Now, I really hate wasps.  They’re horrible things despite the fact people tell me they’re useful in some way…especially when they decide to creep up on you and sting you.  It’s almost as if they think ‘oh well, you know, I might have been creeping around and crawling on you…but you moved so I thought I’d sting you because I was scaaared’.  Anyway, I thought I’d be brave about this time, especially as I thought the chances were that it had been squashed by the falling bag behind my seat, so once the bags were all back in I got back in my seat and we paddled on.

Paddling up to our intended camp site we stopped at the pebbly beach.  With the rising tide there were loads of little spiders crawling away from us and the water and strange small scorpion-like insects which were a bit scary to be honest.  Once out of the boat we began unpacking all the bags and tent etc.  The wasp that was behind my seat turned out to be a big brown spider with thick legs.  Unfortunately it was still alive and didn’t seem to want to leave the boat.  Chris managed to convince it to go onto the beach, possibly by throwing it (I can’t remember) out but after that I started looking out for them.  It was only then that I noticed the even larger (about 2 inches with its legs), more stripey and more menacing looking one right by my foot.  Yes Dad, it was what would be described as a Girl Eater.  We were not impressed.

The spider thing was made worse by the fact that we knew that there are some poisonous ones around here but we hadn’t really had any idea what they look like…therefore, every spider had become a potential girl eater.  Since then we have done our research and have a bit more of an idea what to look out for. So we pitched our tent, heated up the chicken casserole and watched the evening’s entertainment…jumping fish.  There were quite a few fish literally leaping out of the water attempting to catch flies.

Chateau £9.99 (that's how much the tent cost)

It had been warm all day and we didn’t think it would get that cold at night.  Unfortunately we were wrong.  Mental note: always take a sleeping bag.  We had an IKEA blanket which wasn’t quite enough. Next day we took a slow trip back on the high tide.  This meant we practically didn’t have to carry the boat at all and then had a bit of a walk and lunch (chicken casserole again) on the bank of the main river (Guadiana). Once back at the main boat (that really sounds far posher than it should) we made our way back to Alcoutim as Pete was visiting another Pete (who was on a band tour of Portugal) the next day.

The next few days were spent back up the river (in the main boat darling) just below a small mining village called Pomerao.  There we had a couple of walks, both of which involved a fair bit of scrambling through the scrub (armed with various snake sticks to fend off any nasties. Especially good since we’ve seen our first swimming snake).   One of these was along the old railway line that used to run all the way to the mines, the other to a large reservoir behind the town.  Both really good short walks.

Pomerao dam

not sure what these are

Spikey things in feet, ouch

Dinner at the local social club bar was really good.  You have to order one day in advance with someone called Maria.  We went along to the bar the day before and were not disappointed…our sign language and very broken Portugese managed to get us a fabulous pork casserole, salad and homemade chips…mmm

Dinner, thanks Maria

I was a bit annoyed at myself when I managed to let go of our bucket and watched it float away with the river one evening.  Chris and Pete were quite fond of it having originally found it in the Rio Vascao, hanging from a tree.  They had adopted it as one of the family.   Bye bye bucket, I thought. However on our way back from Pomerao what did I see but our good friend bucket…It had obviously gone up the river over night and turned back and sailed straight past us

Where's the bucket...?

There it is

Castles and chickens

Posted in Fun, Sailing, Walking with tags , on June 12, 2010 by maidofmettle

Despite the horribly early start to get to Gatwick (thanks Mat for the lift) and a horrendous session of ‘lets see just how much you can fit in two suitcases and not be over your weight limit’, Chris and I made it back in a day to Portugal and all three of us have been learning to live in a small space again together.

Flying over Faro

Due to the fact I hadn’t seen much of the river Guadiana and because Chris and Pete enjoyed it there so much we have decided to travel up to Alcoutim and plan to travel a bit further on again.  I also hope to get the inflatable kayak back in action (once the seat is repaired) and have a paddle up the river even further and hopefully get closer to those turtles I’ve heard so much about.  Until my rowing improves, it will also be easier for me to get ashore with the kayak.

Pete at the helm

The river itself is looking really nice.  There are loads of unidentified very pink flowers along the bank and an awful lot of bamboo the further you travel.  We think they must be growing rosemary too as you could smell it occasionally.  There has also been a fair bit more wind, albeit often coming from straight ahead of us so we have been able to sail up the river.  It feels a bit like trying to learn to ride a bike…only more complicated.  I have had a bit of practise of how to sail into the wind and how to run with it behind you and also how to deal with wind shifts which seem to come from nowhere around here.  We have also had a lot of anchoring practice and I am starting to get my head round that slowly.


I had heard a lot about the food in Alcoutim from the other two.  Particularly the famous chicken, chips and salad which is apparently only served on a Friday, therefore the race was on to get there in time for that.  We were justly rewarded…There was a lot of chicken and it was gooood.  There are loads of little dogs around the town too one of which thought it was on to a good thing by looking cute whilst we ate.

'Give me chicken. I'm cute honest'

Chris and I had a walk around the town and castle (which was full of sheep with bells round their necks) up the hill in Sanlucar, directly opposite Alcoutim whilst Pete went to the local market there and then ended up eating Portugese pastries with some people he met there.

On the way up to the castle. River Guadiana in background

View from the castle in Sanlucar

Pete’s marvellous adventures

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, Walking with tags , , on June 5, 2010 by maidofmettle

This blog come courtesy of Pete who has been left to his own devices in Portugal whilst Chris and I have been having fun (and sorting dull stuff) in England…. 

The World According to Pete…

Pete has been a fair way up the river and then down again, mainly in short hops when wind and tide coincide suitably. The tides are very strong at the moment but it’s not too much of a problem as it’s fairly easy to find somewhere to anchor.

There are lots of boats around now, so plenty of people to meet, though it’s also very easy to slip away and find a different anchorage with only a couple of boats or houses in sight.

There are a lot of English and Dutch people living ashore as well, on both sides of the river. In Spain, Pete had a lovely time visiting Peter and Rozy, who’d kindly invited him and Chris in for coffee a couple of weeks ago, and their son Nigel. Peter and Nigel kindly took me with them on an expedition to the Rio Tinto mines, where mining had been carried out by the Romans, Spanish, British (well, British bossing the Spanish around) and eventually multinational firms for 5000 years or so, up until 2002.
It’s an incredible place – the local geology that’s been exploited is fascinating, and the more recent open-cast workings are staggering in their scale. The rock is so rich in minerals that the Rio Tinto itself (pictured) is naturally (since well before larges-scale mining) red and acid (ph2.2), while the Rio Odiel is yellow. NASA and a Spanish agency have been studying the area to figure out how best to hunt for life on Mars, and have tested their little robots in one of the excavations they visited.
 On the Portuguese side, Pete found what might be the smallest blue-flag beach in the world in the village of Alcoutim – but there’s decent room for swimming, golden sand and thatched parasols – it’s a great place to go on a hot afternoon, especially when he’d been doing work on the boat in the morning. But enough of the w-word…

Alcoutim beach - Pete kicking water in the air to distract from the way he really doesn't tan very well

Some of the sailing has been fantastic, especially coming back down the river over a couple of days in company with a couple of other boats. This was great fun, especially at some of the more awkward bends where the wind changes direction suddenly – a bit like watching the skier in front of you hit some ice…
 Pete just made it to the bottom before the wind died and the tide turned, albeit somewhat late for the ‘rapid painting’ event he was aiming for in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. He had to complete his picture especially fast having arrived several hours late with less than two hours to go. He was pretty happy with it, and especially glad that he’d succeeded in obliterating all pointers to the origins of the ‘paint by numbers’ canvas he’d hurriedly obtained in a local tat shop.
Afterwards the 40 or 50 or so painters seemed to all pick up their work and head off in the same direction, accompanied by 30-40 or so supporters. Pete decided to follow suit and was very glad he had when everybody filed into a local restaurant, propped their canvases up around the walls, and were treated to a delicious three-course meal. Conversation was a little difficult but entertaining, especially about half an hour in when it turned out the people he’d been conversing with in hesitant Portuguese were in fact Spanish. Oops.

The post painting party and Pete's efforts

 Pete’s not sure on the next move yet, probably a bit of a rest and then either more sailing on the river or a short hop or two along the coast.

View of the Rio Tinto from the steam train (choo! choo!)

 Back to Caroline….

Chris has been getting stressed with World Sim again this week, trying to sort out getting us another Sim card with the same number as we had before.  World Sim are number one in Chris’ most hated companies because they are infuriatingly slow at doing anything, and even then they may not do it correctly.  Added to this is the fact that he has had to tell the same story to about 100 people (all called David incidentally)  because they do not log calls…It’s soooo annoying. 

Meanwhile in the list of the best companies in the world I must sing the praises of Henri Lloyd (Darling…) who kindly took back my waterproof that had worn a little during all the use it has had, and replaced it with a brand new one saying “we’re very sorry but we had to replace it with the new season’s jacket I’m that ok?” !!  Well, yes….why wouldn’t it be you wonderful people…

Henri Lloyd now join the list which also features Baltic who made our lifejackets and very nicely sent us some new re-arming kits.

Anyway, it hasn’t been all sorting out things and tidying up.  Despite the big projects of tidying up and freecycling lots of stuff – well done Chris for waving goodbye to a lot of things vowing that he will be more careful around skips in future 😉  we have managed to have some fun in England. 

Kirsty and Rich’s wedding was lovely…Kirsty, you looked wonderful and the party was excellent.  As always the McGills did us proud with the food!  Thank you. 

Chris and I have had some relaxation time before we head back to Portugal on Tuesday, enjoying a couple of mini-breaks in Midhurst and the New Forest.  I for one have got used to having considerably more space than we have on the boat so it might take a bit of getting used to again to adapt to 3 of us all being there together again.