South of Ourense – Braga, then through Porto

Ourense, through Braga, to the coast and on to Porto – about 200 miles

Rode back along the tiny forest path onto the road towards Portugal. Took it nice and easy, enjoying the sunshine and the relative morning cool – we weren’t planning to ride far that day. Stopped in Bande for a few groceries and then found the post office to get some stamps for the cards I had written the night before.

A couple of ladies stood outside the post office door looking like they were waiting for it to open up. They congratulated me on my pink hair – “Naturale!” – we all laughed. They only spoke spanish to us and one remembered some school english. It was Monday, but as it turned out that day was another Fiesta, so the post office wouldn’t open. (What were they queuing up outside the door for then?!?) The nearest postie was 12km back the way we came. I had seen it as we rode past, and it had looked distinctly closed. Oh well, off to Portugal then!

Stopped by the side of the road to make some fresh coffee. (Well, Aidan brewed the coffee while I was watching ants carry huge pieces of debris across the road. One ant carried a seed three times its size and kept veering off to the right until he got lost. Then some others started following him and also got lost! – Fascinating stuff! πŸ™‚ )

The road was sweeping in relaxed bends along the mountain side and across rivers. This time we actually realised when we reached the border (we had totally missed the one between France & Spain). But our glorious look-where-we-are!-stand-under-the-road-sign picture was somewhat ruined by the graffiti someone had sprayed on the sign. The roads across the border immediately got much harder to ride, with tighter bends and everyone doing about twice the speed limit!

Stopped at a water fountain to replenish supplies. In this heat we were drinking several litres a day and then we needed a little bit for cooking and washing in the evenings too. So this time I filled up the second foldable water bag we had, and strapped it to the top of my pannier. Aidan had been carrying one most days already. I don’t know how he hadn’t complained about it yet – they are HORRIBLE!!! To ride with that is. The water sloshes around, tearing the soft bag this way and that. In turn this moves the whole bike and makes it really hard to handle, especially when you are swinging from tight bend to tight bend. Lesson learned! We are taking a hard water container on the big trip!

The roads carried on winding in tight bends along the mountain side and I was really struggling with the sloshing water bag. But hey, it was sunny, hot and beautiful riding through village after village so I just decided to make the best of it. My visor was slightly open to let the cool air in (but not open enough for all the bugs and mozzies to smash on my glasses) and I was busy trying to keep up with Aidan, who seemed unphased by his sloshy water bag.

BANG!! A bee flew into my visor and is now sitting all bedazzled on the chin guard of the helmet. And then it crawls into my helmet and starts flying around 1cm from my eyes!!! BEEEEEE! I mean BEND!!! Almost missed the bend in the road heading straight for someone’s front gate. BRAKE! …. lean! LEAN some more! Phew….. pull over…. where is the bee? Its fallen down into my slightly open Jacket straight into my cleavage. Dirty bastard! Get OUT! I’ve finally come to a stop by the side of the road and the bee drunkenly crawls out of my jacket and flies off. That was lucky! Time to catch up with Aidan who’s waiting round the next corner wondering what’s taking me so long. (If this sounds familiar to you, yes, Lois Pryce also had a bee-moment too.)

In Braga we parked up the bikes outside a house where the residents had said it was ok to park. Being used to parking only in parking spaces, we had found some, but you had to pay and the free motorcycle ones had been taken up….. The walk into town revealed that most bikes are simply parked on the pavement. As long as its not ridiculously in the way, no-one seems to mind. So from then on we did the same πŸ™‚

Braga is beautiful! Lots of old buildings, covered entirely with 70’s wallpaper style patterned tiles, in various states of repair.

We headed for the somewhat touristy central square and splashed out on a huge beer and meal sitting outside at a restaurant. Aidan had portuguese style thinly battered cod with fried potato and I had yummy purple squid with potato and spinach. Feast! Not to forget the huge ice creams that followed of course πŸ™‚ We were sat next to a fountain and every time the wind blew our way, we had a light shower in the water mist. Real nice on such a hot day, except it diluted the ice cream!

Afterwards we decided to explore the town on foot to try and find a post office once again. Of course we misunderstood the spanish directions from the post card vendor’s daughterΒ  and her mum’s fingers pointing in all sorts of directions. Even the little drawing from another woman didn’t help. We had left the helmets and the leather jackets on the bikes, but the bike boots and jeans had us getting hot and bothered. We soon got really irritated trying to find the damn post office and our exploration just wasn’t much fun anymore.Β  So we just gave up and headed back to the bikes.

We really wanted to just sit in the cool shade of a parasol and drink ice-cold beer. But we had to find a place to sleep, so we left town in search for a camping spot. Whoever had told Aidan that Portugal is sparsely populated, was seriously mistaken! Well, in this area anyways. Village after village popped up along the road, often merging into each other, making for miles and miles of roadside settlement with no lonely spots to pitch a tent in sight! Eventually Aidan spotted a small path next to someone’s house, leading into a tiny square of forest. It split in two and the right hand one led to the perfect little camping spot under the trees.

We unpacked the bikes and set up camp still all grumpy and overheated. Aidan solved this by opening a really hot can of beer that had been boiling in his luggage since the supermarket this morning, while I swapped jeans and boots for hotpants and flipflops and used one of the panniers to do the laundry in.Β 

Housewifing done and sufficiently calmed down, we wandered up the road with a bottle of wine, see if we could find the ice-cold beer we had been craving. Stashed the wine and went into the first bar we saw.Β  90 cents a half pint? Bring it on! I’m suddenly up for a pub…. er, I mean bar crawl πŸ™‚

Everyone seems to be scooting around on those awesome little bikes and a couple of guys came and went, riding up to their mates, having a beer and then riding on.

We decided to explore some more of the village. So fetched our wine bottle from its hiding place and walked down the road. Quite scary, as there areΒ  mostly no pavements and cars just zoom past without slowing down for anything. So you find yourself jumping into ditches or pressed against someone’s garden wall a lot.

There wasn’t much to see, so we popped into another bar. I did the usual british thing and walked up to the bar and bought a beer. The second time the bar tender thought he’d teach me the portuguese way and refused payment. Then the penny dropped. You just keep drinking as beers are brought to your table and then you pay at the end before you leave. That would never happen in London! I liked this relaxed attitude πŸ™‚

As I sat down, I knocked the flimsy plastic table and spilled lots of beer. So I had to get up again to fetch some napkins from inside. Aidan took the piss out of me endlessly. Then he got up and knocked the table so hard, my beer fell over! HAHA! πŸ™‚ Who is drunk now?!? We spent the rest of the evening discussing the bikes and our riding styles, and how I could improve my cornering. Aidan was lots better at it than me. Finally it was time to stumble back to the tent and pass out.

The next morning we slept in and only crawled out of the tent when the sun had turned it into an oven.

Icebear was rearing to go, as he didn't have a massive hang over to deal with ;)

Didn’t bother making coffee. Just drank what was left in our thermos. It’s a really good one, so the coffee was still warm πŸ™‚ Some squashed bread and peanut butter sandwiches later, we packed up and headed straight for the beach in Esposende. Being the Atlantic coast, it was quite cool. But we grabbed our swimming clothes and jumped into the water head and all anyways. It was too cold to stay there long, so we just lay on the beach, reading our books. Eventually that got cold too, as my wet bikini felt like ice, so I put my bike jacket over it, looking just a little bit silly πŸ™‚

As the beach filled up with tourists, we grabbed our shampoo and had a shower under those wash-the-sea-salt-off-your-skin-when-you-leave-the-beach showers. Bit odd standing on the beach in full view of everyone, having a shower, but no-one seemed to mind too much. And yes, we left our bikini/swimming trunks on of course! Was sooooo good to be all clean again πŸ™‚ We munched some biscuits while our stuff was drying in the sunshine and then packed up and headed into Porto.

The idea was to whizz though the city and find a camping spot on the other side. Daniel had said Porto was well worth a visit, so we wanted to return the next day and have a look around.Β  But we got hopelessly lost and ended up riding in circles. Daniel’s friends told us later, that they would not attempt going to Porto without a sat-nav! Aidan got more and more pissed off and did a kamikaze left turn across three lanes into a petrol station, with me in hot pursuit. We checked the maps on Aidan’s phone and set off, only to get lost three minutes later. All we wanted to do was to leave the city eastwards, but the roads kept taking unexpected turns south and then west! But Porto just wouldn’t let us leave! We got more and more frustrated! Every time we thought we were heading east, a sign was telling us we were heading towards “Centro” again!

It was Jinxed! So Aidan just gave up and told me to lead us the hell out of there. So I turned down the one road that didn’t say “Centro” leading north. Ignoring the first road east, we ended up on the second turn eastwards – which promptly turned into the A1 SOUTH towards Lisbon (See what I mean?!?). I thought what the hell, we need to go south eventually anyways, so I just gunned it. We continued to ignore the exits until we had well and truly left the city, then we left the motorway and rode down the N1. I pulled over and apologised to Aidan for going south, not east. Tuns out we weren’t far off from where we had wanted to go. But most importantly: we escaped!!!

Finding camping was not easy that evening. Village seemed to melt into village and every little clearing and mountainside seems to be either occupied or farm land. It’s really pretty but seems quite poor, with farmers working their small fields by hand. Freshly harvested onions were stacked in little piles dotted around the fields and there were people selling onions, potatoes and melons from sacks by the roadside everywhere. We scrutinised every little path leading into some trees, but did not find anywhere to discretely put a tent.

There were forest fires to avoid as well. We had seen smaller ones all over Portugal and no-one seemed to do anything about them. Strange given I had heard of stories where people died because they were unable to escape the advancing flames. But here the sandy ground just seemed to smoulder and plants slowly caught fire. But then we hadn’t seen any of the big fires yet. My dad txt me that evening to be careful as there were huge forest fires about 75km south-east of Porto (guess where we were -ish?). We could see some black smoke clouds to the north and one hill that could have been the perfect camping spot was on fire.

So we rode on and eventually found an ok spot near a housing estate….. A sort of light forest that seems to have been declared a public dumping ground. Oh well, it was getting dark and we were exhausted, so it would do. A couple of teenagers walked past and completely ignored us. I felt almost invisible! At least we weren’t told to move on, so we set up the tent and Aidan cheffed up some yummie chorizo and veggie rice πŸ™‚

We discussed our options for the next day over a bottle of port whilst writing the diaries and decided not to return to Porto. It had been such a nightmare just trying to navigate through it! WeΒ  would head to the smaller Aveiro instead.

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