Ten Miles Running, Vila Real de Santo Antonio

When salt crusts up on your face: you know you're a distance runner
When salt crusts up on your face: you know you're a distance runner

Zagan the motorhome is a few clicks south of the Portuguese border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. We’re parked up for free on the miles-long spit of land which thrusts out south-east, pointing to the Moroccan Atlantic coast way off over the horizon (N37.171128, W7.404625). The sun set an hour ago but fishing boats have continued to return from the open ocean, their decks scattered with plastic boxes under harsh lights which bounce off the water below like a shimmering shadow. Further on, behind them, the Spanish coast appears as a join-the-dots string of yellow and white street lights. Our Australian-Maltese mates Paul and Rose made this place famous for us after they stayed here a full six weeks, spear-fishing enough catch to feed ’em for a month, or, er, 6 weeks even.

Free motorhome parking just south of Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Free motorhome parking just south of Vila Real de Santo Antonio
There are lots of fishermen here, and lots of cats!
There are lots of fishermen here, and lots of cats

I’ll come straight out with it: I’ve had a Christmas tinged with mild depression. Anyone’s who’s been sniffed by the black dog will know what this is like, and I’ll make no attempt to describe it, but both Ju and I have felt its affects in the past so it was easier to spot this time around. Why would I be feeling dead-eyed with it, when we have a life of utter freedom? It’s hard to put a finger on just why, but my guess is repetition, combined with a lack of challenge. We’ve done this kind of travel for three years now, pootling about Europe mostly, living a life of motorhome-based luxury. It was a challenge to start with, but it’s not a challenge any more, and as we’ve started to tick off some of the same experiences we’ve had over and over, I’ve gone all Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I just wanted it to end.

Life, hopefully, just doesn’t end though. The tide slows steadily, whether we work to control the motion or let it wash us about. From past experience, shifting out of the dark pit requires change. Alcohol doesn’t help, but removing it or at least drastically reducing it does, so I’m on the wagon. Increasing exercise, while almost the last thing I felt like doing (I felt like staring at a wall), helps too. A change of scenery also added to the overall shift towards the light. As small as it was, just a move to an olive-tree and cactus campsite, we really enjoyed the three days we spent there.

Charlie is, as ever, enjoying himself
Charlie enjoying campsite life

On one of those days Ju and I ran 16 km together, a non-stop ten miles stint. I can’t tell you how proud this makes me of my wife. For all the years we’ve been together, but for the past year or so, she’s been dead-against any form of exercise. “Look at those nutters” would be a familiar refrain as we passed amateur cyclists busting lung up a mountain somewhere, as I stared in admiration. But now she can run ten miles, dammit! I told her afterwards: “no-one can take that away from you now: you can forever say you’re a ten mile runner”. I was so happy for her, and I know she will easily get round the extra 5km we’ll need to do on the 29th Jan to circumnavigate Marrakesh’s half marathon. The ten-miler did me no harm either, and all four of our legs feel pretty good the day afterwards.

When salt crusts up on your face: you know you're a distance runner
When salt crusts up on your face: you know you’re a distance runner

Leaving the campsite we nipped down to Olhao to a vet recommended by the campsite owner. Charlie needs his booster vaccinations, and our vet back home didn’t want to double ’em up with a rabies jab on the same day. The little fella’s seen the inside of vets in numerous countries now, and they’ve all come across as hugely capable and professional outfits. This one was no different, but despite the campsite man telling us calling ahead wasn’t needed, it was, unless we wanted to wait for 7 hours for an appointment. The receptionist looked crestfallen that she couldn’t help us, and we ended up walking backwards out of the place trying to placate her.

This time we headed east across the famous R125 non-toll route to bring us here, through Portugal’s small towns just inland from the coast. Portugal’s endless blue skies and sunlight do a wonderful make-up job on the place. With warm light scattered among the buildings and across the orange groves, I hardly notice the faded graffiti calling for a general strike, the blown render exposing rocks piled into walls, roofs fallen in, rotting doors and flaking paint. I do notice the biscuit-strength road surface though, broken away just enough to rumble our cupboards, but not enough to break into a wheel-snapping sweat.

We'll miss these local lovelies
We’ll miss these local lovelies

After cramming our cupboards full again at a motorhome-accommodating Lidl up the road, we nipped into the local vets and this time scored an appointment in a couple of hours. Back to the van, we partook of a bacalhau sausage (salt cod) lunch with a spot of rosemary-encrusted cheese, both delightfully plucked from the yellow-sticker tray (OK, orange sticker’s are used for short shelf-life stock here). The bread we ate with it was chopped up by something from Saw.

Dedicated motorhome parking: thank you Lidl
Dedicated motorhome parking: thank you Lidl

Back into the vets, the fifth vet visit this year, the dog doc did a thorough check over of the fella, even trimming his claws. Despite her great English, a mix-up over which dog she was talking about at one point had hearts in mouths when we thought she’d somehow identified Charlie had cancer of the spleen, just from peering into one of his grubby ears. While we were there we asked about the rumour some additional paperwork is needed, in addition to the EU Pet Passport, to bring his nibs back from Morocco into Spain. She advised is there is: a Health Certificate of some kind which, weirdly could be issued in Faro, Portugal. This sounds odd to me: the point of the Pet Passport is to do away with this kind of thing, but we’ll soon be in Spain seeing our sixth vet of 2016 to find out if this is true, and hopefully our last one.

Yay! Another vets!
Yay! Another vets!

Right, time for a spot of salad. Another run’s on the cards for tomorrow, and hopefully another day’s sunshine. We may cross back into Spain tomorrow, or maybe the day after, dunno. Looking forward to those toll-free motorways we are.

Fractal cabbage in Lidl: gorgeous-looking suff
Fractal cabbage in Lidl: gorgeous-looking suff

Cheers, Jay


  1. You can also collect concillia (cockles) on the beach. If you see a whole lot locals bent over in the sand with buckets this is what they are collecting. Keep them in a bucket/Bowl of salt water overnight so they can clean themselves out and then cook them up in a pan of crushed garlic and olive oil. Can serve over pasta or eat on their own. Use some fresh bread to soak up the garlicky oil stuff…..tiney fidley things but Yum!

  2. I just found your blog a few months ago and I like it a lot. I used to live and travel a lot in Europe, at the age of 40 I moved to Canada. I was shocked to read about your depression or whatever it is, I never had that kind of problem while on the road. If you need a change why don’t you try to ship the motorhome to another continent and have some fun. Shipping it over from England to Canada would be cheaper than from mainland Europe. The preparation itself would keep you busy, after that lot of things to see and do. We met people from all over Europe traveling in their own motorhome in Canada, USA and even more in Mexico. Just an idea, think about it, If you got homesick you can put the rig in a storage, fly home, come back 2-3 months later and have fun again. All the best and have a Happy and safe 2017.

  3. Having met the black dog some years ago it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are or how much money you have it can be debilitating beyond belief, I hope you can see your way through it and continue to keep moving forwards,as you said you have recognized the signs so that’s the first point in getting back to normal. It was some years later when I found out what was causing it.Thank you again for your blog and being so honest.

  4. Some time ago you I remember reading that you set yourself a challenge of improving your French and Spanish conversation skills so how are you getting on with that? Best wishes to you both,

    • Hi Megan, we’ve both managed to up our French a little, and now have a smattering of Spanish phrases, but on the whole we haven’t progressed much. That challenge remains, motivation to attack it is being sought. Cheers, Jay

  5. Hi Jay. I was just talking about this subject tonight. I have suffered from depression for 14 years now and although there can be good times, it is always lurking in the background. When I lived in Spain I was eventually able to come off the meds but within 2 months of returning to the UK I was back on them, Having just hit the road in our motorhome, I am trying to come off them again. The doctor tried to get me off them in 3 weeks but that was too quick. I am basically now medicating when needed just to avoid the withdrawal symptoms of coming off the medication! Murphy’s law. As soon as the withdrawal symptoms disappear I will be off them again – but I did get the doctor to give me with a 6 month supply just in case I need them again.

    Winter definitely has an effect on mood. That combined with the possibility of looking for a new challenge takes its toll. Don’t torture yourself looking for something new right now. As the days get longer the ideas will present themselves to you without thinking about it and you can then approach whatever you need to do with renewed vigour.

  6. Julie, Jason, wishing you both a happy new year, I’m sure you’ll smash the half marathon, if you can do 10 miles now, with the adrenalin of the event, it’ll not be a problem !
    I’m sorry Jay isn’t as good as he could be, an old friend of mind has a web site/Facebook page where he talks about life manage,net/coaching/skills etc, his name is Kul Mahay. You may find it totally useless and feel I’m being patronising, that really isn’t my intention, if you get something from it, brilliant, if not, what’s been lost?
    If you need to speak to Kul, as I’m sure he’ll be more than wiling to, mention it was Richard, he’ll know who I am ! Maybe you could redact this post to make it more appropriate for the web??
    Take care

  7. A way to mask the dog, I have found, is to set yourself a project. For instance whilst in Spain/Portugal read about/learn about/follow and write about Wellington’s campaign in the Peninsular War; in Eastern Europe trace and write about the Camps, whether existing or destroyed; Caesar’s conquest of Gaul; Hannibal’s march on Rome; blah, blah, blah. If it’s a rubbish idea I don’t mind. Best wishes for the New Year and as Harold MacMillan was fond of quoting: “Quiet, calm deliberation. Disentangles every knot.”

  8. Happy New Year to you both, hope the depression takes a back seat soon. Happy traveling and the marathon sounds like it will be achieved with ease. Love reading your blog and can’t wait to start our trip in around 5/6 weeks.

  9. Happy New Year to you both and well done with the run. I hope the only dog you take into 2017 with you Jay is Charlie. Perhaps it is the constant moving that is getting you down as it seems you never stay in one place too long. Just a thought.

  10. How about New Zealand?We travelled with a group(not the best idea),but you could buy a motorhome on arrival,and then sell it at the end of your tour.We were there for three weeks,nowhere near long enough,and our motorhomes were hired.There is plenty to see in this country,good campsites,fairly quiet roads.We also oured the Australian outback,again with a group,sleeping in tents.I think it is wiser to be in a group in the outback,but you could certainly consider touring round the circumference.We have also travelled the Alaska Highway,in Canada B.C. In a hired motorhome.This was incredible,meeting family for part of the journey.We reached as far north as Dawson City,but our insurance wouldn’t cover us to travel further north,so we deviated to Alaska

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