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.

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