Escape from LAgos (12 Random Musings on Portugal and Cadiz)

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April 24th 2006
Published: May 20th 2006
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1) Portugal is definetly and defiantly not Spain. Before I arrived, I too would have been hard pressed to distinguish between Portugal and its larger Iberian cousin. Portugal does however, retain an immediate and distinct atmosphere of its own, although this atmosphere is hard to define. I suppose it seems somewhat Carribean or South American to me, although having never been to the Carribean or South America I'm not exactly an authority on the matter. But it is certainly multicultural and seems much more exotic than other european countries

2) Until I recieve conclusive evidence to the contrary I will continue to believe that all portugese people can sing very well. I mean really sing. One evening in Lisbon a group of people from my hostel and myself went to watch some Fado music. Fado is effectively Portugese folk music, mainly played in natural minor keys on a guitar or mandolin, although I assume other instruments can be used. For the first few numbers a slim middle aged women, dressed in what could only be the traditional garb, stepped up to the stage. Her voice was deep and husky but awesomely powerfull. She needed no microphone and yet her vocals completley overpowered the accompanying instruments. For the third song an elderly group to our right was encouraged to sing along and they did so with surprising confidence.

A man who had been sitting to the side of the stage stood up for the next few songs. Unlike the women, he didn't exactly look the part, dressed like he was an experienced car mechanic and sporting one of those semicomical handlebar moustaches that are popular with hispanic gentlemen of a certain age. Still, he possesed a rich baritone of surprising dexterity, and as the songs rolled by various tables were again encouraged to join in. Things took a slightly ridiculous turn when an innocuous looking guy from a table to our left stood a third of the way through one song and launched into a powerful second verse. At one point, even the doorman sang a couple of numbers.

This must be how a certain section of Portugese society occupies itself on weeknights. Groups would arrive, sit down for a drink or two while maybe one of their party sang a number, and then leave .With the exception of the musicians and the two original singers, we were the only group to stay for the entire set.

3) Portugese food is at the forefront of european cusine. Meals tend to come either greasy or with extra grease and one could be considered unlucky (or lucky depending on your taste) if served meat without a huge fried egg on top. Salads are generally shunned in favour of either chips, rice, or more commonly chips and rice.

This is not to say the food is bad. Seafood is very good, as is the roast chicken which is cooked in Piri-Piri sauce. Most importantly the food is cheap and filling. A large meal in a little greasy spoon can be had for about 4 euros 50. But a little less grease would sometimes be nice.

4)There is very much a backpacking circuit within Portugal. People tend to make there way down through Portugal via three cities: Porto in the north (which I didn't visit), Lisbon, and Lagos on the southern coast. Subsequently six of the people staying with me at the Lisbon Lounge hostel also moved on to Lagos at roughly the same time.

5) Hedonism I think, is not really my thing. I just can't help feeling I'm to old for it all, although this argument seems to loose som of it's validity whan you consider I am only 21. Perhaps I am just boring. It's not as if I haven't tried, I really have. I've attempted to getting mindlessly drunk beyond my bodies capacity to metabolise any more liqiud matter, I've tried acting like a loud, crass and insensitive moron. I just don't enjoy it.

I've tried standing around in black-lit dingy bars, bored to through to my fingernails while shockingly bad music imprints its repetitive and idiotic bass lines upon my already overloaded primary auditory cortex. I suppose it is all in the name of fun, I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. But to be honest I'd rather just sit down with a nice cup of tea and have a quiet chat with someone who I find interesting. God, that is boring. Maybe I need to join the Christian Union or something, but I really don't want to have to scream into the ear drum of a recently gained aquaintance, whose subsequent physical proximity is slightly socially awkward, and still not beunderstood. Should I be condemmed as tedious in both character and spirit if, in such 'relaxing' situations, some part of me, however small, (and this part of me is none too small) should wish run as fast as I can and as far away as possible.

Bearing all this in mind then, was it entirely sensible to book myself into a youth hostel bearing the moniker 'the Rising Cock'. And, when I had arrived in Lagos, been shunted from room to room, and had sufficient time to judge the character of the place, Beer Bongs and everything; was it entirely sensible of me to book myself onto a boat trip, cutely titled a 'booze cruise', when I knew such a trip would not entail a brief outing across the British channel to pick up a few cheap bottles of wine, but instead would consist of a marathon 5 hours of semi-mandatory hardcore drinking and alcohol related shennanigans. Probably not, in hindsight.

I did at the time suggest that ' I don't think I have ever been in such close proximity to so many morons for so long'. But maybe that was a bit strong, they probably are't all bad. You see my only exposure to the concept of a "frat house" is through those American teen films and I don't really pay much attention to those. So perhaps I'm am just yet to develop an immunity to that sort of behaviour. At times I felt llike I'd accidentally booked myself onto one of those 18-30 holidays to some God-awful Baleric Island.

I am aware that I have been complaining for the last few paragraphs and you are probably getting slightly bored. That is if you haven't given up on this already. I am also aware that all this moaning suggests that I had a thoroughly miserable time in Lagos, and I probably would have done were it not for some of the wonderful people (mainly Canadians) I met in Lisbon who had also travelled down to Lagos.

After spending a month or so primarily in the company of relative strangers it was nice to cultivate relationships that had a slightly longer lifespan. I spent almost all of my time in Lagos in the company of my new group of friends and consequently my incompatableness with my current hostel situation ceased to become so important; in the end I actually started to enjoy myself.

6) Some bastard on Lisbon tram nunber 28, which happens to be the most scenic of the tram routes, has my camera case and my 256mb memory card. Luckily I do have my camera and 1Gb memory card but due to this loss I have a relative dearth of decent pictures of Lisbon.

7) The custard pies/cakes that are made throughout central Portugal but perfected in the Lisbon suburb of Belem are really, really fantastic.

8) Also, the battered portions of randomly selected seafood found in Cadiz fish shops are fantastic. Why isn't this idea more popular. Why do we batter cod and nothing else in England. Generally tentacles, suckers, eyes, fins and other squishy things prevent me from sampling a wider array of seafood. When everything is battered this doesn't matter as you can't see anything. Plus, it tends to taste nicer.

9) Lagos is an extreemly difficult place to leave in the last week of April. Turns out there is a big festival in Sevilla and all accomadation is booked up. As Sevilla was the next logical destination for everyone who hadn't come from Sevilla, this screwed up lot of people's travel plans. Some of my Canadians friends left early in the week in an attempt to bypass Sevilla and head straight for Granada. Though I was sad to see them go, I didn't envy their 6:00am bus journey.

With a half of our group departed and MTV rumoured to be showing up in the near future to cause all sorts of havoc, I was also keen to leave. Mike, another Canadian, was to join me for the initial stage of my trip into Morocco. We figured the best way to do this was to head to Cadiz, on the Atlantic coast of Spain, spend a couple of nights there and then move onto Morocco. Scott, an Australian who I had also met in Lisbon, decided to travel with us down to Cadiz, but he was due to fly out of Sevilla in a few days time.

The difficulty was, that the Portugese decided to have a national holiday on our chosen day of departure. Though Lagos was starting to bore me, the immediate fallout was not too strenous; another day of sitting on the beach and drinking in expat bars. But the next morning was to prove more problematic. A whole host of fellow hostel residents were planning to leave on the 6:00 bus to Sevilla and with the exception of Scott and I, not one of them had bought a ticket. Because it was a day after a national holiday we had expected the bus to be full and we weren't wrong. Despite a mad rush down to the bus station at 5:00 in the morning there were only two tickets available, leaving many people, including Mike, potentially stranded in Lagos. Unselfishly Dallas, another Canadian, one of the holders of those prescious two tickets, voluntered his and we were finally on our way out of Lagos.

10)Pena Palace in Sintra, seems to me, at least (although there seems to be no mention in any tourist literature), to be the closest real life embodiment of Bowzers castle in Marioland (see pic).

11) There comes a point where one just has to many languages on the brain. Though I would certainly not claim to be able to speak any of them properly, I do try to at least learn a few basic phrases in the local lingo. Having come straight from Portugal and soon heading to Morocco, where French is the second language, this all became rather confusing in Cadiz, a Spanish city. I would find myself speaking some sort of hybrid French/Portugese even during the most basic of transactions. And inevitably in thanks, I would blurt out 'Obrigado' (the Portugese word for thank you), which is probably about the most insulting thing you can do in southern Spain.

12) Lisbon (and Portugal in general) seems to be perpetually underated, and I want to in some way refute this label. I really liked Lisbon. I liked the, refreshing, laid-back atmosephere that seemed to be missing from most intense Spanish cities. I liked it's architecture. Old and decaying as the buildings were, they had infinetly more charm than anything more modern. It was almost as if the decay itself lent the narrow streets of the Alfama and the Barrio Alto it's unique charm. These historical districts would have been much less picturesque without the unevenly spaced cobblestones, the missing tiling, the rotting door frames, and the narrow little houses that seem about ready to collapse. I like the ancient little wooden trams that clank up and down the steepest streets with a speed that belies both their construction and their age. And I also like the hills, though I moaned about them at the time, because without them one wouldn't be blessed with the opportuunity of rounding a corner and discovering yet another fantastic view. Without them I wouldn't have been able to look out across the river from the battlement of the Castelo Sao Jorge an imagine what it was like to be a sentry on duty 200 years ago. I don't like the hash sellers pretending to be hawking sunglasses who follow you mercilessly, but I've learnt to deal with that since. I like the way that almost every car is old and beat up yet retains a style that eludes some of the newer models. Most of all I like the way that the light in the evening bathes everything in a beatifically warm glow and for half an hour or so it would feel like I was wandering round with yellow filters over my eyes.

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12th July 2006

Hey james, are u still travelling. Well get writing, c'mon. Se you in LA!

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