Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Marvao Chestnut Festival

This annual weekend festival is one of the highlights of the local calendar and as observed last week there had been plenty of planning in anticipation. Gary's site and rooms were busy and up at the town stalls, lighting. stages and marquees were being erected.
However after weeks of  hot sunny weather a low had gathered out west which shrouded the hilltop town in cloud and brought cold winds and blustery showers and deterred me from visiting on the Saturday.
However Sunday dawned bright and clear so after attending to the various animals and giving the dogs a good walk I hopped on the bike and took the back road up to town. Cars were parked in every available space on the approaches as the GNR were limiting access as busses were laid on for the twisty access road but I was waved through and was soon locking my bike up outside the convent.
The town was bustling with life - not something I have seen on previous evening visits - as visitors explored the narrow streets, watched bands and displays in the sunny squares and consumed pounds of chestnuts cooked en masse in half oil drums giving off a heavenly aroma. Below the castle chickens were being barbecued and a host of stalls selling cheese, wine, olive oil, craft products lined the town walls.
Everyone was in good spirits and I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and watching the performances. Two young jugglers took centre stage in the main marquee and deservedly received much applause from the crowd.

As I was leaving I saw one of the cleverest acts I have seen in the shape of a seemingly elderly couple wandering through the streets greeting all and sundry. A young lad in a wheelchair was absolutely entranced and they took the time to pose for pictures with him and his family before heading off in to the crowds jabbering away.

Downhill all the way made for a rapid return to the quinta where all was well and arrangements were made to collect Yolande on her return this week.

Yesterday  Colleen and I headed across to Spain for the weekly market in Valencia D'Alcantara where we bought various fruit, veg, cheeses and some fabric - a new throw for the van seat for me and curtain material for her. After a decent coffee in the square we returned to finish sorting out the house and garden whilst Anna added the final touches to the walls and steps she has built during the last fortnight. She had made a delicious tortilla from the eggs that arrive at the rate of 8 or 9 a day here which we all enjoyed in the sun but last night saw prolonged and torrential rain which will no doubt encourage the fire salamanders out once more.

However as always the van provided a warm and cosy environment and I settled in to watch a couple of films having assisted Colleen in catching up with emails etc. as unfortunately she had dropped her laptop and the hard drive could be heard creaking ominously.

Anyway having not moved far this last week there are no Spots but a flavour of the Chestnut Festival can be found HERE

I will probably head away for a couple of days on Friday before returning here on Sunday as I intend to leave my bike, the generator and laptop here for safety as the van will be in Lisbon's airport parking for almost 4 weeks - my return to the UK being scheduled for the 18th.

There is a chance of a return to Oz next summer for an extended off road tour of the outback passing through Alice Springs once more but using the old outback trails that even the trusty bus would struggle with - here is a flavour of what we might expect .....................

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Still sitting - sitting still .............

So here I am still based on a small quinta in the Sao Mamede National Park beneath the towering rock outcrop that gives Marvao its panoramic views.

An easy routine has been adopted by Colleen, myself and all the animals and 3 weeks has passed surprisingly quickly, helped of course by almost unbroken sunshine.
The day starts with the 5 dogs being let out and the donkeys and sheep receiving some hay - fed in this part of the world to overcome the scorching summer rather than a bare winter. The geese and other poultry then receive their rations and I take the dogs down to the enchanting farm ruin being restored further down the track - usually accompanied by 2/3 of the  cats. Various local people arrive during the day to attend to a number of tasks - Anna is building stone walls, Monique is finishing a traditional chimney, Carlos is constructing a wood shed and Raffie and David are fitting in extensive fencing work around their college studies.

I have done a number of odd jobs, read extensively and been out for a spin on the bike a few times but largely stay on site with my scanning in of several hundred slides from 3 decades ago almost complete - it has been good to reawaken old memories of India, Nepal and the heyday of my caving enthusiasm.

An evening up to Marvao to capture the sunset culminated in the discovery of a flat battery which my jumpstart pack overcame but seriously dim lights on the return along narrow and unfamiliar lanes indicated an alternator problem. This was confirmed the following morning with my multimeter so the defective item was removed and I presented myself at a car parts store in Portalegre where despite the language barrier it was fairly obvious what was required. A new one was ordered with delivery after the weekend so I returned to the quinta via the supermarket as I was not keen to use the pool car more than necessary so stocked up with supplies. I put the battery on a 48 hour charge as it had obviously been missing out - probably from somewhere in Spain a couple of weeks ago - and it seems to have recovered well.

On the Monday Colleen's cat required a trip to the same vet that we had taken the Westie to as she had an inflamed leg following an altercation with one of the resident cats. A good hour's attention plus anaesthesia, medication and follow up blood test amounted to £40 - a fraction of the cost in the UK and we had time to collect the new alternator which had confounded my expectations by turning up as promised at the store. On a foul night with strong winds and heavy rain we returned to base and were both soon tucked way as the heavens emptied.
Tuesday however dawned bright and sunny and after the livestock routine I soon had the alternator installed and all was working well - the old one had been fitted in 2009 prior to the Oz/NZ trip and had needed a repair in Melbourne which had never been quite right but anyway I guess 120,000 miles is not too bad.

Today has seen me out on the bike for 5 hours as it was a cloudless sky and the temperatures hovered in the early twenties whilst the sun was up but soon fell away after dusk. The empty roads, stunning scenery and friendly locals made for a memorable day and affirmed my feeling that the Alentejo is one of the most appealing parts of Portugal which in itself is a very rewarding country to explore.
Thus the final week here begins of which the highlight will be the weekend Chestnut (Castanhas) Festival in Marvao which draws in huge crowds - up in the town there was a lot of preparatory work underway and if the weather holds it should be a memorable event so return to this spot for an update early next week.

Talking of spots I have not moved very far over the last 3 weeks but the odd foray is recorded HERE and this post's piccies lurk HERE

It seems odd that in two weeks time I will be back in the UK and four weeks after that I will be back here again..........but it will be good to catch up with family and friends and enjoy a Guiness or two