||Jan. 2-4, 1999 Salema, Portugal
one of those instances when Laura and I turn at the same time and give each other that
combination half smile / half shoulder shrug. It's our "now this should be
interesting, what the heck" signal. This time it happens as our bus turns off the
highway and onto a dirt road. A few minutes pass, and the driver slows to a stop at the
last point that still allows him to turn around, before following the road that ultimately
slips straight into the surf just a few hundred yards away. "Salema" he calls
just before he hops up and out to pop the luggage door for us. As I bend over and pull out
our packs, he helps us by pointing just left of the waves and offering
"centero". We wave a thank you, throw on our packs, and start walking towards
the beach and buildings as the bus disappears around the bend.
"Now what?" Laura says between strides, guide
book in hand and finger marking the 'quarto' (rooms for rent) she had picked as her 'first
choice'. "I dunno" I offer astutely. "Maybe we can ask this guy" as I
nod my head to the first person I see. Laura timidly approaches the little old man dressed
in a cardigan, 'old-man' poly pants, and flannel hat, complete with cigarette hanging from
his mouth. As he slowly makes his way up the road like he has all day, she stops him,
points to a listing in our book and says "Where is Casa Duarte?"
With a pleasantly surprised look he
corrects her pronunciation of "Casa Duarte" and then, in the best English he can
muster, says "It is me!". Once again, we give each other the 'should be
interesting, what the heck' signal and proceed to follow the old fellow in through 'town'.
We slowly make our way up a side street through an alley; up another small lane; and
finally down a narrow walkway to a small but pleasant pink-orange and white stucco house
built right into the sloping hill.
Our room overlooks the pounding surf, and
we're anxious to tromp down the hill and start pressing our own footprints in the sand. We
make our way along the dirt path, down the 'steps with the cane poles joined with string
hand railing', through the 'let 'em run free they won't wander far' chicken coop, and
around the 'couldn't float if they had to, kin see through the cracks in the planks'
fishing boats, and finally by the 'no don't throw them away we'll use 'em someday' pile of
bricks, to the strip of soft, sandy beach.
We stroll lazily along the beach, then hike up along the rocky
ridge leading away from town. The giant flat-leafed cactus, clumpy aloe plants, and
scraggly brown brush, all reach across the trail, as if trying to trip us as we walk. As
the sun sets, we barely make it to the only open grocery store in town. The smell of
bleach smacks us in the face as we walk in. We step gingerly on the freshly mopped floors.
Apparently closing time is only minutes from now.
We take our haul of fruit and wine back to our 'balcony'
to relax to the sounds of the surf below. As we sit and reflect on the days events, the
light in both the entranceway, as well as our room goes out. Laura asks "Do you think
these lights are on a timer". "No, not unless the same timer controls the whole
town, look" I reply. The entire hillside has gone black. It's not long before we hear
a shuffling downstairs and then in the kitchen upstairs. An orange flickering light
proceeds our landlady as she carries an old oil lamp out to us for light. She acts as if
the whole thing is completely normal. Maybe it is. All in a night's fun here in Salema.
The electricity comes on, then off. Then
on, then off again. The last time it returns, we decide to hurry down the hill for dinner.
We choose the less formal (and less expensive) of the town's two open restaurants, grab a
bite and a few beers with a group of particularly rambunctious locals, and call it a
next morning, we are quite surprised to find that we are sleeping (or at least trying to
sleep) about 50 feet away from the town's resident feathered alarm clock.
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOO. COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOO. COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOO. Everybody, up and at 'em.
Well, it's first things first. I head through the breezeway and down a few steps to
the W.C. (water closet or bathroom). On the way back to the room, I hear our landlords
enjoying what seems to be a Sunday church service - direct from their television. With the
apparent lack of a local church, living room sermons must be the next best thing.
After lunch, we pick a spot just barely out of reach of
the lunging waves, and sit for a bit to let the sun kiss our cheeks. The waves crash in
front of us as we watch our fellow beach-goers, those with two, as well as four legs,
play, run, and frolic in the soft golden sand. Just what the doctor ordered, this place