Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Another day, another country

written 30th December

We did indeed achieve what we set out to achieve on sunday - a spot of electronics fettling and some daisy painting and guide book reading respectively - result!

Unfortunately it got too cold for BBQ on the beach, which we think we would have got away with, so delicious sausages and wedges in the van on saturday night and the weather wasn't so good on sunday, to the point where, on sunday night, with the wind once more rocking the van quite violently we decided that the beach wasn't the place for us anymore and set off back into town.

We had intended to try and find the Euromaster which we had seen by the port, but, heading back into town a different way, we came across an industrial road with lots of car dealers which seemed like the right sort of place to be - we didn't really want a dealer or dealer prices but had no other way of finding a suitable garage that may have the right bits as such short notice so were resigned to it.  A few drives up and down the road confirmed tht every other major (and some not major) car manufacturers were represented, but the only sign of VW was the many Touran billboards. 

We did however find somewhere that looked like Partco so we parked in a side road near there and planned to get up early the following morning, even setting an alarm! - yes I know we seem very lazy but it is not all our fault!  We have realised that, whereas in France where we were heading south and waking up at about 8:30 with the light, as we have been going very west recently, more west than all the UK and directly north of Portugal, but are still an hour ahead of both those places, so it doesn't get light here until 9:30!  well that is our excuse and I am sticking to it!

Anyway, we went into Partco bright an early (well 10:00, takes time to get moving in the van!) and found a really helpful man who spoke english and who suggested a garage three doors down who would be able to have a look then and there.  So off we went, and with the benefit of the new spanish we have learnt (from some unsecured wifi in Pontevedra):

"can you tell me where to find a shop to look at my cars brakes?"
"¿puede decirme dónde encontrar una tienda para mirar mis frenos coches?"

"please can you look at the brakes"
"Si no puede buscar en los frenos"

"the rear wheel is making a noise"
"la rueda trasera está haciendo un ruido"

"it sounds like a train going round a corner"
"que suena como un tren que va en una esquina"

"we thought it was a wheel bearing because the noise got louder turning left but after 100km the noise had almost gone until we used the handbrake again"
"pensamos que era un rodamiento de la rueda porque el ruido se hizo más fuerte a la izquierda, pero después de 100 kilometros el ruido se había casi desaparecido, hasta que utilizó el freno de mano de nuevo"

we managed to explain our problem :)

the little be-overalled, grease covered man soon had Jules up on a four post lift and the wheel off and it turns out, that if you have a big hammer (and know how to correctly apply it!) you don't need big spanner or torque wrench after all, as the drum does come off without taking the hub off - excellent. 

of course it it still not making the dreadful noise anymore, and the brake shoes looked ok but whilst he was off inspecting the drum, Will couldn't resist getting his hands dirty and found the bolt around which the handbrake pivots was loose, in a way it just shouldn't be.  The little man came back to have a look and pulled the bolt straight out with no sign of the retaining nut to be seen...  still no sign after some prodding about so we can only assume it was once responsible for the grindy noise and from the scars of the brake shoes, it is now more...

but, simple problem, easily fixed by judicious application of new bolt and two nuts and we were back on our way - and all for only just over an hours reasonably priced labour - brilliant!

Someone has commented that it is a shame that there always seems to be something going wrong with Jules, and I guess that that is how it sounds.  but it doesn't seem that way to us (and some of the problems are of our own making, not Jules' fault at all) and we wouldn't want any of you thinking this is a carefree, jolly holiday... ;)  through trying to fix the problems we have had, we have also seen a lot more different things and places and how "real" people live  - which turns out not to be much different from how we live, we all want or need the same things, just in different ways, from different places and at different times or in different orders! - and anyway, other than where to park for the night, we don't really have much else to worry about, which is nice... :)

Wheel worry over, and with nothing holding us back, except a need to do washing, we struck out for the border and planning to head next to Parque National de Penedas-Geres (PNPG), we set course for Salvaterra de Minho.

We had been wondering how we would tell when we crossed over in to Portugal, but in the event there was a river, a big EU sign, the road surface suddenly got worse and there were suddenly no road signs!  but there were also orange trees covered with oranges in people's back gardens and it all looked very different.  oh, and people stared at us, some even stopping in their tracks to gawp.  In spain no one seemed to notice us, here, we must be the most unlikely thing they have seen for a while... :)

We didn't find the orange road we were looking for, so ended up on a little white back road and it was wonderfully wiggly, clinging to the side of the very terraced hills, through orange and vine country - lovely.  After only a few wrong turns and missed signs (in these roads, they don't sign their towns, or their roads or if they do, not necessarily visibly from the direction in which you are driving...

but we eventually got to Ponte da Barca (named for the barcas which were used to cross the river before the bridge was built), where the LP said the tourist office for the PNPG was and found the tourist office for the requisite maps leaflets and laundry directions.  Having left our washing to be collected the next day - no self service machines here and we nearly didn't get it done as they couldn't speak English (although what else you might want when walking into a laundry with a bag full of clothes I don't know) but did speak perfect french - as obviously I now do! - so much to everyone's surprise washing was quickly negotiated! - we set off for somewhere to park. 

The tourist office lady had seemed not at all taken aback by a request for somewhere to park in our campervan overnight and had suggested no fewer than three carparks where we would be fine, including one with a bridge/river view, and a nice bar where we found the beer was cheap - petrol is expensive so portugal might turn out to be more drinking than driving!  :) and the town provides wifi in its carparks!  all in all, we like portugal a lot already!

During the night the rain hammered down - and seemingly some boy racers decided that 2am in a downpour was a good time to practice powerslides in the carpark - but it was sunny yesterday as we headed back into town to collect washing (where the lady who didn't speak french recognised me and spent a lot of time telling other customers about me being english and speaking french!) then off the the national park.

Parque National de Peneda-Geres was established in 1971 and covers 70,000 ha of mountainous granite land on the border with spain.  It peaks rise to about 1300m and it is full of ancient granite villages and a big hydroelectric park from the dammed river/reservoir.  We had a round trip proposed in the leaflet (by which it meant start in ponte da barca, drive as far as you can, then return the same way back to ponte da barca), a more detailed map than our atlas (not difficult!) and clean washing in the back - what more could one want??

We found the lindoso castle, but unfortunately it was shut.  We also found what we now know to be corn cribs, stone huts, standing on mushroom shaped legs with slats in the sides, about as big as a single bed and a 4 feet tall. 

We have been seeing wooden ones of these since Asturias and been guessing what they were for (chickens, sheep, sleeping in whilst your cows sleep underneath, drying ham, burying your dead granny etc etc) but the tourist office lady had been able to tell us (after some confusion where she couldn't possibly comprehend that they might have these things in spain too) that they were for keeping corn in to dry - so now we know.

Pressing on, and after only one wrong turn - really, no obvious road signs - we found the dam, which was pretty impressive as these things are,

and headed on to Soajo, where the point of interest is an old Pelhourino (pillory) where punishments were meted out to bad people.  This on is special as it has a face carved on it and the top represents a dart with some bread on the tip as, apparently, according to some ancient statute granting independance to the town, a nobleman can only stop there as long as it takes for a piece of hot bread to cool on the tip of a dart - so there you go. 

Being neither noblemen nor provisioned with bread, we stopped for a wander and found the closed bread shop - disappointment.  On seeing us peering in though, the man opened the door and after failing in portuguese (phrase book in van) we agin were rescued by french and he sold us some bread - win!  it seems there are a lot of french immigrants in the region although we are not quite sure why...

There have also been lots of long horn cows, which is rather apt as I am today wearing my Texas Longhorns football t-shirt - a fetching burnt orange affair with sparkly longhorns on it which is the emblem of the University of Texas football team an much beloved of my boss in the US who took us to a game - the whole place was a sea of burnt orange and it was an amazing experience - I'll tell you about it another time.

heading onwards we stopped for ham and cheese rolls over looking the valley before pressing on up the mountain side and unfortunately into cloud :(  Due to the unclear maps and lack of road signs, we also ended up going the wrong way so instead of the drive through the valley to the Peneda sancturary, we ended up on the high road through the granite peaks with national park on one side and windfarm of the other - actually probably the more impressive road! - until we got eventually to our ultimate goal of Castro Laboreiro. 

Not finding any castle signs - I mean, why tell tourists to go somewhere and then actually tell them where to find it??? - we parked near a restaurant handily called "castle view" and set off.  It didn't look promising but if the restaurant says it can see the castle, it can't be far can it??  It seemed from the trail posts that we were taking the southern approach but as the distance to the castle seemed to be getting further but the height difference between us and the castle seemed to be getting bigger, we weren't so sure.  The mountain slopes were fire blackened and with the whisps of smoke like cloudy mist and the far off rumble of thunder, it was easy to believe, in the drizzle, that the enemy marauders were attacking with cannons - very atmospheric.  I also had a horrible apprehension that, similar to my snowdon experience of many years ago, we were going to struggle to the top only to round a corner and find a horde of tea drinking little old ladies, a handrail and a shiny tourist train...  we didn't :)  we did find the castle though, built so well into the mountain top and now so dilapidated that it was barely visible from below - it felt a bit like I imagine Mordor to have been, after the evil eye was extinguished and the orcs had fled... 

We did find the north path down, which did have handrails and more convincing steps cut into the granite but it wasn't much better and how quite, anyone ever got men or horses or food up here, we don't know.  May have been easy to defend but only because no one knew it was there to attack in the first place... :)

By now, it was dark and heavily raining as we set off back to our lovely well appointed carpark in Ponte da Barca - probably the worst rain we have had so far, and certainly the worst rain, plus wiggly roads, plus possibility of hitting a cow (cars you can see, they have lights, cows don't) combination.  We went passed the Sanctuary of Peneda, which we had missed, and which looked impressive - one for another time maybe - and did eventually navigate our way home in time for tea and I am now writing this in the middle of the night (well it is dark, I don't know what time it actually is) as the rain is once more crashing down on us like someone is pouring the atlantic through a sieve and onto our heads :(

Porto later to meet the parents!

toodle pip!


  1. Good news about the grumbling wheel - at least you'll know where to look when the otherside goes!

    The weather is not being kind to you but it seems all Spain is not it's usual self this month. Wet'n'warm is better than wet'n'cold.

    Bill W

  2. hope it's warmer than the uk !

  3. it is now we are in portugal! i hope you are all ok and not too cold :)