I forged a circuitous path West. It was frustrating. Eventually I found myself in pleasant, rural scenery, riding through small towns in Nowhere, Portugal. I get tired, and roll into a town that looks to have a population of 3-4 thousand. “Any hostels here?” I attempt to say to a local shopkeeper, “No.” Hotels? “No.” Any nearby that you know of? “At this point she and two other women take off on a cavalcade of rapid Portuguese. I thought they were telling me to inquire at a certain cafe or something, and I tried to follow the gist of what I understood, to no avail, obviously. Screw it, keep going. Village. Village. Big village. It really is nowhere out here- there are no attractions, no wineries, theme parks, tourism. The grass is always greener. I wish there was a hotel somewhere. These places are great to live in though, they are places to live quietly, to grow a garden, to farm, removed from the noise and confusion. Yet, it is not wilderness. for me, wilderness would be preferable. It is nowhere, for there is nowhere I am really permitted to stay..
I could tell by the sun that I was headed more North than West. Fortunately, Portugal is like good music: lots of space. There are huge parks in Lisbon, all over. Gardens, communal or urban, probably plots that are claimed somehow, abound. In almost any vacant spaces you will find lovely vegetables growing, intermingled with very well constructed garden sheds, built with whatever was available, and overbuilt! I thought they were shanties at first- they are like villages built by children, they evoke nostalgia in me, for they are art, they are collages!
For every ten buildings it seems there is a derelict one. Many a field, farm, or empty house or old place of business offered themselves for exploration. This is an old place. Aspects of it are charming, namely the historical evidence of religion and war, which perhaps ought not be separated. Other aspects are, frankly, similar to the carpet in an old apartment. People have been around so long that people build around things, on top of things, or just let them go. Strange layouts suggest to me many booms and crashes, a volatile economic history. I would not want to be in real estate here. I pulled off into a field and setup my tent out of site and gratefully hunkered down in my sleeping bag, tired, wet, and a little dispirited.
By that I mean 4 am. I had passed out about six, catching up on sleep for the first time in two days that was not in a chair. Dark. Profound wind and rain. Amazing! Thick, beige mud is everywhere, the ground is saturated. It was a challenge to take down my tent. as soon as the stakes were pulled, it was a flag. I disconnected the poles bit by bit, trying not to break anything. I got to the last two and pulled one loose. Wack! I waited, tasting my split lip and wondering if my front teeth were going to fall out. Nope, just a fat lip.
As all this happened, a strange calm pervaded. I have nowhere to be. I have no purpose, in the most liberating sense. I have some time constraints, but they are loose and changeable, ultimately. I realize that I have changed a lot in the ten years since I was last out of country. I used to have a delusion of grandeur, that I stuck out like a sore thumb, that people were keen on taking advantage of me, waiting for me to make a mistake. All this probably served to do was manifest itself; in my anxious state I advertised the symptoms of discomfort, fear, and vulnerability. Silly. Schizophrenic. Egocentric. Everybody goes about their business. What is more, the people of Portugal are very Western. Totally navigable. They have the same values, the same social structure, they are familiar. It takes no more navigation than usual. The cities are like other cities, in other places.
This morning I did offend a shopkeeper with my lack of language skills. “Eu nao falar Portuguese…” His face displayed alarm. “Cafe.” No problem. “Uno mas,” “Mas un?” “Sim.” I asked for a pastry and an egg, which was displayed, and there was a breakdown. I apologised and we got it sorted out. I ate my pastry, egg omitted because the restaurant was not open, they were not hardboiled. He and the other clients talk about me, inferred from the repetition of “Ingles” and one “Thaank you,” but I was nonplussed. It amused me to wonder if they knew I could hear them, though they probably did not care. Oh well. We are human. I did acknowledge that it is frustrating when you are unable to communicate with strange soggy men in the depths of your own country! Interesting. A small thing. These towns are the sort where anyone unfamiliar at all is greeted with a modicum of having accidentally popped a bubble… a first-name basis sort of place. There are many, many small shops, some of which look to be a room into someone’s house… it follows that I never know if they are open. I suspect you can only buy coffee and pastries until noon…
I am at a beautiful hostel called Moon Hill in Sintra, with a castle on yonder hill. It is about 32 km from Lisbon as the crow flies, but I rode about eighty to get here (about 50 miles). I still have not rediscovered the Camino du Portugal.
I am thrashed, to be frank. So much for taking it easy. My knee is acting up, which does not surprise me, considering, but this makes me nervous.