Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

Border Patrol – Portugal 15

view-of-spain-from-valencaA view across the Minho to Spain from Valenca

As we made our foray into the Northernmost part of Portugal, it seemed as though the whole country had broken out in a rash of festivities, causing us to break out into a cold sweat.

We attempted to visit Viano Do Castelo, a large town at the mouth of the Rio Lima, but we got bogged down in tiny, winding streets, lined with hundreds of people, sat in chairs, as though awaiting our triumphant procession through the town. It emerged that there was yet another bike race taking place. My thoughts however, were turned towards negotiating a way out of there without taking one of the low-slung ornamental stone balconies with me, or perhaps a stray old lady, hooked by her shopping trolley on the back of our bike rack.

“Oh, hello Mrs.Eusebio, what do you mean you didn’t enjoy being dragged at 90 kph down the high street?”……

Finally, we reached the Rio Minho, its wide choppy waters separating Portugal from Spain, on the opposite bank. It felt a bit odd, considering we’d left Spain around 2000 kilometers south. We followed the river east and came upon the town of Valenca, overlooked as usual by the Portuguese’s favourite construction – a massive stone fort. However, this fort contained a small village, which in reality was some kind of retail outlet, specialising in towels and dressing gowns. I know how it sounds, but its true. It’s actually done very well, but one thing really bothered us. The shopkeepers tend to treat their shops like Market stalls, appearing out of their doorways like rabid cuckoos from a clock, the moment you show even a passing interest in something hung outside or in the window.

We never quite worked out if they were being polite and attentive, or vulture-like, but we hated it, and its no coincidence that the only places we bought stuff was where they left us the hell alone. From a tourist perspective, this attitude will lose them sales, but perhaps its normal in Portugal. Whatever the reason, I intend to find out the Portuguese for “Just looking, thanks”.

It got a little surreal as I left Miki and wandered back to the Boomobile. An entire bike race entered the fort as I was trying to leave. I’m starting to have nightmares about bikers…

“Doctor, I have an unknown disease, the only symptom of which is that I’m followed around by the Tour de France..can you help me?

“Ah..you need to Try a Cyclist…”

We stayed two nights in the car park below the fort, as Miki found plenty to draw in and around it. To absolutely no-one’s surprise, I found a cafe. Miki joined me there later, and after about three mouthfuls of the local beer, pronounced herself pissed. Now that’s my kind of woman.(I’ve ordered twenty crates of the stuff to be shipped to Turre)

Piggy-backing the internet of the local school or library, not sure which, we managed to catch up a little on entries on the blogs and emails. I even had a short chat with my son on MSN. He’s finished the last of his exams, and already has a part-time job, which he will still be able to do when he resumes school in the Autumn. It seems like yesterday since I was in the same position. (Well, not exactly the same, I’m sure he’ll get a damn sight more qualifications than me!)

miki-in-ponte-de-limaA break on the bike ride along the river at Ponte de Lima

Miki in Ponte de Lima


So now we headed finally Southwards, and the town of Ponte de Lima, on the Rio Lima, of which Viano do Castelo sits on the estuary. It is by all accounts the oldest town in Portugal, and I pondered the reason why. I assume it s because the river is shallow here, and before the beautiful Medieval bridge was built, afforded the best and safest crossing point.

A lovely town it was, yes – you’ve guessed it – in the grip of fiesta fever. We escaped along the riverbank for a great bike ride, before parking the Boomobile up for the night on a huge, sprawling parking area which did in fact, prohibit motorhomes. I will state here that I’m quite happy to break these kind of laws, because they are stupid. The area was vast, and mostly empty and no alternatives were given. We are tourists, we help the economy, we should not be treated like lepers.

However, the town got its own back for our audacity. As the fiesta got into full swing, we realised that we  were adjacent to a funfair. Third-rate Portuguese dance music competed with Fourth-rate Portuguese accordion music. I was ready to rip someone’s head off. We cut our losses and left before we lost our minds.

Further along the river to the East was Ponte de Barca, which was also in full festive mode, and short on parking. About 4 kilometers after that, we reached Arcos de Valdevez, a lovely little town. We parked in a space reserved for buses. (The Portuguese word is very similar to that for Motorhome, I was going to play the stupid foreigner card.)

Below us, was a scene that took me back to my childhood. Scores of teenagers were leaping off the bridge into the water, sliding down the weir into the foaming river, sunbathing on the sandbanks that dotted the shallows, and generally celebrating youth. One kid even rode his bike right across the length of the weir. Fantastic!!

It could have been the Summer of 76 in Derbyshire….kids-being-kids

It gave rise to such a warm feeling within me, for a time I fear is lost in England, this exploration of youth, this celebration of life. This country has such a healthy heart.

We settled down for a peaceful evening, the kids had all left, the car park was empty, and silence descended. I think it was during the first few minutes of our Poirot movie that I sensed the car park filling up. Overflowing.

They started mounting the kerbs next to us. Some half an hour later, a family with four kids came and sat on the wall opposite, and seemed to be staring into the Motorhome, straight at me. Loud music, insistent drum and bass, wafted across the water on the breeze, in tantalising snatches. Then, just as the legendary Monsieur Poirot was about to reveal the identity of the murderer to great fanfare, The world exploded. It was the Luftwaffe, Bomber Harris’ carpet bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima all rolled into one.

We had parked in the primary vantage point for the biggest goddamn fireworks show I’ve seen this side of the Millenium celebrations. Miki was out of the Boomobile in a flash, taking photos, but crying tears of laughter. In our efforts to escape some accordion music, we had decamped to a war zone. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

I’m seeing my therapist in the morning….

Kev Moore

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July 1, 2008 - Posted by | Art, culture, Festivals of the World, friends, humor, life, personal, random, travel, writing | , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. You are my hero Kev, for driving that motor home in Portugal. I think my hands would be covering my eyes every time I came to one of those towns.

    Comment by Susan Cornelis | July 6, 2008

  2. Wonderful description of an entertaining trip. Makes me want to find a noisy spot to camp for the night.

    Comment by wrjones | July 7, 2008

  3. Thanks Bill! more instalments to come…Susan, Miki adopts that very pose, as I squeeze the motorhome down tiny streets like toothpaste back into a tube!

    Comment by kevmoore | July 14, 2008

  4. Yes, Susan, Kevin is really a hero! But I doubt you would cover your eyes, there are so many wonderful things to see in all these towns, your curiosity would be stronger than your fear! At least this was the case for me!
    I must confess that until now I haven’t read any of Kevin’s travel stories because of power limitations in the motorhome. But now I just saw the last sentence “I am seeing my therapist in the morning” and I am really wondering what he is writing about… should I be worried? And by the way, Kev Moore: who is your therapist?
    Well, I think I will go back to the beginning of the trip, read your entries and see what REALLY happened to us in all these weeks… I was more in a kind of dream!

    Comment by Miki | July 14, 2008


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