*DISCLAIMER* There is some language in this one.
My camera is still dead, by the way. Battery is probably fried, certainly excess water trapped in the camera itself. No great loss, in my opinion. All of the pictures you see were taken on my tablet when I was either checking the map or simply couldn’t resist. Works out pretty well!
I am in another Youth Hostel here in Porto. The place seems packed, and there are kids everywhere, but here I am with a four-bed room all to myself. And I mean kids. I would guess ranging from ages 13-18. I walk in, windburnt, exhausted, drenched, and a little dehydrated. As I walk my bike down the hall, I glance idly at two kids walking past. This cheeky little bastard stares me down like he’s looking for a fight! I, the king of avoiding confrontation, look away. Damn! I lost the contest! That insolent little bugger just mean-mugged me. Fratty little prince, too, in training. I had forgotten how to play these games. Whatever, I’m tired. I stash my bike and explode my gear. There is loud pop music blaring out from the bathroom and probably also the hall. Hm. I wonder how late that plays.
I go to take a shower, for I am filthy. Yesterday I was really ripe, I was actually grateful it rained all day, it washed off alot of the road on the way in! I wouldn’t even mention the kid’s stink-eye, but it was part of a theme, I came to find. I walk into the bathroom and all five shower stalls are taken. I wonder if maybe a door is closed that oughtn’t be, but don’t bother. I can hear the giggling of prepubescent boys and backpedal. There is bound to be another bathroom on the next floor. Up the stairs I go. Three children walk by, and the loud chubby one sees me and yells “flex!” Stupidly, I flex half-heartedly, without lifting my arms too much or flexing too hard, with a dumb grin on my face. I am tired and innocent. And tired. Realizing in time that I am super lame, (I never was cool) I say over my shoulder, “Someday.” As in, someday you may get some muscles. The kids take a second to interpret the English, murmering “someday… someday- OOOOHHHHH!!!!!” That’s right, you little shit, you just got burned.
I was expecting a nice relaxing evening, not a daycare. I am sensitive, and out of practice with the younglings. This is a bit of a shock, and they are getting under my skin. As I fling insults, I duck into the refuge of the bathroom.
I feel like a grandpa. When I checked in to the first Youth Hostel down in Santa Cruz, I asked if I was young enough to stay in a youth hostel. The answer was, “But of course!” Now I am not so sure. The first one was fine, but this one is a zoo! Filling out reviews for other hostels, my age bracket has bumped from “18-25” to “26-30.” That about sums it up. I’m a no-nonsense, crotchety old codger. Always have been. These kids can see it, too. You look them in the eye, as if you were a bully just asking them to give you an opportunity, they won’t say a thing. If you walk quietly down the hall, eyes down in humility and peace, they will pounce, immediately capitalizing on any sign of weakness. Little savages.
Anyhow, I am looking forward to this shower. The guy in the stall next to me is playing some pretty chill pop-music. I groove, ready to scour off the last couple days. I get the shower going and hop in, la-de da-de da. There is a soap dispenser in here, sweet! Suddenly, a girl’s voice comes from the stall next to mine. Another voice, high and feminine, answers from the other side. Oh, shit.
I laugh to myself. Nothing to do now but shower and keep my trap shut, I’m already here. I start to think about what to do, but I’m too old to worry much- either this is going to work out or it isn’t. This fits in so well with the grade-school vibe, I’m getting flashbacks. An awkward gender situation, this would have been a nightmare for me when I was younger. Straight out of middle-school. To think of how petrified I would have been at sixteen, or eighteen even! I’ve been around the block a few times though, and this does not strike me as a particularly hair-raising situation. I may scare a girl coming in as I leave. I may even, worst case scenario, get a talking to, but it is an easily explainable situation. Talking shit to those kids, I didn’t even look at the sign. I just knew that, as buildings go, the bathroom would be directly above the first one and bee-lined for it. Heck, it’s even possible this is a men’s bathroom, this is Europe! Obviously, I plan to wait for the girls to leave, but they are gone before I’m even done showering. I take my time. Alright, I’m dressed, here goes nothing. The bathroom is empty and I stroll out the far side. I glance up and see the sign: yep, there’s the little dress. Whoops! There is a Dutchman in the hallway, and I nod to him. He nods, doesn’t seem to notice anything strange.
Those kids probably think I am a total badass, having made a smart comment as I walked into the girls’ bathroom for a shower. If they even noticed. Goodness, I would never dream of doing such a thing knowingly, the horror! It was an honest mistake and I was performing a perfectly platonic and necessary activity, I am just glad to be clean. Ah, but the receptionists are right by the stairs! Surely they know where the bathrooms are? Surely they recall checking me in just now, and will notice that I am freshly washed, with a towel and bundle of clothes under my arm? Fuck it, it’s Europe. I stroll right on down, not looking at the front desk, and head straight to my room. Well, that worked out. Goodness gracious.
I went down to eat at a pizza restaurant on the waterfront- closest place to the hostel. There I blew some money on appetizers while I waited for dinnertime- coffee, water, which was bottled, beer, and what I thought was a bread appetizer but turned out to be a miniature egg and prosciutto burger with fries- delicious. Some of you may think, “well, that sounds like quite a dinner in itself!” Oh, no my friends, I am famished. This brought my hunger level down from “sick and shaky” to “I suppose I can exercise some patience.” The time passes quickly, I am absorbed in my writing. The waitresses, however, ignore me when dinnertime comes, supposing very sensibly that I am on the way out. I look over my shoulder conspicuously a few times to get their attention. At last, some service: “Can I get you something?” “Yes, may I order a pizza?” “Of course, let me get you a menu-” “- I know what I want, I’ll take the hawaiian pizza.”
Awwww yeah! This is a big pizza. They give me complimentary bread, and I eat a piece before systematically demolishing this delicious pizza, washed down with another beer. Then, of course, a scoop of coffee ice cream. Alright, I deserve any concerns I have about budgeting. I am not far off though, I am about 3 euros above what my average should be, and I have been craving pizza for a while, there are a lot of pizza shops here! Contentedly stuffed, I shuffle back to the hostel.
I was wrong about having the room to myself: about a minute after I turned out the lights, eyelids sagging, my door opened. Ah, a late arrival! It must be almost midnight. (I stayed up late.) A fellow, quiet as a cat, slinks in and settles. I am unconcerned, but curious. Oh well, he will be there in the morning. I wake up at seven and lay in bed. No point in getting up before 8:30, that is when breakfast is served. I stretch and relax. My roommate rises and leaves. My I am curious!
I get up at eight and go into the living room area to get better wifi. It is full of children, actual children. I would now expand the age range from 8 to 18. What is going on here, a field trip? It must be a series of field trips, from the looks of it. Breakfast is a zoo, a middle school. I glance longingly at the coffee on the far side of a long line. The children seem to be bunching up at the cereal section. There is an older couple here, seemingly unassociated with the hubbub, probably in their late 60’s. This confounds me, but also comforts me. At least I am not the oldest one here, not by a long-shot.
I squeeze into a dark corner between a couple of pimply, coagulated gangs of kids who are obviously too cool to care. Oh well, I am resigned to the chaos. It is good for me; you may have noticed that I have little patience for kids. That also, is a projection from within, a source of unnecessary vexation. Of course, it is also amusing, and I take it in stride.
After breakfast I meet my roommate- an enthusistic chap who responds in perfect English to my greeting! I thought he was American, but he is German, on vacation, visiting a friend in Porto, who he will meet this afternoon. It turns out he flew in last night, which explains the late arrival. I remark that he has almost no accent, and he informs me that he lived in Boston for two years as a child. His name is Martin, and he is studying electrical engineering back home. Well well, a second engineer! What a high percentage… He asks if I am visiting Europe, to which I reply, “Sort of, I’m just passing through, en route to Singapore.” Of course, I am passing through wherever I go, but there was intent in this question that I needed to refute; I am a gypsy. He is very intrigued by my trip! We talk for a little while before I leave to do some much needed laundry. Not before I pass on my blog, however! It seems, perhaps aside from this particular post, that this kind of thing is interesting. I think I need to change the name of my blog to simply, “The Crazy American.” That is probably the way I am received half the time, adjectives varying.
I am ready to hit the road again. Today I rode around town for six hours, doing laundry- the detergent is automatically mixed in, that’s cool- tracking down some fuel for my stove, at long last, and picking up another shirt. I will need a new pair of pants soon, I think, but I could not find anything I liked for under 10 euros. So it goes. I bought a nice synthetic shirt for 4 euros though, and picked up a jumbo canister of fuel for 8. At last, tea, coffee, whatever I desire! I also picked up a lot of groceries. Thus, my budget is artificially way off the charts. Oh well. I am ready to camp, though the weather is still nasty. I got caught today without my tights on and got soaked. Serves me right, I knew I should have worn them! It was nice to ride the bike unladen, but I actually rode a good deal, climbing a few big hills, and getting lost a lot navigating through town. What twisted, convoluted cities! How idiosyncratic, how insane! It exhausted me. It was also dangerous; when a place is ill-suited to cycling, one must be a pedestrian on the sidewalk at times, breaking the rules of the road, at other times getting in people’s way. To be honest, I was riding like a bit of an a-hole, my fetters loosed and flying free, and I made a few bold moves, but people were definitely trying to get me. I got cut-off a lot and some people ran some crosswalks. There were one or two very close calls!
I swear, with the bags I am safer: I move slowly and patiently because I have to, and I really think drivers are more reluctant to tangle, as if I would do more damage. Unladen, I am a dog; if they hit me it would be a shame, but oh well. Weighted down, I am more like a deer- you might lose a bumper, break a windshield, bust a radiator. Certainly another 25 kilos makes a difference, but it is really a psychological factor. It is a busy city though, too much going on. Some of those round-abouts were impossible to merge into without asserting yourself, and there are no sidewalks in some places.
I am looking at routes, and I have two options. I can backtrack to the Porto cathedral and follow the arrows out of town, or I can leave from the hostel and go up the coast, skirting town… Yeah, I’m not making the same mistake twice. Many people actually shuttle out of Porto to start their journey precisely to avoid the perils of this city. Many take the coast up and tie in to the main route in Spain by choice; the consensus is that the coast is more beautiful, and also quieter, with more opportunites to camp, from my point of view. It is also flatter, and easier to navigate. Good enough for me. On the main route there are pilgrim hostels for 6 euros or so, based on availability. I may hit some of those, but for now I intend to camp as much as possible. I will have to stop in for a shower every now and again, of course. I am looking forward to meeting more people! Over the age of twenty-two, preferably…
The rest day has done it’s duty- I am well provisioned, clean, and eager to hit the road- onwards!