Wine and Hitchhiking in Portugal and Spain

Yesterday I woke up at 7am with the idea that I would hitchhike as far as I could from sunrise to sunset. In other words, about 10 hours of hitchhiking.

This idea quickly failed, of course, when I discovered that the town I was in (Faro, Portugal) didn’t have the greatest places for hitchhiking. Here’s what you want when hitchhiking: You want a long stretch of road where cars are all going in the direction you want to go, where they’re moving slowly, and where it’s easy for them to pull off and pick you up. Faro had none of these things. First of all, people don’t drive slow in Europe. Ever. When a Portuguese person gets in a car his first thought is: “How close can I come to dying today?” So I found a place that sort of had room to pull over, and where some of the cars were going in my direction, and where the cars weren’t going 800 miles an hour because there was a roundabout in front of them. But to no avail. First, I stepped in some clay trying to get to this hitchhiking spot, and my shoes quickly resembled moon boots. Then I put my thumb up, but it was as if people couldn’t even see me. One person made eye contact, another flashed me an expression that said, “The chances of me ever picking you up are 1/16,000,” and the rest appeared to be mothers with their offspring, the worst candidate for picking up that exists. And I don’t blame them. If I were a mother and I saw a random 34 year old male standing alongside the road wearing a wool coat in southern Portugal and with his thumb thrust skyward, I wouldn’t pick him up. I’d call the police.

So I took a bus and it was a godsend. It turns out you can pay people a reasonable sum of money, and they’ll take you exactly where you want to go. I took a bus to Olhao, a town a few kilometers east, and from there took a train to Vila Real de San Antonio, the last town before Spain.

And this was where the fun began. This was where things got a little weird. This was where I thought to myself, Traveling is awesome.

Actually things didn’t get all that weird. I was surrounded by Dutch people, which is always a little weird. I don’t know much about the Dutch. I know that their language sounds awful. I know that they’re fairly wealthy. I know that they’re sort of like the Germans but also not. And I know that their country is small and flat.

The place where I was surrounded by Dutch people was the ferry from Vila Real to Ayamonte, as evidenced here:

The car depicted in the first photo is the Dutch people’s car. It’s a nice-looking car. The woman driving it was also nice looking. She was wearing a coat that looked like it cost more than anything I’ve ever owned. It looked like it was made out of stardust and mink fur.

I love a good ferry ride, especially one where the captain is smoking. We traversed the Guadiana River and then docked in Ayamonte, and suddenly I was in Spain. How easy everything would be now! I’ve lived in Spain! Twice! I speak the language! No one can touch me now! Tortilla española here I come!

After getting a bite to eat in Ayamonte I decided to try my luck at hitchhiking again, and this time someone did pick me up. His name was Paco. He was from Lepe and on his way to this town, about 20 kilometers east of Ayamonte. I immediately asked him if he was Spanish, because he sounded like he either had a speech impediment or was Cuban or both. But then I realized: That’s just the Andalucia accent. That’s how people in southern Spain talk. They never pronounce the end of words and their r’s sound a bit like l’s. I went to school with a girl from Sevilla once and I literally thought she had a speech impediment the entire year. Poor thing, I thought, She sounds like she has a sock in her mouth.

When we got to Lepe Paco told me he was going to a Zampusa (or something; now I can’t figure out the spelling) and asked me if I wanted to tag along. A Zampusa, he had just explained, was a kind of informal bar where they serve young wine (two months old; the first wine to finish the fermentation process) and people hang out and bring their own food and it’s wonderful. I of course said yes. And then we found ourselves in one of these out of the way locales, a fire smoldering in the fire place and everything smelling generally like the outdoors, and the barman immediately poured us a small pitcher of a liquid that was caramel in color and tasted sort of like wine but also a bit like juice or cider or something completely different. Then the man put a piece of chorizo to smolder in the fire, and when it was done and juicy served it to us on a plate with a stack of bread. I was in heaven. Paco told me a bit about his life. He was teaching a graphic design class in Ayamonte, hence why he was there, and in the afternoon did music therapy for kids with Autism and asperger’s and other conditions. He seemed happy. He was also the editor of the town’s culture and events magazine, which he gave me a copy of to take as a souvenir.

We drank quite a bit of wine. Paco said it was fairly strong but it didn’t taste that strong. There was a guy sitting next to us who Paco said was a “marinero,” and after about a half hour of drinking wine and conversing Paco asked me how much of what the guy said I could understand. “About 20%,” I said. “Maybe 10%.”

“You’re just talking like that ‘cause he’s here,” Paco said to the man. “You don’t normally talk like this. You’re showing off.”

The man’s eyes were glazed over and he kept pointing at the cat sitting in the doorway and making jokes about how later they were going to eat it.

After the wine Paco dropped me off at the bus station and I got on a bus to Huelva for 3 euros. Then in Huelva I got on a bus to Sevilla, and on the bus to Sevilla fell into a deep sleep and didn’t wake up until we were in the outskirts, just about to pull into the Plaza de Armas station. I studied in Sevilla in 2004 and so everything is sort of familiar to me. I saw the skatepark where I used to skate, the beautiful Guadalquivir river. Everything seemed greener, though. The air was cool and fresh and I sat next to the Guadalquivir for a bit, and then made my way to my pension downtown. It was a small room with an even smaller bed but for 15 euros it was fine. And in the end I spent about as much money getting to Sevilla as if I would’ve just taken the direct bus from Faro, but I like to think by not taking the direct bus my day was more interesting.

Lame Photos from Faro

If you know me at all you know that one of my least favorite things in the world, besides watching people chew gum with their mouth open like the girl the other day on the bus to Paris Orly who had me wondering, Does she know she’s doing this? Does she know how atrocious this is? is taking pictures. And it’s not even that I hate taking pictures, it’s more that I hate feeling like I have to take pictures. I hate when I see something beautiful and a little voice  in my cerebellum screams, “Hey, bro, you should take a picture.” And then I don’t take a picture and I feel bad. I think, Oh, well, I’ll write about it. Writing is more effective anyway because if you write about it people have to imagine it. I mean, A Farewell to Arms doesn’t have a bunch of pictures. The Feminine Mystique doesn’t have a bunch of pictures. So that’s why Where’s Wetzler traditionally hasn’t had a great deal of photography.

But that all changed today as I hit the street with my trusty 35mm, aka my cellphone. The first thing I did was head to a little spot across the train tracks where earlier in the day I’d seen some fishermen gossiping about whatever it is fishermen gossip about. I would’ve paid several euros to be able to understand their conversation. They looked like they were having a great time. They looked like they’d known each other since they were fetuses, in the way only people from a small town in southern Portugal can know each other. But alas I was too far away and my Portuguese is far too rudimentary to ever understand what had them so animated.

After wandering around the town for part of the afternoon I headed back to my guesthouse where the owner had told me there was a bottle of green wine lurking in the fridge that was entirely at my disposal. He said it was good green wine. So in my head I’d made a little mental note that stayed with me all day that said, “At some point today, when the hour is appropriate, you’re going to sit down with a couple of glasses of green wine and take the edge off.” Not that I was stressed out. I don’t remember the last time I was stressed out. I think it was 7th grade when I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d made the basketball team.

I had two glasses of green wine, and then figured two was a weird number and so had a third. Then I hit the streets, which were completely deserted because of the recent rain. It hasn’t rained a lot in Portugal lately so this rain is a blessing. For me it mostly meant I had to make sure I didn’t get my shoes wet. I saw one bar that was showing soccer games and decided that the next bar that looked crowded and intimidating I would go in. I didn’t have to wait too long before I turned a corner and saw a well lit, ample bar with pool tables populated by old Portuguese men watching the Manchester United v. Watford game. I  entered.

At the bar I successfully ordered a ham and cheese sandwich in Portuguese and thought about how that’s why I like these bars, because you have to try to speak the language. These guys don’t speak English. They don’t want to speak English. All they want to do is sit around around and drink Pepsi and smoke cigarettes and watch soccer. This is all they’ve done for the past 20 years, and what they’re going to do till they die. I kind of envy them.

I also kind of don’t envy them. And I couldn’t see the screen too well so after the first half I went back to my wonderful guesthouse where I lay on the bed watching English Premier League soccer and wondering aggressively how I was going to get to Spain the next day, if I in fact went. Would I hitchhike? Would I fork over the massive quantities of dough required to take buses and trains? This caused me some distress, so I went downstairs and made some mint tea. If you ever want to calm down, drink some mint tea. In fact if you want to completely turn around your life and stop being a wretched slob, I suggest you do the following: Give up coffee, and start drinking mint tea. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for the soul. And it’s good for the palate.

I decided I would try to hitchhike the next day, and resolved to get up early to do so. My time in Faro was done. I set my alarm for 7:00am and wondered if I’d actually get up. Or if when I woke up I’d think about going to sleep, how sweet it would be, and how nothing could get me up, not even mint tea.

The Long and Misguided Walk from Faro Airport to Faro Center

Yesterday I arrived to Faro, Portugal on the 11:30am Transavia flight from Paris Orly. My goal was to walk from the airport to the downtown area where my guesthouse was, but according to Google Maps the only way to walk downtown was to walk toward the beach, in the exact opposite direction of downtown, and take a ferry. This seemed like a good idea because I love walking, I love ferries, and more than anything I love walking to/from airports.

The flight arrived on time and suddenly I was thrust into the warm airs of a Mediterranean after just a few hours earlier trudging through the late November gloom of what is supposedly one of the coolest cities in the world but to me just seems like one massive, expensive tourist trap. And then there I was, walking down a white-washed sidewalk, through a grove of trees, and onto the road leading to the beach.

I don’t usually like to take pictures but look at this beauty. Look at the natural, soft sand sidewalk on the left. Look at the burnt-red clay bank on the right. Look at the way the road stretches to the horizon and then takes a teasing, beckoning left. It would be nearly impossible to be confronted with a vista like this and not wonder what lies beyond the bend.

After many more minutes of walking I arrived at the beach where I was confronted with an arresting sight:

The ocean in all its fury juxtaposed with the love of a placid couple!

I walked where Google Maps told me to walk and finally got to the dock where the ferry was supposed to leave. I didn’t see any ferry. I didn’t see anything at all really except wetlands and possibly a crane. I went into a lunch place a few steps from the dock and asked in my best Portuguese, refined after one quarter of “Portuguese for Spanish Speakers” at UW, “Is there a ferry that leaves from here?”

“No,” they said, “It stops in September.”

“Idiot,” they added.

Actually they didn’t say this. They didn’t say this at all. And I was momentarily dejected but then elated since this allowed me to make a lunch stop at a burger joint I’d seen just a few minutes before. The place was called Moonlight Bar & Grill or something to that effect. I ordered a Moonlight Burger. The kid working asked what I wanted to drink and I said sparkling water and he said, “We have two kinds. One is kind of light and the other is strong. Lots of bubbles.” I opted for the strong and when he brought it out he repeated the name and said, “This stuff is good.”

After the burger I walked back to the where the bus picked up and asked two elderly English gentlemen in Portuguese if this was where the bus left for the center. They started waving their hands to stop me and said, “English! English!”

The bus cost 2 euros 25 cents. This is a steal. Getting from airports to city centers is notoriously expensive, but nothing in Portugal is expensive. Almost nothing. Later that night I’d go to a touristy restaurant in the old town and spend way, way, way, way way, too much money on what was basically a few pieces of bread with octopus bits and melted cheese. And possibly some red wine. At dinner I started talking to a French girl who was also traveling alone and suddenly I had a dinner companion! Suddenly I was no longer alone!

After dinner she wanted to “walk down to the port,” I have no idea why, and I said I wanted to sleep so I went back to my guesthouse where I hung out on the terrace looking up at the night sky. And then it started to rain, which drove me inside. But even so it was a fairly successful first day in Faro.