And there was me thinking that Lisbon was about half way up Portugal. But a quick glance at the map made me feel a bit stupid. Even though I’d already cycled to Lisbon, I still had a long way to get to Vigo, in Galicia, the super hilly and forest-covered region awaiting me in northern Spain. *Now checks speedometer* – 651 kilometres and 410 metres, to be exact. And, due to some problems with my bank in Portugal, I only had 50 Euros.
Looking back, I’m wondering, how the hell did I spend so little, and have so many great experiences in between? How did I learn to mix concrete, build a wall, learn things at a travel school, meet tons of great people, take seventeen days instead of five and still cross the border from Portugal to Spain with a fiver in my pocket?
Well perhaps for the first day, I owe to my friend who hosted me in Lisbon, where I left with two, very tasty sandwiches which powered most of the cycle from the coast up the river Tejo and towards my next long-stop destination, a small farm just south of Coimbra. The cycle was quite pleasant, spanning a few days taking me through some non-visited villages, vineyards and cafés with ridiculously cheap coffee (60 cents!) and farmy people with big beards and dirty clothes. Tractors were fashionably parked directly outside bars, and drunk farmers were rumbling away down the narrow village roads in the setting sun.
Now, despite sleeping on lots of farmland, I’ve never actually worked on a farm before. So I was a bit shocked, strangely, when I arrived at the farm house to find that everything was covered in insects, flies buzzing around the kitchen and over the dining table, and there were spiders sharing the seating space with the other four (German) volunteers. Come on, Jamie, this is a farm for God’s sake. What did you expect?
Stupid now that I think of it. Thankfully none of this stuff actually bothers me anyway. I just never connected the dots in my head. After some much needed food provided by the newly recruited in-house chef (one very talented German volunteer), it was bed. Pretty horrible actually. Not that I cared that the mattress was a bit old, or that there were cobwebs all over the room. It was the mosquitoes, which feasted on my sweaty, near-naked body all night, leaving me in an itchy mess the following day. I got used to it eventually.
And as it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed the work I did on the farm. Apart from the first day, which was pretty much just moving dirt all day, I got to play with power tools, fix tools, pick fruit (and eat it), tend the land, feed the chickens, learn how to mix concrete (then actually mix it), and build a small wall as part of a big greenhouse. All the time I was being fed tasty munchie, a lot of which was grown on the farm, and never spent a penny in five days. I also only worked about 4-5 hours per day. I’ll post a bit about working on the farm later. You can find similar projects on workaway.info and wwoofinternational.org
From here I passed through Coimbra and headed north, rejoining the coast again. And whilst looking for a couchsurfer in Porto, I came across an organisation that brings travellers together to share advice and experiences. I applied, and was accepted. So I began pedalling to the small seaside town of Aveiro where it was located. On the way I met another cycle tourer, Arnau, and following the unwritten code of bicycle touring conduct, we stopped and talked, like all good cycle tourers do.
“I’m heading to this place called, errm…the Travel School, or something…”
“No way! I’ve just came from there!”
In the end, we must have spoken for about an hour before I made the final 30km along the flat coast to the school. Visiting the Travel School, which changes location every year and has several workshops including “How to save money while travelling,” was one of the best experiences I’ve had on the road. You can read a little about my experience at the Travel Club here. And the best part? The people I met through the school…
I ended up staying there for four nights and thanks to clever planning, I only spent 10 Euros (in Lidl before I arrived), which carried me through the first two days. Staying at the school was free. The other two days I was fed entirely by food that I found. Yes. Okay, this might come as a shock to some, but I went around the back of a supermarket, and found a whole bin (okay, you’re still there, right?), I said bin full of food. And you know what, some of it wasn’t even out of date! (it was Sunday the following day and the shop was closed). I realise I may have lost a few readers at this point, but trust me on this one. This was the first time I went “dumpster diving” or “skipping” and despite me thinking I would be rummaging through gallons of out of date soup, mouldy food, flies and dead bodies…instead I was met with a perfectly packaged, neatly piled supply of food, at least enough to feed a family for a week! You can read about my first dumpster dive here.
Following this multitude of great experiences, I continued up the coast to Porto, stopping only once for a little camp in a forest to relax a bit. And then I couchsurfed with a lovely, lively Portuguese lady, in her traditional stone house on a hill overlooking Porto. She gave me some insight into the culture, and whom I shared great food and memories with.
The final days were tough. The wind picked up and forced itself against me and my panniers. The hills which have been absent from most of my route through Portugal returned. The traffic worsened and the roads narrowed. But I thought of the good times and the good times to come. And after another day, I made it back to Spain.
I had a really great time in Portugal. All my preconceptions about the country were wrong. I got more than I expected. And I learned more in those
2 weeks 4 weeks, than I had imagined.
I rewarded myself, with the money that I’d saved, by buying a ukulele! I don’t play the ukulele. But I’m going to learn (actually I met a girl at the Travel School who had one and sort of inspired me to get one).
They assured me in the shop it wasn’t a toy guitar. All I need now is a scruffy dog to fit in with the “traveller” stereotype.
In essence, I got a little lucky in Portugal. But if you seek, you shall find. And when you lack, you become more creative. Just like with the lack of things I own, the lack of money I had in Portugal, or the lack of strings on the ukulele. I leave you with this quote a good friend of mine wrote to me…
“How much does he lack himself, who must have a lot of things” – Sen no Rikyu