Thu, 24 Sep 1998
Lisbon to Sintra // at 00:00
This morning I rode slowly down through Lisbon, motorists who'll happily double park and block the trams or go through red lights without batting an eye just lean on the horn if one cyclist slows them down. I'm convinced that I'm the only cyclist in Lisbon anyway...
I made it to the Plaça without too much of a problem and sat down to get my bearings and for some much needed breathing space. It was getting warmer, with a clear, cloudless sky — unlike yesterday. I say for a while watching the baby trams whirr past before heading on down the river towards Belém.
Belém was a nice place to visit — as soon as I got out of Lisbon proper, things improved immensely. However, it was mentally up and down all day long.
The coast between Estoril and Cascais was a mass of tourist developments. Just miles of concrete hotels — very ugly. At the opposite end of the scale from ugly was the girl who appeared from nowhere and cycled past me towards Belém. A quick shouted “Ola” and she was gone, although a few hours later I saw her again, heading back the other way.
Somewhere near Estoril my front derailleur cable half snapped, around a third of the strands parted suddenly, leaving me feeling foolish for not packing a spare cable. The Estoril tourismo directed me to a bike shop near Cascais, but no matter how much I tried I couldn't locate it after three passes through the town. Then the Cascais Tourismo directed me to another shop, but I couldn't find that one either. To maintain my flagging spirits I stopped for a late lunch at a café then managed to bite on a fish bone and jam it irretrievably between my teeth.
I'd given up on the bike shops and was all ready to cross my fingers and leave the chain on the middle ring when a guy rode past in the forests and without thinking, I asked him in English if he knew of the bike shops. Not only could he understand, but he led me to a shop that a friend of his operated out of the garage at the side of his house! When I arrived, Vasquez just looked at me and rattled off, “parlez vous Francais? Speak English? Habla Español?” all in the one breath — leaving me feeling linguistically stupid, a feeling I was to become used to!
Vasquez not only fixed my damaged derailleur cable, he started fiddling and wouldn't let me leave until he'd adjusted spokes, tightened cables, tuned the brakes and so on. On top of that he refused to charge me, claiming that it was the least he could do for someone touring in his country!
I rode off smiling from ear to ear and feeling good, spinning the pedals around through the little villages on down to Cabo da Roca — the Cape of the Rock, the western-most point of Europe. It's renowned for the stormy seas that crash upon the cliffs, but today for my visit it was as flat as a mill-pond. One event that stuck in my mind was when riding along a narrow road through one village, a tourist coach was heading towards me along the lane, towards a squeeze point where only one vehicle at a time could pass. I reached the gap just ahead of the bus and with good grace the driver just waved me through — I was amazed. I'm sure that in Australia I would have just received a blast on the horn and been run off the road.
Leaving Cabo da Roca there was a long grind back up to the main road, and I then chased the daylight and drizzling rain to get to Sintra before nightfall. I arrived just as it started raining properly and discovered that I couldn't make head or tail of the map in my guide book, then got to the Tourismo to find that the hostel I was intending to stay at is closed for renovations and all other accomodation in town is booked out for the night! Taking pity on me, they found me a room in a home-stay with a family. It was a couple of kilometres back out of town, and the rain turned torrential as I was getting there. I found out later that this was the tail end of a hurricane that had just devastated half of the Carribean, and was now soaking Portugal for the better part of a week!
Understandably, the family that I lodged with don't speak a word of English, and I was so exhausted that I couldn't put together enough Portuguese to understand or be understood. Again I felt useless not being able to communicate. I sat stupidly, as 10 year-old Ricardo wanted to know everything about me in his broken English, while his mother just whisked off my drenched clothing, dumped an enormous bowl of stew in front of me, then stood watching while I ate it.
At 9:00 PM I was in bed, exhausted after an event-filled day — my first real day of cycle touring in a foreign country.