Overall, the process of getting into Portugal, and subsequently getting around the country, was a bit stressful for us. This was principally because the most convenient mode of transport was the bus system, rather than the rail system. We’re pretty familiar with navigating rail schedules and stations without speaking the language, but dealing with buses is another matter entirely. It’s a lot less clear where the bus is coming in, and it’s also harder to be sure you’re on the right bus. And, the fact that we’re separated from our luggage leads to increased stress about getting off at the right place and making sure we can get our bags.
So, the journey to Tavira was a little bit tougher than most of our other connections. Figuring out where in the large Sevilla bus station to catch our bus was tricky. So was the boarding and the ride itself. The space inside the bus was pretty cramped, and dealing with our “carry-on” camera gear without braining the other passengers was difficult. The ride itself was bumpy, and we felt cramped and too hot the whole way. We hadn’t been able to get express tickets, and so we had to change to another bus in Huelva, a grimy-looking industrial and “resort” town.
We finally arrived at the bus station in Tavira in the early evening. We were both cranky, Dan was still feeling ill, and I was hungry. I’m sure this colored our first impressions of Tavira, which I’m afraid were not very positive.
We walked out to the street to try to get our bearings and find our hotel. The first thing I saw was a group of three or four young men, 19 or 20 years old, chasing a rat around underneath a parked car. They weren’t just trying to shoo the rat away; it was more like they were toying with it, playing a game of rat football. Dan and I later tried to decide if this would best be called “ratball” or “footrat.”
We knew our hotel was not far away, but we were initially unclear as to which direction to go. We soon encountered an old man with no teeth, offering to “help” us. He asked us (we thought) if we needed a room, and we tried to tell him we already had one. He then asked where, and we told him it was at the Bella Fria.
From here, he began to give us directions that seemed to be go in exactly the wrong direction. We started off that way, with him continuing to try to talk to us, but soon realized our hotel was in the other direction. We turned back, and he began to protest, which annoyed Dan. We finally managed to get away from him, and were left with the feeling that he’d been trying to lead us astray.
It’s pretty common to see people hanging about near a bus or train station offering a quarto, or room in their home for rent. Sometimes they can be persistent, but usually they’re harmless. Later on, we learned that Bella Fria was also the name of a neighborhood in Tavira, located in the direction toward which he had been pointing us. Looking back at this situation, we agreed this fellow was probably well-meaning, but at the time it really seemed like he was messing with us. No doubt, the language barrier coupled with general fatigue and feeling poorly, contributed to this perception.
Unfortunately, this bad start really set the tone for our time in Tavira, at least for me.
It turned out that our hotel was almost directly across the street from the bus station. Once we got oriented, we found it lickety-split and got checked into our room. The whole hotel was pretty dreary, and our room smelled like stale cigarette smoke. Dan was pretty amused by the logo on the TV remote control: “Simplex.” He went pretty much straight to bed, asking me to go downstairs to get him some orange juice.
The hotel “bar” looked a little bit like a burger joint, and was populated by a few youngish people who seemed to be locals. One end featured a karaoke area that thankfully was not in use, and an internet café with several venerable PCs. I got some juice for Dan and myself, and a small snack to bring back to the room. Dan went to sleep fairly soon after that, leaving me some time to read and catch up my travel notes (love that Palm and folding keyboard…).
Dan was feeling better the next morning, but we took it slow getting ready for the day. Showering provided us with an unexpected adventure. While I was in the midst of shampooing my hair, the shower head, on a long hose as is often the case in European showers, leapt free of its clasp and snaked wildly around the tub. It sprayed water all over the ceiling, floor, and mirror in the bathroom, and quite some distance out into the hallway. This gave us a pretty good laugh, once we recovered from the surprise.
We were feeling a little bit hungry, and so decided to take advantage of the free breakfast provided by the hotel. This, too, was disappointing. We’d gotten used to croissants, good coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice in Sevilla. Here, we got plain rolls, Tang and instant coffee.
After eating, we left our bags at the hotel and, for the only time in any of my trips, got charged for it! We headed into town to take a peek around. It was a nice, sunny day, and the walk along the river into town was pleasant. We walked through the town center and up the hill toward the train station.
The neighborhood was quaint, but slightly grungy. I got a sensation of hostility from the people who were out and about. They seemed to glare, and weren’t open and friendly as they had been in Spain. All in all, this did nothing to counteract the bad first impression I’d received the night before, and I was happy that we were not planning to linger.
We made it to the train station, only to discover there were no reasonable departure times for Lagos. The journey up the hill was not a complete loss, however, because we did get to see a priceless public health poster with a surfing condom. Since it was in English as well as in Portuguese, we guessed it was aimed at young travelers and beach bums. The older patrons in the train station seemed to disapprove of our amusement over this poster.
Heading back to the center of town, we stopped frequently to photograph the tiled buildings and cobbled lanes. We noticed that the air seemed unusually clear, and that the light had a very crisp quality, making everything around us seem to sparkle.
Once we got back to the town center, we stopped to get ice cream, then had a pleasant sit in the park by the riverside, enjoying the sunshine. After a while, it was time to get over to pick up our luggage, and then head to the bus station. We got tickets for the upcoming late afternoon departure to Faro, the first leg of our trip to Salema. I am pleased to report that the the rat football tournament was nowhere in evidence at the bus station.