In the trap

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…caught in the southwest of Portugal
Did we bet on the wrong horse by fleeing from Spain to Portugal? In the south-western corner we received daily news about some more corona measures. Even from Spain the news were not particularly encouraging and from a certain date a negative PCR test (corona test) had to be carried along. On our departure from Andalusia we hoped for an early weakening of the protective measures.

In Portugal itself we could not leave the southern region, because the northern districts were hardly accessible for tourist travel. Many towns and villages were already subject to special measures. Also in the south of Portugal, one town after the other came to the special zone. So we were again busy planning a feasible way to avoid all the harassment and to be able to drive back to the Costa del Sol. As we all know, hope dies last!

So we followed the west coast northwards, always looking for the westernmost still drivable way. Our travel speed was not very high, but we reached places where probably only the locals know the way. Although we were often forced to turn back, because the road was washed away or a landslide blocked the passage, they were great days we had along the coast; pure offroad and nobody had anything against it.

Shortly before Sines – a town that also belonged to the “forbidden zone” – we turned off to the northeast and left the coastal region. From the rugged cliffs and wide sandy beaches we climbed gently uphill into the hinterland away from the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the wide fields we roamed through more and more cork oak forests, followed by almost endless eucalyptus forests. The few places we passed through made a dreamy impression on us and almost only old people could be seen. We asked ourselves again and again where the young people were, but with a good education they hardly find a suitable job here and the few people who worked in agriculture are almost without exception from Africa.

Next to a storage lake we found a wonderful place to stay for the following night in an open cork oak forest. It was a place where one could have stayed for many more days in absolute silence. Instead we rummaged around a bit on the internet and it struck like lightning into our “world”: In Spain, the regions and provinces are locking themselves off from each other, and this made our dreams of returning via hidden roads come to nothing. Our room for manoeuvre was severely restricted and for a long time we sat in silence in front of our wine glasses. Our thoughts went round in circles and for a long time we did not know what was right or what our solution might be. From the nearby pasture we heard the ringing of the cowbells as if it was somewhere in the Alps and slowly we moved to the warmer part of our jeep; maybe we will find a solution in our dreams.

The next day our thoughts were a little clearer again. After weighing up the pros and cons of a return trip to Spain or staying in Portugal for the time being, our decision was soon made. We do not want to base our return trip on a possible frame of lies, because lies often have short legs and in connection with the authorities this could probably have fatal consequences.
We preferred the still possible enjoyment in Portugal and hoped that the weather would continue to be benevolent to us for some time.

In São Domingos we turned off our planned route and steered our vehicle back southwest through a mountainous landscape. Again we tried to find our backroad. We both liked the chosen route very much; wide fields, endless pastures followed by even bigger forests. In between there were valley cuts with river crossings, where the underbody was washed by the jeep. So we bumped for days over gravel roads and narrow forest paths, had to turn around often, because the path was suddenly impassable or too steep for our circumstances; a Rubicon (Jeep model) can do a lot, but overhanging is not possible with the best will in the world 😉
But in the middle of the landscape we had our first jeep meeting with other travellers and in the middle of the way we had an intensive exchange of experiences.

On Saturday and Sunday there was also a “lockdown light” in Portugal from 1 pm until 5 am the next morning, so we went to the next campsite. Finally we had to wash our clothes again, and after cleaning the car we had to do our personal laundry. We didn’t really feel anything of the lockdown, the noise and activity on the streets was anything but limited.

On Mondays we continued our adventure trip and the backroads we were looking for brought us back to dreaming; the potential for addiction was accordingly high. If the few tarred roads became too bumpy for us, we turned off and continued our trip on some way or other; for me (Tom) a playground as if I was riding my mountain bike in my home territory.

The search for a gas filling station – we filled our gas bottle with LPG – brought us back to the south coast for a short night before we retreated into the hinterland. We still liked the loneliness better than the urban areas and the RV parks, where everything is available for the four-wheeled travel friends, except a stinky normal toilet.

So we crossed the south-western mountain range once in a while to reach the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately the weather forecast announced a lot of humidity and this soon set in. Despite the cold wind from the north, the humidity favoured the evening mosquitoes. Our camps became more and more uncomfortable; in addition to the mosquito plague, the temperature dropped into the single-digit range after sunset. So we moved back to our small house very early and, earlier than usual, under the warm blanket.

This also gave us a lot of time to think about the further course of our journey. Just sit out here and wait? Or interrupt our business again and wait for better times in our home country of Switzerland?

We couldn’t find a clear answer, as everything was difficult to estimate and we had to rely more on our own assumptions. That the borders to northern Africa would open soon was as unlikely as the disappearance of the worldwide Corona Pandemic and a soon rise in temperature, which would make our outside a little more comfortable. At the end of November it was again very cold and rainy. Even hardcore campers like us had more and more trouble to keep us happy. In the morning we didn’t want to crawl out from under the warm blanket and in the evening we went back in almost at sunset; it was just very fresh and the evening humidity crept under our clothes unannounced.

The decision to interrupt again was first on both our lips. We didn’t feel much like just hanging around here and waiting to see what might happen. Nor had we prepared ourselves for a longer stay in south-western Europe, which made the whole situation even worse. We also did not know exactly when and how fast it would go northwards. Our information was incomplete and sometimes contradictory.

The information we received from various travellers travelling from the north to the south was helpful, but rather subjective. We also had trouble with the term “transit to the home country”; was this interpretation of the fastest possible route, or simply transit, regardless of the road? The information provided by the ambassador in Madrid was not very helpful in this respect.

So at the end of November we set off from Portugal to Spain, not knowing what would or could happen afterwards. After the first public holidays in December, there should be some easing up and give the Spaniards some more freedom again, which could certainly have a positive effect on our arrival in Spain. As I have said before, “hope is the last thing to die”. Hopefully!

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