I’m on a five-hour bus ride from Lagos to Sevilla. In my ear are some freshly acquired tunes from DJ Susie Sanchez. Portugal’s been an up and down, but I’m sure as I get further and further away the best of it will remain in my mind. I’m just over the halfway point of my Mediterranean voyage, the days are getting shorter, but the glimmer off of the whitewash residences seems to be getting brighter. I continue to adapt to the mystery of time and place. So much to see, only so much time to spend, and there’s making sure you find a certain grace in how you do it all. For my own sake I want to review the 17 days and four phases of Portugal.
Lisbon: My first impression is one that will stick for decades to come. After a superb connection on the overnight rail with Luis (a local Lisbonian with so much interest and enthusiasm to share with the foreign travelers) and Grant (super cool MD originally from Prince Edward Island who I have so much respect for, and who I related with for hours, and who granted me honorary membership in the Canadian StFWC!) I landed in the early hours of a Sunday morning. After the hustle and bustle of two major cities the desolation of the A.M. air was haunting. No striking architecture, just intricately cobbled streets and tile faced storefronts. Not but one single soul, an old Gandolf styled figure looking lost or bored and simply standing in the middle of the street. As Grant and I passed, wearing the hunter’s orange of tourists, he stopped us with a subtle shift of wrist and opening of palm. “50 Euros” as the sight and smell of 3 stogie shaped hashish sticks hit. I casually assessed the barren environment in an attempt to shake the surrealism, shared a silent laugh with Grant, and moved along with a smile. Not a day of rest for those working the underground.
The accommodations at the Easy Hostel were just that. I was delighted with another well run, cheap, clean, convenient, and easy to rest in hostel. I played tag-along with Grant and his married friends John (a surgeon in New Brunswick) and Brenda. It’s always interesting to inject yourself into the lives of others and stay an impartial, non-parasitic, and an entertaining investment. I had a great time with the trio though I’ll admit I spent some time analyzing the psyche of John as, of course, one who has spent plenty of time analyzing the removal of really important organs, lymph nodes, and other ooey and gooey things. It was quite refreshing to not make decisions, just flow along through the sights in Belém, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkien, and especially the Castelo de São Jorge. The views from the castle were phenomenal on the warmest day I’d experienced in about a week. The highlight was appetizers and my first Super Bock from a large sun swept patio with comparable views. Sometimes the mark of a great beer is not simply the taste, but where and who you were with when you enjoyed it. Do you remember where you were when Obama got elected? Why, yes. Do you know where you were when you had your first Super Bock? Mmmm Hmmmm…
I have to admit, short term the satisfaction of the Super Bock was better. I woke the morning of the 5th at the Alto Golf and Country Club in the company of my mom’s brother Greg and his wife Carol. My aunt and uncle were capping off a 4-month European adventure and I was grateful to rendezvous with them on the southern coast. However, I could not share my joyful emotions of the election results that morning. We quickly established, and I explained to many Brits who enthusiastically brought it up to us over the next few days (to my gleeful satisfaction), that we don’t discuss politics or religion. We simply enjoy the sights, the sounds, the food, the beverages, and the company. And we did, remarkably so. We frequented Peppers, undoubtedly the best restaurant I’ve experienced the entire trip, walked the beach, and took a tour from Cabo de São Vicente (the end of the world) to Monchique and Silves. Carol and I shared war stories from the classroom and we vowed to carry the mentality of travels into our daily home lives. Colorado and New Mexico aren’t that far away from each other, but it took Portugal to bring us together for the closest connection we’ve ever really shared.
While in the good graces of my aunt and uncle a song began to form in my mind. It may never be complete, but have a sample of the ode from a bleeding heart Earth lover to relatives of the right wing. In the tune of Ebony and Ivory ala Stevie Wonder or Eddie Murphy (your pick), (which I heard more times in France than in 10 years in the states):
You are red and I am blue, what you think’s wrong, I think’s true,
We’re from the same fam, but the buck stops there, no sense fillin’ a circle with a peg that’s square,
When we get together, one thing’s perfectly clear, no politics or religion, we just drink beer,
We’ll never all be happy, with who’s in the White House, I suffered 8 years of Bush, now ya got “mickey mouse,”
you like to watch Fox news, I prefer PBS, at least we agree our education system’s really messed,
you’re inspired by Rush Limbaugh, I think Michael Franti’s the man, will we ever see eye to eye and walk hand in hand?...
Phase three was promising to be an exciting experience, a work exchange on a solar-powered home front with a holistic healer and D.J. Lies, lies, sweet little lies; on day two, the flu. From snotty child, to Susie Sanchez, to your truly. Much of this story has been told. The mind trip of the sick and intestinally psychologically sensitive in an alien land with an unfamiliar friend…Susie the sweet, dietarily balancing bi-polarity, special dyslexia, 18 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and overwhelmed by the tasks of a simple existence. No diet, no balance, no fun for either of us. The energetics of the scenario are fascinating to those interested in such things as emotional and karmic layers. And, as if universally prearranged, a random cranny stash of Mother’s medicine was provided by a previous volunteer in the cabin I cleaned out and stayed in. Positive perspective as I regained my health in Susie’s own little private paradise. Sunshine in the morning, wood fire by night, and the moon waxed, filled, and moved into waning. One night as I stood in appreciation as funky blues riff came floating up the valley, live and rockin’. I longed to join that gathering. Up the road and down: views, beach, wildlife, and open land. In addition to multiple sea birds, prized views were a Bonelli’s eagle and a few flocks of migrating vultures (more majestic and full feathered than you’d expect from the sort). And on my last night, as the setting rays of sun pinkened the ocean’s horizon, dolphins danced in the sea to bless me on the rest of my journey. A treat Susie’s said she hadn’t experienced since 2005. Truly, a blessing.
“Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Interrupting cow.” “Interrupting co…” “MOOOO!” I’m getting tired of those kind of people. Usually they’re old and alone. Today in my fourth or fifth such conversation with the same guy at my pensão I interrupted him with, “I really really have to pee.” I could have held it, but I didn’t want to, and I didn’t come back. I’m trying to decide what’s a better thing to do, make an excuse or politely explain how miserable it is having a “conversation” with them. That, by the way, was not the highlight of Lagos. Mostly it was just more beautiful beaches and sunshine. One story for the books starts with the examination of a fascinating English word and a word of advice. The advice: don’t ever “grab a beer” with an Aussie and expect to just grab A beer. You may end up like me, “pissed off” after getting “pissed on” while “on the piss”, so “piss off” (none of that actually involved urine, though I did have to piss often). The pub is the place to truly meet travelers. Interesting perspective on American doled out to me by an intoxicated Australian sheila. Only 5% of Americans hold passports and 4% are obnoxious. I had to work hard just to have that conversation. I must be the 1% to have the kind patience to deal with her obnoxiousness.
Cobbled streets, shope merchants, Brits with yachts, fishermen, sandy stretches of beach, sardines for dinner, and sunshine…so long Portugal.