BootsnAll Travel Network

Portugal Restored

I feel like I´m back in Portugal. Of course I haven´t left yet, but for a couple of days I felt I had landed in a slightly run-down theme park with no particular language or culture. This morning the smoke had cleared away, the day was gorgeous, hot, and clear, and I boarded the first bus for Cabo da Roca, the geographically western-most point in Europe, and therefore in some sense the real European End of the World. The bus headed down the hill to a little community of apartment blocks and picked up a number of women who must have been the maids to people living between Sintra and Cascais. Surrounded by these women, chatting laughing and nibbling bread and sweetcakes on their way to work, I knew I was in Portugal again. They got off the bus in ones and twos before the bus reached Cabo da Roca, and there was nobody left on the bus but me and a few hardy early-morning tourists. Cabo da Roca is NOTHING like Finisterre.

Cabo da Roca sits lazily in the sun, baking. Its vegetation is a single kind of succulent that lifts its fat fingers toward the sun and does nothing else. There are no gulls, and the only activity out there is a little tourism office with clean toilets, one souvenir stand selling the usual roosterabilia, and a lighthouse that seems, in the light of morning, to be abandoned. The tourists came, saw, snapped a few pictures of each other, and ambled off. I found a shady spot under the wall at the viewing point and sat and just watched the water for a long time. I love the sea. Not having access to the sea is the hardest part of living in Texas. It´s impossible to memorize it, to hold it, or to capture it. I guess that´s part of its fascination. It´s always moving, always changing, the ultimate metaphor for life itself. I sat and looked and looked, loved it fiercely, and finally ambled back toward the bus stop wondering what to do with myself for the rest of the day.

I ended up (those of you who know me well will find this hard to believe) in a massive shopping mall called “Cascais Shopping.” It has four floors, escalators, air conditioning, stores having end of summer sales, a movie theatre, and a food court. At the food court I had a meal of perfectly wonderful Goan Indian food, hot and spicy enough to make my nose run again. While I ate, I kept wondering, “Where am I, again?” I just couldn´t hold onto the disjuncture of it all.

Now I´m back in Sintra, and I guess I´ll spend the evening walking around town again. If I had known what I know now, I would certainly have given up a night in Sintra for another night in Santiago de Compostela. Or three. But I suppose I had to come to Sintra to know that it was something worth giving up. On a pilgrimage, everything that comes is part of the lesson. The lesson for me here is not to believe guide books, to trust my own class sensibility, and probably something else I have yet to figure out. Last night I shared my dorm room with a big guy from Canada who felt like chatting and a thin and intense young man from Germany who didn´t say a word, not even Hola! It was the first time I´d experienced both genders in one hostel room, and it led me to reflect on the fact that I am the only person over the age of thirty I´ve encountered in any of these hostels. I guess I bring the tone down a peg. That had not occurred to me till last night. I think I have a young male Japanese roommate tonight. I met him this morning, looking very confused. He had just arrived, about 8 a.m., and nothing was open. Check-in at the hostel is not till 3 p.m., and he appeared dazed. He speaks a little English (no Portuguese), so I gave him my town map, told him his bag would be safe in the hallway, and sent him off to explore the town. Tomorrow: Lisbon. Note to Paulo Reis: I got another email from the Lisbon Lounge Hostel. They did not move after all. They are still at the foot of the Elevador da Bica, at Rua de Sao Paulo #111, Second floor. I asked them if they were sure they are free of bedbugs and they were unable to give me any reassurance. They say they do the best they can, but people bring them in in their bags. This leaves me uneasy, but I will just hope for the best.

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