Thursday, 12 June 2014

Mega Event Sintra, Portugal

Lisbon Tram

In August last year I was flicking through a magazine at the hairdressers and spotted a feature about the beautiful coastal region of Alentejo in Portugal, it looked amazing and as we'd not been to Portugal before I decided I'd really like to go.

Mark said he thought that the Mega Portugal might be on again in 2014 so he contacted the organisers of the previous Portuguese mega to ask if there were any plans yet and they said yes but they didn't know when it would be, so we decided to carry on with our other plans and keep it in mind for maybe another year......  As time went by we starting booking up our trips for this year then in March Mark spotted that the Mega Portugal had been published and that it also coincided with our wedding anniversary..... so what better way to celebrate.

We booked flights to Lisbon and a hotel in Sintra for 3 nights, we'd attend the mega then drive down the coast, stopping off at the Alentejo coast on the way and stay the last 3 nights in the Algarve so we could explore the area and along that stretch of the coast from Sagres to Faro then fly back from Faro airport.  That was the plan anyway....

Let the fun begin........

Flew to Lisbon from Bristol, picked up hire car and drove to Chalet Saudade in Sintra.  A beautifully renovated hotel restored in vintage style, the attention to detail was quite impressive.  Breakfast was served in a charming cafe around the corner each morning, also run by the owners of the hotel and done out in same vintage style.

The next day we drove out of Sintra to do a Letterbox and Wherigo on the way to Lisbon, the Wherigo was in quite a run down part of town and at times we felt quite uncomfortable as we didn't really know anything about the area.  The one think that shocked us was the quantity of litter, it was everywhere and the whole place could've done with a bloomin' good CITO.

Then it was onto Lisbon itself which was a nightmare to drive around. Oh I forgot to mention the hire car - this was a very underpowered Fiat Panda and it literally puffed and panted up the narrow hilly cobbled streets in Lisbon and was a complete joke on the Sintra mountain hairpin bends!  You'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson after the SEAT experience ....... Anyway we managed to find somewhere to park, which oddly was in a fully automated underground car park. Never used one before, you literally drive into a garage and get out, the door shuts and you get a ticket and the car then vanishes underground and when the door opens, as if by magic, your car has gone!  When you come back you pay and then the car appears in the next garage along!  Simples.  I found a video on Youtube that shows what happens underground .

The plan was to find the virtual, A great view of Lisbon at St. George's Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge).

We didn't know until we got there that you had to pay to get in and was a pricey €7.50 each but as we'd gone to all that trouble we decided to go for it and it was an interesting place to visit with some great views of Lisbon and included entry into the camera obscura and a half hour talk from an English speaking guide.

The drive around Lisbon was very stressful and I was glad to get back to the relative calmness of Sintra.

Friday night we attended an event in Sintra, quite a novel idea, a night walk around Sintra specifically for photography and exchanging photographic hints and tips.  I didn't have room for my dslr camera in my case, pity as there were some amazing photo opportunities. I did take a few on my compact camera though.  The walk took a couple of hours and we we're led on a circular walk around the town by the event organisers, which involved quite a few steep sections.

Saturday was the day of the mega event.  We made our way to the park where the mega event was to be held.

Promoting Mega Essex 2015
We checked-in, signed log, had a quick catchup with Signal the Frog, handed out some Mega Essex cards then at 10am went off to find the first lab cache. They hadn't yet been placed by the organiser so while we were waiting for them to be made available we joined the large group from the event that were going on a guided walk up the mountain to Castle Mouros right at the top.

We walked the steep climb up to the top then most of the group headed straight back down but the receptionist at our hotel had said that if there's one place we must visit during our short stay in Sintra then this was it so along with another cacher from Belgium we paid our money went into the castle ruins.

This has to be one of the most amazing places I've ever been. The views were absolutely stunning and the location quite surreal.

We spent a an hour or so exploring and taking in the views before heading back down.  On our way we bumped into the organiser who had just been round placing the lab caches so we decided to find them before heading back to the main event. There were 10 of them and we managed FTF on Nos 1 to 6.
Me and Annie Love, Lackey, Geocaching HQ

At #6 we had searched high and low and just about to give up when we were joined by Annie Love, Groundspeak Lackey from Seattle, we enjoyed a great chat with her and also a Portuguese reviewer and then we went on to find the rest of the lab caches in the series together.

We had to be at the CITO for 3pm and as it was only about 7 miles away we thought we had plenty of time to grab late lunch before driving out to the Sintra forest.  Haha we'd forgotten that Portuguese miles are a little like Welsh miles in that you need to multiply the time needed to travel by 3. Tomtom took us right around the Wrekin as it tried to make sense of the unpaved forest roads and hairpin bends.

Pile of ivy

On the way we noted that we hadn't seen any litter in the forest and we thought maybe the location would be a local picnic spot that attracted litter louts. We eventually got there at 3.45 and soon realised that this was no ordinary CITO....... We arrived to find a working party in full swing tearing down ivy from all the trees.  Everyone was just getting stuck in ripping down the choking vines. It was great fun and by 5pm there were piles of ivy everywhere and a whole load of trees that could now breathe easily.

That's the brilliant thing about attending events in other countries, especially megas, the interesting and varied people that you meet and the chance to exchange caching stories about crazy adventures. We got taking to the Canadian cacher from Belgian who we'd first met earlier in the day plus a couple from Sweden.

Annie Love at WWFM
After the CITO we headed back to Sintra to take part in a crazy WWFM at 6pm on the strike of the church bell the air was filled with bubbles! So crazy and so much fun.

We had hoped to bump into some old caching friends Team Caracache who we first met very early on in our caching career and who now live out in Portugal permanently.  Luckily they spotted us at the flash mob and it was good to catch up with them.

 Here is a short video of our trip to the Mega Event and side events.


It's our 23rd wedding anniversary today, we're travelling down to the Algarve region for the rest of our holiday.

We stopped off on the way to go for a walk and find a few caches along a short stretch of the Alentejo coast. There are some beautiful walks in this area, we could really do with a couple of weeks out here. 

On the way we passed large areas of cork tree plantations.  We hadn't realised about the Portuguese cork industry until I read about it in our Rough Guide to Portugal, so we were quite keen to see the trees.

Cork Plantation

Portugal is the premier producer of cork in the world and it accounts for about 50% of the world’s total cork production and about 720,000 hectares of land in Portugal is dedicated to the cultivation of cork oak trees from where cork is obtained. You can read more about the Cork industry here if you want
Harvested cork tree

The temperature was noticeably hotter in this area with, the car temp gauge showed 32 degrees. We're just not used to these temperatures and walking in the heat on sandy paths was quite hard going. 

We arrived at Caldas de Monchique and checked in to our hotel .   We enjoyed a lovely meal and drinks in the restaurant to celebrate our anniversary.  A very tranquil place in a beautiful area.


The plan for today was to drive down to Lagos and enjoy a day travelling along the coast.  Rather annoyingly our TomTom broke today so this made things a little tricky but not impossible, we made use of Mark's mapping app which doesn't rely on data roaming to be switched on and obviously the Oregons were a big help.

We didn't find many caches but enjoyed stopping off at Sagres to find the 'The End of the World' cache which is the most south westerly cache in Europe and has the most favourite points in the whole of Portugal.  Then to Salema to find an Earthcache and a paddle in the sea, where we spent a while relaxing at a cafe before moving on to Praia de Luz for a walk along the beach. 
The End of the World

The  Algarve is a very beautiful region but if I was honest it's not really the sort of place we'd usually choose for a holiday destination, mainly due to the high number of holidaymakers at all the resorts, we like to find places off the beaten track, where we can experience the local culture and try out some of the language or phrases we've learnt, most of the places along this coast you didn't need to know any Portuguese and the food served up was the same as you'd get at home - couldn't believe how many places were adverting a 'Full English Breakfast'.

But if you ignore all that it really was a beautiful place and so easy to sit and relax in the heat of the day


Our last day in Portugal, but our flight wasn't until 10pm so we spent the day lazily travelling from one place to another along the coast, finding a few caches along the way.

We stopped off at Silves first for a wonder around before heading to Carvoeiro to do the only Webcam in Portugal - Mark had been going on about this one for so long so I am really pleased we were finally able to tick it off.

Next on our planned list of places to visit was Alcantarilha where we had read about a Chapel of Bones.  There was a cache there too which was handy .... The entire interior of the chapel is lined with the bones of over 1000 former parishioners.  Rather disturbingly, when the local cemetery became too full, these bones were dug up and used to decorate the chapel.

It was quite amusing because we spent ages looking for this cache, we looked everywhere, there were a few benches around so we thought it must be under one of them.  Just after I'd been on my hands and knees looking I noticed an elderly man watching me from up the road so not wanting to draw attention to ourselves we stopped searching.  Mark was feeling around with his hands under a different bench and by now I'd given up as I had seen the chapel and just gave it up as a DNF on the cache.  Anyway, as I was walking away, I heard someone whistle and it was the elderly gentleman, he was tapping the underside of his seat and we realised he meant the cache was under the bench Mark was sat on - so he knew all about the cache, what a helpful man. 

Chapel of Bones
Then we continued on to Albufueira, not much to write home about, very busy with tourists and we managed a DNF.

The last stop on our trip was Cais Comercial in Faro which is our new most southerly cache.

Then it was time to head off to the airport and return our hire car.

It's been a tiring but fun few days, we've had a brilliant time, met some lovely people and visited some beautiful places.


12 cache types (11+ Lab Caches)
Distance driven: 806km but felt double that.
New most southerly at N37 00.293
Gosh! Also a new most westerly find W009 27.362

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