It’s 8am and still dark outside, or it could be 7am, depending whether you’re going by the Spanish or Portuguese time zone, as we are anchored in the Rio Guadiana, with Portugal on our Port side and Spain on our Starboard. It feels a bit like platform 9 and three quarters, for those that know the Harry Potter films; an extra slice of world, but between two countries, and living in the middle on our floating homes a whole host of other nationalities. There are English, American, French, Dutch, German, Canadian, Spanish, Portuguese, Scottish, Irish, Swedish…the list goes on. It is utterly still and quiet this morning and a light mist hangs over the water.
Winding our way up here we saw herons perched on rafts of canes floating downriver, little houses and small holdings many with their own pontoons, and sheep wandering the hills. Everything is noticeably more lush and green as you head inland, the river stretches wide in parts, narrower and tree lined in others, and there is a spicy smell in the air, I think from some sort of pine tree. We anchor 20 miles upriver, between the two villages of Alcoutim (Portugal) and Sanlucar de Guadiana (Spain), digging in on the second attempt with the first being over gravelly sand and therefore poor holding as we later found out.
Our first night we sleep like logs, it is that still and quiet…not at all like our home port on the River Exe at this time of year, and even though it is very much tidal even up this far and running at sometimes 4 kts, it seems a very smooth flowing river. The noise that wakes me in the morning is a combination of the church bells ringing (and again an hour later on the other side) and the clanging bells around the necks of the grazing sheep in fields along the banks.
Going ashore we found a post office in Alcoutim along with a few bars and cafes, a food shop, hardware shop and Chinese shop brim full with…well everything. There is also a fairly cheap to use washing machine and a dryer on the water front along with FREE TO USE showers! Basic but we are boat bums after all. There is also a pharmacy, dentist and Fort museum, and a man-made beach (Praia de Fluvial) where you can swim in summer when they shut the sluice gates so it fills with water from the dam upstream. All very lovely.
A little ferry runs across the river daily if you need it and the same man rents out kayaks and bikes, along with taking payment for the ‘laundry’. It really is well catered to liveaboards here and we can see why people end up staying. Some anchor there boats and fly home for the winter which is a bit brave as the tide is fast running, especially after heavy rain, bringing with it trees and rafts of bamboo canes which threaten to dislodge your anchor.
We’ve been here two weeks now and are quite content getting on with boat jobs, computer work, finding walking routes and enjoying the €1 drinks….seriously, everything is €1!! Whether it’s coffee, beer or wine, and you can have a night out on a fiver. Not that there’s much nightlife here but on Halloween we went down to the beach bar under the impression there was going to be a party which ‘last year was really good’. Armed with Ben’s carved out Butternut Squash in place of a pumpkin!
Well there were seven of us. And karaoke. All I’ll say is sufficient €1 beers were had for anyone to care less.
We’ve found the food shop is better on the Spanish side, and it also stocks an impressive amount of DIY materials. Each time we go I get to practice a little more Spanish, but still managed to embarrass myself when I confidently said ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’…but in Portuguese! Thankfully she saw the funny side and must get it all the time. There are a couple of bars on this side and an impressive fort up a big hill, which we keep mis-timing as it’s been closed both times we’ve walked up there. Up this same hill there’s a zip wire that goes right across the river (seasonal opening) so you can end up in Portugal an hour before you started in Spain!
We’ve also discovered an incredible amount of wild food. As we came upriver we wondered what the red apple sized fruits were along the banks, so took the dinghy the next day and found they were pomegranates! Hundreds and hundreds nestled amongst the greenery, and growing between them were quince the size of tennis balls! I was totally blown away. We picked a few of each and had the ruby red seeds with yogurt for the next few breakfasts, and I made a quince crumble.
A few days later we did a big walk that took us down the Spanish side of the river and foraged almonds, fennel flowers, rosemary and thyme along with a huge amount of wild olives!! We couldn’t believe all this amazing food for free. We’re a bit late in the season for the almonds but there are a fair few still around, however the olive trees are just everywhere and packed with every colour. From what I’ve read you can pick them green or wait till they turn purple so we picked some from each stage, along with some smaller black ones, to brine. See how we are doing it in the Galley section of the blog here. You can apparently also find wild asparagus but I think we’re too late.
Most days here we’ll try and get some exercise whether it be yoga, cycling or a walk, but we’ve become accustomed to doing very little as we wind down for the season, and we’re starting to order materials for the work that needs doing.
We’ve come to the horrible realisation we need all new batteries and a wind generator. Our solar panels provide slightly less power than we use, which can be worked around during the day, but the batteries have been taking a bit of a beating overnight with just the fridge on and almost got completely flattened when using the autopilot on a night sail. So they need replacing and we’ve decided to increase the amount to either six or eight (budget dependant), probably being 6volt cells, and get a wind generator that will give us more power, especially when sailing at night or when there’s no sun! Both of us will need to work whilst back in the UK during December to save up some money.
It’s still lovely blue skies most days just a little cooler, some people are still arriving here who are staying through the winter months, others leaving to head south with the good northerlies this last week. From the people we’ve met most have overwintered here more than once, and many ending up buying finca’s along the banks. Today we pulled up anchor and moved onto the pontoon on the Portuguese side for the weekend, to fill up with water and so Ben can work on the dinghy outboard whilst we won’t need it. Next week we may explore a bit upriver for a change of scene, but I think between these two towns is where most things go on. It really is a fantastic place to spend a few weeks and we’ll look forward to coming back next year.