What a lovely couple of days I’ve had here in southwest Portugal. Not much surfing because the waves have been small during the time I’ve had to surf, but as one door closes, albeit temporarily, others have opened.
Last night I had a wonderful dinner of fish soup, pork kabobs, caramel custard and vihno tinto with Phil and John, two English surfers from Brighton I met earlier in the week. They are staying in Carrapeteira now, a lazy, sun-soaked oceanside town that leans toward the sea on broad dunes. I hadn’t been there before and drove the windy roads in last night just before sunset, much to my delight. The light was perfect and the air smelled of freshly cut grass and pollen, and I took the road’s curves slowly, soaking in the remains of the day.
I drove to a restaurant where we’d agreed to meet, called Sitio do Rio, where Phil and John were already enjoying olives and bread with garlic butter. I joined them and we sat outside for several hours talking and savoring our food, which was as fresh as only locally grown and organic food can be. Many of the farms here are organic and the food somehow just tastes more pure than it does in most places in the U.S. Or maybe I’m just so happy to be here that everything seems better.
I wish I could explain how lovely it was to sit there as day turned to night and the sky bloomed a thousand stars, and enjoy the company of two intelligent, thoughtful and funny men, with nothing else to do and no particular place to be. Phil even paid for my dinner, which was an unexpected surprise and awfully generous of him. I may go surfing with them tomorrow, their last day in town before heading back to the U.K.
After dinner, which ended around 10:30, I was in a fine mood and on a whim I drove toward Odeceixe to see if I could find David, whom I’ve been missing. We had made plans two nights in a row and he never kept them, and I wanted to find my elusive Portuguese friend who has brought me such joy in previous visits.
On my way to Odeceixe I saw his van parked outside a small cafe in Maria Vinagre, his hometown which is between Rogil and Odeceixe. (It’s easy to spot–it’s green and says “Odeceixe Surf School” on it, with a giant-squid-grabbing-a-mussel logo.) I pulled in and went inside, the vinho tinto giving me a little extra courage. He was sitting outside the cafe with Ricardo, my first surf instructor here in Portugal, and another friend of theirs also called Ricardo. (It’s obviously like “John” in Portugal.) Little mention was made of our missed connections — just a few words about it — and we caught up a bit and chatted about life, including the fact that the Obamas picked a Portuguese water dog as the First Pet. It is the biggest news you can imagine here in Portugal, which I find odd and hilarious. You’d think they announced the pope was gay.
I sat with them for awhile and David bought me a glass of vihno tinto and at some point asked if I wanted to get up at 6 a.m. to go with him and his two friends to pry mussels off rocks just offshore. This is how things work here, where friendships are fluid and lazy and plans are made spontaneously with little fanfare. Everyone, it seems, lives in the moment, which suits me just fine these days and feels just about right. I told him of course, asked several times if he was absolutely serious because I don’t get up that early just for anything, and left around 11:45 to get some sleep.
I arose around 5 a.m. tired but extremely curious and excited for my morning’s adventure. In addition to having a surf school and camp and other surf-related businesses, David also is a fisherman and he takes mussels from the sea and sells them to local restaurants. (Last night he told me he also has gotten into the barnacle business. God only knows.) The thing is, taking fish out of the sea and selling it is legal if you have a license, but he does not; having grown up here his whole life and living hand to mouth on whatever resource he can to help his family, it is not for me to judge his illegal activities.
Since I met him last September I had always hoped I would one day see him in action, since watching someone in his natural habitat doing the thing that has kept his people alive for generations is fascinating to me. I feel honored that David would let a foreigner and a woman (the men are famously chauvinistic around here) witness such an act. It’s probably not really a big deal to him, and he probably lets people in on this all the time. But I still felt as if I was being given a gift, and was grateful for it.
David texted me around 5:45 to let me know we’d be meeting at the Rogil petro station (there is only one; it’s a mere blip of a town) at 6:15. He arrived about 10 minutes late (of course, but that’s actually on time for the Portuguese, maybe even early) and had me follow him to his friend’s house. When he got there he stood outside for awhile, apparently waiting for his friend to join us. He made a motion to me like drinking out of a glass — a lot of my conversations with David involve sign language, as his English isn’t great (it’s better than my Portuguese, however) — and I understood that to mean his friend was late getting up because he had been drinking.
Well, it turns out his friend, whose name was Sergio, was still drunk, having only went to bed a half hour ago. I found this out after I followed the two of them down a dusty road past houses and then cows to park by a sandy path we would take to get to a rocky outcropping over the ocean. Like many Portuguese men Sergio had that short, stout build with a sizeable belly, which I got full view of when he proceeded to strip to change into his wetsuit, chattering all the time in Portuguese about god knows what. David more discreetly changed in the van, and the two of us giggled at Sergio’s antics. I also was enjoying the rare light of early morning; the sun had just come up as I waited for them to change into wetsuits, tie on their nets and gather the gear that would allow them to complete their task.
The walk to the ocean took about 15 or 20 minutes, during which Sergio kept up a steady stream of chatter to me in Portuguese and French, which David told him I speak. (I barely do, so only understood a little bit of what Sergio was saying.) He also would do impish things like try to kick my feet out from under me as we walked along the path and while I was amused it also was a little annoying; a few times I scampered ahead of him to elude his reach, which wasn’t hard because he was carrying the bulk of the equipment and was laboring besides.
I wish a had a camera to capture how gorgeous it was there above the sea, but my camera battery was dead and David had asked me the night before not to take photos anyway, probably not wanting his illegal actions documented. When we got to the outcropping, there was an ATV parked right at the end, that of a fisherman who was out on another rock below us.
From the point we could see up and down the coast for miles; the day had risen clear and the sun burned off the earlier chill and warmed our backs as we gazed out to sea. David spoke to Sergio in Portuguese about how to proceed, and even though I didn’t really understand I gathered that they wouldn’t be going into the ocean that morning. He eventually explained to me that the waves were too big, crashing on the rocks where he wanted to fish, which made it a little dangerous. Later he said if Sergio hadn’t been drunk he may have gone out there, saying it was the reason for “60 percent” of his decision not to enter the water.
We stood there for awhile as David assessed the situation, Sergio curled up on a rock for a nap, and I enjoyed the sheer magic of the moment. Large, green waves were crashing over rocks close to shore, forming one after the other, the ocean pregnant with them. The sky lost its last bit of orange and was now a vibrant blue, and the rocky shoreline to the north and south was a jigsaw puzzle waiting for its missing pieces. After awhile David decided that going back out later when the tide was low would be a better option, said he would call me in the evening to accompany them again and we headed back toward where we’d parked our vehicles.
I don’t know if he will call me or not, but to be honest, it really doesn’t matter; I am content to have been given this morning’s gift. As we walked back toward the cars on the path lined with wildflowers, Sergio’s chatter a soundtrack to our footfalls, David turned to me for a second and said, “It’s good, early in the morning, eh?” I smiled and nodded in agreement. “It really is,” I said, knowing just exactly what he meant.