Spain and Portugal

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April 15th 2009
Published: April 15th 2009
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Currently, I write this from Sesimbra, about 40 kilometres south of Portugal´s glorious capital and largest city, Lisbon. I had previously spent a week in the south of the country, in the Algarve. Many of you may be familiar with Portugal; we have quite a large number of Portuguese descended residents in Toronto (and Cambridge).

It is a country living in the shadow of it´s larger, and more economically influencial cousin, Spain. Portugal is still struggling to find it´s identity within Europe and the World. They have recently (in the 70´s) emerged from the shadow of dictatorship.The country was closed to the outside world.

They are now faced with problems such as movement from rural areas to cities, and as a result, farms that have been within families for generations are falling into disrepair due to neglect. They have also seen a sharp increase in luxury item sales, despite the fact that many of the residents are in debt. There is also a great deal of waste, similar to what my friends and I saw in Spain.

But despite the apparent downsides to which I attach to Portugal, it can be said that it is a country rich in natural wonders; there are untouched coastlines, pristine forests, and charming little villages to be discouvered, each with their own charms.
And the Portuguese are at once fun-loving and hard-working, lively and in their way fascinating.

To differentiate the people of Portugal to their Iberian counterparts, it can be said that the residents are more open to outside influences, more apt to speak with foreigners (in English), and in general, much more warm. My travelling compatriots and I saw a chilly side to Andalucians, which I could speculate is due to an overwhelming amount of tourism and outsiders, both migrant workers and caravanning retirees from France and Germany.

Nevertheless, as we tried to make our way from Tarifa (the southernmost point of mainland Europe) to the Algarve, we found a stunning reluctance of single-driving residents to even look us in the eyes, as we attempted to hitchhike through their lands.
Particularly appaling was the area around Seville, the capital of Andalusia. It took us over a day to move from one side of the city to the other. My pleas that we give up and take the bus were ignored, and rightly so. Patience paid off, and we finally moved towards Huelva (and the Portuguese border) just before the sun set. Basically, if anyone reading this attempts to hitchhike in the south of Spain, they should be prepared to wait a long time before a hospitable soul stops.

In contrast, once we crossed the Guadiana, and touched Portuguese soil, we were almost immediately picked up by a young, educated, and english-speaking native. She even proceeded to invite us to her house, cook us dinner, and offer us beds (and Sagres beer). We were stunned as she told us to take our time in the morning, and let ourselves out when we wanted. Imagine inviting three strangers into your home, that you picked up on the 401, and allowing them free access! It would never happen...

Back to the journey. We quickly made our way across the southern coast, getting picked up by a variety of different people; one man stopped at his home, and brought us beers and oranges; another drove us thirty kilometres out of his way while another drove us illegally in the back of his pickup truck. Not to mention our journey from Carrapateira up to Lisbon. We succeeded in arriving to the great capital in less than five hours, a total of 300 kilometres, and four different cars.

To end this note, I should like to recommend a backpacking trip to Portugal. With the north still to be explored, I can firmly say that Portugal should vault to the top of anyone´s travel list, to be chosen well ahead of Spain. More to be written about Lisbon, and our adventures travelling towards Santiago de la Compostella.


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