Wednesday 13 January 2016

Waiting out the Weather in Estremadura, Portugal

Portugal, 4th – 10th January 2016 

We’re now about 2/3 of the way down the Portuguese coastline, less than an hour’s drive from Lisbon and, more importantly, a minute’s walk from the water’s edge.  We’ve experienced a week of rain, with the sun occasionally peering out from a break between the clouds to taunt us before hiding for the next downpour.  Our water pump has stopped working, so we currently have no running water in the van.  However, I think it’s important to point out that we’ve somehow managed to avoid killing each other or any passers-by, so we’re taking it all in good spirit.

When we left Costa de Lavos on Monday, we knew we wanted to go somewhere a bit more sheltered from the salty sea wind, so after an obligatory Lidl stock-up we went inland to Batalha (pronounced Batalya—in Portuguese lh sounds more like ly), where the Aire (GPS: 39.66137 -8.82466, Free inc. serv. pt.) fitted our sheltered criteria nicely with vans on either side and the wall of a neighbouring sports ground to our rear.

In general, there’s not a great deal to see in the village of Batalha, spare for one great exception: the abbey. Back in the 12th century following the death of the last Burgundian king, two potential successors staked their claim to the throne: the Spanish Juan I, who was married to the king’s daughter, and the king’s bastard brother João, favoured by those who did not want a Spanish ruler.  In 1385 their armies fought and João emerged victorious (helped along with some English archers), and so João I of House Avis was crowned, cementing Portuguese ties with England through the signing of a treaty and marriage to Phillippa of Lancaster.  The abbey (Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória) was built soon after in honour of the Virgin Mary, who João believed had aided his army in the battle.

When we finally found a pause in the rain that looked promising enough to venture from the van, we went to investigate the abbey.  We’d already had one false start at visiting it earlier, when we got around the corner from the van before we realised Matt wasn’t equipped with the camera, and walked back to the van just in time to sit out a torrential downpour.  This second time, with camera in hand, we made it most of the way to the abbey before the rain started again.  We found an alcove to shelter in for a while but with no sign of the rain letting up, braved the elements and walked around to the abbey’s front door.  Inside the abbey, the main part of the church is free to visit, or you can have a look around a couple of extra areas (such as João and Phillipa’s tomb) for an extra €5.  The main section seemed quite long and narrow, thanks to the big heavy arches running through it giving it a corridor-like feeling.  Apparently the architecture has some English influence thanks to a couple of English architects working on it, but despite all the churches we’ve visited all over Europe now I still haven’t picked up enough knowledge on architecture to be able to tell you what these features were!

Lots of nativity scenes on display made from different
A nativity scene made of small plant pots, other examples
included newspaper, sweetcorns or pine cones

Post Batalya, I’m afraid to say we had several days where we really didn’t do a great deal.  We were in for a bad week of weather, with the rain being too unpredictable with sudden downpours for us to want to venture much further than the inside of our van.  We’ve mainly been moving from place to place at various free spots (which I’ll list at the end of this post) waiting it out for things to improve.  It’s a bit dull being stuck in a confined space when it’s raining for days on end, but I keep trying to remember that with the constant updates we’re receiving about weather back in the UK (one relative now has a pond instead of a garage), we’re still pretty lucky and things could be a lot worse.

The Spinny Wheelie Bit (or Impellor)
Weather aside we have had a bit of a complication, and that is our water pump.  The morning after we left Batalha, I was in the shower when I realised the water pressure seemed a lot lower than normal.  Naturally, the water then gave out completely at the most inconvenient time, when I was covered in soap.  The pump now gives an ominous juddering noise when you turn the taps on, and you can’t get much more than a trickle of water.  Looking at the accessible parts of the pump, the part I am going to give the very technical name of ‘Spinny Wheelie Bit’ (edit: Matt informs me that normal people call this the impellor) that draws water out of the tank into the pipes has gone from having six blades to two, with the plastic having gone brittle over time and broken away.  Hand washing has now become a two person task, in which one person has to pour bottled water for the other person.  Showering is now a rationed affair that involves mixing boiled kettle water and bottled water, during which we have discovered that we can get a full hair and body clean using 2-2.5 litres of water per person.  We’ll need to source a new water pump somewhere soon, so if anyone knows any good places that deal with motorhome/caravan repairs in Portugal we’re all ears.

Sunday morning saw what looked like a possible improvement in the weather, so in an effort to get us out, about and away from the sight of the van, Matt took us on a walk away from our current Aire on the outskirts of Mafra and into the town itself a couple of km away.  I managed to stand in a present a kind dog had left for me and once again it rained on us, but eventually we arrived in the town centre.  Mafra’s claim to fame is the Mosteriro Palácio Nacional de Mafra, an extravagant 18th century palace with thousands of windows and doors and a library holding over 35000 books.  You can pay to go inside, but we contented ourselves with looking at the exterior, and the knowledge that we’d at least been for a walk and done something beyond sit in a van.

View of Mafra from Santa Susana
So I’m sorry if this post has seemed like a lot of doom and gloom about the weather; here’s a few positive things so I can end on a more cheerful note:
- My New Year’s Resolution (to cook at least one meat free meal a week that Matt will also eat) is going well, with 5 of our 12 meals so far being veggie friendly.
- Despite not getting in more than an average of 19 miles a day driving since the New Year and having no solar panel, our devices still have some charge and our leisure batteries haven’t fallen beneath 75%, so our LED lights are still serving us well
- This week has been our cheapest week so far at around £35 (exact amount to be determined once we have credit card exchange rates)
- We’ve checked the weather forecast, and it looks like we’re now experiencing the light at the end of the tunnel!

- Jo

Our Overnight Stops:

São Martinho do Porto
Reguengo Grande
Outeiro da Cabeҫa
Praia de Foz
Santa Susana

São Martinho do Porto (39.50196, -9.14165): A circular section of parking with walkways to the beach, overlooking the bay and town of São Martinho.  During the day our company was mainly elderly couples parked up in cars reading the paper and enjoying the view; at night our company became couples enjoying something else, so be warned about looking outside of the windows too much in the dark!

Reguengo Grande (39.28502, -9.22135): A parking area in front of a quiet new housing development in a rural village.  There is a (free) service point in a municipal area just in front of the housing site but parking is limited so we opted for this spot near two motorhomes that looked like they were parked in storage by residents.

Outeiro da Cabeҫa (39.19462, -9.18507): Parking overlooking a circular lake with an island in the middle that looks to be some sort of activity centre.  During our stay we experienced no other vehicles or people (with the only disturbance being from a couple of ducks who chased away other birds as well as a poor kid goat who dared attempt to shelter from the rain in the same spot as them), making it one of our most isolated spots so far, despite being on the edge of the village.  Free service point with limited parking at the sport centre in front of the lake.

Praia de Foz (39.10277, -9.39864): A free Aire in a quiet coastal village with a large beach accessible by a footbridge.  The official motorhome parking area on sand/grass looked like it could be a bit soft in the rain so we parked in the mixed parking area just next to it as it was very quiet in the low season.

Mafra (38.95465, -9.33514): A small gated Aire (water €0.50/40L) on the outskirts of Mafra which is very well maintained but looked like manoeuvring would be difficult if multiple vans were staying due to the layout of the bays.  There’s a motorhome club building attached which a man came out of to give us a leaflet about the local amenities.  We couldn’t quite decide what to think about the place as it felt like a strange level of service for what was a free Aire.

Santa Susana (38.91836, -9.38338): A free motorhome parking area and service point on a large gravel area set back from the main road in a village north of Sintra near a sports complex.  Some light traffic noise but not noticable at night.  Very exposed to the wind, but it does have views out over the countryside and Mafra.


  1. Hey Matt, its Matt. Whilst we were in Sintra we had to pick up some bits for the motorhome and went to
    They had a large selection of parts and also were doing some repairs. They also spoke enough english to get by. Hope this helps and that you get the problem fixed soon.
    Ps weather in the algarve is 18° and sunny today

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for the info, unfortunately we've left that area though now! That's a downside of this being a few days behind real time, we've moved further south.
      Luckily the weather changed here the day after this post covers so it's been similar up this way too since