The following journey took place in October 2016. I had never visited the Iberian peninsula, perhaps because of the impression that I would not experience something so different from Greece, where I come from.
For about a month I crossed central and southern Portugal, then Andalusia, the province of Murcia, Valencia and finally Catalonia. I used for the first time two applications that proved to be very useful, couchsurfing and blablacar. I had the opportunity to meet local people, their habits, their temperaments. I also confirmed the belief I had formed on previous trips; you can find friends anywhere around the world, people who will share your joy and enthusiasm, people you have much more in common with than you could ever imagine.
Here are some brief notes on the trip along with photographic material.
(...) "Bon dia", I say to her and I salute her. She nods back, somewhat reluctantly. I wonder if I pronounced the words correctly. I repeat my greeting and for a moment she seems to ignore me. She reaches out her cellphone again and types: "Welcome. Where are you from?". I smile back at her and I type this time on my mobile phone. Her name is Tania. She comes from Sao Paulo. She has been living for the past seven months in Lisbon. She is going to work here till December and then she will go back to her seven years old son. We sit on the small couch, in front of the TV. I am exhausted after so many hours walking and taking photos. It is not easy to visit every single place in Lisbon. However I do not want to waste this moment; we are two complete strangers who are facing a not so familiar situation. Later we watch a Hollywood movie and laugh at the same time, me listening to the dialogues while she is reading the subtitles. Tania is one of the people I met in Lisbon. Without argue, it is certainly a city that has lots to offer from an architectural, historical and artistic point of view.
Day 2, Lisbon (...)
I'm not entirely sure why, but I feel like home. Some people seem familiar, some not so, certainly there is a multiculturalism that you do not usually meet around Europe, definitely not in Greece. However, their cultures do not feel strange to me.
People here are so loud and cheerful, smiley, more smiley than us. I ask various pedestrians to pose for me. Others I prefer not to disturb while trying to capture their authentic portrait.
(...) Almost none of the houses in the center of Lisbon are actually detached. As a matter of fact I barely saw one or two houses away from each other, with a yard or at least a small garden. Their colors earthy and vibrant, with high ceilings and huge windows. Most roads and sidewalks are made of stone, and I wonder how do people drive or walk during autumn rainfalls, especially on the many hills of this city. Few trees here and there and even fewer places of vegetation. The harbor is truly picturesque, the water not so much. It is really crowded; most of them are tourists. The city is clean and I have not yet encountered any stray animals.
Day 3, Sintra (...)
My new German friend, whom I met via Facebook, awaits for me outside the castle of Sintra. He barely fits into an old Ford, me neither. He explains to me why he decided to leave his job as a photographer in Germany and start practically from scratch in Portugal. I nod along. We arrive in a few minutes in the charming village of Azenhas do Mar. The only coffee place is located at the edge of a giant cliff and faces the Atlantic. The vast sunshine limits our chat around the vintage bench and we are soon forced in the absence of shading to move further down. I find myself next to the sea level for a few more pictures; two women seem to enjoy the scenery. Tim suggests that we should get to a nearby surf beach and I happily agree.
As we wait for his friends, I seize the opportunity to play fetch with two dogs. "My friends are late... You know, Spaniards, Greeks, you are all the same...", Tim says and we both laugh. As the sun sets, I urge him to swim in the ocean so I can capture the moment.
"The waves are very high for a rookie like me," he says. "Do not be afraid," I reply. "The photographic result will be either way special..."
Day 4, Beja (...)
A small town in south central Portugal. The bus terminal is about one kilometer away from the house that I will be staying tonight. There is neither public transport nor a cab (Sunday afternoon), so I'm forced to walk. I see some groups of people enjoying their wine or beer, sitting outside. The cobblestone roads are beautiful but I'm beginning to worry about the condition of my suitcase. Upon arriving at the address which the mysterious host has given to me, I realize the positive and negative aspects of couchsurfing. "Well, what the heck!" I think to myself and I smile. Early next morning I am ready to go. Before I leave Beja for the southern coast, I plan to visit the annual exhibition for traditional products and activities outside town. Entering the exhibition I notice with great regret hundreds of birds trapped in cages, in a rather miserable state. I swear and I immediately exit the main area of the exhibition. Holding the camera again and walking even further I see a group of traditionally dressed horse riders having their rehearsal begun in the pale yellow sand. I watch them as they repeat some demonstrations; they timidly smile when they notice my camera. To my right, a man looks like the cowboy from the famous ad.
Day 5, Santa Luzia (...)
The capital of octopuses. I arrive at dawn in the small fishing village when my host for the next two nights, Hugo, welcomes me to his traditional home. He came to Portugal two days ago as he recently found a job at a hotel, in the nearby town of Tavira. Tomorrow is his first day in his first job, as he informs me... I feel a little uncomfortable that I put him in such a trouble under these circumstances, but his kindness and hospitable aura help me relax. The next day is sunny again. What concerns me is my stamina, as since yesterday I feel some random pain in my chest, which is probably caused by the weight of the bag and the continuous walk. I sit on the terrace and stare at the surroundings. I can see parts of the river where countless flocks of birds swim or chase their prey. Just around the corner a cyclist passes by with a big octopus wrapped in his right hand. I watch him until he stops in front of a warehouse next to the river. I grab the camera and soon after I stand in front of him. He is one of the many fishermen who every day bring their catch here. The warehouse works, as I discover, by auction; buyers put their price on their demand.
The whole process is recorded on the electronic panel that is placed over the dozens of octopus-filled baskets. Each basket receives then an invoice and a number before it reaches the trucks and finally its buyer. "Over a thousand octopuses are sold every day... In the past sales were even grater as well as the product of course. You wonder about their number and size, I'm sure...", one of the employees turns to me and smiles. As he enlightens me, the river and its rich ingredients are suitable for the octopuses to thrive. Traps on the other hand are extremely simple. Within an hour, they dispatch the last basket. He's tapping his phone. "That’s my wife. Good luck on your journey, my friend! Have a safe trip back home…"