21st November 2020
Alcoutim, Portugal – Ilha Culatra, Portugal via Vila Real, Portugal
Tom, Dick and Harry. These are not rivals to the Rice Crispies trio, they’re the names of the tunnels that enabled Steve McQueen and his heroic cohorts to escape their confinement in ‘The Great Escape’. We’ve used our very own aquatic versions of Tom, Dick and Harry enabling us to escape the delights of the Guadiana and put more miles under Ruffian’s Keel.
With our escape from the river planned the Guadiana tried one last tactic to imprison us. As dawn broke the mist lay heavily on the surface of the water and slipped up to the top of the peaks that looked down on us. Nothing could be seen, no visual clues told us which way we were facing, but we knew one thing. The current would have no hesitation in sweeping us onto unseen dangers, into innocent boats or ensnarl in the floating reed islands.
The mist was no match for the sun as it heated the land, burnt away the moisture and inch, by precious inch the visibility improves. Our aquatic tunnel, the tide, was still running and so down river we shot, passing all the hills we have hiked, the boats we have met and the houses whose residents we now think of as friends.
The second part of our escape plan had us waiting for water to rise over the shallow bar at the rivers mouth. While we waited the town slept and all was peaceful. The only interruption to this peace was the slow nasal sighing of a donkey and the occasional high-pitched whizzing of an angle grinder grinding. We hoped that the two noises were unrelated.
The next morning, our aquatic escape tunnel, the tide, was in our favour and we slid safely over the bar into the open sea. Sails were hoisted, filled with wind and pushed us west while dolphins jumped and squeaked at the bow. We were free, we’d escaped the river, and like those plucky hero’s from ‘The Great Escape’ we were now able to roam and search out our own Shangri-La.
Our Shangri-La turned out to be Ilha Culatra with it’s endless beaches, limitless skies, and a sun that rose and sunk day after day into the dunes that ran from horizon to horizon
The sand dunes of Culatra were not deserted of life like many habitats that are dry, salty and windblown. In the dunes that we hiked food was in abundance. Under our feet clams buried themselves at high water for safety and filtered nutrients out of it at low water, while around our ankles Samphire grew like weeds.
In many supermarkets Samphire is located with Wasabi Roots, Courgette Flowers, Pea Shoots and all the other middle class, dinner party staples. In Culatra it was ripe for the taking. We picked off delicate green shoot after green shoot, taking only what we’d eat that night, but knowing that such fresh salty greenness could only do us good and with another lockdown on the horizon it would keep away the wolves for another day.
Lockdown on Culatra was unlike any other lockdown we’ve experienced in this long Covid year. The weekend lockdown seemed to consist mainly of old men drinking coffee in quiet squares while families played together in front of them. The single shop sold its wares and incessant chatter seemed mandatory among the shopping housewives. We mused that maybe we’d stumbled into an island wide ‘bubble’. While the mainland was locked up, devoid of freedom and unable to move, the island enjoyed a simpleness of life that was timeless.
Tom, Dick and Harry, have aided our exit from the Guadiana; Lady Luck and her island wide Covid bubble has enabled us to maintain our freedom, find new and exciting things and to mark the swansong of this year’s cruising with another high.
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