The day begins at 10am. We’ve overslept again. After the essentials: coffee, shower, breakfast and internet we were at last prepared to go. After a month and 2573 km we were finally ready to leave Spain and hitch our way around Portugal.
Leaving the security of the Spanish language, we put on our rucksacks to enter the land of ‘aõ’, ‘ça’ and ‘cê’.
Damian, our host, had left at 6am for Seville, without any sleep, after a six hour heavy drinking session. We left the keys to his apartment on the desk and left his house at 12pm.
We headed to the bus stop. Our internet time in the morning wasn’t completely wasted however, as we had learnt which bus to take to the edge of Salamanca. Unfortunately for us, it was an uphill walk in the 35oC morning sun. 10 minutes later, covered in sweat, thighs burning, the bus shelter seat felt like a throne. Bus No.1 rolled in and took us to Avenida Buenos Aires, the ring road of Salamanca.
After another 10 minute uphill walk in the baking sun, thighs burning, we reached what seemed like a perfect spot to begin our hitch-hike. We stuck our thumbs out on this one kilometre sliproad to the motorway when two police motorcycles drove by. We stopped, apprehensive that their curiosity might triple the length of our hitch-hike.
Not long after, a lorry slowed down and after a quick-fire exchange of sentences in we jumped.
Toni, a 41 year old, well-built, Portuguese, ex-cod fisherman and marine, spoke enough English to make long-lasting conversations about his past and life in general. We learnt that he had been a truck driver for twelve years, having previously served in the navy travelling around the world. His current job, in a shipping company, had grounded him. Cheated by his boss, who consistently underpaid him, Toni was forced to jam his onboard meters in order to make ends meet. By placing a magnet within the depths of the truck he was able to exceed the maximum speed limit and allow the lorry to drive for longer. As another means of getting his money back, he also vends diesel, for half the price, to Gypsies. He also told us that he was a recovering heroin and crack addict, showing us the injection marks on his arms. Never married but with an eight year old daughter, he claimed to be off the drugs. The conical tinfoil pipe on the back seat said otherwise.
Out paths parted at a service station along the A25 motorway going to Guarda just inside the Portuguese border. He invited us for beers, even though he was planning to continue driving. We drank our beer and he was off to hit the road on his own again. We decided to rest in the cafe a bit longer before the next tiring stretch of our journey. While we were eating our ‘bifanas’, Toni came rushing back through the door and produced the Portuguese flag that had sat on his dashboard. Off he rushed again.
Our next lift was another Portuguese truck driver called Paul. He was travelling with his seventeen year old daughter, spoke a bit of English and invited us to his house near Fatima. He dropped us off at the motorway exit that would lead us to Serra de Estrela, the mountains that were our destination. We found ourselves on a deserted road, just 50km short of Manteigas, where we were planning to spend the night.
Sheltered under an umbrella against the oppressive Portuguese sun. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours and still there were no cars. A white Volkswagen appeared on the horizon. It slowed down and the female driver opened the door and asked what we thought meant:
‘Where are you going?’
We pulled out the map.
‘ Manteigas ‘
She shook her head and off she drove, down the road to Manteigas.
‘Why bother?’ We thought.
A moment’s pause, a shrug, and back to positions we went.
Then more cars, but not one of them stopped.
‘Bang!’ The sound of an engine backfiring. We turned left and what looked like a garden shed attached to a school bus edged its way towards us. What can only be described as a ‘hippy bus’ slowed down and we got in. A mix of Australian and Dutch, they had just come from ‘Boom Festival’ and they drove us to the next town which was four kilometres away.
After climbing out of the bus and walking to the next spot. The sudden realisation that we had forgotten the map. Without it we were blind. But we had to continue on: praying that our Spanish would be sufficient
The next car to stop was a young Portuguese man who proved us wrong. We couldn’t understand a word he said. But still, he managed to convey that our destination, Manteigas, was a bad choice as there were no campsites and the prices were generally higher. We followed his advice and agreed to be driven to his own village, Valhelhas.
There, after a long hard day, we pitched our tent, on the hard dusty ground.
Watch our short video of crossing the border between Spain and Portugal!
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