Portugal part 1 (Olhao, Tavira, Fuzeta, Pego de Inferno)

We volunteered in Portugal at RIAS, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Algarve:

Day 34 – April 3rd – El Rocio-Olhao
Left el Rocio in the morning, drove through Matalascana and the coast but didn’t see much of the dunes. Then drove into Portugal, which has a funny motorway system whereby they link your number plate to your credit card and then charge you with cameras. An easy, short drive to Olhao. Arrived around noon, went to see Rias inside park straight away. Met Maria who showed us around all animals and people quite quickly, then went for lunch to restaurant just outside: good fish and chocos com favas (cuttlefish). After lunch got a cheap bungalow at campsite and moved in. Spent what little was left of the day at supermarket for some food shopping, had pasta for dinner at ‘home’.

Olhao harbour

Olhao harbour

Day 35 – April 4th – Olhao for a while
Morning Manu at Rias. Cleaning day; spent most of the time cleaning bird poo from cages then cleaning, feeding and selecting mice.
Afternoon in Olhao town, tourist office closed so walked around in a lot of rain. Went to see the boat pier for ferry to islands.

Day 36 – April 5th
Morning we went to Rias together to see release of some baby terrapins into the lake, Fi stayed on to see animals kept inside, then we came back all together to campsite.
Spent the afternoon in Tavira looking for rental bikes, got a super deal so we got them for 15 days. Then we wandered around Tavira a bit, over the bridges, by the river, very chilly wind so Manu taught G+S a new running game (trying to run past a ‘guardian’) which we played in the square to warm up!

Day 37 – April 6th
Bikes were delivered at campsite in the morning, so off we went into Olhao town to market, Fi’s in her element. Saw lots of fish, mostly from NE Atlantic though, nice vegetables, lavender and orange honey, stalls selling cakes and freshly cooked churro-type doughuts, also baby ducks (live) and little birds. Stalls are very small, and stallholders are mostly aged farmers, a lot of the people that pass stop for a chat and to inspect the vegetables. Almost everything is very cheap. Kids played on playground, we check boat timetable for Farol island but decide to go there tomorrow. Stopped for lunch at restaurant on seafront, faijoada(beans) with mixed meat, bean soup, chocos com batatas(squid with potatoes), all very good but somewhat heavy. The whole meal is huge and costs about 20E, after which we wobble sleepily back home on our bikes.  Afternoon around campsite playground.

Day 38 – April 7th
Morning spent washing clothes (washing machine!!). G + S stay with Manu at playground – Giugiu did some super training by running after Manu and Sofia on the bike!
In the afternoon we had planned to take the boat to Farol island, but sun went missing so we opted for a bike ride to Fuzeta (9km) through Ria Formosa park.  Lovely ride along small roads, led by GPS, then on smooth cycle path between railroad track and coastal lagoon, saw lots of stilts. In Fuzeta we had a short walk on the beach, chilly wind, sun gone. Later we heard that it’s a good spot for snorkelling – when the tide is in. When we were there the tide was very low, some people collecting shells on shore. We stop quickly on the way back to have a listen to a live rock band in main square. The sun’s dropping fast so we pedal faster to get back. We’re starving when we arrive, so dinner at same restaurant from first day; soup, grilled fish and pudding for 2, owners family are eating dinner, familiar feeling, supercheap bill, a good night.


Family on the beach


Fuzeta at low tide

Day 39 – April 8th
Morning Manu went to Olhao with Giu and Sofia to find a school for them. Drove around all morning, found a couple that would take them including one home nursery. Also went to see the pool. Fiona spent morning catching gulls at RIAS.
Afternoon we all pedal back to school for enrollment then on to the municipal pool.  In the end we got a discount so 2 weeks for both of them together cost us 200€ at Minha Casinha nursery. Pool very hot, lots of kids taking classes, 3 pools, one small shallow, one 25m where Manu swam a bit, and one decent jacuzzi so Fiona was happy too. Very new, nice, cheap pool.

Day 40 – April 9th
Morning 1st day of school for G+S: Giulia’s class went to the pool, so she was excited.  They both went inside without any fuss.
Fi + Manu went to Rias together, fed owls, gulls, terrapins and painted.
Picked up Giugiu and Sofia from school on bikes, apparently Sofia cried a bit when Giulia left to go to pool, but otherwise all ok.  Afternoon around campsite, playing climbing and ‘shop’ at the camp playground. Fish soup for dinner with good Vinho verde.

Some more RIAS inmates:

Day 41 – April 10th
Morning took them to school on bikes, then bumped into Fabia on way back from school, who invited us to do some gardening for the project at the Ecoteca by the campsite. So we spent the morning digging and moving soil, then planting baby tomato plants.
Afternoon Manu went to pool, rest of family to playground. A little rain, but warm weather. Nice port wine Lagrima with ice cream for dinner.

Day 42 – April 11th
Morning we cycle kids to school, then Fi goes to Rias to do some more painting while Manu stays home to update blog. When Manu picks kids up from school they look happier than previous days, getting used to it or just because the rain stopped and the sun is finally shining?

Day 43 – April 12th

Giugiu is sick all night, she threw up quite a few times. Then she sleeps the whole morning, gets up late but ok, obviously no school today! Manu goes to Rias to finish painting the wall inside, which occupies all morning. Afternoon we all sleep late so we miss planting some more tomatoes in Rias’ allotment for their vegetable garden at Ecoteca. Manu joins part of a workshop that RIAS have organised, on wildlife rehabilitation: Two solid hours in which he learns a lot about Portuguese wildlife, identification, causes of illness and injury, rehabilitation, diet and a lot of Portuguese language.

Day 44 – April 13th
Morning we go again to the Saturday market in Olhao to buy honey, fruit and veggies. Giu and Sofia play in playground. Then Manu goes to pool for a swim while rest go to supermarket. First really hot day. Go back to seafront for lunch, cataplana de bacalhao, it’s huge and sauce very yummy. Doggy bag. Afternoon kids get up late, we go to Pego de Inferno, which is closed to the public because bridge burned down. It’s still possible to see the small waterfall from the top. Manu climbs down and takes some pics. Play in full bloom meadow. Lots of orange and lemon orchards on the way, some mountains. Consider that it’s very slow paced here, in a good sense, but what do we really know? Dinner cataplana juice with rice, yummy.

Andalucia (Algeciras to El Rocio)

Day 27 – March 27 – Tangiers–Conil de la Frontera (Spain) *Ferry
We leave Morocco
Pack our stuff up, pay last guardien (we hope), last juice, then we’re driving to Tangier Med ferry port, 1hour from city. Queues, customs, passports, car xrayed, more queues, slowest unloading and loading of a ferry we’ve ever seen. There’s not even many cars but it takes forever to get on, so we eat our lunch in the car while we wait. Finally we’re on, but it takes another hour to finish loading. The boat leaves late, crossing is fast and soon we see Gibraltar. Then we land: Algeciras, we’re in Spain. Getting off is much quicker than we expect given the performance at the other end. A bit of dog sniffing and a cursory passport check and we’re free to go! Drive to Conil, about another hour but it passes quick. Fried baby squids and anchovies for tea, very good.

Day 28 – March 28th – Conil–Puerto de Santa Maria
We eat a lot of seafood and see the Nazarenos
Quick play at the kiddies playpark nearby, set off, short drive to Puerto de Santa Maria. Stop in town centre for lunch, good tapas, more seafood. Takes us a while to find hotel, it’s a bit out and hidden. Sleep, we’re all knackered. Afternoon we go briefly to beach, then to centre. It’s already late, Good Friday, the town is full of people. We go to Romajeros, famous restaurant, its ok but not that great. On our way back to the car we catch the end of one of the easter parades, spooky purple hooded figures with huge candles. We don’t know what the costumes symbolise but it is quite atmospheric. Streets are really crowded now, we get through the worst and Fi goes to bring car closer, it’s very late, girls are tired, Manus’ leg still bad. Finally to bed, after midnight.

Day 29 – March 29th – Puerto de Santa Maria
On which we picnic and play
We all sleep late. Giulia wakes up saying she feels ill, she looks funny too, we’re a bit worried. Fi + Sofia go to try find a supermarket, eating out all the time is proving expensive now we’re not in Morocco anymore! We find one, stock up, get back, Giu’s feeling better and she + Manu have gone to beach, we join them. Play a bit on the kids games, nice picnic lunch at tables behind beach, home to sleep again. Evening we go back to town centre, kids have a go on trampolines, we get some freshly made crisps (they’re everywhere, seems to be a local thing) and dinner again at Romanjeros – fiddly crab that annoys Manu, some prawns, bottarga. its not great, again.

Day 30 – March 30th – Puerto–Cordoba
We visit Cadiz

Cadiz in the morning. nice, kids are a bit crazy so we all start in a bad mood. The spiralling walk up the tower calms them down a bit, great view from the top, picnic in plaza, longish drive to Cordoba. We see PS10 solar plant as we go, Fi excited, Manu less so. Cordoba a bit confusing, we find the apartments but have to park the car very far away, pasta finally, out for walk/ice cream after; bad idea, kids are too tired. We come back through the Mesquita gardens, its open for Easter midnight mass, people are already queueing at 10pm. The light is beautiful tonight but Sofia is screaming, so we don’t stop.

Top of the church tower

Top of the church tower

Cadiz panorama

Cadiz panorama


Day 31 – March 31st – Cordoba
On which we get rather wet trying to “do” Cordoba

Rain, sleep late again, clocks have changed, quick walk around in morning, Roman bridge, get pretty wet. Lunch out, we try Rabo de Toro (ox tail stew) and Salmorejo (cordoban gazpacho), two Cordoban specialities. Our verdict: not really worth getting again! Mesquita closed in afternoon by time we get there, it rains harder, we get really soaked this time, home bedraggled for a warm bath, dinner, bed.

Day 32 – April 1st – Cordoba-El Rocio
On which we go back in time

Finally get to the Mezquita in the morning! Need a long time to fetch the car so by the time we’re ready to go its already lunchtime, we stop quickly near apartment then set off. Arrive in El Rocio around 5ish, a ghost town from a western movie, sand streets full of holes, the occasional horse. Another hard to find hotel but we get there, drop our stuff and make it to the park info centre with enough time before dark to have a decent walk, some birdspotting (glossy ibis and spoonbill), back to hotel for picnic tea.

Day 33 – April 2nd El Rocio
On which we go birdspotting

Excursion morning, very cool. An extremely bouncy bus! We saw flamingos, lots of glossy ibis, egrets, herons, including squacco, night and purple, plus some more. Guide said he saw a lynx but Manu is skeptical – no one else on the bus saw it. Lunch by marisma in El Rocio town with tapas, good. Afternoon at another visitors centre, little walk around wooden paths and hides (hoopoe). Dinner of egg + chips at sad and expensive place in El Rocio.

Tangiers, or the limit

Is your mouth big enough?

Is your mouth big enough?

Day 25 – March 25th – Tangiers
A day of rest.
Kids are up early, but we have no breakfast stuff and shops still closed. So out to a cafe, pancakes for breakfast. Walk around medina and soccos, Manu excited because he’s reading a book set here. A sunny rest to admire the view in bellavista park, lunch, sleep, a slow afternoon writing some postcards. After dark a long walk to Grand Socco for dinner.

Day 26 – March 26th – Tangiers
On which we visit Capes and Caves.
Go to see both capes: Spartel and Malabata. First the famous cave, full of stalls selling everything, including marble sinks. We wonder briefly who would buy a sink in a cave, and also, how they would get it home. Then we drive to other end of the bay, Cape Malabata, which on the first pass we somehow miss. It’s nice, we stop for a picnic/takeaway: sarnies and sweet mint tea, too many bees to be very relaxing though. Home again, finish our postcards, early bed.

Beyond, the unknown

Beyond, the unknown

Tidy capital (Ouzoud to Rabat/Sale)

Day 22 – March 22nd – Ouzoud – Rabat
On which we have a very exciting morning.

The night was a little chilly and humid. We’re woken in the morning by some loud thumps on the tent roof: assume it’s the cats we saw around last night. A few thumps later Fi goes to look – it’s a troop of Barbary apes, sitting on a tree right behind the tent, munching fig leaves. We quickly get dressed, but by then they are much farther away. Sofia is awake so we scoop her up to come and see, she’s pretty excited. Giulia as usual sleeps through anything, by the time she wakes up the troop is on the other side of the river, but still visible. The kids watch for a while, screaming ‘MEGA SALTO!!’ excitedly every time one of the apes jumps to another tree. Highly entertaining.

Excitement over, we go with rumbling tummies to see if Rachid is awake, hoping for some breakfast, and more importantly some hot sweet Moroccan tea; it’s still early, cold and very humid. As we’re eating breakfast, we’re joined by a particularly daring macaque, who eventually comes to steal the breakfast leftovers from the table. After breakfast we go for a short walk downstream, but stop when we come to a rather precarious bridge. Doesn’t stop Manu posing for a quick photo though! Then back up the hill with the trusty mule just as the sun starts to break through the mist. Both Giulia and Sofia ride this time. As we’re going up the kids start to copy Rachids’ tongue clicks to the mule, so he gives us a quick lesson in equine communication – ‘click click’ to go and ‘shhh’ to stop. We’re back at car and ready to go, feels like we’ve already done a whole day but it’s only mid morning. Stunning drive as we set off, gorge, kasbah, turns into fields with the occasional poppy outbreak. Stop in a smallish town for some fast lunch at a rotisserie place, onwards we go, kids fall asleep quickly after lunch, but wake up, bored of sitting in the car, with about an hour to go before we reach Rabat. Sunshine of the morning turns to mist and then rain as we approach the capital, Rabat’s a bit disorienting and seems like a huge contrast to what was quite a friendly atmosphere in Ouzoud. Triple rooms are hard to find, the one we do finally get is ok but a bit depressing. Into the medina for some dinner, then to bed.

On the way to Rabat

On the way to Rabat

Day 23 – March 23rd – Rabat/Salè
On which we finally get a tagine.

We head to nearby Salé – famous mostly for it’s notorious history as a pirate town – for the morning. Light rain turns heavier as we walk around the medina, which is tiny crowded streets; even the ‘main’ ones. We’ve been in many medinas and souks like this one but today it feels really overwhelming, Manu takes over navigation, we’re a bit lost but eventually find our way out the other side, overlooking the beach and Rabat on the other side of the estuary. The sun starts to come out, we all start to feel a bit better. We climb onto the city wall and start to walk, there were steps to get up so we assume there’ll be a way down later on. In fact there isn’t, we have to jump down and make our way through the overgrown cemetery, then walk all around the medina back to the car. A stop for juice and egg sarnies, then we try to find the ‘best pottery’ mentioned in our rough guide, Fi’s been wanting a tagine since we got off the boat in Nador. We find it, the heavens open, Fi gets her wish, and her tagine and we go back. The afternoon we walk through Rabats’ medina to the kasbah, it’s dark by the we get there though, so we can’t see much. A quick look from the terrasse, then we ponder how to get back. Manu’s leg is sore, but there’s a dearth of taxis so we take the shortest route back through the medina and take a taxi from there. Pizza for dinner, the kids are pleased. For once we are not the only family in the restaurant, obviously Saturday night pizza is not just an Italian tradition.

Day 24 – March 24th – Rabat–Tangiers
On which we see some sights and drive a lot.
We’re happy to leave Rabat. First stop at the Chellah, very cool, storks are everywhere. We take it easy, spend the morning there in the sun with a lot of French kids and a lot of tourists. Stop for bank, lunch, juices, toilet then off we go. Get lost coming through Salé, end up on a bad slow road for a while, finally we get onto the highway with frayed tempers. It’s a long journey, no stops, finally arrive in Tangiers just as the sun is setting.

Marrakech and the great waterfalls (Marrakech + Ouzoud)

Day 19 – 19th of March – El Jadida–Marrakech
On which we arrive in Marrakech.

Long day, mostly in the car, about 5 hours driving to get to Marrakech. Quick lunch stop in Safi, where we get charged extortionate amounts for some fried sardines. So we’re all in quite a bad mood after lunch, kids sleep and drive seems neverending but the scenery is very nice; pisé villages and the atlas mountains eventually visible.  Finally we make it to Marrakech. Now to find 1) somewhere to park and 2) a hotel. Roads a bit crazy, we want to stay close to the Djamaa el Fna so we’re right in the middle of the crazyness.  We park and go in search of a wifi cafe, Manu goes to check out some of the places we find on booking.com. We find  a nice riad, price very reasonable, soon discover why as it’s right next to the minaret of the neighbouring mosque! Dinner in the Djamaa, there’s too much choice and a lot of touts so we just go to a harira stall and have hariraa(thick soup with pasta) and boiled eggs, then Manu takes us over to another stall to try a super-spicy tea he’s been talking about. Fi likes it, G+S are not so keen although they like the little cakes that come with it. We also finally try a pastilla – sweet chicken pie – although only Fi really likes it.

Day 20 – March 20th – Marrakech
On which we ‘do’ Marrakech.

Apart from bad sleep – woken again by prayer call at 5am – we’re in a good mood, nice breakfast at riad and morning in the El Badi palace. It’s very cool, huge, thick, ruined pisé walls, storks nesting and flying around. Much hotter here than any of the other places we’ve stayed so far, we can’t imagine what summer must be like. A bit of hide and seek on the terrasse of the palace, but soon we’re sweating, tired and seeking the shade. Feels like a long walk back, we missed the tombs because kids already seem tired. Look for a sarnie place for lunch but nowhere looks appealing, finally we stop at a cafe with a roof terrasse, food is quite bad but at least it’s shady, there’s a breeze, and semi decent view.  Afternoon we go to Koutoubia tower, play a little in the gardens behind, listen to the call to prayer. evening in the Djamaa again, we missed the jugglers, but find some storytellers and have a look around the souks a bit. We’re a bit more practiced at deflecting the restaurant touts and opt for the stall selling sheeps heads! Tanjia, tongue, soup etc, its pretty good and we’re happy.

Day 21 – March 21st – Marrakech–Ouzoud
On which we suspend our suspicions, and it pays off.

Another bad nights sleep, we can’t figure out why. Maybe its the famous Moroccan djinns?  Today we leave Marrakech and head to Ouzoud, another few hours in the car. The scenery is very cool, sun is shining hot along the way but the (main) road is narrow and holey; not a very relaxing drive. Sofia scoffs bread and olives for the first half of the drive – predictably is sick – we have to stop to change her clothes and clean the car as best we can. Arrive in Ouzoud in time for a quick walk to see ‘the’ waterfall and a pretty decent tagine for lunch. Then we go to meet our new friend from the car park who has managed to win Manu over, we decide to stay at his campsite – which he promises has a great view, although it’s going to take us about 20mins with the help of his mule to get there! We decide to go with it, he takes us first to his house to park the car, and load up the mule. We’re only staying one night so should be quite light, but somehow our stuff always seems to multiply! Sofia, Rachid, most of the bags and some fizzy drinks for their bar go on the mule, and off we go. The path winds downhill through olive groves, it looks a lot like Greece.  The walk is not hard, a little steep in places but we’re soon down, and as promised there’s a fantastic view of the waterfall, accompanied by a great roar from the falling water.  Tonight we can have a berber-type tent or a mudhut. The tent is very spacious, and the hut seems humid so we go for the tent. The kids are already excited, we quickly drink a tea because we want to walk to the waterfall before dark, the sun’s already disappearing.  We catch the last boatman, who agrees to take us on a quick tour of the main pool, spray is like rain and it’s not long before we’re all pretty soaked, but somehow the boatman doesn’t seem at all wet. Back to the campsite quickly, Manu has pre-ordered dinner, 3 berber omlettes cooked by Rachid’s sister: mince and vegetables in a tagine topped with eggs. It’s hot, and good, we eat quickly, the kids are very tired as we skipped siesta today.  Decide to get up early in the hope of seeing some Barbary apes.

The Atlantic ocean (El Jadida)

Day 14 – 14th of March – El Jadida
On which we walk on the Portugese Walls.

Cereals for breakfast, how homey.
We go to the Citè Portugaise for a morning stroll. Like it very much, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing. The walk around the walls is great. We pay the apartment bill.
Then we get out for some juice, four mega glasses of freshly squeezed orange. Then lunch with pulses, lentils beans and chickpeas at the local ‘fast food’. We get home and there’s no power, they were supposed to work on it and fix it in the morning. I call the agent, he’s going to fix it.
Siesta, still no power after yogurt merenda. We walk to the park, have a play around the public fitness machines, watch moroccan kids play football. Play on the tree trunks, look at the sea until it gets dark and we have been beaten by the wind enough. Just the time for Giugiu and Sofia to be kissed by some little kids then home. Where there is still no power, another call, another ‘yes yes I’ll fix it’. We start packing our stuff in the dark ready to leave, we’re done in 15 minutes at which point the electrician rings me to get in the main building door, fiddles some cables producing bright sparks and fixes it. Then 20 minutes later another electrician comes, says he needs to fix something but he doesn’t really know what, cuts our power again for 5 minutes, then leaves it alone. Rice for dinner, then bed.

Day 15 – 15th of March – El Jadida/Azemmour
On which we discover the beach.

Get up late, take it easy. Sun is out, we decide to go to Azemmour, just North of where we are along the coast. It looks like a summer beach resort, shut down. The road turns into a dirt sandy track, so we stop. Stoney beach, brown sea. Very brown. The river mouth is further along, maybe that’s why it’s so brown? Play on the beach then go find Azemmour’s medina. Walk around it for a long time, it’s small but we manage to get lost. It’s midday, hot, we see the river from above on the medina’s edge, very cool, the mellah, go back for lunch at the only restaurant we have seen around. They’re showing small people circling a big black block on the flat screen, we realise it’s Friday.
Get home exhausted, very warm, and have late, long siesta. Quiet afternoon in, Fi goes to do emails and we play puzzles then Giugiu and Sofia have a bath. Spaghetti al sugo for dinner.

Day 16 – 16th of March – El Jadida
On which we go to the beach again.

Go south of El Jadida to another beach. Nice beach, and nice day, sunny, no wind. Place feels european, women without headscarves, even couples holding hands.
Kids excited by the presence of sea-puddles on the beach and ignore our warnings not to splash and proceed to get soaked. We didn’t bring any spare clothes so divide between them whatever clothes didn’t get wet!
Lunch at fancy-ish seafood restaurant, which is nice but quite expensive.
Manu spots nice cove after lunch where he thinks would be good swimming, too late for today. in afternoon we go to nearby town park, which is packed full of families and kids playing, plus balloon sellers etc. its warm, and seems like the whole town is out for a Saturday afternoon stroll. we play hide and seek around some trees and very soon a couple of other kids want to join in too. Giulia + Sofia still haven’t grasped the concept of hiding very well but we have fun anyway.

Day 17th – 17th of March – El Jadida
On which nothing terribly exciting happens.

Return to nice beach of yesterday in hope of swimming but no luck, today is windy and despite the sun feels chilly. We sit on the beach a bit and the kids play again, we find some shells to add to our growing shell + rock collection in the car. Cheaper lunch at fried fish place near port in El Jad. Today is also nanas’ birthday, so in the afternoon we look for a cafe with wifi so we can skype. Unfortunately we don’t choose very well and the connection isn’t great, but we manage a quick call. Fi + kids go to ‘park of yesterday’ to play a bit but its soon dark, so home for dinner and bed.

Day 18 – 18th of March – El Jadida
On which we don’t leave.

Had planned to leave for Marrakech today but Fi sick overnight again, tired and can’t face the journey, so we stay one more night. Fi sleeps the morning, Manu + girls return to our new favourite place, the park! Chicken + rice for lunch. Afternoon go for a little walk around the Portugese cite, we want to go up on the walls again but they’re locked, we wander around the old streets and the grand mosque but Fiona still feels ill so we don’t get far and return home quickly.