Portugal came in slow, like a drunken march, legs all heavy from the pace of the road. We reeled in those harbour lights for hours, chasing plumes of smoke rising from refinery towers. It was exhausting, she rose out from the mud like a Mississippi cat fish, eyes all cloudy from the dark, teeth rounded flat from the river bed stone.
It was late when we eventually tied Little Coconut up, the dockside was peppered snow white with gull droppings, it smelt of rotting fish and burnt oil, a far cry from the fresh scent of those Spanish hills. We missed the tide for Porto river and entered the only harbour available to us. Passage planning aboard Little Coconut more vibe than precession, rollin with the punches part of the art. Attempting a river entrance on the ebbing flow was beyond me at that time in the evening, we settled in for the night a stone’s throw from the refinery, a goliath sized slab of industry, grinding away in the backdrop. Our new home was a creaking pontoon, a place Porto’s bird population descends upon for their morning dump. Despite this we were happy to be in, Miranda over the moon in fact, her eyes on the showers from twenty miles out.
A wise couple would have batten down the hatches, excepted their fate and waited for the morning sun….. Not us, ‘ just one cold one,’ I said, ‘ we’ll have a hoot, be back in no time,’ that was step one. Step two was when we stumbled, straight into the frying pan, smoked dry like a couple of kippers. We somehow got caught in an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares. I was even aware of our predicament at the time, the waiter had contracted a hot flush of bird flue, coughing between orders, spluttering rasps of breath out into the damp stale air. The fish came out from the kitchen crying, bone dry, the potatoes reheated, the salad flopping gloomily around the plate perimeter, lifeless like a burnt out prison guard, limp like the ears of a caged rabbit, hopeless, beyond rescue beyond repair. After the stumble, when reality struck, when we realised Cinderella had left the ball and we were alone in the clutches of her ugly sisters, then came the fall, in spectacular fashion. It hit in waves, sharp pulses, running wild and frantic through poor Miranda’s stomach. It didn’t seem to effect me, (my Grandma’s cooking gave us lead bellies, a childhood eating mouldy cheese and drinking off milk will do that,) but poor Miranda was laid low. She puked in the marina when we eventually landed at Porto, she puked down the pontoons, she ran laps from Little Coconut to the dockside toilets, three days straight, running like a wild washer women, like a tortured distance runner, hair all tangled, face pale white.
That was dawn braking for us in Portugal. After three days Miranda was up and about, hesitant of the local cuisine she approached dishes like a fat man walking on an iced up river, tip toeing around the sides, careful not to wade in gun hoe. There was a bonus ball in it for me, whenever we ate locally great forkfuls of Miranda’s dish were generously handed over, also chains Miranda previously turned her nose up at were now considered safe havens, places like Pizza Hut became fair game. Every saga has its silver lining, and this was mine, no more pretentious joints full of finger food and stick thin vegetarians, none of that in Pizza Hut, I was stoked.
Porto is a unique place, I found that out on my first walk to the supermarket. I was on a quest to find Miranda some medicine, at the very least some hydration salts, she was starting to get weak at the knees. The city has two faces, one side old, the other new. At the bottom of the hill outside our marina lay the old road, pop bellied ex fisherman sat cooking sardines over open fires, their time out on the water grafting away in small wooden boats over. They had earned their stripes, earned their place in the village square, sitting all huddled close, talking away the lazy afternoon. Women were busy washing, soaking clothes in square brick baths, their children out playing games on the street, their dogs asleep in shaded doorways. A peaceful nature blew through the joint, laughter beneath the tiles, not a mobile phone in sight. I walked past the old and into the new, ten minutes up the hill was an Australian looking shopping mall, fast food joints next to the beauty salons, what an outrageous statement that is, get fat, look pretty. Blown up models hung like idols on the cheap paster walls, neon lights shone down a lifeless glow, a hypnotic glow, the weather outside wouldn’t have changed a dime in there, rain or shine the doors were open. Having just walked through the old village, this new world seemed shapeless, lawless almost, it looked ugly up there on the hill. This didn’t didn’t rock me enough to stop me, I still went into Mac Donald’s and nailed a couple of burgers, meat paddies for the sins, and therein lies our shame, that is the problem in a nut shell, cats like me.
We were in the city for a good week, waiting for the northerlies, walking around the town, drinking coffee, getting to know the other cruisers on route south. Families, youngsters, old boys, lone wolves, Norwegian girls, boat loads of blonde Swedes, French sailors making it look easy, Germans boats, you name it, there all out here, travelling hard, brave folk, cats having a crack, good eggs. There was another young British couple, or at least one of them was half British, young on the cruising circuit is anywhere south of forty, they were sailing a boat called Rosanna. Like a pack of penguins we somehow stick together, often one will hop then a couple more will follow, picking our way down in ebbs and flows, sharing a laugh and a beer. It is great being in a social circle of sorts, even just for the odd evening. Miranda found an English speaking church in Porto, a place called Riverside, she lead the way there in the rain, we walked for a good hour. I wasn’t helping the journey, bumping along the bottom like a foul anchor, grumbling , impatient with it all, piss off for some reason. The church was plugged in, I got a grilling in there, my attitude on route way off the mark, the preach put me down then brought me back up, the words had life, and if God had us walk all the way to him in the rain, he didn’t have us walk back the way we came in, we got given a lift in a smart BMW, like a couple of high flyers, batteries recharged it was back to the boat.