My early sailing career taught me a lot of things about life at sea. Perhaps the biggest lesson was how to get on with fellow crew members. It’s something I’m still learning. Occasionally, however, there are times when one comes across certain types of people whose behaviour is beyond one’s control. No amount of swabbing the decks or slaving in the galley will ever make life easier on board and this can be compounded by a long journey where getting off the boat is not an option.
After a chat and a beer we got to know the boat and I made the schoolboy error of choosing the smallest bunk in the fore cabin. Twat. My fears of an uncomfortable sleep, however, were dispelled after my first night aboard Voyager.
Crew of Voyager, October 2003
The last leg of my trip was to be spent in some good old Saffron Walden company, staying with Topher and his charming girlfriend, Rachel. I don’t think I need go into any detail regarding Amsterdam – all the rumours are true and it’s here to be discovered for yourselves, if you haven’t already been.
My stay in Sintra, however, was topped by a visit to the enchanting Quinta de Regaleira. Although the house was interesting it was the garden that could not fail to impress. Set in large tiers this steep tangle of orchids and large trees was littered with castle turrets and water features, but it was the Initiation Well that really blew me away. The well was over 60 feet deep and wide enough to walk down. Truly this was something out of Tomb Raider as I descended down the well via a stone staircase bordered by large archways.
On my last night in Evora I went up to the Roman columns, one of the most impressive structures in town (especially when lit up at night) and watched an outdoor fashion show.
Shintaro, like Kato from the Pink Panther, kept popping up everywhere I went. As soon as I walked into the dorm room and introduced myself he offered me a jelly panty liner wrapped in plastic and, unwrapping his and sticking it to his forehead, he repeated the word “cool”.
After about 2 minutes he stood up and handed me a leaflet entitled “Throughout the rich history of Portugal, who is the most important discoverer?” As he resumed his crouching position to continue his rummaging I flicked through the leaflet, intrigued to find out who the most important discoverer was. Surely it was Prince Henry the Navigator? No. Was it Pedro Alvares Cabral? Nope. How about Vasco da Gama? No!
Evora is a beautiful baroque and rococo (hoorah!) walled city, reminding me of something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, not least because the town was full of old people who all knew each other, and perhaps because I couldn’t see any children. Indeed many residents were hot contenders for the position of Child Catcher.
My train journey to Beja took me through the Alentejo region, which had recently been subject to fierce fires that swept across the entire region. The Algarve and the Alentejo regions are miles upon miles of desolate, arid, dry mud fields, broken up by cork oaks and olive groves.
The most obvious sign of the conspiracy is the Portuguese language. Although the written word looks very much like Spanish the spoken word actually sounds like a cross between Arabic and Nordic. In other words they make it up as they go along. When the locals speak amongst themselves they are actually speaking Spanish, but whenever a tourist is present they break into a language that does not actually exist.
Upon my return the bearded man-woman had taken it upon herself to keep my towel warm by spreading her fat self across my sun-lounge. When I indicated that she was in my space she grunted but didn’t move. OK, so she could keep the sun-lounge but I wanted my towel back.
My, my, how circumstances change. All of a sudden I find myself without purpose and a lot of time on my hands doing nothing but sunbathing. No bad thing, I hear you say, but this hadn’t been the plan.
Unlike their UK cousins who are pampered and spoilt and called Fifi or Derek, Portuguese dogs runs tings. They’ve got gangster names like Bullet Dodger Biffhead, Four Star Flash Killer and Cruel Cat-Chaser Crusher. They cruise the streets like they own the place, window shopping in town and congregating and plotting up in the valleys.
Over the next couple of days Mario would try to teach me Portuguese. Every time I repeated a word he would tell me I’d said it wrong. He’d repeat it again, this time sounding completely different. Every time he taught me a new word I never learned it as he corrected me over and over again, repeating the word with different emphasis each time.
A brief walk round Albufeira justified my rather snobbish attitude towards the holiday makers here. They had all congregated in the town square to watch the street performers, and which street performer had attracted the biggest audience? The band of South American pan-pipe players! Wrong continent, you sad bunch of losers.
Instead I had to consider the possibility of staying in Albufeira. Ever heard of it? I had, and it conjured up images of Club 18-30 slags and warm lager.
And then we entered the Algarve. If ever a country demonstrated a distinction between the north and the south then Portugal must surely be the most extreme. The north, mountainous, green and lush is dominated by tradition and culture. It’s very poor.