September 14, 2012

Apparently, arriving at Orly ninety minutes before flight time only barely leaves you enough time to get on the plane, and then only if you get the help of women who are willing to sprint across large sections of the terminal building (in heels), speaking urgently into walkie talkies.

After a layover in Madrid, I took a quick hop west to Portugal, where I am traveling with my parents. Their flight got in before mine, so as I descended the escalator toward baggage claim, I saw my dad with his arms outstretched and a big goofy grin on his face, loudly proclaiming, ďWelcome to my country!Ē (My dadís grandparents are from the Azores, which are islands off the coast of Portugal.) It was nice to see familiar faces after having spent so much time on my own (though it did take a little recalibration). My dad planned out the tripís itinerary, so itís also nice to just be along for the ride (quite literally ó they rented a car).

Leaving Paris in the autumn and arriving in semi-tropical Portugal gave me some cognitive dissonance, and it took a little while to settle into the arid and rolling hills, palm, fig, and olive trees, hot sun, and whitewashed plaster houses with terra cotta rooftop tiles. This has actually happened in every transition (from Portland to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to here) ó it usually takes a day for me to find my mental footing. Itís beautiful here, though, and I know Iím going to have a good time.

So, Iím a quarter Portuguese. As we drove from the airport on our way to Sintra, I looked around, wondering if I would feel any kind of immediate kinship with the people and the environment, as I did when I traveled to Ireland (Iím half Irish). Watching the towns roll by, however, I didnít feel that connection. Firstly, the people here all have a brown skin tone, and I am decidedly WHITE (I can signal ships with my stomach). Also, the sun was so hot, and I have always been one for cool and for shade. Nevertheless, though I didnít feel a personal connection, I still think the landscape is stunning and the language is fascinating and this particular adventure is wholly worthwhile. Apparently the Azores (which are about 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal) are a lot more rugged and green and temperate; maybe if I went there, something in the land would speak to me.

One of the many perks of traveling with my parents is the upgrade in accommodations. Donít get me wrong ó I have valued my stay in localís homes greatly, and look forward to more Couchsurfing in Barcelona, Rome, and Athens, but sleeping in a real bed was pretty exciting. And we are staying in a beautiful guest house in Sintra, on top of a hill, overlooking the valley below and several castles perched on outcroppings above. Not too shabby.

After getting sorted at the guest house, we drove southwest to Cabo do Roca, which is the westernmost part of Eurasia, took silly pictures, and gazed out over the water. We then drove further south to Cascais for dinner, and also to stop at Boca do Inferno, a rocky outcropping over the Atlantic where the waves crash dramatically in stormy weather. Here is a bit of conversation from the car:

Dad: Whereís Boca do Inferno?
Mom: Letís get dinner first.
Dad: Itís early. People donít eat until eight or nine around here.
Mom: OK, Iím not people.
Dad: But I want to see the mouth of hell.
Mom: Youíre gonna hear the mouth of hell in a second.

(Be forewarned, youíre going to hear some quotes from my ridiculous [and wonderful] parents over the next few days.)

We ate dinner at a seafood place, which is pretty much every place in Portugal. (If you donít like seafood, your options areÖ Nope. Thatís it.) I got caught up with my parents (from my last few weeks in London and Paris and their last week on the Azores) and then we watched the sun set over the Atlantic.

Tomorrow: who knows! (My Dad!)