Monday, July 11th Portugal.
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 3545.6 (163.7 today)
Location: Camping Lamas de Minho, Serra da Peneda, Portugal
The camping was right up my street – not a ‘tourist’ type of site at all but set in woodland. There weren’t any plots as such, just follows the paths amongst the trees and find a smooth bit of ground to make camp. There was a perimeter fence, but that was actually needed to prevent the roaming cattle from marauding among the tents. I had seen from the website that it was run by the local council, a mixed blessing, but the managers were obviously 100% experts on the outdoor life and enthusiasts about the park itself. Although the amenities are basic they were OK, certainly for my needs. I was glad to have cut my time at la Toca short and based on what I’d glimpsed the previous evening I decided to stay another night and give the Parque a day to itself. I had no internet and thus no idea what the weather was going to do – troubled waters ahead!
I learned from the manager that the Park is famous for its granite, which is about 310 million years old, and the spectacular formations created by its glacial erosion. Rather less obvious is the vegetation, with some pristine forests of oak species. Tourism is based on outward-bound sports, especially hiking, sightseeing and pilgrimages to the several religious shrines in the area. This area is covered by my 1:400 000 Michelin map of Galicia, as is a large chunk of Northern Portugal, which made planning my trip on Day 13 possible. So I planned a day chugging around the lanes over the tops of the mountains in search of some spectacular passes, views, waterfalls . . . wrong!
Firstly I retraced my steps to Spain in search of cash, coffee and contact with home – where work had mounted up. I stopped to revisit some of the places I’d raced through on the evening before, luckily as it turned out. Popping back into Spain I was reminded once again how much the two countries differ, not only in culture, history language, etc. but in their recent histories. Both joined the EU at the same time and have had, in theory at least, the same slices of the EU cake, proportionate to their size of course. But while Spain has been transformed, as anyone who knew the country since the 1980’s can’t help but notice, Portugal still appears, to me at least, like a third world country, of which I’ve had more than enough experience!
But as I veered back west into Portugal along the N203 to approach the sierra from the south the weather thickened ominously and by the time I reached altitude above Seajo I could hardly see over the handlebars. I found an ‘interpretation’ centre at a key junction and quickly realized that the Parque was busy with day trippers – much more so than the impression I had got at the camping, on the more remote northern flank. As the plan was to go even higher along vertiginous country lanes I had to do a rethink. I’ve already shared my experiences of Portuguese driving on Day 12 and my opinion hadn’t got any better in the meantime – and day trippers are simply ‘normal’ driver but worse of course! So I took an option to head back into the valley routes around the Parque and think again from there. I knew the Minho valley already, very lovely, and had some shopping to do for the evening so had to go that way eventually. A note here, Portuguese shop hours are more usual to us ‘foreigners’ than the Spanish – just over the river here – which does make life easier sometimes!
However once back out of the wild country I was back in ‘Typical Portugal’ again and had a thoroughly unsatisfactory ride around the circumference of the Parque area. By the time I reached Melgaço – a very lovely little town with an even more welcome Intermarche shop! – I was thoroughly p****d-off with Portugal and all I wanted to do was cook a good meal – my first ‘home’ cooking since Gredos, have a nice glass of wine (or two) and plan my jaunt to the Rias Baixas and the end of the Tour de España – Part One!