Thursday, October 25, 2007

Boa Onda

After a few days of relaxation in Altura I decided it was time to head off to new adventures. I was very grateful for the hospitality shown me by Madelena and her daughter and I hope I expressed that gratitude while in their company. I used the money left over from the past couple days to buy a couple bus tickets to Largos on the South Atlantic tip of Portugal. When the bus arrived I began walking out of town to reach the highway. I turned down a dirt road and walked until the sun set. When the sky darkened I stopped at a run down barn which was apparently still functional as that night my neighbor was a giant pig in the pen next to where I slept. When I woke up the next morning I packed my things and proceeded to the highway. I was picked up shortly after I started hitchhiking and asked the driver where I could find a cool beach surrounded by cliffs. He took me to a huge surfing beach where giant cliffs rose out of the ocean on either side of me. Relaxing there for a little while I was hoping to find some people to hang out with. After being around people who spoke little to no English over the past couple weeks I was starting to feel the desire for company. I pulled out my guitar and started playing hoping that someone would arrive and relieve me my loneliness. After a couple hours I realized I wouldn’t find what I was looking for there so I packed up and moved on. A couple rides later I was picked up by two young guys both of whom spoke English. They were part of a small punk-rock band and were heading to a jam session. They invited me to join them and I immediately took them up on the offer. While waiting for the drummer to show up I pulled out my guitar (whom I named Jana ;) and they each proceeded to take her for a little “test drive”. The three guys were all very good guitarists. They taught me a couple of chords and gave me some good tips on guitar playing. The drummer finally arrived and after we smoked a couple joints they started jamming. Being the talented musicians they are they played several songs, all very entertaining as I sat back and listened. When they finished we all went out for drinks. They took me to a bar down by the ocean where we drank, and drank, and drank some more. By the time the bar closed we were pretty smashed. No one was able to put me up for the night so I wandered down the street in a drunken stupor and passed out on a dirt road.

Waking up the next morning with a headache I made my way to the road where I could hitch a ride. Hitching with a hangover is difficult enough, standing in the hot Portuguese sun as trucks fly by, but once I came close to Lisbon there were no more small roads to hitch on, only the freeway. In Portugal, as with most countries in Europe, it is illegal to hitchhike on the freeway thus people are very unlikely to pick a hitchhiker up. After waiting at the freeway entrance unsuccessfully I started walking up onto the highway. I figured I could at least make it to a service station or something where I might have some luck. After walking along the highway for a bit I was greeted by a large road sign that told me the next service station was 20 kilometers ahead. Disparaged I could do nothing but continue walking. A couple kilometers down the road I saw a small delivery truck pulled over on the side of the road with his emergency lights flashing. I ran to it. Upon arrival at the truck I looked in the window to see a guy on his cell phone. I tapped on the window and he looked at me with a most quizzical look. Although he didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak Portuguese I managed to get across that I was in need of a lift to the next service station or something. I jumped in the cab and we had a very limited conversation. I asked where he was going and it turned out he was heading near Sintra, a place I was recommended to check out by one of the guys the night before, so I asked if he could take me there. After a long ride in the quiet cab we arrived in Sintra. After saying goodbye I proceeded up the hill to the city. By this time it was well after the sun had set and I was just looking for a place to sleep. Walking up a large hill I saw a guy leaning out of his ground floor window smoking a joint. I walked up to him and asked if he spoke English. After telling him I was looking for a place to sleep he asked me how much I wanted to spend, I replied, “zero”. He thought for a second then told me to meet him in the front of his house. He came out of his house and after introducing himself as Bruno we got into his car. We drove up a large hill way back in the forest and he led me to an abandoned house. Apparently this house had been built a few years ago by a drug dealer on this preserved land. Now the dealer was in jail and his house was often used for parties on the weekends. There was no one there this night so it was a good place to stay. Since it was on top of a large hill it had a beautiful view of Lisbon and the surrounding waters. I slept soundly amongst the broken glass and profane graffiti tagged on the walls. I awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunrise above Lisbon. I walked around that day enjoying the beauty that is Sintra. As the shadows lengthened and the day grew darker it also got colder. I didn’t have many warm clothes as I wasn’t anticipating being in cold weather anytime soon. I put on all the clothes I had and tried to keep warm under a small structure. I then went up to Bruno’s house again to see if he was home. I waited about half an hour for him to return and he found me huddled beneath a street lamp using my sleeping bag to keep warm. He invited me into his car and had me wait there for a half hour while he went to eat dinner with his family. He came out half an hour later with a bag containing hot soup, a roast beef sandwich, juice and sweet bread. He also had another bag with food for breakfast. He drove me back up the hill to the abandoned house where we smoked a joint before he left. Another night in the creepy house followed.

I arose the next morning ready to move on. I got a ride straight away off the road with a professional Judo martial artist. After dropping me off I was shortly picked up by a 24 year-old named Antonio. He invited me to come hang out with him and his girlfriend. Since they lived with their respective parents they would spend their Saturdays chilling at the back of a grocery store. Antonio took me to the store and left me there. He only had a two-seater car so he left to pick up Miriam, his girlfriend. They arrived a few minutes later and he parked the car at the edge of the deserted parking lot. We spent several hours together drinking beer, smoking joints, playing music, and talking about everything. They taught me some really cool Portuguese phrases such as “foda-se”, “paz e amor”, “tenho saudades da minha familia”, and my personal favorite “boa onda” which means “good wave”. Boa onda is the feeling you have when everything is just as it should be. About halfway through the day the clouds broke open and started pouring down rain. We moved under the shopping cart return cover of the parking lot where we continued our conversations. Antonio pulled out a huge binder full of guitar tablatures and told me to take whichever ones I wanted. I went through and picked out songs I knew that I would be able to play. Miriam, Antonio and I spent another few hours under the meager protection of the shopping cart cover until it was time to continue on. I said goodbye to Miriam and hoped in Antonio’s car with him. He first took me to the grocery store where he bought me whatever groceries I wanted. Then we drove down the highway a few kilometers where he dropped me off at a nice service station. We said goodbye and he drove off.

The service station had a kitchen and everything and seeing me come in with all my things out of the rain one of the attendants gave me a nice hot bowl of soup. As I sat slurping up my soup a man came over asking if I wanted a ride up the road. He was only going a few kilometers but he could at least take me to the next service station. I agreed to go with him and after finishing the soup hopped in his really nice Mercedes. The 60 kilometers we traveled took only about 10 minutes at the speed he traveled. He dropped me off and I headed inside. A furious game of football (or soccer if you prefer) was underway on the tv and the station attendants were caught up in watching it. I set down my things and joined them in enjoying the game. When the game finished one of the attendants told me I could pull out my guitar and start playing if I wanted, so I did. He mentioned he played a little guitar himself so he picked up Jana and started playing a bit. He taught me a couple things such as the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. Then he and the other people left leaving only me and the night attendant. I pulled out my sleeping bag in the corner of the station and managed to catch a couple hours sleep. I woke up and hung out with the other attendant playing guitar and teaching him some English. After a little while he handed me a paper bag full of sandwiches and drinks. He also gave me a nice blanket and scarf. By this time my bag was about ten times heavier than it had been in the last month from all the food I was carrying. When morning arrived and people began filing into the station I packed up my things and set up a note indicating the direction I was going and asking for a ride. I sat there for hours reading and playing Jana. At one point a woman walked up to me and handed me three euros thanking me for the music. Eventually the same attendant who taught me some guitar said he was leaving for the day and could take me to the beach town of NazrĂ© so I decided to go with him there. I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beautiful beach watching the waves crash against the cliff faces and seeing children play in the sand and sea. I played more music while sitting on a bench. A young boy walked by with a little toy guitar and his mother. He was fascinated by my guitar playing, as simplistic as it was. He pulled on his mom’s sleeve and she gave him some change. He walked over and handed me a euro and a half. After playing for a little while I made my way to an alley where I prepared a wonderful meal from all the food I had. While eating a guy came up to me and started speaking in French. He invited me to the bar right next to where I was eating for a couple glasses of Portuguese wine. After that I walked back down to the beach where I set up camp for the night.

After awaking I made my way up the hill to where I could continue hitchhiking. I was picked up minutes after I stuck my thumb out and within two rides made it all the way to Coimbra, a nice city with the oldest university in Europe. As it was a descent sized city I decided to catch a bus out in order to begin hitching again. I went to the station and bought a ticket for as far as I could go on the four euros I had. A thirty minute bus ride later left me on the side of the road in a small town. I tried hitchhiking for a couple hours until the sun began to set. Just as I was about to stop for the night and find a place to sleep a car pulled over. In the driver’s seat was a middle aged woman and in the back seat was her two daughters, one 13 and one 3. The woman, Margarida, spoke English and French and so we were able to communicate fairly well. I asked her if there was a nice park or some other place I could sleep in the town they were heading to. She said she didn’t know of any but that she had plenty of room in her house and I was welcome to stay with them. We arrived at her place and she made dinner as I took a bath. After eating we said goodnight and I slept in an incredibly comfortable bed beneath the skylight. In the morning I ate breakfast with Salome, the three year-old, on the porch as we watched Safira, the other daughter, walk off to school. That day as the girls were in school and Margarida was working I relaxed in and around the house. When they returned we went out to a nice restaurant where we ate Portuguese food including an appetizer of pig’s ear. The following day Margarida took Salome and me to the local market where she bought me a couple pairs of really comfortable socks. That evening I played guitar and taught Safira a little bit about playing as well. The four of us had a great evening together and I really felt like I was part of the family. The next day Margarida and I took Salome to school and then she took me to Visseu. Visseu is a beautiful old city, most of it built on huge granite rocks. After touring the city we proceeded another 200 kilometers east to the border between Portugal and Spain. Margarida and I ate lunch then she bought me a nice fleece jacket. I couldn’t thank this woman enough for all she had done for me. All I could do was try to express my gratitude in the most heartfelt way possible. She then looked me in the eye and sincerely said “Thank you for everything you have done also.”

I left Margarida and walked across the border into Spain. I was stopped there by border police who checked my bag and passport to make sure I wasn’t an illegal American immigrant smuggling pounds of hash from Morocco. After sending me on my way I set up at the edge of the highway to catch a ride. About an hour after I started a man pulled over and took me about 150 kilometers to Salamanca. I spent a few hours on the outskirts of the city trying to catch a ride but was unsuccessful. Darkness fell upon me and I went in search of a place to sleep. I found a plot of grass in between a couple apartment buildings where I brought out my bag and fell asleep. The night was very cold and upon waking the next morning I found my sleeping bag wet from the dew that gathered on the grass. As the sun rose so did I, setting my things out in the sunshine to dry them off as I put on every piece of clothing I had to keep warm. Once the day did finally start to heat up I set out in search of another freeway entrance. I found one and sat for a few hours trying to catch a ride. With nothing forthcoming I headed into the city. Walking around a bit I found the bus station and decided to check on a bus to France though I had no money. The only bus to France was going non-stop to Paris that afternoon and cost 95 euros. So it was either raise 95 euros by six o’clock that evening or try my hand at hitchhiking again. Naturally I tried to raise the money. I went to Western Unions and travel agencies seeing if I could send myself the money or use my mom’s credit card number to book the ride. Nothing worked. So I sat down on a bench and played with Jana for awhile. I then realized I was on the road which led to another freeway entrance. I started walking. Past car dealerships and shipping warehouses I finally made it to the highway. I set my things down and stuck out my thumb. About a half hour later a guy in a van picked me up and drove me to a service station about 200 kilometers down the road. There I made myself dinner and made a half-attempt to hitchhike more. I figured I could spend the night there at the station and at least be warm and dry but if someone picked me up to take me further down the road I’d be happy also. Just as the sun was setting I decided to stop for the evening but just before I put my thumb down a couple pulled over in a car. I hopped in and they took me about 15 kilometers down the road. They pointed me in the direction where I’d be able to catch a ride with some truck drivers so I walked that way. I found myself at a freeway entrance with no place for anyone to pull over and cars passing way too quickly to even consider picking up a hitchhiker. The sunlight faded quickly and I found myself beneath a streetlamp in the cold night. I realized that no one would pick me up there, at least not tonight so I set off to find another place to spend the night. Being surrounded by fields and very few buildings this was not an ideal place to spend a cold night. I walked behind a large feed store and found a place to sleep in the large field behind it. As the night wore on it grew colder and colder. I had layers of clothes on within my sleeping bag and still felt chilled to the bone. A restless night followed and as the sky became lighter I found myself under the dark grey skies with a sleeping bag soaked through by the moisture in the air. My back pack and I were also soaked. With no direct sunlight and cold, wet air there was no chance for my things to dry so I packed everything up still wet and headed back to the freeway entrance. That early in the morning there was very little traffic and fortunately I was picked up by a couple and their three year old son. I really didn’t care where they were headed as long as I could get a ride away from that spot. They took me way out into the country and dropped me off at another freeway entrance outside of the town where they were stopping. I set down my bag and waited. At this entrance I waited about eight hours hoping for a ride seeing one car pass me every hour. Eventually I gave up waiting and picked up my things. I began walking along the highway just trying to get to a place with more traffic. I then realized just how out in the country I was for I walked a half hour without seeing coming across an exit. I kept walking and at one point I arbitrarily stuck out my thumb. I saw a car screech to a halt in front of me and start reversing along the freeway in my direction. These three Hungarian guys were headed to Burgos and offered me a lift.

Upon arrival in the city I just prayed for a warm dry place to sleep that night. I walked and walked through the large city in the direction of the highway praying with every step. When night fell it was apparent that no one was going to invite me in to sleep in a house. When I grew too tired to walk anymore I found a tree next to the road and pulled out my bag. It was still wet from the night before but I couldn’t do anything about that so I set it up beneath the overhanging limbs of the tree anyway. I continued to pray that I would be warm and dry that night despite the situation I was in. I squeezed my way into the bag and found that as soon as I got in it the bag became dry. I lay down and was soon so warm I had to remove layers of clothing. Though my sleep was erratic due to passing cars and people I didn’t manage to sleep a bit. When I awoke I found dew covering the leaves of the tree above me and the grass around me. The fog was so thick it was difficult to see something ten yards away. Despite all the moisture surrounding me I touched my sleeping bag to find it completely dry. My backpack was completely dry. I was completely dry and although I could feel the chill in the air I was extremely warm. My prayer from the previous evening had been answered although not as I had expected it to be. I felt this was truly a miraculous experience and had a great feeling about the day ahead.

I continued walking along the road until I made it to a good hitchhiking spot. I stuck out my thumb and was picked up minutes later by two Belgian brothers, one looking like Michael Moore and the other like Wallace Shawn (the “inconceivable” guy from Princess Bride). They took me all the way across the border into France and dropped me off. I was shortly thereafter picked up by a really nice French guy. He asked if I had eaten yet and invited me to his house for lunch and a shower. At his place as he prepared a fantastic lunch of duck and potatoes I showered. After the shower and food I felt so much better. After playing a few songs for the man on my guitar we packed up and he drove me another 70 kilometers down the road. Right after he dropped me off I received another ride followed by another. Then I was picked up by an older couple who drove me well past Bordeaux. As night fell they asked where I was going to spend the night. When I told them I had no idea they invited me to stay at their house. They took me to their home in Saintes where they few me a great dinner and set me up on their couch. I slept very well as rain splattered against the window pane. I felt so blessed to be sleeping comfortably inside that night. When morning came they fed me breakfast and took me down the road to another highway. I was soon picked up by a guy who took me further down the road and dropped me off. As I was walking along searching for another place to hitchhike I noticed a designated hitchhiking spot marked by a sign. I stood there for a few minutes with my thumb out when a young woman pulled over and asked me where I was headed. I told her I was going to Paris and she said she was also. A few hours later we arrived in the city of lights. After hopping the metro gates I made my way into the city. I showed up at my old apartment where my friend Devon was living after taking my old job. Needless to say, he and his girlfriend Sara were quite surprised to see me as I hadn’t told anyone I would be in Paris. I surprised quite a few people during my weeklong stay in the French capital. I was in Paris because I had a flight leaving from Paris to the United States. After spending a week with Devon, Sara, Etienne, and other friends I illegally hopped on the train for the airport. Spending eight hours cooped up in an airplane from Paris to Washington DC was quite difficult, especially after having lived outdoors for the last three months. I finally arrived in DC and was met at the airport by my parents. My dad knew I was coming but my mom had no idea. When she saw me her jaw dropped and she was speechless. She had no idea when she would ever see me again so when I showed up in front of her she believed me to be a hallucination. I spent a few days with them in the nation’s capital and was able to see my aunt and my good friend Janet before we got on another plane to Colorado.

We arrived in Colorado just ahead of a large snow storm. That night I slept in my own bed at my Colorado home, the one place that has always felt like home to me. This was the best night’s sleep I had received in the last year or so. I woke up the next morning to snow blowing against my window. The trees and ground were covered with the white purity of the icy precipitation. I couldn’t have imagined a better homecoming.

Although I am not traveling at the moment and have no idea how long I’ll be here in Colorado this is not my last entry. I have the itch to continue traveling but for now am content to stay here with my family in an environment full of love and support. Until next time, peace!

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