River winter life

Once settled down at the pontoon, we got the boat maintenance jobs going. Lots of varnishing again of course and some sewing machine jobs, now we have unlimited access to electricity. I also started to attend the “Spanish for foreigners” classes again twice a week, provided by the municipality, so who knows, I finally might get to speak the language a little better.

No wifi access though; the wifi system in the library in Alcoutim has broken down, and for ever, it looks like. At least we have our Portuguese dongle working alright, but at € 1 an hour one doesn't tend to surf but to just skim the various websites. Which might mean that we might find the time to watch some DVD-movies, sometime, maybe.

The village of Alcoutim on the Portuguese side, seen from the castle above Sanlúcar
The village of Alcoutim on the Portuguese side, seen from the castle above Sanlúcar

With the liveaboards spread out over pontoons on two sides of the river or at anchor sometimes a couple of miles away, socialising is different from being berthed in a marina or anchored in a bay near a beach. It's good to have the Friday nights get-together in one of the bars in Alcoutim and on Saturdays there's usually a crowd to have a coffee after the weekly market. (Market here means one vegetable stall, a butcher van, a baker van and if you're lucky a fish monger.) But with Christmas nearing, many can't resist the family festivities in their home country and the liveaboard community started to shrink. There were several days with only a couple of boats moored at the pontoons in Alcoutim. Very unusual. When we were here three years ago the pontoons usually had only one or two vacant spaces and we had heard that last winter the pontoons were full all the time with a “waiting list”. Because the prices have gone up? € 10 a night for a boat over 11m is not exactly a cheap winter rate. But also many marinas in the Mediterranean are less full than before. Maybe the financial crisis prevents sailors from Northern countries to set off cruising?


Still plenty of activities.
One day we went with some 30 others (not only yachties) for a lunch in a restaurant at the tiny village of Pomarão, some seven miles further upriver. We got a lift with another boat and we took our hand-held GPS along and marked the necessary turns to avoid the rocky shallows just before Pomarão. (We had run aground there before, so now we have waypoints to show where to go next time.) We had a great afternoon together with all the other foreigners who live on or along the river and one of the river regulars sang us his Guadiana Song.


Compared to last winter in Cartagena we now of course are a little deprived of cultural activities. So when we saw an announcement for a Spanish band, performing in the local cultural centre, we didn't want to miss the opportunity. But most of the locals were obviously thinking the opposite: of the audience of some 20 people more than half were foreigners. There was no “important” football match, there was no entrance fee and so we still can't think of a reason for this lack of interest in a very nice performance.


In the run-up to Christmas there were some carol singing activities. The library in Alcoutim had organised an evening, and here it was also a turnout of mostly foreigners. However, one of the few Portuguese singers was apparently a good fado singer and she was persuaded to do some songs afterwards. We hadn't heard many live fado singing before, and we were very impressed by the melodies and the lady's voice. Another day there was a carol singing happening on the Spanish side and this was a more integrated event with Spanish and English songs played alternately. What a difference in style! To Spanish ears, used to lively and allegro songs, the English carols must sound like dirges. After the evening's singing tour along the streets there was a get-together with coffee, hot chocolate, liqueurs and loads of home-baked sweets.
More food we enjoyed at the Christmas lunch in a nearby village for which the the school provided a bus.
We also went to see the yearly play by the children of the local primary school, not understanding much of the Spanish but enjoying the singing and admiring the wonderful decorations.

So far we've had hardly any rain, no strong winds and the afternoon temperatures have been near 20ºC in the shade. All this has made up for the many near freezing misty mornings when we've been staying inside in front of the heater, thinking how lucky we are to have a pontoon berth with shore power to get the fan heater started first thing in the mornings.
And now that we have downloaded this really interesting program from www.stellarium.org we can locate all the stars and planets above us and see what phase the moon is in without having to go outside!



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