The Burkemobile, crawled behind the donkey’s and carts, which seemed to be the favoured transport of the local, farming families. Passed, the market stalls of fresh vegetables, and the towering stacks of oranges. The decaying, palatial buildings, of a long-ago era, on either side of the road, adding to the feeling of having slipped back in time.
Our first stop in Portugal, was in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, in central Algarve. Where, the owner of the small campsite, keenly pointed out the azure tailed magpies, and cuckoos, hidden in the Eucalyptus trees. After settling in we wandered around the impressive site. The Dutch owners had created a nature lover’s paradise in the forest. With solar showers, and energy saving, gadgets including a washing machine and a dryer, everything met with the green, stamp of approval. Although, we found the showers less than reliant on a grey day.
That afternoon, hopelessly lost on the surrounding, narrow country lanes, we were chased by four, growling, dogs, while out on our first bike ride in ages. Eager not to make the same mistake again. We flagged down a little, old man, who was pop, popping down the road an ancient scooter to ask for directions to town. And greeting us like two, long lost friends, he posed for a photograph, before gladly, leading the way. Obviously, his ancient scooter, was much faster than our second-hand bikes, so, every now and again we’d hear him sputtering back, up the road to keep an eye on us. Even waiting, like a guardian angel, at the edge of town until we’d cycled into view. Then, satisfied we’d found our way, he was off.
The Portuguese countryside is stunning in the spring. A feast for the eyes, it’s awash with orange, and olive groves, vineyards, and white, rock roses. Carpets of wildflowers, sweep over the meadows, between the cork, oak trees. And the air, is full of the heavenly scent, of Rosemary, Mint, and Lavender. Swallows, vivid green, finches and blue magpies, flitted around as we drove. And as if that wasn’t enough, several, majestic storks, circled the sky, on either side of the road. Their chicks, with their beaks open, visible, in the huge, straw nests, that balanced on the roofs, and telegraph poles.
Our next stop, was in the thriving village of Castro Verde- once an ancient hill fort, located near the site of the Battle of Ourique, which was fought in 1139. It was here that, Afonso Henriques, defeated the Moors, and declared himself the first King of Portugal. Unfortunately, after our stay in paradise, our next campsite, on a hard-standing car park, was a bit of a come down. And, to top it all, it started to pour down with rain. Never mind, venturing out to a restaurant, we found ourselves sitting with a troupe of travelling actors, who were watching the Portuguese, version of ‘The Voice’. A member of the troupe had recently taken part in the programme. Unfortunately, though, it turned out to be the wrong episode. Embarrassed, and not wanting to waste an audience, the participant, faked a heart attack. And with perfect, comedy timing, he was instantly revived by his fellow actors. An hilarious, impromptu performance appreciated by all. Even the kitchen staff, who came out to see what all the fuss was about.
It was hot and sunny, and moving on again, we settled in Minas Sao Domingos, in Corte do Pinto, Alentejo. Where the Romans mined for gold and silver for almost 400 years. Ownership, of the mines passed to a French syndicate, in 1854. And with the international demand for copper, during the industrial revolution, mining resumed a year later. Copper ore, was still being produced when the mine closed in 1966. Attractions, are the Quaint miner’s dwellings that line the wide, cobbled streets and an English cemetery. The cemetery, being the resting place of many miners. Some of them, from Cornwall. The campsite was situated beside a Barragem, (a manmade lake/reservoir) and eager not to waste the sunshine, we spent a relaxing afternoon, swimming.
The next morning though, we found ourselves squelching over a soggy carpet. The Burkemobil, had sprung a leak during the night! Thank goodness for English couple, Richard, and Terese. Who, having lived permanently, in their motorhome for over 20 years, were the perfect couple to have around in a crisis. After a thorough inspection inside the Burkemobil, they disappeared underneath it, with my husband, Richard. And quickly discovering a cracked sink pipe, temporarily repaired it with tape. My job was to mop up the soggy carpet, and to make the tea. That evening, to celebrate, any excuse! We had a drink with Richard and Terese in a packed bar and watched the football match, between Barcelona & Real Madrid.
Before leaving, we cycled further into the mining village, to take some photographs of the characterful relics, of this lost world. The crumbling buildings, overgrown, railway tracks, and rusty mine shafts, lying abandoned against a backdrop of copper red, earth and glittering minerals are both beautiful and sad. Once a bustling, mining community, Minas Sao Domingos, is now an eerie, ghost town. Beautiful, moving and serene we were glad we’d stopped by to experience it. A fascinating, non-commercial, tourist attraction, it’s truly a sight worth seeing.
The narrow streets of Serpa, a town in central Alentejo, are a mixture of Elegant 19th and 20th-century, Bourgeois dwellings, and much smaller homes, topped with monumental chimneys. The main square, was a hive of activity, when we arrived. Decorations were being hung for Pascoa, (Easter) and the festival of Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of Serpa. Finding a parking space for the Burkemobil, we walked around the ramparts of the Moorish castle, on the left bank of the Guadiana River. Only, to find ourselves locked in, on our return. The strange guy, in sunglasses, who’d been tailing us for ages pointed to a sign while unlocking the gates. The castle had closed for lunch half an hour before (oops). Afterwards, while having a coffee in a local café we chatted to Manuel, who’d returned to his home-town for a holiday. ‘’Ah, Portuguese Porsche’’ he roared, pointing out the donkey and cart, across the way. Manuel’s hilarious description of the popular Portuguese transport was used many times during our stay.
The Burkemobile and the Portuguese Porche
In Portugal with Helen Burke