Paddling in Portugal

by Lucinda Manouch
published by CKUK April 2005

A canoe free holiday, just for once that’s what we agreed. It was the end of November, hubby and I had literally just come back from an exhausting paddling trip on Rannoch Moor. In fact our past 4 holidays had all been physically hard Scottish trips with lots of wind and rain, so when I saw the words ‘a week in sunny Portugal’ staring out at me from the Travel agents window, I couldn’t resist. In I went and 10 minutes later it was all booked, sun, sea and tranquillity here we come. Excitedly, I got home and searched the Internet for info on the little fishing village where we were going to be staying. It didn’t take long before I found a website dedicated to it. Carvoeiro, a beautiful small town with lots of restaurants and surrounded by small beaches. It all looked wonderful except I couldn’t imagine a holiday without spending some time on the water especially as this trip was likely to be warm and sunny. Then out of nowhere, a list of Portuguese Canoe outfitters appeared on my computer screen. How it got there, I’ll never know (or admit too) but there in front of me was the address of an outfitters based 20 minutes from where we were staying. It was fate. I was straight on the phone and before I new it I had booked a canoe, all the gear and even transport to the water. I was delighted, warm sunny relaxing paddling for once, now all I had to do was tell hubby.


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I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive about paddling abroad. Not knowing the area, the bylaws or the language was quite nerve-racking. But Frank made everything so simple. Frank ran ‘Outdoor Tours’ based in Portimão on the Algarve. I told him on the phone the type of paddling I liked, flat water, loads of wildlife, beautiful scenery, completely stress free and he did the rest. For the slightly less adventurous he runs guided canoe tours for only 25 euro per person but hubby and I wanted to explore on our own and knowing we had some paddling experience he was more than happy to let us go it alone.

Three weeks later and there we were, sat drinking sangria in the village square waiting for Frank to pick us up. Right on time his Land Rover appeared with a big red Thermoplast canoe of the roof. I’ll be honest, I’ve never paddled a plastic bath before but I was so excited I was willing to give anything a go and as it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it looked. We drove along the coast to a little sandy beach called Praia Angrinha. Frank explained this would be our pick up point at the end of the day. A beautiful castle called “São João Arade” which was a perfect landmark to look out for, overlooked the beach.
We now drove inland for quite a while until we reached the village of Silves. We made our way down a little dirt track and ended up next to a picturesque roman bridge with a tranquil river flowing underneath. This was it, the start of our journey. Everything was perfect. We carefully got into the boat and we were off. I found the boat comfy enough and it wasn’t too hard to manoeuvre although hubby did keep comparing it to our Mobile Adventure Lowline we have at home, which is fitted out with a wine bottle holder and snacks tray (to expect that would have been a little too much I think).


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Anyway, off we went down the river. We paddled through the village of Silves and out into the open countryside. The day was getting hotter so I put on my bikini and sunblock and laid back, letting the boat make its own way down the gently flowing river. About a mile down river we came across lots of branches and twigs in the water, that made it feel a bit like an exploration of unchartered waters. The reeds got higher on both sides so all we could see was the blue sky above and winding river in front. It was like being on the Amazon just smaller and without the crocodiles. The reeds were full of wildlife; large butterflies, kingfishers and little egrets all flying within inches of the boat. After about an hour the river started to widen and the odd telegraph pole came into view, all of which had a great big stalk sitting on top. They cocked their heads sideways in order to get a better view of the two strangers floating by in the red plastic tub. You could almost read what was going through their minds from the expressions of their faces.

It was now about midday so we decided to stop for some lunch. There were no pebbly beaches to get out onto so we ended up wedging ourselves on a small muddy bank. Out came the sandwiches and the crisps, oh a word of warning orange coloured Doritoes packets in Portugal are not cheese! Three litres of water later I realised they were Mexican chilli. Half an hour went by and it was time to get moving again. The only problem was we were firmly stuck in the mud. Only then did we remember that the river was tidal and as we’d been eating our lunch the tide had gone out and river had dropped. Using our paddles we tried to lever our way off but they just got stuck deep in the mud. There was nothing to do but for one of us to get out and push. As I was further up the bank hubby decided I’d be the best person to get out. It was disgusting. I put my leg over the side and sank in up to my calve. The suction of the mud was incredible and I was worried I’d never get out again, hubby on the other hand found it highly amusing. Finally after a lot of sweat and tears we managed to get afloat again. My shoes were ruined, so guess what hubby would be treating me to the next day :-)

Further down river we came across a little bar, in the middle of nowhere. It had tables and chairs outside and even a small swimming pool. I would have done anything for a cool beer at that point but it was closed. I guess it was Christmas so I couldn’t really complain.
The river now opened up and turned into a large estuary. In the distance we could see a huge very modern looking bridge. As we got closer we saw the motorway that went over it. All the creaks and rumbles echoed beneath and I felt so vulnerable in our tiny little boat as we paddled under this huge structure. As we came out the other side I decided to take some photographs of what was, a very impressive piece of architecture, then ‘PLOP’ and we both fell silent. I’d been trying to change lenses on my camera and somehow the lens just fell overboard. I was devastated. I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t the camera but still it was horrid watching my favourite lens which cost more than the holiday disappear into the deep gloom below.


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The last part of our trip took us through the city of Portimão. From being in the middle of nowhere we were now paddling through a busy shipping lane surrounded by tower blocks. What an amazing experience. The contrast was spellbinding and I loved every minute of it. There was so much going on all around us. Huge galleons complete with canons moored next to ultra modem gym palaces. Jet ski’s and the coastguard where whizzing about and in the middle of it all a little old man in his colourful canoe, collecting mussels from the estuary bed with long rake, totally oblivious to the noise and bustle around him.
It wasn’t long before we saw the outline of the castle high up on the cliff in the distance. We paddled slowly towards the sandy beach not wanting the day to end, but as we dragged our boat through the scattered lobster pots on the sand we were already planning our next trip back.
Frank turned up shortly after and we all went for a cold beer before he dropped us off back at our apartment. This trip is a definite must for anyone who happens to be in the Algarve this year. To be able to paddle without worrying about gear or shuttles was so liberating and it only cost 25 euro! I would like to thank Frank for such a great time. He’s even offered to give discount to any paddler who fancies doing this trip and mentions this article. How cool is that.