We took 4 days to travel all the 20 miles downriver from Alcoutim to Vila Real, with stops at nice quiet places. The trip can easily be done in one tide, but why the rush. There are plenty of anchorages to just relax and enjoy the scenery. And it's quite pleasant to do boat jobs in surroundings that change everyday.
The marina of Vila Real is very awkward to get into. It has a narrow entrance, not much manoeuvring space within and the current makes it all the more difficult so we calculated our arrival at the very last of the ebb and there was space enough at the visitor's pontoon to make an easy landing. It is not a really comfortable marina, being situated more or less on the river with the current running through it, but it is right next to the shopping centre.
The town had been totally destroyed by the same earthquake and tsunami that hit Lisbon in 1755 and has been rebuilt in a – for that “Enlightenment” period – revolutionary way in a kind of grid with all the roads at straight angles and with low buildings with mostly only one or two storeys. The result is quite pleasant, but not very exciting.
Taking an exploratory stroll through the town we noticed announcements for a tango performance that very same evening and hooray there were still some tickets left. During our previous visit here three years ago we had attended a flamenco show and now we have the impression there is only Spanish culture to be shown in Portugal. Okay, Argentinian this time. Three guys on piano, bandoneon and guitar and of course a couple doing some dances, and wow, did they all make a wonderful show! The dancers only showed up as blurs on the pictures I took, but the film turned out quite nice. Have a look here.
The next days I spent shopping, shopping and more shopping in all the different supermarkets. Up on the river there is plenty to be bought in the little grocery stores or from vendors who go around the villages with their vans with bread, vegetables, meat, fish and even some with clothes, but it's not the same as browsing through the vast variety and offers in the supermarkets. And in Portugal they are open on Sundays!
Vila Real is situated in flat salt marshes with no hills nearby, but along the coast there are dunes where we did a nice bike tour. It made us feel quite at home, a bit like the Frisian islands, but with lots less people around. We cycled to the next village along the coast, Monte Gordo, but there all the yellow number plates on the camping site made it feel a bit too much like home. It had been a long time since we'd heard so much Dutch being spoken.
We took the train along the scenic coast track to Olhão to check out the yard of Dias & Sabino which had been recommended to us as a good place for haul-out. And indeed, all the wooden boats standing there and all the woodwork we could see being done made us feel quite at home. However, oak – and especially European oak – was not something they had in stock. A wood supplier they phoned to didn't have any either, but perhaps might have some in a few weeks time. Not being in a hurry, we were already quite happy with this prospect.
Our Spanish dongle time had expired and further up on the river we had only been able to pick up Portuguese signals, so the most obvious next step was to get a Portuguese sim-card. In the
Vodaphone shop we were told they could not unlock the dongle because the Portuguese Vodaphone is a totally different and separate company. The ferry took us across the border to Ayamonte and in
the Vodaphone shop there we were told that the dongle could not be unlocked and could only be used with a Spanish sim-card. No wasted journey though, just more opportunity for shopping, this time
in Spanish supermarkets and hardware stores.
So we now have a Portuguese dongle. Vodaphone here has a much easier system to upload; instead of taking the thing to the shop where they take out the sim-card, put it in a mobile telephone to send a message, put it back in the dongle, we now go to a Payshop or post office, present them the dongle's telephone number, then they key in something on the computer and that's it. Funny thing was, when buying the dongle, we couldn't pay for it with a non-Portuguese bank card, and this was in a shop selling all kinds of telephone and internet things! A not so funny thing was that halfway upriver the new Portuguese dongle only picked up Spanish signals...
We had our mail delivered in the marina and had also done an order for several boat things with the German SVB, but they replied that delivery would be delayed because not everything was in stock. One week in the marina was quite enough for us though and a nasty southeasterly was on its way which would make the visitors pontoon quite uncomfortable. We had a boat full of supplies – including peanutbutter – and were happy to exchange marina life for a quieter life upriver again.