Road Tripping in Portugal – A Scary Story
Salamanca, Spain – Porto, Portugal Rregions
When I walked out of Spanish class I didn’t see the poster advertising an organized trip to Toledo. It was the Canadian girls standing around the don Quijote message board hollering “roaaad triiiip!” that caught my attention. Although a coach ride from Salamanca to Toledo and back could technically be considered a road trip, I was hoping for something more exciting.
|Sebastian, myself, Fabienne and Jessica|
I don’t want to pass judgment though. Few people annoy me more than those horribly contemptuous, “authentic” backpackers telling you how you should travel, belittling you for owning a Lonely Planet or for washing your hair. Not me. Nor will I force local delicacies down my fellow travelers’ throats when they really feel like eating Chinese food or Burger King. Want to get a picture of you holding up the Tower of Pisa? Be my guest. For all I care you can go to Louisiana and pick up an “I looted New Orleans and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” shirt.
We all have our favorite way of travelling but it really isn’t necessary to bother other people with it. Nevertheless, I would like to impose my travel mantra on you: road tripping â€“ the real deal, no half-cocked coach trips. The preparations are minimal. All you need is a car, music and sunglasses…
The quintessential road trip vehicle is obviously a minivan. Preferably one with a big-ass spoiler and a knob on the wheel. Unfortunately, I do not yet own a black 1983 G-series GMC (uhuh, the A-team van)… So my friend and I went to a car rental place instead. Alas, no flower-power Volkswagens were available either. Considering there would just be four of us, we eventually settled for a less-exciting yet practical new Renault.
Music is at least as important as the car. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, do not embark on a road trip in Southern Europe relying on local radio to entertain you. Bring CD’s and plenty of ’em or you’ll go stark raving mad. You’ll want to keep the entire car happy so don’t be selfish. Think mainstream.
Our playlist went a little something like this. Plenty of guitars and classic rock for on the highway: Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and the like. I always bring some acid jazz or other lounge tunes for serious chilling. Saint-Germain always does the trick. For dead moments it’s nice to have a couple of lame sing-alongs that are so bad they actually become funny. I particularly love to hate “Yes sir, I can Boogie”, “Do you really want to hurt me”, “So lonely”, “Papa Chico” or anything by Vanilla Ice.
Don’t forget some cool music for cruising by the beachside. You know what I am talking about: one driver’s tanned arm out the window, shades on your nose and Don Omar’s “Dale con dale” cranked to the max. By the way, here’s a tip to make traffic jams more interesting. When no cars are moving, open all windows. Everybody but the driver get out of the car. Put on some party music (my personal favorite in this case: Vitalic’s “Poney part 2”). Get on the roof of your van (what do you care, it’s a rental…) and start partying like it’s 2999. Try and get the commuters to join you, the looks on their faces are priceless.
That’s it, we’re good to go. You could make an itinerary first if you want to… I prefer just asking around on where to go. Planning simply creates expectations the actual experience has to live up to. Chance adventures are that much easier to enjoy.
|Me by the car near the border between Portugal and Spain|
Fall was catching up with us so we turned our back on the beaches and headed inland, towards the mountains. We ended up in the strangest of mountain towns: BraganÃ§a. Although not at all a tourist hot spot, BraganÃ§a does have an awe-inspiring, 13th century fortress. That’s not why I’ll remember it, though. This town is the spitting image of Royston Vasey, the English village from the comedy series “The League of Gentlemen” where ugly, inbred locals molest and eventually kill innocent passers-by. Obviously it wasn’t that fatal but BraganÃ§a did give us a scare.
The first local we saw, we asked for directions to our hostel. A big smile appeared on his face; he opened the door, squeezed his burly body into the back of the car and insisted on showing us the castle first. Scruffy-looking and reeking of liquor, among other things, he introduced himself as Ramiro, owner of the castle. He promised to give us an extraordinary tour. So far, we weren’t alarmed at all and so we decided to go along. The big guy seemed harmless enough; with his placid smile and doglike eyes he almost looked like the village idiot.
He apparently wasn’t. When we arrived at the castle, Ramiro pulled out a set of keys and opened the gate. No problem, maybe he’s the janitor, we said to ourselves while we set out on our tour. The guy we had figured for a well-intentioned simpleton was now lecturing us on European history, momentarily interrupting his discourse to demonstrate how you wield a 15th century bastard-sword with amazing agility. Maybe it was just the sight of the castle at dusk but, all of the sudden; Ramiro’s smile didn’t seem so placid anymore…we were all getting a bit spooked.
When our guide, still carrying the huge sword, insisted we’d follow him to the fortress’ dungeons, we simultaneously started muttering protests:
“Desculpe Ramiro, we’d love too but we have to arrive at the hostel before eight…”
“Besides, we are all getting really hungry.”
“Thank you so much for the tour, though.”
“We’ll be back tomorrow, for sure!”
And we practically ran out of the place.
|It looked a lot scarier at dusk the day before…|
“You are not locals,” the clerk stated. Clearly, there was no fooling this guy. We slowly explained him that, not being locals, we had come to this pension looking for a place to stay the night. He nodded understanding. When we offered him our passports, he shook his head and smilingly said: “Don’t worry about it, I’ll get them later.” I heard Fabienne break into sobbing behind me.
“We are not Americans…” I began in a misguided attempt to relate to the clerk. No reaction.
“Can you recommend a good restaurant?” I tried.
“Yes, we have an excellent restaurant right here,” was all he said. Somehow nobody felt like eating at the hostel so Sebastian and I ran out for take-out pizza and Porto while the girls barricaded themselves in the rooms. Seb, as always looking at the bright side of life, laid out the gameplan for the night. After all, the whole thing had provided us with an excellent excuse to keep the girls company at night.
We did feel stupid though, waking up the next morning. No one had been poisoned or stabbed to death. BraganÃ§a was no Royston Vasey. Like little kids, we had let ourselves be frightened by some eccentric castle owner. And of course the villagers had been staring; they had just seen four flustered tourists dash out of their castle at nightfall. Word of the weird gringos had probably spread to the pension before we even arrived. You are not locals, indeed.
And so, shamefaced and tired, we got in our car and headed back to Salamanca, contemplating our road trip. On the radio Lynard Skynyrd were giving their best. Sweet home Salamanca!