Costa de Lavos – Surf Sand Dunes & Coronavirus

by Mar 1, 2020Beach, Portugal, Tour Five Spring 2020

It is Saturday the 29th of February, and the morning bread van blares it’s horn next to Iggy’s parking spot in Costa de Lavos, Portugal. As I type I hear the voices of our fellow vanfolk in the queue for Portuguese pastries and rolls. I try and pick out the languages amid the soft murmering of voices. A French woman is loud and clear. A German couple – barely distinguishable. A brief burst of loud, male, English. Everything else a soft, murmuring underccurent. Like the babble of a stream on a summer’s day. And in the background the constant, ever present, boom, boom, boom of the surf to shore.

Free Motorhome Stopover at Costa de Lavos

We’ve been lingering at the free, beachside Aire here since Wednesday night. Captivated by the mile after mile of pristine, empty sand. The long lines of curling waves. Pulling themselves smoothly free of their mother ocean to race on their fellows heels to the shore. An end of term sports day for water.

This wave plays who can form the longest line. This next is going for the title of whitest, foamiest, breaker. It’s calmer, stronger, less frivolous cousin holds her patience. She has been training all winter for this very moment. Lifting herself from the ocean again, and again on the long, criss-crossing journey from the Americas. Holding her back strong she refuses to break. All along her great length she pulls herself, steady from her mother’s embrace. One straight, gleaming line racing pure towards the judging sands.

And now! Now with perfect timing she releases her muscles. A magnificently coreographed dance from nose to tail that sprays a dazzling mane of white along her flank as it curls, curls, curls, back upon itself once more.

In her last, glorious moments she scatters an offering of gleaming shells and pebbles on the beach. The eternal gifts of mother ocean. Rebuilding the land for all of her babies who left the watery nest untold aeons ago. For Marley. For Jay. For all of us who stand upon the shore.

Jay eyes up the surf at Costa de Lavos

We hadn’t planned to stay here quite so long. On Wednesday the forecast was for ten days of cool, rainy weather on the Atlantic coast. The cold had reached Batalha, and the town was not interesting enough for a long days’ walk about. The tiny, touristy centre, too pricey and too cold to sit outside and linger.

It had been our intention to head for the coast and work our way north from there. But now we weren’t sure with the forecast. Should we turn back east for Spain? Try and chase the sun for as much as possible of our last three and a half weeks?

It was tempting. But we’d not travelled over the north west Iberian corner between Porto and Donostia yet. Who knew if we would ever get another chance? And besides… fifteen degrees and rain was still an awful lot better than the weather back in Scotland! And the ocean. We really missed the ocean!

And so we said farewell to Batalha at three in the afternoon and set of westwards for the ocean. I’d found the free aire in Costa de Lavos on park4night. It seemed almost too good to be true. The comments from other users suggested there would likely be a space or two available. And it was right by the beach in a tiny village. Nothing much there it seemed bar a cafe or two.

Mirror windows opposite Batalha monastery

Not sure what the shopping facilities might be we headed for a nearby Aldi to pick up some beer and bread on our way to the beach. I was a bit worried about getting to Costa de Lavos too late to find a space, but Jay’s beer supply needs constant topping up. We were happy to spend a few euros in the local cafes, but Mr. Sloan might cry if he didn’t have a last beer to sup over Netflix at night. Or worse still he might drink all my wine instead!

The weather worsened as we left the Aldi and finished the one hour drive to Costa de Lavos. Only light drizzles of rain, but the road rose into thick fog and we wondered what was waiting for us at the ocean.

But we needn’t have worried. The fog was short lived and the weather cleared as we approached the village. Yes it was cooler after the crazy twenty six degree weather of recent days. But with jeans and a jumper the early evening air was pleasant rather than cold.

The free Aire was pleasant too! It ran the length of the street at the edge of the village. Good sized spaces in a long line that ran right down to the boardwalk across the dunes to the sea. Behind the vans lay the village. Before us lay miles of nature reserve Dune lands. To the side and bottom – the crashing, booming, endless surge of the surf.

Marley loves a good beach as much as we do and was immediately doing her purposely sad, pathetic little whimper.

“Please take me out! Please take me out! Please take me out!”

The big, tormented, eyes gazed up at us. So much misery in one, gigantic, furry face! Oh for the poor creature. What a miserable life she has to endure!

As fast as humanly possible – but much too slow for Marley – we got ready to leave. Gas turned on. Fridge turned to gas. Jumpers on. Water, sunscreen, collapsible dog bowl, emergency sugar and mosquito repellant collected in Jay’s backpack. Camera. Money. Bankcard. Check! And sunglasses shoved on nose we jumped out of Iggy and set off onto the beach.

We had about two hours to wander about that first night. The beach was all but deserted, just as I like them, and Marley was overjoyed to be back at the seaside again. She’s not a swimmer, and freaks out if you try and get her to go anywhere near a wave. But she loves the smells, the shells, the seaweed, the branches. She loves barking to warn us that waves are racing up the beach to attack us. She loves that there’s often other dogs around. And she really loves when there’s no waves at all and she can paddle without the pesky things trying to bite her!

There were no other dogs around for her here, and there were definitely pesky waves aplenty. But she still had a great time charging around in the vast stretch of beautiful, soft sand. The tide was high. The sound of the waves swallowing our voices as we shouted backwards and forwards across the strand. The evening sun sinking lower and lower into the endless waves. Setting the ocean on orange fire as it vanished towards America. Taking the light with it for another day.

Two of my greatest loves – Jay and Marley Dog

And so began a blissful couple of days at Costa de Lavos. The promised rain held off and we were blessed with warm sun. The little cafe next door to the Aire was only open during the days so we spent the evening hours in Iggy. Jay made short work of the new beer supply we’d picked up at Lidl. I drank twice as much wine as normal. We watched Netflix. We caught up on all the news we’d not been paying much attention to as we’d travelled.

The village dogs always get a bit excited when they see Marley

We were aware of the new coronavirus outbreak of course. But we’d only been keeping half an eye on it up until now. The British media has a habit of trying to sensationalise things as far as possible, and I much prefer facts to hype and speculation.

But it was starting to get mentioned more and more on the online motorhome groups. The small part of my brain I was allowing to pay attention was taking in enough details for me to know lockdowns were occuring in Italy. Information was being given out on self-isolating for travellers going home from certain countries. It was probably time to start paying more attention.

The risk of death was not a huge worry for us. At 55 years old we’re at slightly higher risk than younger people. Jay’s type 1 diabetes pushes him a little higher still. But even so we were not in high risk groups. And even if we were most people seemed to be recovering fine. Yes there was a risk of death with this new coronavirus – Covid-19 as it had been named. But death is an inevitable consequence of life. And in this instance we felt any possible risk was not significant enough for us to be concerned about.

What we did think we should be concerned about was threefold:

⦁ Not getting caught in a lockdown and running out of funds
⦁ Not contracting the virus and passing it onto others
⦁ Not being unable to work when we got home because we had been in a high risk are and had to self isolate

With that in mind I decided to start doing regular news checks, morning and night, to see what the latest updates were from Portugal, Spain, France and England. These were the four countries we would have to pass through on our way home. So far our route looked clear, but France and England in particular were getting increasing numbers of cases. A lot could happen in the three weeks we had left, and being mindful of conditions along our route could save us from problems down the line.

I was thankful that we travel by motorhome. No crowded stations, airports or hotels. We generally stay in aires that are quite quiet – off the beaten track a little. Having Marley means we don’t even go to attractions and museums very much. We eat at outside tables in bars and restaurants. We were as safe here as anywhere. And if the news showed up a problem area on our route? Well we would simply go in a different direction.

With our new Covid-19 coronavirus strategy worked out we got on with the important business of enjoying our beach stay. The cold, rainy weather stayed happily absent. New forecasts predicted it would arrive on Saturday now, and so we decided to make the most of the last days of sunshine by staying right where we were.

I had planned on spending the time catching up on all the blog posts I hadn’t written on this trip. I had half finished articles just waiting for photos. Notes waiting to be filled out into articles. And plenty of time to do it all in.

But instead I went on long beach walks with Marley and Jay. We had lunches in the cafe next door. Stayed up late into the night drinking wine and watching movies. I took photo after photo of the crashing waves, and the plethora of tiny, stunning flowers in the dune lands. 

And then, as I watched the waves crash to shore, I decided that I didn’t want to catch up on the blog after all. Or not that day anyway.

I never get tired of watching the waves


I realised that somehow it had wandered too far from my original purpose. That it felt to me that it was becoming too much of “just another motorhome travel site”.

I like motorhome travel sites. I like travel sites full stop. And I like sharing information and hints and have every desire to keep doing so. But always, what I really like to write about is not so much the destination as the journey. Not so much the museums, the history, the names and dates, but the people. I wanted to write about how travel feels. How it pulls the soul and the mind. What thoughts are evoked by the things we see and learn as we pass.

I like a pretty place as much as the next person. But I want to see the ugly ones too. I love the old castles, the idyllic villages, but I want to see the bleak, graffiti riddled, towering blocks of poverty ridden flats too. I want to see how all people live – not just the ones with money. My dream has never been to wander the world’s beauty spots. My dream is to explore.

Catching up with the blog was something I would do in time. But it didn’t have to be done today. Or even tomorrow. I could give daily updates of our travels on Facebook. And fill in the full articles when we got back home.

Cool grafitti in the next village 7 km along the beach


On our last day we walked seven kilometres to the next town without our usual “day out bag”. We had no cash and the cafes with seats outside wouldn’t take our card. So Jay used a couple of loose euros to buy a bottle of sugary Fanta to keep his blood sugars up, and we walked the seven kilometres back again without a break. Thankfully the sunscreen we’d put on before going out offered enough protection that we didn’t burn, and we found a fountain in the park for Marley dog.

On our return to “our” cafe we glugged the best tasting bottles of Sagres I’ve had in a long time. We laughed and joked about it feeling just like the time we walked across the salt flats in Tavira. Our legs shook like jelly from pushing hard through the soft sand coming home. Forced high on the beach by the incoming tide as it washed away the footprints of our outward journey.

Later that night I fell asleep for the last time to the boom of the Costa de Lavos surf in my head. Lilac sunsets fluttered with white capped waves behind my closed eyelids, and I knew I would write again in the morning. And I would write as I used to – straight from my heart and my wandering, ever questioning, mind.

And I would not worry ever again of what others may think – or not think – of my words, my thoughts, my self. My fleeting, wondering passage through this thing we name as “life”. I do not have time to spare on these things, because the tide is always on the turn. Just there. Just over the horizon. Waiting to wipe my footprints from the sands.

And when all is said and done I am all right with that. After all… Setting suns and pristine sand have always been among the things I find most beautiful of all.

But for now, let us make footprints…

Fi. x

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