We reluctantly left the beautiful stop over at Almonaster La Real this morning and made our way towards the border with Portugal. Darren had the route programmed in to the SAT NAV and it should have all been pretty straight forward however, it never is.
It was only a short journey to Cortegana and we had decided to skirt round it however the SAT NAV had other ideas and took us through the town and very pretty it was indeed. We started to feel a little less relaxed when the road we needed to take was closed for road works and we were diverted down a narrowish road beside the bullring but on the bright side we did get to see the bull ring and a few other pretty roads.
The event began to become more stressful as the roads started to become narrower until we came to a fork in an already narrow road with traffic coming up the hill towards us from the left and the only route available to us being the right hand road which we could see we were not going to be able to get down. We were sitting and pondering the situation while we held up the traffic behind us when a little van came up the road towards us and pulled up beside us. The man leant out of his window and started telling us something in Spanish which we gathered to be directions out of town. He was adamant that we wouldn’t get down the road in front of us and needed to reverse and take the second turning on the right then we’d be fine. It was so kind of him. We waited for him to drive off but as he left he suddenly started hooting randomly and when we looked in the wing mirror he had started reversing up the road towards us. It took us a moment to realise that he was the bread man and that he was reversing up to a customer who had just appeared in her doorway! Once we’d worked out what was going on Darren carried on reversing and another lady at the side of the road smiled and waved to us to stop then she also gave us helpful directions out of town.
Darren managed to manoeuvre the van into a position so the other motorists could get past and one of them pulled up next to us and told us we could follow her back to the main road which we were just about to do when we noticed there was a small van parked at the mouth of the road she’d driven down and couldn’t get passed! We were just trying to work out what on earth we were going to do when a Guardia Civil (police) car pulled up next to us and we thought we were going to get a real tongue lashing for causing so much trouble. We were SO wrong, they turned out to be our knights in shining armour. We explained what had happened (although this was in pigeon Spanish) and one of the policemen replied in pigeon English that we should follow them and they would escort us safely out of town. We were very relieved to hear that and followed them back the way we’d come, even going the wrong way up a One Way street and back past the road works that had caused all the confusion in the first place.
Everything was going smoothly until the Guardia Civil turned left up a sharp bend on a steep cobbled hill. Unfortunately there was a lump on the bend and as Darren turned in and the van started its ascent there was an horrendous noise as the cage of the spare wheel was knocked off its mountings and started dragging along the road underneath the van! Darren hooted to the Guardia Civil to alert them and then stopped the van in the road at a jaunty angle to see what was going on under the van. We were greeted by the sight of the rack hanging under the van with one edge of the spare wheel resting on the rack with the other edge well and truly wedged under the van!
The two policemen came over to assess the situation, they both had a go at trying to pull the wheel out but were no more successful than we’d been, in the meantime Darren tried to get the air suspension to raise the back of the van to give us enough clearance to extract the wheel but Sod’s Law gave us another kick in the pants at that moment and the air suspension unit refused to work! Noting that the policemen had a discussion amongst themselves and suggested we carried on forward to the next road a bit further along which went back down the hill. Accompanied by more awful noise Darren did just that and the wheel popped out into the road. He carried on to the next road then reversed back into it road under the direction of the policemen. One of the kind policemen rolled the wheel back up the hill to the van while I apologised profusely to the other policeman who told me everything was fine and calmed me down.
Darren had to go through the rigmarole of getting the tool kit, laying down on the road and scooting under the van then trying to get the heavy wheel and cage back up on to the hooks before securing it again! He’s getting very good at that now that he’s had so much practice, that’s going to be redesigned when we get home! He did point out that at least on this occasion it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t dark so that was a plus point!
When that was all done the policemen shrugged off our thanks and started wandering back to their car then turned round and came back. They asked to see our passports and we thought maybe we were in trouble after all but they took photos of them (hopefully so they could explain what they’d been doing for the last 3/4 of an hour either that or so they could show their colleagues back at the station the couple of twits who’d just blocked the town!) checked that we wanted to go to the main road then again told us to follow them.
When we finally got back to the main road, they stopped, one of the policemen jumped out and told us to turn left and then carry on going. As they drove off they both waved to us. It had been a stressful experience but made so much nicer by the kindness of the people we met in Cortegana.
The rest of our journey into Portugal was easy peasy. We pulled into the Intermarche car park in Moura where we’d read there were services and popped into their cafe for a coffee and lunch.
That’s when we realised that we knew NO Portuguese other than Obrigado/obrigada that we’d learned when we visited our parents in Brazil 19 years before and we were racking our brains to remember whether that meant please or thank you. We now know it means thank you! The ladies behind the counter were SO patient with us and they and their customers tried to help us with our order. It took us a while but we ended up with a very tasty meal of coffee, Darren had roast chicken and I had a bowl of soup 4.30 euros, the coffee only cost 50 cents!
After the meal we had to go and ask for a key to the services but I’d foreseen this difficulty and typed the question into Google translate. It was so much easier handing the phone over to the people we were talking to although the lady behind the reception desk looked a bit confused when Darren handed her the phone, when we looked at it the screen had gone blank! She laughed when she realised what had happened. She handed us the key and Darren started sorting out emptying and filling the van but then discovered that although he had multiple sizes and shapes of tap adaptor he didn’t have one large enough for THIS tap so he popped back into the shop where luckily they had 2 adaptors left.
After we’d filled the water tank we drove to the Alqueva Dam where we were stopping overnight. There was a huge parking area and we parked facing the dam and the lake.
We had a little walk down to the lake where a man and his wiry little brown dog (which had an overbite that made him look like he was smiling) were standing beside the water. The man tried to ascertain which country we came from but when he realised it was the UK he gave up bothering to try to speak to us, English obviously wasn’t his strong point. I stroked the little dog and it licked my hand, I noticed at that point that the man was giving me quizzical looks, I think it was because I was chatting to his dog!
It was a lovely peaceful stop where the only sounds we could hear were the distant ringing of goat bells and bird song and I FINALLY found a dark sky to look at the stars. That wasn’t too successful because the sky had started to cloud over but the bits that were clear were unaffected by light pollution, superb!