Mia Montesin

Portugal. The Woman

This is a nice story. It gets a bit growly in the middle but bear with me. It begins in Janas, in a small eco-village outside Sintra, and ends in Central Lisbon.

Branches are heavy with apples and peaches and pears. This is the kind of place where Google maps can’t find a way there. A jolly chap gives me directions in Portuguese and tolerates my English reply. He slaps me on the back with a toothy grin as I mumble thanks and probably walk in the wrong direction.

Trace my path around the supermercado, I don’t want 5 avocados, just one. I’m a bustling bag lady knocking mixed nuts off the shelves. Está solo para mi, NO! It’s obrigado didn’t you know? We’ve crossed the border and the words are in a different order.

My accommodation is a sustainable and self-sufficient farm that’s a tranquil retreat from the fast-paced cities. Below is a photo to prove I’m eating my vegetables, Dad. Organic, locally grown, seasonal ones.

A lovely and confusing walk isn’t the norm here but I attempt it anyway. It must be daytime—the sun is a dim lamp and cars are parked waiting for their drivers to soak up the invisible view. There are no laws here in Fog Country, it’s a craggy cloud of doubt where you can talk as loudly as you please. This must be the border separating Portugal from the sea monsters. The mist is so thick the horizon has lost the only thing going for it. I wonder if the oceans are on speaking terms. The Atlantic doesn’t seem so friendly.

I stroll past a lady shielding the sunshine from her eyes. She swivels and yells at her husband in Portuguese or German. He’s a few metres behind her in a yellow polo shirt, squatting over an imaginary toilet in open-aired glory. My head jerks away in embarrassment, but why the fuck does he have a newspaper in his hands? His face is flushed and straining to drop what looks like a very painful shit.

I dip in the potion of ocean and take the tightrope sidewalk home. Thank you to the three vehicles that offered me a lift up the vertical road. ‘No thank you,’ I say, ‘I am stubborn and enjoy finishing podcasts and endangering my left arm.’ I can see the newspaper headline now: White Girl Loses Horizon & Sanity Whilst Hiking, Lives off Roadside Blackberries. Prayers are welcomed.

Good morning, good mourning, there’s a black cat in my bed and he’s snoring. Out in the yard, panicked snorts fill the silence. A conga line of humping ensues as all four of the big pigs mount each other. The first one starts to walk and the rest of them perform a wonky 2-footed hop to stay attached. See below illustration.

I take travel tips from three Germans, an American and a Portuguese man before leaving for Lisbon. I had such high hopes. It’s day one and I’ve been whistled at twice, stared at more times than I’d like to count and followed by a strange white man in white tennis gear and black sunglasses. I scurry back to the hostel and lie in bed trying to think about nothing.

My backpack is always clutched to my chest and my phone is slippery with sweat in white-knuckled hands. I’m wearing a skirt down to my knees and my hair is chopped like a little boy. Not that it matters. My upper lip is twitching whilst my mind screams mercilessly at the cat-callers for abusing their privilege. “Yes, I’m here on vacation with all my boyfriends,” I say to the African man who has no business asking. “My family is back at the hotel.” I decide not to mention that it is a family of digestive biscuit crumbs. A few deep breaths and a disappointing croissant in a humid cafe do little to help.

The whistle count has tallied at 5 and part of me wishes I was still lost in that vague oceanic mist. During a clear sunset by the sea, I lend 50 cents via street sweets and make a new friend. So marks the end of my lonely pilgrimage. A meal, two drinks and a refreshingly honest chat lead to open-armed life advice and festival tips. Rachel is understanding and kind and speaks my language in an accent from Newcastle. God or Destiny or the puppet master surely have something at work here.

A certain Pat I know put it nicely: girls = good, boys = eat it. Lisbon’s culture is as vibrant as the coloured buildings and the history is rich and far-reaching. Maybe it is for me, but it’s not for just me, at least not right now. I bought vintage postcards at the market so expect to receive one between now and next century.

Frase do dia: Obrigado because it’s the only Portuguese I know and I am a trashy tourist

Música do lugar: Nameless, Faceless - Courtney Barnett

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