Through Portugal to Spain

When I last wrote, I was on my way to Newark airport. The trip to there, then on to Lisbon was uneventful. Lisbon airport was small and efficient, so getting through the airport, then into the town center was also uneventful.

Portuguese sounds nothing at all like “Spanish with a French accent” as someone suggested to me. In fact, I never understood a single bit of Portuguese spoken to me the whole time I was there, it seems. It’s easy enough to read, as it is a Romance language, and at this point my brain pretty much translates written Romance languages on the fly into English (that survival skill comes from all my time not speaking French in French speaking places). So I wasn’t exactly incommunicado, but close. The people are nice, and enough speak English to get by, but it’s not exactly smooth sailing.

Also, it seems as though accurate information about the transit system in Portugal is hard to come by. I got a bunch of conflicting stories about where the busses are, which station has the train to Faro, etc. I basically fell back onto the trick of asking someone, then proceeding generally where they said and asking again. By asking 3 or more times along your route for the same thing, you can take the average of the answers and be relatively certain you’re headed the right direction. I always got the feeling people were trying to be helpful, but the information was simply complicated, and depended a lot on the season, the time of day, the phase of the moon, etc. I suppose it would be like trying to explain to a visitor to the Bay Area why it is cheaper and faster to use the bus to get to the airport from my house than to use the train and BART.

One other thing I noticed is that the magic of Europe has almost completely worn off on me. I actually felt more excited to be “someplace new” in New York than in Lisbon! I kind of miss the feeling of everything being new and different I used to get when coming here. On the other hand, the confidence that you can step off the airplane in any of a hundred cities in the EU and be completely in control is nice to have too. I think being so comfortable with Europe is part of what’s spurring me to move on to places like Morocco and Guatemala during this year.

OK, enough philospohy! On to the travel bits.

From Lisbon’s town center, I got online and found no new news from Evi. So I figured I could either hang out in Lisbon, or head south. As Lisbon didn’t really offer any “must see” items (like the Louvre, or the Prado) I decided to move on and do Lisbon for real at the end of my trip. After I figured out the time and place for my bus to Faro, I walked through the downtown on my way to the bus station. It was a typical European shopping district, with the addition of street vendors selling chestnuts roasted over a coal fire. I think that’s a special fall treat.

I narrowly avoided getting sent across town looking for the bus to Faro, but I realized at the last minute that the completely impossible to follow instructions I was getting from the “bus guy” were actually to the other train station, and that I was actually getting shanghai’ed by the railroad guy. I don’t think he was actually trying to steal me from the bus line, but it sure felt like it. When I got across that I just wanted this certain bus line, he shrugged and pointed generally over his shoulder as though he didn’t really know, but he thought maybe there was a bus station someplace out over that way. Turns out, there was a very busy and well-organized bus station right outside the train station that the subway had spit me out into. I’d like to note, in my defense, that the train station had NONE of the things you might expect in it to indicate it was for rail travel. For instance there were no visible tracks, just this guy in this booth who seemed intent on sending me across town away from the bus station. Karl warned me to avoid the train and take the bus, but it’s difficult to do so when the rail company won’t admit it even IS one.

I bought my ticket for the 14:15 bus to Faro, and had an hour and a quarter to kill. I saw a bus to Faro loaded with passengers, and I thought it was funny that all those people wanted to sit on the bus for an hour. But I also saw a chance to dump my heavy pack, so I headed over to the bus. The driver happily loaded my stuff, then tried to herd me on board. He seemed to be in a terrible hurry. When I showed him that I was on the 14:15 bus, he said, “No, we go now!”. Turns out the ticket window and the bus driver were out of sync. Guess which one won? So onto the bus I went, without my lunch. Luckily, I’ve done this before, and one of the things I did when I was in the shopping district was get a couple apples, some cookies and a chocolate bar, so I was all set with a not-entirely-nutritous lunch.

The trip to Faro was uneventful. I napped a bit, which was nice, because I only napped a bit on the redeye from New York to Lisbon.

In Faro, I walked pretty much directly to the Youth Hostel, using the “keep asking until someone says you’ve gone too far” algorithm. I used a twist on it this time, since there was a festival on like a county fair (it even had tractors and veggie slicers!). There were policemen all over the place directing traffic around the fair, and the address I was looking for was Portuguese for “police station street”, so I just kept asking every police officer I saw where it was, and got much more accurate instructions than usual. Yay for Romance languages, and police officers in tourist areas who have been forced to practice their English. My undying gratitude goes out to Faro’s finest.

The hostel was comfortable, but it either allowed smoking in the rooms, or my roomates didn’t care about the rules, so I smelled a little bit smoky when I left. Oh well.

That evening I entertained myself at the fair, even trying some roasted chestnuts (yuck; like walnut flavored paste). I had a pizza for dinner, because it occurred to me I’d neither slept nor eaten very well recently. In my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged state, I was not really hungry or sleepy, just zombie-like, so I figured it was best to tackle the symptoms of zombitude one at a time.

I’d wondered what stopping one day in New York would do to my jet lag; would it make it better or worse? I don’t know if New York contributed to this, but my jet lag this time has been really annoying. My body seems to have settled into a stable bifurcated pattern where I wake up at 2:30 and am wide awake, then fall asleep again at 5:00. This has happened three nights in a row now, and it’s really getting annoying. I’m going to try to beat it tonight by staying up reading until 2:00, then going to sleep. Hopefully I’ll sleep through the night, and then can move my schedule forward from there by getting up early. We’ll see.

From Faro, I went to Tavira via bus. I had the address of a hostel that was 3 km north of the city. I didn’t really like the distance, but the place supposedly had a pool and only a few rooms, so it sounded fun. It was a sleepy, quiet Sunday morning in Tavira, and so it was impossible to get any useful tourist info, like how to get a cab. Eventually I just gave up and sat on a bench, waiting for something to happen. This is another skill I’ve learned to deal with problems traveling; when you are out of ideas, just sit down and see if the problem solves itself. I know it doesn’t sound like it can possibly work, but somehow it does!

Now, you’re not going to believe me, but in about 15 minutes, a cab showed up, right in front of my bench. OK, so I chose the bench because it was in a place where a cab would likely be, but still, it was pretty cool. I waved him down, and he took me to the address. I ran in to see if they had a room and found out that the place was actually now a rental property, and that the nice British family that had rented it for the week had no extra rooms. So back to town. I just chose a random hotel and asked to see the room. Turns out I chose the “Let’s Go Europe” recommended hotel for 2002-2004! A perfect little room for only 18 euro! I took a walk out to the beach, made a couch out of a destroyed sand castle, burried my feet in warm sand, and read. A nice way to spend the afternoon.

The next day I had to wait around until 11 am for the Internet cafe to open. When I checked my mail I found that Evi and Susha had made it to Ayamonte, so I hopped on a bus and took the ferry over to Ayamonte, and met them. I spent the rest of the day getting settled into the boat. Susha made a great dinner that’s likely to become one of my favorites. It’s called “5 p’s” and it is a hearty, creamy, pink sauce on top of penne. She told me what the 5 p’s were, but I already forgot.

The weather is bringing winds that are unfavorable, so we’ll stay in port a little longer here. I’ll add an update when we leave for Madeira or maybe the Canaries.

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