Travels to the end of the world (UK – Portugal)
A journey to Cabo de Roca, and beyond.
Persistent and numberless battalions of water drops diligently take over each centimeter of land. Competently navigated by the indifferent gray heavens, their silent military junta reigns supreme. We look through the window of our new home in England with growing concerns, fully aware that our evolutionary flexibility will be tested. If we are to survive one winter most probably we will have to turn aquatic. Absolutely horrified that the sun might have been devoured alive we feel it is our duty to unravel the mystery of its abrupt disappearance. Several days later, in the wake of an attentive forensic search, our fears look more tangible than ever – the sun is not hiding in any of the pubs around; none of the bottoms of the glasses that we investigated gave us even the slightest hint of its whereabouts.
We don’t give up though and decide to head south. And here south doesn’t stand for London, neither Essex, and not even Cornwall. The plan is to cross to any point of mainland Europe and then travel till we reach Morocco and get lost for a while in a desolate beach. Its more than a month till uni starts and we assume that the search for the sun there would be much more affordable and the process a happier one. Moreover on the way down we can try to get to Cabo da Roca and Tarifa (the westernmost and southernmost points of continental Europe) and add them to the basket of edges we have travelled to, drawing an imaginary line that connects the limits of Europe.
Still dusty from the road, our backpacks haven’t lost their magic powers and take us like a flying carpet through a kaleidoscope of landscapes. Before one realises the warm September breeze of Southern Europe welcomes us. The transition we had seen before, from tundra to arctic forests and then to pine trees and lush pastures was a smooth and calm one, but the dark green intensity of the broad leaf humid forests of Sintra, a town near the Portuguese Atlantic shores, overloads the traveler at once. The combination of a specific micro-climate and aristocrats satisfying their luxurious aesthetic whims favoured the thriving of the jungle-like forest around us. We arrive there at night, and the scent of exotic vegetation garnishes the surrounding hills and sharpens the senses – at each turn of the road we expect to see a creeping anaconda or a jaguar lurking in the crown of a tree- a legacy of that common aristocrat’s peacock tendency to boost not only on outlandish flora, but also fauna. The non-existent wild beasts would easily merge with the mysterious aura of the place. The dark blue veil of the settling night only intensifies the furtive nature of the area. Outside of the center the town is quite and we walk wordlessly in the dark passing by empty mansions dimly lit by the street light. Suddenly, to our surprise, we glimpse the figure of a black man leaning on a wall. When we approach him, the man melts into a cat that crosses the street meowing mockingly. We look at each other defenselessly and silently conclude that there is no doubt we are too tired. However, not that tired to fall to asleep anywhere near that cat.
The next day, after walking and hitching in a country full of surprises, we reach the rocks marking the western end of Europe, Cabo de Roca, just on time to be wrapped in a foggy cloud, and pierced by a familiar chill, probably a kind gift from the faraway Albion, and contemplate over the power of imagination. We are not given sufficient time to reach any definite conclusion though, as Manuela fulfills her promise to come back and pick us up after a short visit, just like a proper tour guide.
Several hours later a pair of men celebrating their 40th birthday decides to invest quarter of an hour negotiating to give us a short lift. Initially reluctant to leave the good hitching spot we are on, we finally agree, because we are not in a rush and want to give each car the chance to show us another place. A minute later, Nuno, the driver, looks at us in a challenging manner. ‘Do you believe in luck?’ Having spent the whole summer playing dice by the roads of Europe and analyzing the interaction between chance and decision we answer affirmatively. Triumphantly, Nuno turns off the road and drops us in front of a posh hotel near the beach. ‘Today is your lucky day’ – he exclaims happily and, deaf to our complains, invites us for a night of rest and refreshment. Most likely, even if we do not realise it, we can make use of both, since the staff and the visitors of the hotel look at us with that type of mute astonishment that we looked at the cat in Sintra with. A beer later and Nuno is gone leaving us confused in the lounge. He clearly found for us a more comfortable place to spend the night than a petrol station on the highway to Spain.
In the morning we crawl out of the bed only to be passively involved in the parade of surrealism that continues undeterred. We are informed that a pre-paid taxi waits for us at the parking. The driver of the black, immaculately clean Mercedes puts our backpacks in the trunk. ‘To the airport? No, to the nearest petrol station direction South, please!’
Thanks, Nuno! Thank you for the evening and for the lesson. Now we know that a man could definitely turn into a cat!
HITCHTAKERS. This travel was possible thanks to: Antonio, a Swiss guy, Pedro and his wife, 2 families in a caravan, the lads from Chesterfield, Filip, Manuela, a grandfather, Nuno and his friend, a taxi, Pilar and Luis – the speleologist, Sole and Rafa (on their way back from a TV show), Florencio – a.k.a. Floren, a motorist, Rafa and two scared grandparents – convinced by the local policeman that we were not dangerous.