Saturday, July 9h Portugal.
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 3014.0 (111.6 today)
Location: Camping La Toca da Raposa, Beira Alta, Portugal
Things began to go wrong when I arrived at Toca da Raposa. No sooner had I begun to unpack when I found that my duffel bag has slipped off the rear rack into the wake of the exhaust, causing a load of heat damage, damage: nice hole melted in duffel bag, sleeping bag melted in too many places to live with (it felt like sleeping in a microwave oven incident) and various bits of the airbed welded together, causing a slow puncture that I still can’t find and repair. By some miracle the tent survived intact, curiously the bag that holds the pegs had melted a bit, within the rest if the tent but no damage to the tent itself – I guess the heat was conducted to the pegs and damages whatever they were up against, weird but very, very lucky!
Be that as it may this affected my trip to Portugal. The sleeping bag was a write off so I had to get another, which meant a trip to Decathlon at Coimbra, and it being Saturday there was no option but to go there. I realized that the old N17 national highway was on my planned day tour anyway and I hoped to include it in a round trip taking in the Serra da Estrella – wrong! I headed off into strong sunshine around Toca da Raposa, but soon realised that was just a good patch in a generally lousy day. Even on the Sierra de Gredos I’d been riding in my light suit without the linings, putting up with it being fresh for the first hour or so and then benefiting from its ‘breatheability’ and stupidly didn’t pack these – then it rained . . .
In spite of Joost’s advice about how to find Decathlon, which is on the west, i.e. far side of Coimbra, I managed to get lost in the outskirts – despite having a 2011 Michelin map of Spain and Portugal to hand it really wasn’t adequate for the details. I got a new bag in Decathlon but they didn’t have anything useful to replace the air-bed, which I’d bought on-line from Britain. So I decided to head straight back and attempt to repair the slow, patch the duffel bag, etc. and make a half-day of it, write my blog . . .
Going back I simply stuck to the new highway as far as it went. Apart from not being able to even see the Serra da Estrella for the rain and cloud I was getting pretty fed up with the Portugueses roads and specially the drivers – and this is the main point of today’s blog – more below. In the meantime I found that although the Michelin showed the area as ‘picturesque’ it was far from it, in my humble opinion.
I hate generalizations and am at pains to avoid this while writing about Spain, as I hope readers realize by now. So I’m not saying that ‘Portuguese roads and drivers are terrible’, but just relating how and why my very limited experience of . . .
Firstly the roads: In Spain secondary roads, which I always prefer, can be good bad or sometimes very bad. But in Portugal they are almost universally awful – patches on patches is a good one – holes and more holes was more like the standard. Since its accession to the European Union in 1986 Spain has used it’s fund on improving its transport infrastructure enormously, among a host of other things. Of course Spain’s economy is huge compared with Portugal’s but one can’t help wondering what Portugal has done with its slice of the Euro cake – I’m not getting political, but maybe someone should become The Portuguese Biker and tell us all what’s going on!
Secondly the geography: in almost all of te areas I was in during my time in Portugal the settlement pattern was the same; small villages that straggled along the highway with disperse dwellings rather than urban village ‘centres’. What this means is that the ‘countryside’ is in fact almost entirely urban, no sooner does one village end, and the 50 kph limit with it, that another starts. So your riding never seems to get off the ground so to speak. Obviously in the more remote, wilder regions this is different, but there are few of these and as my trip into the Serra da Estrella was rained off on the Saturday I never had the chance to find out – that’s not Portugals’ fault of course, apart from illustrating just how much the country has an ‘Atlantic’ climate!
Thirdly the drivers: I’ve been agonizing over this more than the other two issues as my opinion is not obviously demonstrable, so I’m trying to be as objective as possible. The number of dangerous incidents that I had during my five days in Portugal was so high I’m convinced it can’t just be my bad luck. Moreover a I heard that a biker whom was to meet later in the tour was knocked off his bike – at Coimbra too as it turns out. By coincidence I was staying at a guest house when I heard this, whose other clients with considerable motoring experience in Portugal corroborated this. The hazards that I particularly noted were: drivers never gave way going onto roundabouts, and they cut you short when overtaking. This included turning off roundabouts in front of you (which I gather was the cause of the biker’s accident). This was not only when drivers tried to squeeze past using a single carriageway but even on duel carriageways, more so in fact as my cruising speed is about 110 kph when the limit is 120, drivers would pass within a foot – that’s about 30 cms! – of my front wheel when returning to the inside lane! This happened so often I almost came to take it for granted.
So as not to end on a low note a few words about Toca da Raposa. As I’ve never been to a biker’s campsite I didn’t know quite what to expect. I rather imagined a sort of clubhouse atmosphere, duke box, bits of bikes hanging from the walls, that sort of thing, oh, and a few bikers! In fact the Toca da Raposa is quite arty; a beautiful restoration of a traditional farmhouse and outbuildings – very much to my taste and in a distinct ‘Continental’ style, as it should be I suppose being Belgian owned! I knew that the site isn’t exclusively geared to bikers and in fact there are two separate plot areas, one for bikes and one for, should I say this, ‘normal’ people! In fact the only other bikers there were a Belgian couple with a de-luxe BMW sidecar outfit who were either traveling with, or had become friendly with, other Belgian campers. So apart from getting a genuine biker’s welcome – duct tape, bed-roll loan and encouragement! – from main-man Roel (hope I got the spelling right) that was about it. Sunday would have changed all that as a lot of bikers were to pass through on their way to the huge meet at Faro, but I decided that this was someone else’s party and that I should move on the next day. I was feeling lost in Portugal and La Toca’s welcome was in danger of becoming too cosy for me to escape its tender trap – highly recommended!