Sunday, 28 February 2016

Dolly on the frontier of Portugal & Spain

As our visit to the west of Portugal was successful, discovering places of interest we decided to do the same in the east. We drove along the coast of the Algarve and then journeyed up the east side of Portugal along the Guadiana River. A stunning area. The river rises in the Spanish province of Albacete, the total length is 830km. It's basin covers an area of 65,000 km. 10,000km are in Portugal. The river becomes navigable for the final 48km stretch between Pomerao and Vila Real de Santo Antonio, where its width varies between 100m and 500m and has an average depth of 5m. The landscape is beautiful.

Our first stop was in the Portuguese hamlet of Alcoutim. In October 2013 the first international zip wire to cross boarders was opened. It takes people over the river Guadiana from San Lucar on the Spanish side to Alcoutim on the Portuguese side of the river. If travelling from Portugal you first ride the ferry over and then zip wire back. It looks to be great fun but unfortunately the wire wasn't open whilst we were there. Apparently it's  over 720 meters in length,and travels at...or I should say you would travel at between 70 and 80 kilometers per hour. I will return to gain a zip wire experience. Despite the disappointment with the zip wire, we still had a lovely two days visiting the local castles, parks and of course taking the ferry over to Spain for lunch and back in time for an evening meal.

Back in history these sites were more about protecting and defending boarders rather than fun. Castles stand proudly on either side as reminders of past battles and no doubt blood shed. It was quite surreal at times, the old with the new. We became a little fascinated with the goat who lived at the property, which backed onto the area where we parked. Campers and tourists one side of the fence and a very elderly woman and her goat happily planting and grazing the other side. They clearly had a harmonious routine, the goat with his bell who seemed to spend the whole day eating and the elderly woman who put the goat out first thing, did her planting, disappeared into her house, no doubt doing all her other chores. She'd come back in the evening in a fresh change of clothes, perhaps dressed for dinner, and take to goat in for the night. The writer in me just wanted to know more about her life. 

Our second stop was an old mining town, Mina De Sao Domingos. Seem to have a thing for those mines. It area was however well developed for the use of motor homes, the Aires site was surrounded by a barragem, which had been developed as a park for locals, as well as tourists. The local canoeing club appeared to make great use of the area. The town had local shops, cafe's, hotel and restaurants and of course a museum, generally very pleasant. With it's150 years of history the museum is well worth a visit.

From there we went onto the town of Mertola, situated in the Alentejo, on the river Guadiana and within the national park area. This is a thriving town quite large, The Castle stands as a monument to the past. Looking down into the town and river one can imagine how it would have been possible to see invaders coming from miles away. I was more fascinated with the way in which the castle has been modified to accommodate tourists and visitors. Marble paths, steps and walkways have been constructed, they look very well crafted but all I could think of was the health and safety. If they are damp, or wet they could be very slippery. Few hand rails in place but mostly not, lovely to look at. But be careful if it' raining. Apart rom Mertola having a castle with worrying steps it also has a lovely indoor market and some amazing street art and shops. I really liked the town.

I really enjoyed this trip. Much more history along this route than I imagined, Roman ruins, Castles and beautiful landscape.

Our first stop Alcoutim  really enjoyed this place will be going back for the zip wire.

The view from Alcoutim to San Lucar

The view from San Lucar to Alcoutim

This is our view of the barragem. Our second stop at Mina de Sao Domingos

This is the view from the castle at Mertola

And the steps that I became very concerned about

Told you I was obsessed with the marble.

      See you for our next trip out in Dolly. I've a feeling it could be the east again for a fishing trip 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dolly visited Lousal, an old mining town.

During our last trip in Dolly we took a detour from the the west coast went slightly inland to visit Lousal, which is located 50 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. The old sulpha mine forms part of the Iberian Pyrite Belt and is one of the most important mining regions of Europe.

The mine was operational between 1900 to 1988 being worked primarily for the extraction of Pyrite, an iron sulphide. The mining work went down from the surface 500 metres (known as shaft no 1.) The deposit of the mine was discovered in 1882 by Antonio Manuel. I guess some sort of deal took place because the mines and the area actually belong SAPEC Group, they are the last owners. Now I have this lovely leaflet that tells me all about the technical stuff. When I spoke to our guide I thought he said the company was from Belgium but when I looked it up on line it came up with asteroid  mining... I don't have anything like that on my leaflet... so moving on.

Skimming over loads of technical jargon... and I've never claimed to be an expert at history and now I must tell you, that chemistry is also questionable. However lets have a go at the geology of Lousal. Apparently the mine is divided into two horizons of sulphides.  Pyrite, the iron sulphide that is mainly predominant is accompanied by Chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, pyrothite, marcasite, bourmonite, tetrahedrite, cobaltite, safforite and native gold.
Believe me when I say it was so much more interesting to see all the quartz in its differing shapes and colour and seeing the history of this old working mine than it is to describe it. So in layman terms they extract from the land for  sulphuric acid, sulphur and produce FERTILISER. NOW hold onto that thought.

 End result Fertiliser.

When at the height of production the mining village prospered as did the SAPAC company. In the 1930's the village was more advanced that any where in Portugal and maybe parts of Europe, with electricity. The village population in the 1950's was 2,500 inhabitants with 1,100 miners. The mining area was organised in such away that t's self-sufficiency could be ensured, with urban space being provided with all main services, amenities and equipment to form a community. HOWEVER, when I visited the village it is now down to approximately 400 inhabitants mainly made up of older people. After the mine close in 1988 younger people had to move away to find work and the prosperity of the village just declined.

Approximately 5 years ago a regeneration programme started, which incorporates a museum tours of the mines and a science centre. They have a hotel and a restaurant, which was only open lunch time (maybe because it is winter) To be honest it was bit of a ghost town. One side of the town where they now have space for visitors to park there campers (Dolly was happy) had two coffee shops a bar and the smallest supermarket I've ever seen, which was tagged onto the coffee shop... the size of a pantry. On the other side of the town was a church a hairdressers and a larger supermarket...but not that large. It is a worth while place to visit if you are interested in mining, geology, and history. The people were lovely and they opened the mines and museums just for us, for twenty euros we had a grand tour which lasted approximately two hours. I really hope the village comes back to life through tourism and the museum.

Personal thoughts: I came away sad at the destruction of the land and all to produce Fertiliser, which is put on the land for nourishment. Big business for some a loss of livelihood for many others. We have seen it only too well in England over the years. The rise and fall of towns through industry and commerce. I'm sure it isn't as black and white as I make it seem, but I did find it very thought provoking. Especially when I saw the lakes of acid water that had been formed. One is still particularly unstable, apparently until very recently nothing had been done about the water flowing into the rivers, streams and water systems. I asked if the government had done anything to make the company accountable and apparently not. The company are now however working together with the councils and governing bodies to improve this situation.

Think I'd like to go back one day to see the progress.

 By the end of our over night stay we had met a few people, maybe 12, in the cafe and bar... gave the supermarket a miss. If your in a motor home make sure you have some provisions with you just in case. It is a beautiful area for walks and there is another town not too far away with restaurants. 

This is the most stable of the lakes  has a Ph of 5.

This lake is very unstable Ph is only 2. 

What a way to spend our 40th Anniversary and the restaurant was closed, we dined in Dolly with tins of cassoulet and a bottle of wine. 

See how advanced the equipment was back in the 30s/50s

My husband has never been a dog lover, they make him nervous. He always says packs of dogs can be unpredictable. Personally I think that's true of people. I had to take this photo because there were actually four dogs that followed him around, they wanted to be his friend... Ah well the town is rather empty.



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