5/20/01 Portugal is Cursed by God

"Portugal is Cursed by God"

This is what the graffitti reads, but I tend to disagree.

Well, for the second time on this trip, my skateboard prevented me from wandering the streets all night, homeless.

It was a rough day in Lisboa, Portugal. I had a long day riding buses to see the amazing Pena Palace. It is a holdover from the 1700s if I recall, is fully furnished, and has artifacts strangely reminiscent of Dax┤s parents┤ house. Then to a Moorish castle in some of the best woods I┤ve seen since leaving home.

And when I got back to town, I, like usual, had only the shortest of time to get my bag and get on a night train.

So I bought a shot or two of Ginjina, the local tart alcohol. Drank it in a little hole in the wall with some shady locals who just got off work. This stuff was tasty.

The Portugese panguage has thrown me for a loop. I expected it to sound like Spanish, as the locals claim they understand Spanish. To me it sounds like a drunk Frenchman speaking German, with his French accent, and his mouth full of dough. Which it may very well have been. I needed dinner before I could get on a train. I ate more than I could afford, though. I ran out of cash. The waiter let me get away with it. I could have gotten more, but that would mean more time, and another ATM charge. And a lot less adrenaline.

So I get my bag and get on the metro bus, trying to pass off the morning┤s ticket as a current one. It didn┤t fly, so I tried to get the driver to speak German, which he didn┤t. And I spent the next ten minutes getting tossed around a bus, saying "I no-a understand" as the driver cursed me and all other Germans for being ignorant, loud, poor, and for driving big cars. He didn┤t want anything to do with my Spanish Pasetas either.

I could only take so much of the abuse, and soon I was on the curb, an easy 30 minute walk from the station, sweating like a hog, with 12 minutes till my train left.

So I got on the skateboard. And I pushed. And I yelled "Estašiao?" as I flew by pedestrians. They pointed the way and paused to watch the lunatic fly by.

When I got into the station, my shirt was soaked with sweat, and my sock was soaked from the broken sewer line I had to skate through, but the train was there. The conductor suggested I get in the back door before the train left. The train was in motion before I got to my seat. Whew. For all of you who thought I was weird for bringing the skateboard, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Before I got to Lisboa, I was in Granada. It was one of my favorite 2 spots in Spain, for several reasons, but only one I will relay in this email.

There is a strong Gypsy community in Granada. They came from India via Egypt (or was it the other way around?) and settled in Granada. Due to distinct culture differences between Catholics and atheists, as well as a pinch of racism, they have their own scene.

Back in the day, they settled into caves on the hill in Granada. Over the years, many of these caves wer built out into houses with cave rooms, and then into tourist attractions.

The tourist attractions are not the least bit interesting, by my approximation, but if you wander, you might just find a community of true cave-dwellers in the hills above the Gypsy community.

It is a scary place. Mean, scarred dogs guarding each cave. They feed themselves and they fight each other. Signs in one area read "Danger! Thieves! Go away!"

But those caves that I did have the balls to get closest to were amazing. And I met two people that spoke English that lived in 2 of them. They don┤t pay rent. They pick a cave and dwell. No water, no heat, no pizza delivery. They toss their garbage in another cave, where the dogs eat from, and they keep out intruders with doors made of old beds, tarps and trash.

They work jobs in the city. One was an English woman in her late 20s that if you saw her, you would never think lived in a cave. She is doing the English thing and travelling and working bar jobs. She answered all my questions, and was a great person to talk with. Many of the street performers squat here, as well as a few families with dogs so fierce that I never got close enough to learn much about them.

Yet another fascinating world, just out of reach from most tourists.

So I am currently in San Sebastian, which is in Spain, I think. It is quite difficult to keep the head straight when hopping so quickly from country to country. The Americans I met in the train station must have thought I was insane for asking what country this is so many times. It wasn┤t my fault that I was accosted by a group of locals who were still in high-gear at 8:30 AM destroying their bodies at the station as they continued their friend┤s going away party. When they learned I was American, they insisted I partake in their whisky. "Jack Daniels!!!!! American!!!!! Drink!!!!"

OK, back to it. Talk to you all soon.