Once upon a vacation, I found myself in a hotel in Portugal with a girl. That was OK, we went there together. Excellent hotel, excellent staff. Crap patrons. The place was full of Brits. And not good ones. These were stereotypical bad tourists: Food tasted funny, beer was cold, nobody spoke English…you get the picture. Embarrassing. Well. Neither girly nor I wanted to be stuck in a place full of embarrasing Brits, particularly as she was Scottish, therefore genetically superior to Britus Erectus. Ha.
When we arrived the travel rep gathered us together, gave us all the excursion and ticket prices, and let us get on with it. This was, by the way, the wettest February in 40 years, and cheap because it was off-season. Well. I figured that for the price of the ‘jeep safari’ we could rent a car for three days and get the hell away from our nations’ best. So we did. We were on the South coast. Day one, we went East to the region’s capital, Faro, home to the largest worm sculpture in the world, and a one way traffic system that has arrows pointing both directions. Day two, West to Capo Di St. Christophe, westernmost point of mainland Europe and home to the fortress school of Henry the Navigator. We dined on lobster and pork chops at the foot of the cliff, Atlantic waves crashing against the windows. Day three, it got interesting.
We drove North to the Montfichet Mountains, home to 95% of the worlds’ cork forests. Passing through three feet of mud, watching a cab and driver literally sink into the ground, we passed the Dallas Circus. And this was without the aid of recreational drugs, of which I have never been a fan, so I think this actually happened. The peak of the mountain, when we got there, was shrouded in cloud: Not much of a view. On the way back down, a jeep darted across the switchback mountain road in front of us. I recognised a bleach-blonde head as it disappeared into the bushes. It was one of a dozen Brits from the hotel, holding on for dear life as the open-top vehicle bounced into the ditch and away. I looked at her. She looked at me. We laughed. It did not need to be said: “F*%& it, it’s a rental”. With a jerk of the wheel, we were in their tyre tracks and bouncing along behind them, pretending to wipe sweat from our air-conditioned faces as theirs dripped rain. They were not happy. Neither was the jeep driver, who correctly surmised that we were taking the piss. Professional pride deeply wounded, he tried to lose us. Not easy in a forest. We kept up easily. So he went off trail, much to our amusement, less so to his passengers, who were nearly bounced out of the jeep many times. I will recall to my dying day the face of a homeowner we passed. He was wearily pushing a wheelbarrow full of something from bottom to top of his homestead. He was probably used to seeing the jeep. He was not expecting to see two idiots in a road-based rental laughing like hyenas as they bounced between trees, through ditches and across jumps. I swear, I saw a grin the size of Portugal flash across his face before we flashed past with a wave and a smile.
The jeep driver finally found places I was not prepared to follow, and we parted company at the next road. Girly and I made or way back to the hotel an hour before the bedraggled Brits came back to the hotel and made straight for the bar, still bitterly complaining about the weather, the food, the beer and that nobody had learned to speak English while they were gone. We grinned, ordered two doubles and overtipped the waiter with a hearty “Obrigada!” His wink and a grin spoke volumes. That was a good day.
And don’t even ask about the Portugese for ‘detour’, driving through cabbage fields, waving at a cruiser full of gun-carrying cops as you pass them the wrong way on a one-way street, a supermarket full of octopus or the swingers from hell. It was a long week.