( Rather a long Chapter )
What me know:
Lisbon, Sandyman Port, Explorers, Jesuits, Sardines, Algarve. Sporto, Benfica.
At the squeeze of dawn, with the starlings that had survived both French and Spanish ack ack I am once more outside the bank doors in Fermoselle. Spared from refugee status it is not long before I am returning with the rain to find Fanny and Florence. I find them standing in the shadowed of the outstretched hands of a gigantic statue to the god of port Mr Sandeman. They are both looking tired and red-eyed.
We drive over the Serra do Marao to Pêso de Régua. Not a campsite to be had wild or otherwise. Every patch of ground down to the riverbank is covered in vines. In an attempt to enliven the girls I impart a gem of knowledge that I had read and shared early in the morning with my starling heroes outside the Bank.
“Do you know that the Emperor Dominiciano once tried to pass a decree to destroy half the vineyards around here? The question is why? “Because he was not like you dad!” says Florence. This observation left me wondering. Not for long.
“You snored all night.” “Mum and I could not get a wink of sleep.”
“There was someone banging the door and running away.”
Apparently, it turns out that the hotel top up its tourist income, by renting some of its rooms to a few of the locals who happen to be far from the full Paso. The night had been spent listening to doors slamming with our bedroom door being knocked upon by some loony playing knock and run till four in the morning.
Checking out. Fanny extracts a large discount from the hotel management with an assurance that she would give it a high recommendation in the 2011/2013 European Loonies Accommodation Guide. Was I not indeed lucky, that Emperor Dominciano had been defeated by Mr. Sandeman the God of Port.? Had he not laid me out to rest oblivious of all Looney night antics?
Down the N222 to Olivetra do Douro, village after village bearing witness to poor old Dominiciano frustrations in his attempts to sober up the region. He was up against it with a barrel in every barn. According to official government statistics ninety-six thousand estates these days are under the vine, in the Douro Region alone.
Pitch number nine is high up in the mountains overlooking the River Duro and a few acres of Portuguese ambassadors of the future. As the last morsels of daylight away below us through the trees are leisurely swallowed by darkness each household is finding its electricity switch and the river begins to slowly reveal it’s self in silent twinkles of bouncing starlight in its waters.
Sitting on wobbles our bush toilet seat in what remains of the fading light a pink line appears beside me. Before I can reach down the line is merrily making its way down the steep forest floor to the chapel gates. My body all at once is inhabited by more than one personality. Changing function at the sight of my vanishing loo roll my stern end goes into irons my balance becomes precarious. In a conflict of mind over the body, the tranquillity of my surroundings is broken. One hundred billion neurons cannot catch the vanishing loo roll. With no rabbits around I have to settle for an inappropriate wipe of pine needles.
The following morning, the heavily saturated forest floor muffles the sounds of a Christian Sunday morning. Dogs barking, Church bells, Portuguese cockcrow’s, crickets chirping, raindrops ricocheting off the tent canvas.
We are parked right in the middle of a forest pathway (Photo) with all of us reluctant to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags.
Riveted to the forest path by sacks of grain on their heads three Buddha shaped
Portuguese ladies with knockers the size of railway buffers are scrutinizing the pink line. By the look on their faces, they are I am sure trying to interpret its meaning with a lot of trepidation. I can’t help but laugh out loud at their obvious big girl’s blouse blush surprise. Standing outside the tent in my boxer shorts I wave them around the tent with a gracious Musketeer bow that is in no need of hat plumage.
Later in the day, our next stop comes in the late afternoon in a mountain café for a drop of local martini and mountain beer shandy. Sipping this potent concoction, we watch the final match of a lead disc throwing competition in the cafe car park.
Separated by a suitable distance, two archery type targets have been marked out on the earth. With ever-increasing erratic precision, highly influenced by the amount of shandy drunk two opponents are flinging a round shape stone at the targets. On each throw, the airborne time of the stone is either greatly improved or weighed down by the amount of advance liquid limbering up.
In-between the supporting Ouch –Wow- Ooh’s and Ah’s Fanny, using her best Italian finds out from the proprietor that there is a place to camp just up behind the cafe. “Go up the small dirt road just behind us, you will come to a crossroads. Take no heed of it. You senorita just keeps on going up. If you see an open gate on your left you have gone too far. Come back down this road till you spot a big tree.”
The directions have all the hallmarks of West of Ireland directions that ensure the recipient gets to see as much of the countryside as is possible. There is, however, a notable difference it lacks the accompanying local history. The field-by-field, house-by-house ownership list, and how they got to own it in the first place is missing.
Up we go, and down we come after an hour to the front door of the Cafe.
“What did I tell you, never trust a Portuguese with a brogue”. So we return to the river. Finding a eucalyptus forest, in the four-wheel drive we follow a hopeful looking track, negotiate a sharp right, a sharp left, eventually grinding to a stop on a very steep nasty wet bend.
The drop into the woods is similar to that of the Pink line escape route. The book says, stop and walk the track. Good advice. Out I get to have a look. The drop on my left needs no book advice; it’s to be avoided at all costs.
After several head-on attempts, a slip track to the rear offers the only solution. Reversing into it goes badly wrong. Mud, rain, and inexperience whatever you wish to call it had the land rover on the point of vanishing at any moment into one of the vineyards below.
The girls bail out. Standing under a Lotto golfing brolly that imparts a strong message to me – “Your number could be up!” I commence stuffing the tents hall carpet, floor mats, leaves, rocks, with the curse of a free holiday to the west of Ireland on all Portuguese with a Celtic Brogue under the back wheels. Two hours of digging, swearing, wheel spinning, in the midst of expert advice from under the brolly which is eventually cut silent by a cut hand, I come free to reverse down the track to pitch number ten.
It is one more night of cold bums, cold legs, a disgruntled Fanny, and an anxious exhausted Florence sound asleep.
Before departing next morning in the sunshine, Eureka, I receive my first wet shave from my daughter. I must have been looking extremely haggard from yesterday’s late evening exertions. On the way back up the track a stream cascading its pure mountain water down through a field of intense yellow daisies offers an opportunity to try out our washing machine, (a large blue plastic drum with a screw lid.)
Scrambling down through the woods over a few barbed wire fences, Florence and I fill the container in a fairy glade with unblemished living water. Returning to Williwaw, I am one stone lighter with arms two inches longer. With some considerable effort, the container is heaved onto the roof. The theory is that Williwaws motion will rock the drum turning it into a washing machine.
Some hours later we pull in to Figueira da Foz in sweet-smelling underwear. That night I foul anchor with four Welsh sailors who are on a yacht-delivering trip to somewhere in the Med. Two bottles of port later I roll back to the hotel using satellite navigation with the odd lamppost buoy to keep me on course.
It is quite obvious to all that a long drive today is out of the question. I am rejuvenated, in an old barber’s shop where I receive the full treatment, a cutthroat shave, hot towels, slap of aftershave, head message all for 2350 excuses.
Looking like an American Marine, a walk of the beach is recommended by the girls. “Nothing like sea air to clear the head you always say, dad”. In front of the incoming wave, Florence runs alongside the wading birds, playing chicken with the surf that echoes’ deep within my aching head. Arriving at the far end of the beach we are assured by a local fisherman, that here not an inch of sand to spare in July and August. In my state of mind, I don’t give a toss if they all had to sit on top of each other. My head needed peace and quiet. Where better than a small church called St. de Comceicoa. “What’s in there,” says Florence. “That’s the inner sanctum.” She has just got one foot in the door before I frog march her back out into the open air. Laid out on the slab with fresh rigour mortis, is an auld one dressed in full heavenly travelling gear. Not quite what I had in mind for Florence. God forbid after the St. Clara nails experience, there is every chance that she might be caught examining the old dears teeth, never mind her nails, for life hereafter growth.
We trundle down the N109 stopping at Fátíma. Here we visit the Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass windows and gargoyles that would do justice to any methodological colour yawn. Having done the tourist bit, we are just about to leave the cathedral when a ray of sunlight strikes one of the windows. In a mist of an early morning bog light, the suspended crucifixion over the eternal remembrance stone plaque is shrouded in colours of hazed glorification. The click of cameras, the hum of video camcorders, sours the moment. I am glad we are not packed a Camcorder; the blind man’s travelling stick.
An hour later over a picnic lunch, we are sitting in a small public park, or to be more precise on the roof of a public loo overlooking the park. The toilet building has been dedicated by the Mayor of the village to those who fought in the battle of some unreadable campaign. From the shrine in the Cathedral dedicated to those blown to smithereens to a public toilet for those with dog tags is quite a contras.
Lisbon is in our sights.
We arrive at the peak traffic rush hour. Finding our way over the Tagus Bridge, “Fanny has the map out. Let’s try Sesimbra it’s just down the road on the coast. “Look Bob”, it’s just out there. A few car parks and a shantytown later, we arrive in the Kinsale of Lisbon. Hotel Della Mar, sporting 4 stars – looks good. “A room for the team please, with a view of the sea if possible”. We’re full.
We do however have one room for 37,000 excuses plus 6,000 for a spare bed, has us hot tailing it off to a bar for a rethink. Luck gleams down once more on us; we secure a small apartment for a meagre 4,500 just off the main drag.
We are three days away from Florence’s seventh birthday and twelve hours to meeting up with Pedro and his family – our favourite Portuguese son who had stayed with us in Ireland for two summers to learn English. Armed with telephone directions, we are all set to meet up the next day in Pedro’s dad’s offices in Portinho, Lisbon at 5.30pm. Portinho is one hour away from where we are staying. We are to leave at four thirty p.m. tomorrow in the direction of Setubal down the coast. After fifteen to twenty kilometres we consult a citizen of Setubal, as to the whereabouts of Lisbon never mind Portinho. “No, speak English.”
While he offers me an old 200-excuse banknote with some roman face as a souvenir to buy, Fanny spots the inescapable Police station.
“Wait in the car park”, she eventually emerges with a three peaks fix. It’s over the bridge, not the bridge over to Troia or the Rio Tejo, but over the Rio Tagus where we crossed yesterday.
Back out on the Auto-Estrada we arrive once more in time for Lisbon’s evening rush hour. With her bull bar and her hijack strapped to her front bumper Williwaw commands respect. She is not to be messed with. Disappearing in the smog of crawling traffic we grind with every passing minute to a halt and then to a total standstill all due to the installation of a new Lisbon metro system.
Ask this man, that taxi driver, a group of women at a bus stop, the local tourist office, rap on the windows of adjacent traffic, consult our map, around and around we go. We eventually appear in Portinho at eight p.m.
There, two floors up framed in an office window is the Jadauji family. In relief and thanksgiving, I give Williwaw’s air horns a blast. It is to be the first time and the last time that they work. Ten minutes later we are following close at the heel to the Jadauji home in Vale de Lobos outside Lisbon. We are welcomed to the bosom of their home by Lumbo, a Portuguese sheep dog of Swartznegger proportions.
The following morning Florence armed with an automatic push-button umbrella and a small battery operated car tackling her fear of Lumbo to celebrate her seventh birthday in style. Fanny hits the downtown Lisbon with the credit card. Williwaw gets a new security system sent out from the UK, to replace the one that had been installed without removing some of its packagings. The original alarm suffered a meltdown in the Polish Ship.
While the girls are having a ball I on the other hand to the apprehension of Juan (Pedro’s dad: a Sporting fan), cause a near riot at the Final de Taca de Portugal in Estadio Nacional.
Entering the stadium, we are met by a sea of waving flags – Red for S.L. Benfica and green for Sporting C.P. In order to take our seats in the Bancada Central we pass in front of the green Sporto supporters. I am wearing some of Fanny’s glorious red lipsticks, and a Benfica scarf bought outside the grounds. To be expected both these items attract some choice Portuguese catcalls not found in the Portuguese Phrasebook. Any true football junkie would nevertheless have no difficulty in translating them. Donning a Mick Jagger pursed-lipped I throw a kiss in the direction of the Sporto terracing. It brings a shower of apple cores, banana skins, and any other item of worthless value. It looks like I am not yet for cloning.
Finding our seats the floodlight-playing surface is surrounded with no boundaries capable of testifying to where one colour ends and the other begins. An explosion of green and red signals the player’s arrival. The stadium burst into the religious tribal fever of football. Only the lights of Lisbon blinking in the distant darkness separate the supporters. Ten minutes into the game there is a large movement of green towards the exits. Slowly at first, the Sporto fans are leaving until only a handful remained.
It turns out that a rocket has been fired from the Benfica end of the pitch. Descended out of the spotlight darkness it has struck a young man dead for the wearing of the green: Such a waste of life.
Although I had never met or seen the young man in question, I felt saddened by his tragedy. Many a young man in my country met their end for the wearing of the green. I am probably the last one to have blown his killer a kiss.
Armed with boxes of South American samba music we unwillingly prepare to leave Lisbon. The tapes are a gift from Pedro father, who supplies Brazil with their latest hits in return for large boxes of fresh tropical fruit. His large Mozambique smile asks us to say Jambo to Africa, before he bestowed us with one last surprise. He has arranged for us to stay for a few nights in the Algarve at his expense, in his hotel Monaco, where he promises us, there will be a bottle of whisky awaiting our arrival.
So here we are basking in the luxury of Algarve sunshine for a few days. It will be a difficult to return to life under canvas.
Fanny retraces a holiday from her past. Finding some of the little villages she and her friends had visited. I introduce Florence to her first real experience of nature at its best.
Lazing on a small sandbar the tide ripples between our toes. Two Arctic terns are feeding on the edge of the tide. Hovering over the blue Mediterranean water, they dive for whitebait within inches of us. I try without much success to explain to my daughter that the enemy of life is not so much death as not living it without an element of Awe. She far too young for such a conversation I can only hope that Africa with its easel of life will take care of the explanation for me. It is difficult at this point, if not almost impossible, to contemplate what we all will learn over the course of the next two years.
Later that evening out on the Hotel bar balcony I muse over, what if any sanity went through the mind of Vasco da Gama before he set sail to find the sea route to India. Did Fernao de Magalbaes remain sane? He never returned from the first circumnavigation of the world. Then there is Diogo de Silves, he just followed the sun to the edge of the known world and turned left discovering the Azores before he fell off. And how about Pedro Alvares Cabrol who discovered Brazil – was he blinded by the sun, or had he set off in the dark? Why was it that Henry the Navigator never went to sea?
One way or the other they all I am sure watched the setting sun, with the same feelings that I was now experiencing a sense of adventure, a touch of fear that gives you the urge to pee, a moment of solitude finely tuned by being alive, a moment of prayer.
It goes without saying that a world without the unknown is indeed going to be a boring place. Perhaps at this point, it is sheer cruelty to speculate what is in store for a man in the future, but somewhere, recently I read that the average modern man (if that is his correct label) of seventy-two years spends twelve years watching the idiot box. The destroyer of living life, imaginations, languages, conversation, ethics, feelings, intellectual capacity, and nature, to name but a few of the idiot boxes negative contributions to the world we now live in. The question to be answered is will Twitter, FaceBook and the Web combined with all of our technology advances leave us living in a world without a sense of truly living in harmony with what really matters our differences and nature.
SPAIN once more:
For us, its Faro out on Cape Santa Maria with a stop on the way in at a small village called St. Juan de Puerto for no other reason than our craving for a cold drink. Our request in the local, the only bar in the town, for two beers and a coke brings a scratching of the heads, followed by general all-round body scratch from the old lady standing behind the counter. Florence takes over communications. Hanging her tongue out in panting doggy fashion our request is finally understood.
While waiting for the drinks I engage a youth and older man in small talk. “Come here often?” I enquire; “Si twice a day” the answer comes in perfect English.
“Two trains pass here daily says the young one. “ “I am in training for a year.” God rest my soul if it’s not the Spanish Open University level crossing course. After a visit to the railway station, which I could not refuse, to see the role of honour we press on to Faro – Malaga.
Two more wonderful wild pitches, (Pitch; no 11/12) one on the lake shore below Villamartin, the other up in the hills outside Ronda, both sleepless due to the girl’s sense of hearing which is now so finely tuned they can hear the earth breath.
On the other hand they are both showing signs of shaping up a little for the trip ahead, ” Be more precise when you want something Dad, “ I am told by Florence, and ” put things back where you find them.” are hopeful indicators that those small accidents that could cause our whole trip to end in disaster will be avoided.
(Top Tip: Small accidents have a habit of turning into major disasters. Their probability can be greatly reduced by putting things back where one finds them. )
After a thirty-mile downhill section of twisting bends that almost untwist our necks with me saying at every bend ” Don’t ride the brakes, Don’t ride the brakes, “ Use the f… gears, “ By the time we stop for a morning coffee, in Atjate. Fanny is a short burning fuse. She is threatening to go home.
We stop at Bar Pandara. Out of one of its open windows pours an unending volume of noise in the form of Spanish voices intermingled with the alluring chimes of the resident one-armed bandit machine. Followed by the ever-increasing volume of noise from within. We retreat outside with our morning coffees. All is brought to a shattered crescendo of silence by a woman’s scream from somewhere down the street. It is a scream of such piercing intensity that daylight rape can be the only explanation. We don’t hang around to find out.
Fanny’s spark plug is still glowing on our arrival at a new camping site called Camping Rio Genal, Pitch: No 13 named after the river which we have been following for most of the day. The morning session of “don’t ride the brakes” does not stand us in good form for the next Spanish Tourist attraction.
Over lunch, we are treated to the dispatching of a pedigree Spanish free range chicken without the use of a fork or knife. At the table next to us, eyes closed, against recoil, a rather large Hombre, equipped with lips that have the suction of an industrial vacuum hover proceeds to demolish Pollo Selecto. Ripping the legs off with a quick twist of the wrist, he breach’s the breast with trembling fingers of anticipation. Using a Canadian beaver bark-stripping technique the carcass is cast aside without coming up for air. Next, each leg is lowered into the airlock. The door closed. Only the conclave of the outer cheeks against the cheekbone gives any indication of the suction being applied before the leg re-emerges snow-white. Stripped cleaner than if a flock of vultures had picked it for a week and left it in the sun to dry it is then tossed aside for some unknown archaeologist dig in a thousand years from now to find the remains of an unknown Plover that once lived on the banks of the Rio Genal.
A swim in the Rio Genal is a welcome catharsis.
Four am, I am awakened to find my loved one Fanny, crying. Her airbed has collapsed; her sleeping bag refuses to close. Bags traded with a re-inflation I am back to sleep dreaming of cannibalism.
Morning: Camped under the shade of a cork tree there is no rush to move in the hot breaking sun. The clear soft mountain water of the river is calling. A bit perky at first, but soon we are sliding down a water Shute into a deep pool.
Florence returns from upriver exploration with a new friend from the previous evening’s domino match. They have discovered a sandy beach, with a deep swimming pool on one of the river bends. We follow our guides, into the carefree pleasures of a wonderful afternoon that no amount of money could buy.
(Top Tip: Camp site Camping Rio Genal is to be recommended.)
Later that evening we traverse the last of the mountains to Costa del Sol, Malaga. A shining example of what happens when a country sells its cultural identity to hardcore tourism. Profit for the sake of profit. This is to be a trinity of tragedy we will witness over and over again throughout our journey, all encouraged by the very worst of western “values.”
We book into Hotel Patrica on the main strip. Walls like tissue paper, but clean and cool. Dinner at a pizza joint goes down well with Flo. Fanny and I talk about Africa, our new source of energy. A shopping list is drawn up that will require a trailer. Television images are strong, winning out to a day visit to The Rock of
Gibraltar, to stock up on essentials. Tea is a must, fly repellent, Game Boy, Barbie Safaris gear, you name it, and it was on the list.
Armed with our list bright and early, we are walking across a runway that has tested many a pilot and passenger stomach to Gibraltar. The shops are closed. Over an English breakfast, we are made wise to the fact that it’s an English Bank holiday. How was I to know, I plead, “You can rest assured that the Arab community will not miss the opportunity to trade with the rest of the competition out of action.” Some hours later laden down, we take a taxi back across the runway to the Spanish border, purchase our ferry tickets to Ceuta at a cost of one hundred pounds – departure at eight thirty am in the morning. The tomorrow departure allows the ladies to upgrade their swim wear, flip-flops, hats, snorkels, flippers, and new camera lens.
That night is interrupted by another dose of bullfighting dreams for Florence and too much 103 brandy for ourselves.
To be continued.
As theretofore any small donations would be much appreciated.
Robert Dillon. Account no 62259189. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2
Sorting Code: 98-50-10.