Wednesday 26 June 2013
Our day began early. At 6 a.m. I bid Ruby farewell as she got into a taxi outside the vast portal of the Hospedaria San Martin de Pinario. She was heading off to begin her adventures in Morocco and, later, Malaga, in Spain. On our way out of the old city, Susie bought a fine bracelet for Ruby to mark her 21st birthday. She had been in Tilburg in the Netherlands on her 21st birthday, and we had not had the opportunity to give her a token by which to remember it. A recuerdo of our time together in Santiago de Compostela seemed like the perfect choice.
We arrived at the intercity bus station in good time for the 11.00 a.m. service to Porto. We learned, however, that there was no 11:00 a.m. service. One bus left at 10:00 a.m. and the next at 12:00 noon. The ALSA booking office in Zaragoza had stuffed up, probably by forgetting to allow for the one hour time difference between Spain and Portugal. This bought us a little time to have some breakfast, which was handy, as I was beginning to experience coffee withdrawal symptoms and Susie was hungry, having missed breakfast that morning.
The first phase of our journey was now drawing to an end. We had traced a journey through northern Spain from Barcelona to Seville, then Cuenca, Madrid, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Cudillero and Santiago de Compostela, spending at least two nights and up to five nights at each stop. The next phase of our journey was a trip south through Portugal. We would begin with a bus trip from Santiago to Porto, thence to Nazaré, Lisbon and Faro, where we would pick up a hire car and drive to a place near Ferragudo in the Algarve. We would then leave the Algarve and return to southern Spain via a bus from Faro to Seville.
Portugal was something of a mystery to us—linguistically, culturally and historically. But like our trip though Spain, it just kept getting better and better as the journey went on, even though we were plagued by ill-health. The language was a significant drawback for us: we could get by in Spanish, and our spoken expression was improving day by day. We had expected that, given the obvious similarity between written Spanish and written Portuguese, our basic Spanish would give us at least some degree of comprehension in spoken communication. This was a false expectation. As spoken, the languages are very different, and our grasp of Portuguese phonology is so slender that knowing some Spanish conferred almost no advantage whatsoever. We would get further in broken English.
As we boarded the bus to Porto, however, all that lay ahead of us. I remember little of the journey, as I was getting sicker, and I drifted in and out of feverish sleep as we crossed the border and headed south. I remember pleading with the driver to turn down the air-conditioning, as we and several other rows of passengers were slowly freezing to death. Our request fell on deaf ears. I also remember feeling profoundly grateful that I had remembered to put my ear plugs in the day pack so that I could escape the constant stream of drivel that was piped through the driver’s radio.
Our apartment in Porto was located on a plaza. It had tall doors that opened onto a small balcony and we had a pleasant view down on of Porto’s steep streets, with the greenery of a park in the distance. Porto had a grittiness that was refreshing after the cheesiness of Santiago de Compostela. It was adorned with striking graffiti, and it seemed more a city of young Portuguese people than for middle-aged turistas from far and wide. The signs of the economic crisis were still all around us, but Porto seemed to be crashing through rather than crashing. It seemed to have a future as well as a rich past.
I cooked a pasta dinner for Susie and myself and then crashed into bed. I got little or no sleep, however, as I was running a very high temperature. My cognitive ability was severely affected: I decided that I ought not to wake Susie, even though I was in desperate need of help to cool down. I located some 100 mg tabs of Aspirin, but the days of the week printed on the reverse of the foil packaging fooled me into thinking they were something else. I had chosen to sleep on the couch so as not to disturb Susie, but I was physically incapable of relocating Susie’s pack from the couch to the floor. At one point during the night, I became totally disoriented and I actually got lost within the apartment, which was pitch black as we had closed the shutters to block the noise coming off the plaza. I was in a kind of semi-dream state—quite possibly delirious—and stupid ideas merged with nightmarish visions to produce extremely bad decisions.
By the time the sun came up, I was a complete mess.