Global Cooling Plagues the U.K.
********************************After an unexpectedly glorious April, the weather in England turned…English. And not just your ordinary cold-and-wet English weather, either, but the coldest, wettest summer on record. None of the plans I’d made for my summer abroad included a glacial monsoon. During the first few weeks of gale-force winds and constant downpour, I tried to adapt. When my coping tactics — ranting, whining, drinking, taking long naps, and cutting my own hair with dog-grooming scissors — had no affect on the suicidal gray skies, I tried waiting it out, but after two solid months of virtual winter, when even the usually stoic natives were breaking down, I could bear it no longer. I hopped a cheap flight to the Iberian Peninsula where a record heat wave was reportedly killing people. If the apocalypse was imminent, I decided I’d rather roast than drown in it.

Looking for a Change of Scene, Finding Déjà Vu

“Bad luck for you!” chirped the man at the tourist office in Faro. “No rooms tonight, no rooms tomorrow! Did you see all the motorcycles outside?”

Motorcycles of every make roared up and down the esplanade, while the town’s sidewalks, cafés, and beer halls teemed with tattooed, leather-clad men (and a few women).

“Big national rally!” He went on. “Every room on this coast is booked. You better go inland, lady. Good luck!”

The sparse Portugal section I’d ripped out of ‘Europe on a Shoestring’ mentioned a hill town called Silves; it sounded nice. But first, I was desperate to find a new laptop adapter. This is a recurring travel theme of mine: my technology never adapts smoothly to new countries. I used to believe this problem was endemic to the Third World; now I understand it’s a personal thing. When I asked the rather aggressive tourist official for advice, he reminded me I had come to Faro on the wrong day. Everything was closed.

“Are you sure there’s nothing open?” I demanded. “An electronics store, a shopping mall?”

“Well, you could try the Forum Center,” he said, stabbing his pen at a point on the map. “It’s about four kilometers from here.”

“Is there a bus?”

“I doubt it.”

“What about a taxi?”


Normally a 4-kilometer walk wouldn’t faze me, but due to a recent cooking accident that defies explanation (me + cooking = accident, and that’s all I’m going to say), I had second-degree burns across the tops of both feet. The burns didn’t hurt, but I was swathed in gauze and couldn’t get my shoes on over the blisters. Four kilometers in flip-flops and leper feet with all of my bags in tow was a daunting prospect.

Six hours later, I found the elusive adapter. I’d been walking all day, humping my heavy bags and shuffling along as best I could. In my single-minded pursuit, I’d ended up on the far side of nowhere, having lost both map and guidebook pages along the way. To reorient myself, I hiked along the main highway toward what looked like a city bus kiosk. This turned out to be a terrible idea; the road had no real shoulder or guardrail. Traffic screamed by, passing close enough to shave the hair off my legs. Every step felt like it might be my last. At least it was NOT raining — in fact, it was dangerously hot to be meandering along a lost highway in the Algarve. After a harrowing final sprint across four lanes of traffic, I parked my bags and myself at one of the most forlorn bus stops I’ve ever seen, determined to wait until a bus or a taxi could carry me safely onward.

As the day wore on, cars flew by constantly, along with the occasional tour bus and a steady stream of grit and smog. A single taxi shrieked past like a high-speed mirage, overflowing with airport passengers. It was nearly 7 o’clock. The city bus service, if it ever existed, had probably ceased for the night. My feet and shoulders throbbed, my eyes stung, and I couldn’t have lifted my bags again for money. I considered sticking my thumb out for a lift, but was too intimidated by the hornet-like swarms of rowdy bikers, most of whom appeared to be taking advantage of Portugal’s loose drunk driving laws.

Angels Sighted in the Algarve – But Which Sort?

When a trio of flashy bikes pulled over anyway, I was only mildly apprehensive. Brandishing a devilish smile, their leader gunned his engine and gestured for me to hop on. I laughed and shook my head, pointing at my mountain of bags. He then turned his bike off and dismounted, ambling toward me. Even without the monstrous machine, he towered over me, blocking out the sun. Propping his mirrored sunglasses on his head, he shouted to be heard over the deafening traffic noise.

“Where you from?” He yelled, with an accent reminiscent of East L.A. At least we wouldn’t have to work this out in Portuguese. A friend had assured me that Portuguese sounds “a lot like Spanish” (of which I understand a smattering). Sure it does…it sounds like Spanish played backward through a didgeridoo.

“California!” I yelled back.

“Man, I shoulda guessed! They got all the good-lookin’ girls out there!” He winked and laughed, flexing his biceps so they rippled with faded Chinese tattoos.

“Uh-huh.” I was drenched in sweat and sporting a dark film of freeway grime. The bandages around my feet had begun to ooze a vile-looking yellowish liquid. Even my hat drooped (I’d sat on it earlier in the day); I was not really in the mood for banter.

“Hey, don’t worry — we’re the nicest bad boys you’ll ever meet. I’m Pedro.” He gestured at the other two hulks-on-wheels, “An’ these my boys. Where you going, anyway? Into Faro?”

“No, I’m trying to get out of Faro.” I said.

“What’s wrong with Faro?” he demanded.

“Nothing, but there aren’t any rooms left. Big motorbike rally in town, I heard.”

Pedro grinned. “Yeah, you gotta watch out for those guys…what, you need a place to stay? No problem — we gotta really big tent!”

“NO. That’s OK.”

“Hey, we’d give you the tent, come on!” he exclaimed, feigning offense. “Right after we raped and murdered you, of course. Ha-ha!”

By this time I wasn’t worried about my virtue; I just loathe sleeping outside.

“I appreciate it, but I’m trying to get to Silves tonight.”

“OK, so where’s that?”

I shrugged; I was hoping someone else would know. Pedro conferred with his crew.

“So, here’s the problem”, he said, turning back to me. “We’d give you a lift, but there’s *policia* everywhere, you know? And we don’t gotta extra helmet. They’d pick us up in two seconds.”

I nodded. “I wouldn’t want you to risk it.”

“But don’t worry, we ain’t gonna just leave you out here. We’ll figure something out.”

I preferred to figure out my own “something” and I noticed one of the musketeers had a cell phone. I suggested we *try* calling a cab and the technology gods must have owed me one because magically, within minutes, a taxi appeared.

“Now, just hang on,” Pedro swaggered over to the car, turning territorial. “You can’t be too careful. I’ll talk to this guy.”

“What you doing out here, Miss?” the driver asked, peering nervously around Pedro’s advancing bulk.

“Waiting for a bus?” I said.

“Bus!” He snorted. “Ha!”

Before we could get any further, Pedro summoned the small, graying man out of his cab and subjected him to the Portuguese Inquisition. Finally, the older guy pulled a laminated card from his wallet and held it up in gesture of surrender. After Pedro inspected it, he laughed heartily and saluted him.

“Hey, he’s OK!” Pedro said to me. “He’s our people, another biker!” The cab driver tipped his hat to me and picked up my bags. While he was loading the trunk, I handed Pedro my card.

“If you ever find yourself in my part of the world and I can do anything to help you,” I offered, “please drop me a line.”

“The States…I dunno,” Pedro grinned uncertainly, scratching his wide belly with the tip of his sunglasses. “I hear the States is kinda dangerous.”


(c) 2007, Laurie Weed. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to forward, reply, comment, or lambaste, but do not copy or reproduce any portion of this content for any purpose without my permission. Thank you. [Note: Travel Writers News does have express permission to circulate LW’s missives.]


New travel photos on Flickr

Spain & Portugal — lots of castles:

Brief escapes: Granada, Spain

London, Brussels, and the two times I saw the sun in England:
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