Planes, Trains and Automobiles

If you want to know anything at all about the workings of trains, buses and taxis in Portugal then just give Chris and John a call because they sampled them all – probably [no, definitely] on more occasions than they bargained for when initially “signing up” for a 2 week holiday on “Siga Siga”. First of all we were originally going to meet them at Faro. At first we amended this to Villamoura because we had worked out that Faro was not the best place for anchoring and getting them and luggage aboard. Readers of the previous posts will know that this was only the initial amendment as the engine fixing episode left us too far away from there for comfort and we therefore arranged Lisbon as the meeting point. They knew about the need for a bus from airport to Faro and a train from there to Lisbon but what they didn’t know about was the additional need for a train from Lisbon to Cascais [the best marina for Lisbon] and, what none of us knew about was the need for a metro from “Entre Cambos” station where they arrived and Cais du Sodre station providing the coastal train to Cascais. So, by the time we got them and the suitcases aboard Siga Siga they had been travelling for sixteen and a half hours. On this occasion, the automobile being their car to the airport. You will understand that a stiff drink was called for followed by a meal and a relatively early night.

A quiet day was in order on 17th August and Chris and John spent some time on the beach and looking round the town whilst we played with the internet and shopped for a meal on board followed a couple of drinks in one of the marina bars – with football on TV.

Mike has noticed that since setting sail from Liverpool he has watched more football than ever previously in his life. Much of it has been Spanish or Portuguese with the occasional English League game thrown in but he is beginning to recognise a good game from a bad one. Is this an improvement in his life he is probably wondering – and I suspect his answer would be not – but it has provided for some interesting evenings out.

The following day and it was a sail – well 3 hours out of 5.5 of it was – to Portinho da Arrabida which lies between Setubal and Sesimbra. “Oh” cry John and Chris, “We went to Setubal on the train”.

We didn’t see any of the Parque Natural da Arrabida, nor the polecats, badgers, Bonelli eagles or buzzards reputedly found on the granite ridge but we did sample the tiny harbour village and caused considerable merriment to evening patrons of the three restaurants and a group of French students on the beach.

The cause of the laughter and speculation about our safe arrival on the beach was our good friend “the pig”. First of all we have a small puncture in one of the tubes which, despite three types of glue and two types of patch we don’t seem to be able to do anything about. This means that even though we thought it was sufficiently blown up, once in the water with three people on board it was decidedly low in the water. Low in the water is not good at the best of times but when there are waves and an off shore wind it makes getting ashore both interesting and wet. Chris and I were the first to be dropped off by John, looking like two wet rats and, even though they put more air in for the second trip, John and Mike didn’t fare much better. We did have a good evening out though, patronising “O Ferol” for drinks and “O Gaileras” for a meal – which is what its all about. Mike’s Pork with Clams was notably good.

To get to Portinho requires some delicate navigation through a narrow strip of deeper water alongside a cliff and so, having subjected Chris to this trial on the way in, we repeated it on the way out because she had enjoyed it so much!

And then, for added adventure, up went the spinnaker. John seemed to enjoy helping in this exercise and so, for good measure, after about an hour and twenty minutes on one course, Mike put in a gybe as well. Thus we were able to sail for two thirds of our journey to Sines which took approximately six hours overall.

We arrived in Sines at 2.30pm and Mike and I went about various “boatkeeping” tasks whilst Chris and John went off to explore the town. As Mike and I were going up into the town about 2 hours later we met them coming back and, to put it mildly, they had unfavourable impressions of what appeared to be a bit of a one horse town with the horse more of an ass than a thoroughbred.

However, it appears that they had been looking round during the early afternoon period when nothing was happening and no-one was about. The restaurants Chris and John had seen well and truly closed were beginning to open up and we were therefore able to report back that we had found several potential places and favoured what looked to be a nice restaurant overlooking the old harbour. And so it proved to be.

“O Mexilhao” provided us with good fare all round and then, as in keeping with other places visited, the evening entertainment began. The small square which was the only place where Chris and John had seen any life was, by now, buzzing and round the corner in the square by the castle we found live music which started at about 11pm and which we enjoyed through until nearly 2am. It was a bit of a shame about the rather loud American visitor but, fortunately, the very passable band drowned him out.

Something which was particularly noticeable and good to see [which has been a feature of all of Portugal] is the integration of races. There seem to be many relationships with one black and one white partner and so many variations in skin tone with everyone just mingling around and mixing one with the other. Portugal seems to have achieved what other countries have not.

Anyway, Mike and I recognised that the next leg of the journey, as planned from Sines to Sagres, might be better enjoyed by Chris if there was a public transport option. Having ascertained that there was, we had to put them ashore at 7am as we anticipated, as a minimum, a 10 hour sail. What transpired was a 13 hour trip to Lagos [for us] and 3 buses [for them]! After clearing the harbour we put up the sails but an hour later the wind just dropped to 3k and it was engine on. An hour later and the wind had built steadily and sufficiently for us to put sail out again. However, this was just lulling us into a false sense of security. The weather forecast had been for North West/Northerly winds with strength of around 10k -15k. What we got were North East and Easterlies running constant up to 25k with some gusts hitting 35k, thunder, dark skies, rain and seas which had obviously been created by stronger winds elsewhere.

Of course, the strongest gusts arose when Mike had gone off for a nap and so I had to wake him to ask for some assistance in reefing the genoa. Unfortunately, what should have been a relatively quick and simple exercise for the two of us went rather haywire when the genoa furling frayed its outer sheath and wouldn’t fit through the guide blocks on the stanchions. So it wouldn’t furl. Meanwhile the wind had whipped the genoa sheets into a spaghetti mess. Mike went out to the bow on a lifeline and was able to use a cleat to secure and furl as much of the genoa as the knotted sheets would allow – but it was impossible to untangle them – especially when they hit him in the face – ouch!

We then rounded Cabo de Sao Vicente and, despite the foreboding conditions, we were initially surprised to find that there appeared to be relative calm [and I use the term fairly loosely] – which went totally against what we were expecting given the wind direction. Again, this was only an initial finding because what this change of wind also meant was that the beach anchorage given in the pilot at Sagres, and the harbour, both of which face East/South East were totally untenable.

But what about Chris and John? Well, they had breakfasted and found that their 3 hour wait for the bus passed reasonably quickly. Then, the bus trip to Lagos [no direct route to Sagres] which should have taken two hours, or so they were told, took three. That wasn’t too much of a problem and they soon found a connection to Sagres arriving there at about the same time as us. They first looked at the beach and marvelled at the people surfing but worked out very quickly that these were not good anchoring conditions! So, they walked up to the harbour to find it full of fishing and other small boats, no yachts or space for yachts and the only option being outside the harbour walls which was suffering similar conditions to the beach – except that any surfer would have come face to face with a stone wall and not a sandy beach. Just as Mike and I had concluded that we were going to have to go on to Lagos we got a text from Chris confirming the conditions. They then had to run back to the bus station – Yes…… to get the bus back to Lagos – and just after Chris had spotted rather a good place for tea.

Ah well, all was well that ended well. We made Lagos at about 8.30pm and cleared reception fairly quickly. Chris was there at the berth to assist and John was guarding pints in one of the marina bars [and having a sneaky inbetweeny].

And thus began Chris and John’s planned trip to the Algarve, 5 days into their holiday and several travel adventures later.

We decided to stay 2 full days at Lagos. On the first of these we set out on a walk to Pria de Luz but the path we took [when we found it – which was made more difficult because the person we asked could see no purpose at all in a walk to Pria de Luz, or anywhere for that matter] first went out to the lighthouse on the point and found us about 2.5 hours later at Porto do Mos – which is actually a suburb of Lagos. It was clearly lunchtime by then but the options didn’t look staggering especially when one of the two available eateries i.e. the one looking least like a beach side Wimpy bar was full with no tables for over an hour. But, how wrong we were about the other option. “Campimar” provided us with a lovely lunch at tables inside what turned out to be a nice restaurant behind the beach bar and Mike sampled the best Bacalao of our stay in Portugal – I think he had at least two, if not three, others during the month.

We all walked back to the boat – though Chris and John took the shorter road route whilst Mike and I retraced our steps on the coast path. What we both remarked on was the gorgeous smell of figs and the sound of cicades which we haven’t previously had in N. Spain or N. Portugal and which really let us know that we are now well and truly in  sunny, warm pastures.

Because we had eaten such a large lunch we spent the evening touring some of the bars which are to be found in a small corner of Lagos town. Its not like the “bar streets” of some other resorts – though Happy Hour in all of them was a turn of phrase rather than a reality as the offers lasted for about 4 hours in each bar and, had you wanted to move from bar to bar as happy hour times changed you could have managed a good 12 hours [or not – as I am sure the case may be for some people – though to be fair I did not see any untoward behaviour that or any other night in any of the resorts].

In one bar three of us tried a “shot” which John chose so, not to be outdone, Mike saw two guys drinking what turned out to be Black Vodka in another. We were not sat at the bar and as he related, he realised he had asked the wrong question when he said “What are you drinking” and got three of the Vodka shots – two of which were promptly drunk by the two guys he had asked! Ah well – he enjoyed his shot and John, Chris and I just got to hear the story.

Day 2 in Lagos was a lazy day with a bit of sightseeing and reading and generally passing the time of day and was concluded with a good meal in one of the more traditional restaurants abutting the produce market.

Our next port of call [23 and 24 August] was Alvor. This is an ancient port which is now approached with caution in a yacht! If I tell you that most of the bay or, perhaps more accurately, lagoon was filled with kite surfers who were able to sit down in about 3 inches of water it gives you a clearer picture. The route in does not look at all like its going to be possible and when the pilots description of a well marked channel is one red buoy and one green buoy, the question of whether to proceed did have to be asked. However, those two buoys, Mike at the helm, John at the bow looking into the water [albeit a bit murky], me at the chart plotter and Chris with her eyes glued to the depth gauge did the trick and we made it without incident.

So, another of Chris’s favourites, especially as it was also an anchorage and not a mooring buoy or berth at the end.

We spent the first night about three quarters of the way into the “port” between a private pontoon and a sandbank with tripper boats passing very close by periodically and creating noise and wave [well they had no choice even though we had reached “the pool”]. We had planned a BBQ for this stop but because the wave conditions were similar to Portinho da Arabida, even though the trip ashore was only about half the distance, we opted for our steak and sausages on board and amused ourselves playing cards until after midnight.

On the second night we moved down to anchor nearer to the port and, though we did get a bit wet we braved the pig twice – firstly for brunch, a walk and a look round and then, in the evening for a meal at “Captains” which was a restaurant trying [and to a large extent succeeding] at a more haute cuisine approach.

The walk Mike and I did was out along the lagoon and back along the beach. There is always a time when you wish you had taken your long lens and, in trying to capture the twists and turns of the kite surfers, this was it. The photos do not do them justice. Mike used to be a keen windsurfer and we came across one windsurfer and one kite surfer – who favoured the beach to the lagoon – next to each other. As Mike said “As a toy – the kite surfer far exceeds the windsurfer. No wonder there is only one of those” – and there was an element of wistfulness I detected for an untried sport…….

The trip from Lagos to Alvor had taken about 1 hour and it was less than 2 hours from there to Portimao so, once in the Western Algarve its no distance from place to place if that is what is wanted.

Not knowing anything about Portimao but, having read the Rough Guide, we decided that the short walk up the cliff to Pria da Roche resort centre rather than into Portimao itself was perhaps the best option and what a good night it turned out to be. We fancied a bit of a change and I applaud a restaurant with a queue which provides slices of garlic bread and sangria for its waiting clientele and the pizzas were pretty good too. We then had a taste of the more tourist type resort in the form of a Karaoke Bar. John does a fair rendition of “Wonderwall” but, needless to say, Chris, Mike and I all declined – after all one wouldn’t want to clear the place – which is something maybe others should consider. Having said that all performers enjoy themselves and the audience appreciate whatever the ability and overall the ability of the majority was good – so who’s complaining.

Although Chris and John declined the option of a trip inland to Silves, Mike and I decided to go ahead and see something other than coastline. It certainly read well in the Rough Guide, which is hardly surprising as both of us realised when we got there that we had been before! Why we didn’t remember I have no idea but it is a lovely place with a well renovated castle and cobbled streets so was worth the journey – and, after all, it had to be our turn to sample train travel.

What the walk to the rail station in Portimao did tell us however was that, despite its shortcomings, Pria da Roche was the better evening option. The pretty 20 minute walk along the river to Portimao, as described by one of the helpful marina staff, turned out to be 45 minutes across wasteland, round a scrap yard, past the ferry docking area and along an uninspiring promenade. He obviously doesn’t get out much.

So, up the cliff again and we found a lovely restaurant with tables looking out over the sea….followed by two Irish Bars and some singing and dancing.

And so…. to Albufeira….. our final destination with Chris and John. Now, for me Albufeira has always conjured up images of a place I would prefer not to visit. But we opted for it on the basis of cost as the marina was reported in the almanac to be considerably cheaper than Vilamoura and to be fair to Chris and John we really did need to get them within spitting distance of Faro. As marina prices have been far from cheap in Portugal the cheaper option was bound to win…. And, for one, I am really glad it did.

John has been to Albufeira twice before and described an old town and a good beach and a place worth visiting. Mike and I thought that we had passed through on a February trip to the Algarve vowing never to return. We are not quite sure now where we went that February but it wasn’t the Albufeira of John’s description – and he was right. In our stroll around the old town we also came across a fantastic sand structure which seems to last a season and possibly makes a basic living for the people who live in the ramshackle cottage behind.

All in all we spent three nights at the marina which is actually a 20 minute walk over a slight hill to the town and which in itself is worth a visit. As we remarked “It’s a bit like berthing in Play School”. For those old enough to remember the square window and the round window! And the buildings are painted variously in pastel colours and its all a bit surreal.

We spent one of the days on a trip – by bus of course- to Vilamoura [glad we didn’t berth there – expensive, purpose built resort around a purpose built marina] and Quarteira. We had to visit Quarteira as Chris spent a honeymoon there I think 25 years ago. She remembered it as a small fishing village separate from Vilamoura. Although no longer separate in terms of buildings it has, thankfully, retained some charm and a totally separate feel. Some would describe it as a run down resort, but it seems to be a preferred destination for Spanish holiday makers and was, as far as we could see, a far better option than Vilamoura – but then again – we don’t own a 60+ foot motor cruiser!

We also enjoyed our evenings out – two in Albufeira town and one at the marina, with one of those in Albufeira finding us at a Chinese restaurant. Apart from the one Pizza it’s the only time since leaving Liverpool that we have had anything other than “local cuisine” and the change was welcome.

So, there we have it – except of course for Chris and John’s return trip to the airport and home. I think they made the right decision to take a taxi rather than two buses [or the two bus, one train option] – as the price difference was worth the much reduced hassle and, they reported an early take off and an uneventful return home. As their taxi came to pick them up from the marina reception we were able to wave goodbye as we were just leaving the fuel berth directly opposite on our way back to anchor of Portimao marina. But that is for the next post.

Mike and I very much enjoyed their company and all that happened in the two weeks Chris and John were with us.

So, all that remains to be said is that….

“Dey did do dat den didn’t dey”!

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    • Chris on September 11, 2011 at 11:38 pm
    • Reply

    and I just continue to get up at 4 am every day….

    Looking forward to your arrival in the New World.

    Whats the planned date for landfall ?

    • tiddles on September 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm
    • Reply

    Good to hear all about it – keep up the good work.

  1. And I thought the dolphin sand sculpture in Spain was good. When Mike gets back mine is a round of pints and remember a new pig is for life not just for Christmas … or was that a 4th tube of glue.
    Sounds like a memorable trip here and there and here and there but I am sure the travels will get told more than a week sat on a beach! But no talk of fish?

    See you soon


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