Portugal

Woops! Yet another travel blog that I had high intentions of keeping updated regularly as I started it and then, when I’m starting to really get into the swing of things, something seems to keep me distracted every day and so I forget all the promises I made to myself. Sorry to everybody who was waiting for news and sorry for a bit of a longer blog post this time, as there is much to catch up with!

The last time I wrote, Reice and I had just arrived in the Peneda-Gerês National Park in the north of Portugal, excited to have crossed the first border after arriving in Spain a month ago and curious of what was ahead of us. The very first night in Portugal we spent in the parking lot of a graveyard in a little town up in the mountains, which we thought was a pretty weird and funny introduction to our time there. It had started to poor down with rain as we arrived and it didn’t stop for another three days after that, so Reice and I decided to take it slow and escaped into a café, where I worked on the blog (still motivated 😉 ) and Reice was making music (one of the results included in the first blog post), until we eventually started getting funny looks from the old lady who served us, who must’ve been wondering why on earth we ended up there for so long. One morning, finally, the sun came back out and we could suddenly see the amazing landscape all around, that had been hiding in the clouds and started our exploration of the park. It was a really beautiful place to hike around, with all the rocky hills, waterfalls, old mossy stone castles and bridges and traditional old Portuguese villages and farms, where everyday life still seemed to be lived the way it had been for hundreds of years already. One day we scrambled to the top of a massive waterfall and followed the river above, jumping from rock to rock and finally into the ice cold water. There we met a young couple from a town south of Lisbon, who were traveling in their van as well with their adorable little puppy and their cat, with big smiles on their faces and a free spirit, who spread out their worn out map on the floor and gave us lots of advice about where to go in Portugal and let us play with their furry roommates 🙂

After about a week in the park we got on the road again to head to Porto. We decided to have a stopover in Guimarães, the former capital of Portugal, which we thought was quite a nice city, with lots of castles around, pretty stone houses surrounded by the old city wall and a nice atmosphere. Not knowing what to expect from Porto either, we were surprised again what a beautiful city it is, built on the hills around the Douro river, at the northern coast of Portugal, with a real sea side charm and spectacular looking bridge in the center, lit up at night. Almost out of obligation we bought us a fine bottle of Port wine from one of the traditional cellars along the river and also found a place that sold veggie Francesinha, a local specialty, for our dinner. It consists of a toast with meat (in our case mushrooms) and cheese, soaked in a beer based tomato sauce. Sounds kind of strange and is definitely not the healthiest thing we’ve ever eaten, but actually was really delicious and so filling I couldn’t even finish my plate (and that says a lot!).

The next stop was Aveiro, a pretty little town with a canal in the middle and traditional old canal boats, why its also called ”the Venice of Portugal”. Here we had one of our most memorable random cultural experiences, when we strolled along the local Christmas market and suddenly saw little cakes flying through the air, coming from people standing on the roof of the church. After asking a man in the square in front of the church, we learned that it is one of Aveiro’s oldest annual traditions. It has its roots in the mercy of a saint, who, back in the days, had been throwing food and cloths down to the poor, who he apparently wasn’t able to touch, because of the diseases spreading at the time. Reice being the biggest cake lover in the world and me generally interested in any kind of free food as well, had the time of our lives trying to catch the flying bread-like cakes and were amazed by all the people who had brought their fishing nets along, attached onto a long stick they were holding up in the air. Later on we also went to a local concert, free for all to visit and ended up thinking how cozy this little town was, with quite a lot of entertainment considering the size of it and a true feeling of community among the inhabitants.

We visited another town around the corner, called Águeda, that is known for its pretty street decorations, such as a ton of umbrellas of all colors forming a sort of roof. Unfortunately we weren’t there during the right time of the year to see those, but instead saw a giant, about 15 m tall Santa Clause covered in Christmas lights and also found a big skate park, where we spent some time rolling around. The next day we could already have our next skate, in a skate park in Coimbra, a nice old student town where we had a quick stop over and enjoyed a veggie burger in a student bar and planned the next few steps of the trip. We were headed for an area near Coimbra with several climbing crags just a few minutes drive apart.

The first crag we visited was called Senhora da Estrela because it was located behind a church with the same name, high up on a hill, with a magnificent view of the valley below. The climbing was alright, but some bolts looked a bit rusty and lots of routes were quite polished, so we decided to leave after a few days, following the advice of some climbers we met, to try another area called Poios instead. I’m glad we did, because what we found was one of the best crags we’ve ever climbed at! It was one sector in particular, that completely captured us for a while and brought our motivation to new levels. Due to the micro climate that is created there, that sector is called Microondas (Microwave), with cosy temperatures even in the winter because of the sun hitting it all day and a good shield from the wind. So we found ourselves in shorts and t shirt, in the middle of January, climbing on perfect limestone holds, massive most of them, but with a nice overhang. Some crimpy sections in between as well as a roof you have to climb out of at the end of most routes. It was pretty much our favourite style of climbing and so we went wild! It was also the atmosphere at the crag that we really enjoyed. We met lots of people, mostly from Portugal but also other places and they were all super friendly and helpful, pointing out their favourite climbs and giving us tips for crucial moves. Some of them came with the whole family; the baby in a little sun shield they brought with them and the dog running around too, while the parents took turns watching them and climbed (pretty hard) when they had the time. We got more and more excited, climbed and climbed hard until our arms were almost falling off and pushed the grades, until we both finally reached our limit… But because climbing is all about exceeding your limits, we didn’t give up and found ourselves a project instead! After days of figuring out the moves and pushing our endurance and confidence, on the day we had planned to leave, we finally both got it and arrived at the anchor happy and relieved. Reice had climbed a 7c+ before but described it as the hardest climb he had ever done and I could definitely say the same about the route I did, which was rated 7b(+ by some people at the crag). It felt good to leave now and it was lucky we got our projects done that day, because after that it started raining for about two weeks straight. Despite the wet weather, which made it impossible to climb, we had a quick look at the third climbing area, called Burakas, which was worth a visit nonetheless because it has a huge amount of caves, some massive and others tiny, to explore. Another project of mine was finished that week, my very first self made chalk bag! I had brought my wool and needles along and had already made several head bands in different shapes and colours, when I decided to give my old chalk bag a new look and stripped it off its old fabric, to put on a new one that I had knitted over a few evenings after the climbing. One of the most mind-relaxing, meditative activities ever. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried yet! 🙂 After the hard climbing days, Reice and I took a rest and went to a National Park, where we visited Portugals largest cave system, Grutas de Mira de Aire…We had the weirdest and funniest guide ever, which made walking around in this crazy underground world, full of colorful lights and waterfalls, even more memorable.

From the rocks it took us back to the coast again, to Nazaré, which is the place with the biggest waves ever surfed in the world… Due to the stormy weather, we actually got quite a good idea of what the waves in Nazaré can be like. We were standing at the light house for a while, holding on to the railing so the wind wouldn’t take us away and looking in awe at the spectacular waves smashing against the rocks. When the wind calmed down the next morning, we even saw some people surfing, being dragged into the waves with jet skies and camera teams filming from the coast. An exhilarating thought to be one of those people out there, but for now we were glad we were only observing the scene.

Nevertheless we were ready to start our own surf experience and headed from Nazaré to Peniche, the surf capital of Portugal, where we went to a surf school near a beginner surf spot and bought ourselves some second hand boards. With 6,7 ft. a little small for us, but we were happy to have found something anyways and also this way at least they fit nicely into the van. Reice and I both had tried surfing in the past for a couple of weeks and were ready to pick up where we had left off. The first night didn’t go so well unfortunately, as we were parked in front of a beach bar where a cheesy beach party with terrible club music was on and people kept running past the van, screaming and shouting. It got even worse, when in the middle of the night, half asleep, I suddenly heard a sound and realized someone had opened the front door of the van and was trying to get in. It wasn’t a thieve, just a drunk dude who was fooling around. Nonetheless it made me absolutely furious and so I didn’t think for long before I reacted, took him by the collar and threw him out of the car. Quickly we closed the doors and put our earplugs in, some people still knocking on the window and shouting outside. After that horrible night came a much more pleasant surprise in the morning, when again someone knocked on the door of the van. Almost a bit annoyed at first to be disturbed again, we opened and there stood in front of us, with a big smile, Sebastian, our old travel friend from northern Spain! Ïab and his oldie van Moby were also there and so we went over and reunited the old gang, telling stories of the weeks since we last saw each other. The next few days we spent together. Ïab became our surf teacher as he had pretty much grown up in the water on the island of La Reunion. We struggled a lot at first, with our small boards that felt so wobbly compared to the massive boards you get when you first take a lesson and the weather conditions weren’t ideal either, with rain and heavy winds, that lead to messy waves. But Reice and I kept on trying. When we weren’t in the water we were hanging out with the guys or in the beach bar, putting up a slack line in the beach, making soup for everyone with the big pumpkin they had gotten from a farm they worked in, drawing together on big pieces of paper, playing games. It was great to see the guys again and a really fun time despite the horrible weather.

Saying good bye to our friends yet another time, we headed for Lisbon, where we had another special guest waiting for us. Turi had decided to leave the English winter behind for a few days and join us in the van instead! On the way, we had our first glimpses of the amazing Sintra-Cascais National Park, only half an hour drive from Lisbon, where we would end up spending quite a lot of time. Situated right at the Atlantic coast, with lots of beautiful beaches and green hills all around, with old castles and palaces on top, as well as many activities such as climbing, surfing and hiking to be pursued, it really has it all. Before meeting Turi, Reice and I decided to go for a big walk along the coast one day, from beach to beach, all the way to the lighthouse of Cabo da Roca, the most western point of the European continent and were blown away by the landscape all around. We also had a little climb, bouldering as well as rock climbing, in Sintra right near the tourist places, so that we ended up becoming quite a tourist attraction ourselves. People stopped and stared up at us in awe and even started taking photos of us with their smart phone. It was weird… After that we picked up Turi in the airport and spent some time exploring Lisbon together, where we stopped at many different bakeries to try the local delights and had a massive vegan buffet for dinner. In the evening Reice and I took advantage of Turis hostel stay and had our first hot shower (!) since the boat from England to Spain… 🙂 The next day we headed back to the Park, where we spent the rest of the time of Turis visit. First we checked out some of the many different boulder spots in Sintra and found lots of cool problems, staying motivated even though the weather was still unpredictable and showers were coming down regularly. One day the three of us tried our luck surfing together as well. Turi rented a board and we started paddling out. But the waves were merciless that day, it was windy and the water was messy, with a strong current on top and eventually we had to give up without a lot of success. The evenings in the van were spent taking turns cooking delicious meals, drawing (Turi and Reice are actually both quite impressive artists, while my drawing career unfortunately ended when I was a kid, so that I’m still trying to catch up 😉 ), playing Carcassonne, a favourite of Reice’s group of friends and eating snacks… It was great!

After Turi left, Reice and I went back to our prime parking spot right at the river in Lisbon, which we had discovered through the extremely useful motorhome app “Park4night” and spent another few days exploring the city. We made friends with our neighbour Marc from Germany, who was living in a gigantic old school bus he had furnished  himself and turned out to be a passionate skater like Reice. And so we went for a skate together along the water front (the two of them finding some obstacles to do tricks on), to a short film festival Marc had discovered, eating Indian in the evening and even to a club that had free entrance that day and quite decent house music to dance to actually.

As there were a few things left to see in the Sintra National Park, we went back again and saw some of the gorgeous castles and palaces there, went to another climbing area and also back to the beach we went to with Turi to try and surf again. The day started with a panic moment, when Reice came running and told me he had just started a bush fire… After burning the paper, as we always do after going to the woods to do our business, the surrounding plants must’ve caught fire and suddenly people were running around with buckets of water and even the fire brigade was called. Luckily somebody had noticed the fire early on when it was still small and so it all went well, but Reice was definitely embarrassed and learned his lesson that day!

After the eventful morning, which we ended with a bit of surfing, we went to the lighthouse of Cascais, to a climbing place called Farol da Guia, where Reice and I had our first experience with sea cliff climbing. The rock logically felt a bit moist and the whole atmosphere somehow felt a bit more intense with the waves smashing against the rocks just next to where you’re climbing, but we were really enjoying it a lot and found lots of cool climbs there. In the evenings we did our usual yoga routine with a nice view of the sea and the stars on a viewpoint above the cliffs.

The next place we went to was also a sea cliff we wanted to climb at, called Meio Mango, which ended up being one of the most epic crags we’ve ever climbed at! First of all you have to hike down a very steep slope and then rappel another 20 meters to get to the crag, which was a bit questionable because the rope was already attached and we didn’t know how long for already and what condition it was in. We made it down though and were amazed by what we found. Gigantic walls of beautiful white limestone, with super interesting and hard looking climbs and the sea splashing all around. Some of the sectors were only accessible via zip line, which we also tried, after borrowing the device for it from a climber we met. We were surprised to meet fishermen down there as well and even more so when they left, all just casually climbing back up the 20 meters we had rappelled down from, barely even holding on to the rope that was there, carrying about 20 kg of fish with them. These were some of the gnarliest fishermen we had ever seen and we were absolutely impressed by their dedication and attitude. The climbing ended up being quite difficult though and the rock was very moist at that time and so we decided to move on, of course, to another climbing place… 🙂

This place was called Fenda, a recommendation from some people we met climbing in Poios, a super cool place as well, right above a beautiful little bay where we parked right at the beach. The climbing here was quite our taste, similar to Poios, with nice lime stone and big holds most of the time and we spent a few days climbing and doing yoga at the beach. Our schedule had become a bit tighter now though, as we had arranged with our parents to meet them in Marrakesh, Morocco, in a few weeks and so we unfortunately had to move on again.

Our next stop was Sagres, a town right at the coast, at the southernmost point of Portugal, with a beautiful landscape all around. We found another spot to do some sea cliff climbing and also a fabulous beach to surf for beginners, with nice small waves and a relaxed atmosphere and all in all had a great time there. Reice had now really made some progress with his surfing, catching quite a few waves already every day, whereas I was still struggling a lot and was mainly cursing and getting smashed, regretting not having chosen a bigger board. But we both kept on trying and slowly but surely, every day we go out, we’re getting a bit closer to understanding the art of riding a wave…

Leaving Sagres we made our way to one of the main tourist areas of Portugal, the Algarve, famous for great weather and some of the most amazing coastal landscapes in Europe… We went to Porto Covo and Lagos, hiking again along the coast, from beach to beach, totally impressed by the landscape. Especially Lagos left us speechless, very touristy of course, but for obvious reasons, with the craziest rock formations and sea cliffs all along the coast and hidden little beaches and coves in between, that made us feel like we were walking around in a movie scene. Unfortunately I didn’t feel so good by the end of the day though, as I must’ve eaten something weird and lost all my appetite for an entire week, accompanied by terrible cramps and a general lack of energy. It was a rare experience for me not to be hungry, as normally I “eat like a horse” (as Beverly, Reices mum described it one day) and it was really annoying, but I didn’t feel like laying in bed all day at all and just tried to keep on going. I had to think twice if I was gonna go through with the activity we had planned for the next day, as the illness had just really started to kick in and I was truly feeling awful, but then again how often do you have the chance to paddle out with your board to see a giant sea cave… So I went for it. Praying that I wasn’t going to accidentally p*** my wetsuit, Reice and I went out, together with a few French guys we had met, who had the same plan (because the only other option is taking a totally overpriced tourist boat to get there). In the end the sea cave was literally just around the corner from the beach where we started paddling from and we were really glad we hadn’t listened to the tourist guides, who had tried to make it sound like an extremely exhausting, life risking journey, just to get us on the boat. It really was impressive, mainly because of the giant hole in the roof of the cave, that let the sunrays through to the little beach that was inside the cave, where we rested for a while.

Our time in Portugal was about to end, which felt sad because we had really enjoyed ourselves a lot, experienced a lot, learned a lot and started to feel quite at home there… But at least we one more stop ahead of us, another climbing area of course, that ended up being a perfect ending to our time there! The place was called Rocha da Pena, situated in the north of the Algarve, with a beautiful landscape and one of the most relaxed villages we had stayed in. I was still struggling physically, especially with the steep approach up to the rocks, but was determined to enjoy myself anyways and fought through it, day by day slowly getting better. Some of the routes we found there very pretty cool and we enjoyed finally being out in the middle of nowhere again, putting the hammock up, playing guitar in the grass, reading, doing yoga, cuddling with the street dogs of the village and even putting up an outdoor shower at the fountain they had (the solar shower we had brought with us broke after about 3-4 times of using it, what a waist!). One day as we were doing yoga one of the dogs came up and started copying the pose, the Downward-Facing-Dog-Pose, as you can imagine, with his crocked little legs. It was hilarious!

The animals we met along the way were always a big and often emotional part of our trip, as we both really love spending time with them and often found it sad to having to leave them behind. On a few occasions we were pretty close to making one of them our van pet, with one particular little cat in mind. We met her somewhere along the coast where we had a stopover, an amazing little creature, extremely curious and alert, jumping up every time something new was happening around her, but also a big fan of chilling and cuddling. Eventually she trusted us enough to even come into the van, where she sat on our lap and let us stroke her, getting more and more relaxed and purring all the time. We tried to feed her and even hung up one of my wool balls for her to play with and really started to fall in love with her. She just had this really cool character, always eager to explore everything around her, to then afterwards come back to us miaowing and curling up in our lap, content. She went in and out of the van a few times, the last time on the morning we left, when it was storming outside, the van being shaken around and we heard her miaowing outside and let her in. As we were closing the door though because of the strong winds, she left and we didn’t see her again. It was hard for us to leave, but we also figured she had some sort of home there already and didn’t know how she would’ve taken the whole van life situation anyways and so made peace with it.

So that was our time in Portugal! Two month of exploring, climbing, surfing, hiking, meeting old friends and new friends, pushing our limits, eating a questionable amount of cakes in the amazing Portuguese bakeries (Even Reice managed to grow a little belly!), cuddling with all kinds of animals… Embarrassingly enough we didn’t make any effort to learn Portuguese and didn’t get much further than “obrigada”, but luckily most people in Portugal have very good English… From the start we’ve always liked the vibes of the people, some of the most laid back people ever, very friendly and helpful always. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience and still can’t believe how much we have seen in such a short period of time and how well it all went. The van is still in one piece and living in it is still proving to be amazing ever day. We don’t have much space of course, but as soon as you open the door you have this amazing landscape all around, waiting to be explored, always changing. Every day we spend outside, where we feel very much at home by now and come back to the van tired but content, happy to enjoy a well-sized, tasty dinner (Reice cooks the most amazing Thai, Indian, Caribbean meals and my specialty are soy cream sauces, veggie-bolognese and cream rice 😀 ) and then snuggle up in bed and watch a movie, read a book or knit and rest our minds. Of course you get on each others nerves a lot when you spend almost every hour of every day together and we often struggle to deal with the emotional ups and downs a trip like this entails. Some days you spend almost entirely trying to find gas or water, a shower is more of a treat than a normality and on other days you open the doors in the morning to a stinky car park, with people staring at you bemused. All of that though seems more than bearable to us when we think of what we get in return. We both still appreciate the live we’re living right now immensely and feel really lucky to be able to do it. It might not be the kind of life experience that looks good on your resume, but we certainly feel like we’re furthering ourselves in many other ways; we finally have the time to do all those things we normally have to leave at the side because of seemingly more important stuff lined up on our to do list and the feeling of pressure to get those things done. Now there’s no stress, no to do list and you can take your time to enjoy what you do, whatever that is that day. We have climbed harder than ever before, learned to ride a wave (well, baby waves for now, but it’s a first step 😉 ), improved our yoga skills (I can stand on my head for a while now, which I always found scary in the past), Reice has been making tons of music and I have started drawing more, even just reading books has become a much appreciated activity for us. Whereas back home cooking for me often is more of an obstruction because I’m already late for something else, we now quite enjoy making up new recipes and spending time developing the meals.

We’re really happy to still be on the road, now on adventures in Morocco… and we are looking forward to all that is still to come! I will try not to let as much time pass this time, before I make a new blog post and I hope you are all well and enjoying the spring time 🙂

Much love from Reice and Ann-Britt

Some music again for you…

And photos!

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