Portugal (sort of…)

One.   Back in 2008 I spent 8 days walking across a good-sized chunk of Extremadura. I started in the village of Abadía (35 km from Plasencia) and followed la cañada real Soriana Occidental southwest for roughly 250 km until I reached the town of Olivenza. La cañada real Soriana Occidental  is one of several drove roads used by shepherds to move livestock across the Iberian Peninsula on foot during the seasonal migration – or trashumancia – in search of food and water. The shepherds move their animals north in late spring and then back south again when the weather cools down.

The word “cañada” comes from the cane bushes that grew along the paths the shepherds followed. “Real” refers to the fact that these routes were under the protection of the Spanish Crown. Nowadays most animals are transported by lorry, but the old drove road traditions aren’t dead yet. This particular cañada real stretches 700 km and cuts through the provinces of Soria, Segovia, Ávila, Salamanca, Cáceres and Badajoz. The section I walked passes through the two provinces which make up the region of Extremadura: Cáceres (the northern half) and Badajoz (the southern half).

cork oaks

recently stripped cork oak trees (alcornoques) along the drove road

The day before I reached Olivenza as I was entering the city of Badajoz – the largest town in the region with a population of 150,000 – a car came up behind me menacingly. The driver leaned on the horn long and hard and swerved into the ditch where I was walking on the outskirts of town. I hadn’t had any trouble whatsoever with aggressive drivers during my solitary walk, so when I turned to look over my shoulder I didn’t know what to expect. To my great relief it turned out to be Castillo, one of my wife’s friends. (Yes, her name is Castle in Spanish. I’m not making this up.) It also turns out that she is a terrible driver.

She pulled the handbrake, kicking up an insane amount of dust, jumped out of her car and gave me a big hug.

“I recognized that enormous ugly backpack of yours so I turned around to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. What the hell are you doing in Badajoz?”

“I’m walking the royal drove road.”

Putos Americanos.” She looked around and threw her arms up in the air. “Why?! Where are your sheep?!”

Qué graciosa.” (“Very funny.”)

Tienes hambre?” (“Are you hungry?”)

I had been walking for nearly 7 hours. I was starving. Castillo was on her way to her parents’ house for lunch. Jackpot!  I had time for a quick shower and a change of clothes before the food was ready.

“You like venison? My father’s a big hunter.”

I had noticed this as there were dozens of  animal heads decorating the walls of the house.

In the dining room I was seated next to Castillo’s nearly completely deaf grandmother.

“So you’re one of Castillo’s friends?”

“Yes, I’m from the United States.”

“And where are you from?”

¡Abuela! He’s from the USA! Now he lives in Plasencia!”

“Oh, is that so?” She took a bite of her food and then turned to me again. “So are you in Spain on vacation?”

¡Abuela!  He lives here!”

Castillo’s mother wanted to know where I was staying for the night.

“Can you recommend a youth hostel or a cheap pension?”

“Nonsense. You’re staying with us.” Double Jackpot!

After lunch everybody collapsed into a comfy chair or claimed a little space on the sofa and proceeded to  drift off into a nice long siesta. Then Castillo called a couple of friends and we jumped in her car. We bought some beer and headed down to the banks of the río Guadiana where we drank and talked until sundown.

ALCAZABA_BADAJOZ_16

Alcazaba (Moorish citadel) of Badajoz 

The following morning I was jolted awake by my hiking boot bouncing off the side of my head.

“If you want a ride to the edge of town I’m leaving for work in 15 minutes.”

Castillo dropped me off in front of a crusty old café. “This is a good spot for coffee and cachuela.”

I didn’t have the faintest idea what cachuela was, but I ordered it for breakfast. It’s a good way to start the day if you’re about to walk 30 km and you have no fear of heart disease.

Cachuela is a sort of paté made of pig’s liver, lard, garlic, onion and paprika. The thick, greasy, brown substance with flecks of bright orange (from the paprika) is heavily slathered and smeared onto an enormous hunk of toasted bread and served for breakfast in southern Extremadura. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

I paid the bill, slung my backpack over my shoulder and hit the road. It was an uneventful morning and by lunchtime (3 pm in these parts) I was in Olivenza. The town is only about 7 km from the Portuguese border and, as you can imagine, the town has changed hands a few times over the centuries. It was Portuguese between 1297 and 1801 when, under the Treaty of Badajoz, it was ceded to Spain. There is a saying here:

   Las muchachas de Olivenza

   no son como las demás,

   Porque son hijas de España

   y nietas de Portugal.

Translation: “The girls from Olivenza are not like the rest, for they are the daughters of Spain and the granddaughters of Portugal.”

Walking along the streets of the little town is slightly surreal. The architecture and the general feel of the place (ie: quiet and clean) is overwhelmingly Portuguese, but everybody (well, almost everybody) is speaking Spanish. In 1805 it was officially forbidden to teach in Portuguese and all official city documents were to be written in Spanish. Yet Portuguese was the dominant language heard in the streets and spoken in homes until well into the 1940s when a shift towards speaking Spanish took place.

I visited the González Santana Museo Etnográfico which is housed in a 14th century castle. The museum’s collection is out of this world and contains over 7,000 objects related to the traditions and everyday life of the town: farm tools, musical instruments, religious artifacts, metalwork, ceramics, a ton of old children’s toys, archeological remains, a large press for the production of olive oil, a wine cellar… There are also full-scale, incredibly detailed, faithful reproductions of 19th century businesses: a barber shop, a doctor’s office, a printer’s shop, a blacksmith’s workshop, a general store, even the interior of a typical middle class home. I ended my visit by taking in the view of the surrounding countryside from the 38 meter (124 feet) Torre del Homenaje (Tribute Tower).

G) view of Olivenza from the Tower of Homage 2

view of Olivenza from the Torre del Homenaje

There is apparently a new section of the museum called la Sala del Meteorito (the Meteorite Room) which houses part of a 150 kg meteorite which landed near the town in the summer of 1924. I suppose I’ll have to go back.

Before I left Plasencia to go on my walk everybody said I had to try the técula mécula when I got to Olivenza. I found a pastelería and ordered a slice of the local dessert. Técula mécula is made with almonds, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon and sometimes acorns. Legend has it that in the 1930s una oliventina (a woman from Olivenza) found the recipe for the dessert in a wooden chest that had belonged to her mother. Judging by the ingredients and the history of the Iberian Peninsula I think it’s safe to say the dish has Arabic origins.

The waiter brought me a thin slice and I remember thinking he was being a bit stingy. After a couple of bites I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish it all. It was delicious, but each bite was like a mouthful of cement. And like a complete moron I had ordered a mug of chocolate to wash it all down with. A mug of hot chocolate in Spain isn’t anything like a mug of hot chocolate in the US. For starters, a mug of hot chocolate in Spain is more solid than liquid. You can usually stand your spoon straight up in the goop without having it touch the sides of the mug. It’s as if the cook half-melted down a couple of large chocolate bars and then glooped them into a mug. The waiter, sensing correctly that I was a moron, brought me a large glass of cold water to relieve my suffering. (Most likely because he wasn’t in the mood to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a sweaty, unshaven tourist.)

A) street scene, Olivenza

The only photo I took of people during the walk: Roma family in a cart led by a donkey, Olivenza

Then I hopped on a bus and a few hours later I was back in Plasencia. There are few things that can make a person feel more useless than walking 8 days only to hop on a bus and cover the exact same ground in just a few hours.

Two.   Marching Spain by V.S. Pritchett: The author’s first book details his 300 mile walk north from Badajoz to Vigo in the spring of 1927. Wait a second… I thought this was supposed to be about Portugal… Settle down, you animals. Pritchett arrived in Lisbon by boat from his native England. I reprint here for your reading pleasure Chapter 4 of Pritchett’s book in its entirety.  (Spoiler alert: it’s only one sentence.)

“Nothing About Portugal”

I know nothing about Portugal except that its railway system must be the worst in the world, and that at the great Roccio Station in Lisbon the only visible word – and it is placarded in enormous fiery letters across the booking hall – is one we seem to have heard before: Keatings.

Three.   Vila Nova de Milfontes: The town was founded in 1485 by King John II at the point where the río Mira empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  The first inhabitants were prisoners sentenced for minor crimes. The village suffered frequent pirate attacks and around the year 1600 a fortress was built after the entire village was destroyed in 1590. But enough of that. I want to tell you about our dining companion at Restaurante Morais. I don’t remember what I ate, neither does Lola,  but what we do remember is the massive pumpkin occupying the table next to us.

pumpkin

59 kilo (130 lb) pumpkin and Lola’s hand for scale, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

There was a note taped to the pumpkin informing customers that it was grown in the village and that it weighed 59 kilos. The note ended with “Obrigado” (Portuguese for “Thank you”) and somebody’s signature. You’re welcome.

After dinner we walked over to the local cinema. One screen, one movie. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was playing. Portuguese cinemas show foreign films in the original language with Portuguese subtitles. In Spain all foreign films are dubbed into Spanish and it’s horrifying. I rarely go to the cinema in Spain because of this. I suspect dubbing might also have something to do with the fact that you find fewer people in Spain who are capable of speaking decent English than you do in Portugal.

This isn’t just me going off on a grumpy old man rant about one of the oh so many things about Spain that drives me up the wall, either. All of our Spanish and Portuguese friends agree completely (with the exception of Luis, but he’s a complete monster who votes conservative so he doesn’t count) that the dubbing of foreign films and TV programs in Spain drastically hinders the learning of foreign languages. In Portugal, even in small towns and villages, it’s not that difficult to find young people who can carry on a solid conversation in English or Spanish. They’ve grown up watching American, British and Spanish films and TV shows in their original language with subtitles.

shipwreck

shipwreck, Vila Nova de Milfontes

Anyway, the cinema was an amazing, hopelessly sticky, run-down old theater. There was no concession stand, but there were two barely teenage kids standing outside near the ticket window selling bags of homemade popcorn and cans of Coke and beer. Everything cost one euro.  There was also a scruffy little old man with a stub of a cigar hanging out of his mouth standing in the entrance greeting everyone.

The film is pretty long – nearly two and a half hours – and about halfway through the lights came on and the scruffy little old man appeared. (I guess he was the owner). He announced that the second half of the movie would start in 10 minutes and in the meantime he was going outside for a smoke if anybody wanted to join him. Out of the dozen people who were in the theater (on a Friday night) 7 or 8 people stepped outside for a smoke. It was fantastic.

I went to the men’s room. It was like a horror movie in there. The walls and ceiling were painted deep blood red and it was lit with a red light bulb. Again, fantastic. We stepped outside to buy two more cans of Sagres and the owner asked us where we were from. (Vila Nova has a population of 5,000. It was pretty obvious we weren’t locals.) When he found out a Spaniard and an American were in his theater on the same night he was ecstatic. He tried to pay for our beers. We protested profusely. The tickets were only 4€ each. How was he going to make any money if he bought drinks for roughly 20% of his clients?!  Once again, fantastic.

IMG_20150827_113628

wall of coffee cups, Campo Maior

Four.   Campo Maior: The town is the home of Delta Cafés, the most popular brand of coffee in Portugal. The company, which controls nearly 40% of Portugal’s coffee market, was founded in 1961 by Rui Nabeiro who was born and raised in Campo Maior. Mr. Nabeiro is currently 84 years old and is still involved in the everyday running of the business. In the beginning there were just three employees. Over the years the company has grown quite a bit and today Grupo Nabeiro Delta Cafés has roughly 3,000 employees distributed throughout 23 companies. Mr. Nabeiro is very active in humanitarian causes and he has refused several offers to sell Delta Cafés because 70% of the population of his hometown depend on the company to make a living.

The town’s biggest tourist attraction, after the new Museu do Café (Coffee Museum!) and the Adega Mayor vineyard (both of which are owned by Nabeiro, naturally), is the Festas do Povo or Festas das Flores. The Flower Festival takes place in August and the entire center of town is completely decorated (more like saturated) with paper flowers that are handmade by the people of Campo Maior. It takes nearly six months to make all the decorations. This is why the festival is only held every few years, it’s too much damn work. The residents are responsible for decorating their own streets and every street has a theme. Some residents go for the obvious and choose themes like “Coffee” or “Portuguese Explorers” for their streets. Others think outside the box. This year the residents of one street chose “Freedom of the Press” and made flowers out of newspapers and street lamps out of pens. Another street we strolled down must have a lot of children living on it as the theme was the Disney movie Frozen.

festasdasflores

Festas das Flores, Campo Maior

As we approached the town by car we saw a nasty plume of thick black smoke coming from a nearby hilltop. We could make out the silhouettes of a few people standing near the blaze. It appeared to be a camp site among some ruins. As we got closer we passed a police car parked on the side of the road. Two officers were hoofing it up the hillside in the ferocious heat to inspect the problem.

Later in town we met up with our friend Angela. She was born and raised in Campo Maior. We told her about the incident. She informed us there was a small group of nomadic Romani who had been squatting in a ruined fortress on a hilltop at the edge of town for the past few months. Using the thick stone wall of the fortress for support they had constructed some dwellings with bits of wood and scrap metal. They had no running water or electricity. They burned rubbish (which is what we had witnessed as we entered town) which is illegal because a) it’s rubbish, and b) it’s prohibited to burn anything during the summer months due to the risk of starting a wildfire. The town’s residents were at their wit’s end as to what to do about the situation.

Angela continued, “During the Flower Festival we receive 1,500 tourists a day for a full week. And the first thing many people see as they enter town is a hillside littered with garbage and clouds of black smoke from burning tires. It’s not a very welcoming sight.”

After strolling around town taking in the low-key atmosphere of the festival (I just barely resisted the urge to by an enormous deep fried churro filled with chocolate – appropriately named a fartura – from a street vendor) we stopped by Angela’s parents’ house to say hello. They remembered us from four years earlier when we had come to the last Festas do Povo. They had prepared a big lunch for us on our previous visit.

farturas

they taste much better than they look

I told Angela’s mother, “I still dream about the croquetes de bacalhau you made for us.”

She smiled proudly. (I’m such a kiss ass.)

We all sat around a large, wooden table worn smooth from generations of daily use. The whitewashed walls were decorated with old farm implements and faded photos of ancestors that watched over us as we sipped beer and wine in the darkness. The curtains were drawn and the house was as cool as a wine cellar even on that sweltering late summer day.

Speaking Portuñol (a chaotic mix of Portuguese and Spanish) with Angela’s father, a retired taxi driver, I said, “Spain has a lot to learn from Portugal.”

He was extremely pleased with this comment. He immediately ducked into the kitchen and returned with more tiny bottles of SuperBock.

“You’re the third Spaniard who has said that to me this month.”

“I’m not Spanish.”

“Ah, that’s right.” This secretly pleased me immensely. “So that makes you the first American who has ever said that to me.”

He raised his glass. “Saúde!

Five.   Viseu: In the Museu Grão Vasco, an art museum in the town of Viseu named after the Portuguese Renaissance artist Vasco Fernandes, there is a painting from the early 19th century that makes everybody do a double take. It is the portrait of Eugénia Cândida da Fonseca da Silva Mendes painted by the artist José de Almeida Furtado who was born and raised in Viseu.

We were with a group of six friends and as we entered the gallery where the portrait hangs we noticed a group of people crowded around a painting, whispering and giggling and carrying on. The group eventually moved on to the next gallery and we understood immediately what all the fuss had been about.

Is this a joke? Did someone vandalize this painting? Clearly some smart ass kid drew a moustache on this woman’s face! Does security know about this?!

Eugénia_Cândida_da_Fonseca_da_Silva_Mendes (1)

 Eugénia Cándida da Fonseca da Silva Mendes

Lola walked over to the security guard on duty and before she even had a chance to open her mouth he said, “That’s the Baronesa da Silva, also known as a Barbuda or the Bearded One by her political enemies.”

It looks more like a portrait of a man in drag than it does a woman with a moustache.

“What was the Baronesa’s reaction when she saw the finished painting?”

“That I don’t know, but historians say it is a realistic depiction.”

We whispered and giggled and carried on a bit inappropriately for a museum setting and then we moved on to the next gallery. A moment later we heard the security guard’s voice, “That’s the Baronesa da Silva, also known as a Barbuda or the Bearded One…”

Six.   Castelo Branco: Lola had to go to Castelo Branco for a work conference one day. I decided to tag along as her personal chauffeur. I dropped her off in the center of town and parked on a shady, peaceful residential street which smelled of orange blossoms. I remember thinking, We’re off to a good start. I popped into the tourist office to get some pamphlets and was greeted by an extremely friendly cat weaving in and out of my legs. I don’t know if it was Bring Your Pet to Work Day or if the cat was a full-time employee of the tourist office, but that little fella really worked his charm and I’ve been back to Castelo Branco on three separate occasions since.

Besides the Tourist Greeting Kitty there is also a contemporary art museum that doesn’t suck (in my experience, this is very rare) and a bustling indoor farmer’s market where you can pick up amazing breads, cheeses, olives, fig and pumpkin jams, regional wines, smoked sausages of various shapes, sizes and colors, salted cod (which is everywhere in Portugal) and pastries… heaps and heaps of glorious pastries. Everything looked and smelled so good and so fresh that I accidentally did the entire week’s grocery shopping without realizing it.

pasteis de nata

pasteis de nata

There was a butcher in his stained apron drinking um galão (a huge caffè latte which is served in a tall glass and appears to be more milk than coffee) and eating uma bola de Berlim (a cream filled Berliner about the size of a basketball) standing at the counter of a pastry shop. I ordered uma bica (an espresso) and um pastel de nata (egg tart pastry heavily sprinkled with cinnamon) and tried desperately to look and act local.

Thirty seconds later the butcher leaned over and asked me in perfect English, “On holiday?”

It’s hard to blend in when you’re 6’ 4” tall in a country which is home to the shortest people in Europe. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then he wandered off back to his shop across the market. When I asked for the bill there was some confusion as the woman refused to take my money. After a few moments of her gesticulating wildly… something about a full belly and a crazy person attacking everything in sight with an axe… it dawned on me that the butcher had paid my tab.

I schlepped up to the castle and then strolled back down to the center of town by way of the steep, narrow, cobbled alleyways on the slopes of Colina da Cardosa. I tried to get lost, but it was impossible. I zigzagged left and right… I ducked into the tiniest lanes… Surely this will dead end any second… but it was too easy. I kept finding buildings and landmarks that looked familiar.

I had lunch in a big, dirty place that reeked of boiled cabbage on Our Lady of Piety Street just off the main square. The waiter, after telling me the daily special was cozido (hence the reek of cabbage), asked me where I was from. I gave him the short version.

“Western Spain. Extremadura.”

“Extremadura? Where in Extremadura?”

“Plasencia.”

“No! Really?!”

“Yes. Have you been there?”

“I’ve been to Plasencia many times!” He looked around to make sure nobody was listening.

“Some friends and I go to La Torre once or twice a year. Do you know the place?”

Me suena.” (“I’ve heard of it.”)

What I really wanted to say was Gross!, but if I’ve learned anything in this life it’s this: do not offend the guy who is handling your food. La Torre (The Tower) is Plasencia’s brothel. Yes, brothels are legal in Spain.

To walk off the açorda de bacalhau (bread, poached eggs and codfish, all mashed up in a big clay pot with loads of garlic, coriander and olive oil) I took a stroll through the Jardim do Paço Episcopal which is a peaceful baroque garden that contains granite statues of saints, kings, the months, the seasons… There are two statues of Portugal’s Spanish-born kings, Felipe I and Felipe II, that are significantly smaller than those of the Portuguese monarchs. Passive aggressive fine art. I love it.

Cast._Branco_-_Jardim_do_Paço_Episcopal

Jardim do Paço Episcopal, Castelo Branco

Seven.   Figueira da Foz: Lola and I were exploring the town of Figueira da Foz one weekend and we came across an interesting statue down by the beach. The plaque read:

SRI CHINMOY

Dreamer of World-Peace

Founder of the Sri Chinmoy

Oneness-Home Peace Run

The statue was a gift from “the Peace Run” to the city for its “dedication to World Peace and Harmony.”. The Peace Run is a global torch relay that started in 1987 in order to promote international friendship and understanding. The founder of the Peace Run, Sri Chinmoy is “a world-peace-dreamer, world-peace-lover and world-peace-server” who travelled the globe to “actively manifest this universal peace-dream.” Sri Chinmoy apparently dedicated his life to bringing about world peace through his talents in music, literature, art, sports, humanitarian service and silent meditation.

Sri Chinmoy… The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. When I got home a few days later I googled the guy and after a bit of digging I hit the motherload. In a nutshell, the guy was a complete fraud and quite obviously a cult leader.

Born Chinmoy Kumar Ghose in India in 1931, he settled in Queens, New York in the early 1960s after receiving a “message from within” which told him to go help those searching for spiritual fulfillment in the West. He taught that enlightenment could be achieved through meditation and exercise. He quickly gained a western following which included celebrities and heads of nations.

This all sounds, more or less, perfectly fine until you get your hands on Jayanti Tamm’s book Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult. Jayanti (which means “the absolute victory of the highest Supreme” – a name chosen for her by Chinmoy) grew up in Guru’s New York-based “spiritual sect” as her parents were among the charismatic leader’s first disciples. She spent 25 years of her life in the cult and was declared Guru’s “Chosen One” who was selected to be his most devoted follower. Jayanti gives an insider’s view into Guru’s tactics of manipulation and the cult’s inner workings. He constantly pitted disciples against one another. He encouraged them to spy on each other and rat out any rule breakers. Guru prohibited his disciples from consuming caffeine, meat, and alcohol. Dancing, dating, sex and pet ownership were also prohibited (despite the fact that Guru had a private zoo in his basement in Queens filled with exotic and illegal animals from all over the world). School was discouraged, as was socializing with outsiders. There was to be no TV, except for The Muppet Show and Little House on the Prairie.

sri-chinmo-statue-figueira_da_foz (1)

Sri Chinmoy statue in Figueira da Foz

After she refused to stop dating boys, Jayanti was ejected from the cult. She attempted to return, begging Guru for forgiveness. He refused, she fell into a deep depression, attempted suicide, and was permanently banished. She currently resides in New Jersey where she is a college English professor. She and her husband have two children and two cats and are living a secular life.

Eight.   Nazaré: We were drinking a bottle of vinho verde (“green wine”) on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking Praça Sousa Oliveira (the main square of Nazaré) one Saturday afternoon. Families were returning from the beach; well-dressed couples were checking menus as aggressive waiters tried to persuade them that their restaurant was a better deal; a group of tech-savvy teenagers was crowded on a bench outside a café attempting to connect to the free Wi-Fi; a greasy looking guy with a lot of gold jewelry was walking around selling sunglasses; a young entrepreneurial type was going from table to table attempting to interest the ladies in his cheap perfume. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle an Irish setter confidently strolled into the middle of the square, squatted, dropped an enormous duece and continued on his merry way. Lola and I looked at each other and it was obvious we were both thinking exactly the same thing.

20150806_205436

Praça Sousa Oliveira, Nazaré

“I’ve got 5€ on the girl in the green bikini.”

“You’re on.” The girl in the green bikini strolled across the square, eyes glued to her cell phone. She had no idea how close she came to stepping in that fresh turd.

“Damn!”

“I’ve got 5€ on the elderly couple.”

“You’re on.” They were heading straight for it, but the wife spotted the steaming mound and pulled her husband out of harm’s way just in the nick of time.

We poured another glass of wine.

“It’s gonna be shirtless lobster boy.”

“Nope. It’s gonna be the old fisherman.”

“So close!”

In the end it was a young mother who rolled through it with her pram and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she stepped right in the sticky slop with her sandals.

We had a good laugh (the wine helps), but the next morning getting into our car I smelled something horrendous. I looked down to find I had stepped in a fresh dog turd. I, too, was wearing sandals.

“It’s revenge for yesterday’s game. Karma!

“So why didn’t you step in anything?”

“Because later I felt remorse.”

I tossed my Chinese dollar store sandals in a nearby bin and drove back to Spain barefoot.

Nine.   “Brother!” : I spent most of the summer doing a construction job in Lola’s parents’ apartment with a couple of guys. While my in-laws were at their place in the countryside we widened the hallways to make them wheelchair accessible (you never know what’s going to happen in the future), converted one bathroom into two bathrooms, put in some drop ceilings, changed some doors and windows, and then, after all the dust had cleared, I painted the entire place.

One of my coworkers, Miguel, is from the tiny extremeñan village of Cedillo in the province of Cáceres. It’s one of those little villages right along the Spanish/Portuguese border. First thing every morning Miguel would stroll into the apartment and yell, “¡Hermano!”  Then one day he asked me how to say hermano in English. The following morning Miguel strolled in and yelled, “Brother!” It stuck. By the end of the job the electrician, the plumber and the carpenter were all calling me Brother!

Miguel’s father is Spanish and his mother is Portuguese. Cedillo has a boat to take you across the río Tajo to Portugal. There is no road, no bridge. As a child Miguel and his friends used to put some pesetas in their Underoos, swim across the river and walk to the nearest Portuguese village to buy sweets.

There is an annual festival in Cedillo called “la fariñá” (farinha is Portuguese for flour, harina in Spanish) which consists of everybody getting drunk and running around throwing flour all over each other. It seems to be a battle of the sexes or a sort of old world mating ritual more than anything else. The boys throw flour all over the girls and vice versa. Then everybody eats grilled sardines which is another very Portuguese aspect of the festival.

Cedillo_09_Enfarina

la fariñá, Cedillo

Nobody escapes the flour. Miguel told me about a couple of lost tourists that entered the village one year in a rental car. The locals mercilessly coated the car with white flour. They coated the passengers, too, when they opened the doors to find out what the hell was going on.

Happy travels.

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3 thoughts on “Portugal (sort of…)

  1. It took me a long time to get to the comments 🙂 🙂 Castelo Branco and Badajoz are still on my some day list, but as festivals go the Tabuleiros festival at Tomar takes some beating. 🙂 Thanks for the follow.

    Liked by 1 person

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