Up until Portugal, we had definitely taken the weather during our port visits for granted. However, unfortunately in the two days that my friends and I spent in Lisbon, we found ourselves wishing for any ounce of sunshine and a break in the high winds and frequent downpours. We tried not to let it affect us, but it was certainly a ruling factor in how we spent what little time we had there.
In our first day, we did a lot of wandering and somehow managed to find our way to a wine tasting. It not only provided us with a shelter from the weather outside but also turned into quite an enjoyable experience. We quickly learned that when we were repeatedly told to try some Portuguese wines, there was quite a fine reason for it. Afterwards, we began our ascend of the central hill in the city of Lisbon. On our way up the narrow and steep streets we admired all of the beautiful tile work and even stopped to look at the intricate designs and murals that covered some buildings. In the background as we passed by stores, restaurants, and even some houses was the melancholy yet dramatically stunning sounds of Fado music. I recognized the sultry vocals of Amália Rodrigues, who I learned about in my Global Music class before we arrived in Portugal.
When we reached the top of the hill, we entered the area where the entrance to the Castle of Sao Jorge was but decided not to pay to go inside. Instead, we sat down to rest our feet for a while as we admired the beautiful view of the city below. In the rest of that first day we befriended a wine bar owner who was extremely nice to us and ended up indulging in the local custard desserts that can be purchased almost anywhere in the city.
For our second and last day in Lisbon, my friends and I signed up for a scavenger hunt field program through SAS. I have a history of doing well with scavenger hunts (just ask my best friends from home about our victories at Camp Kresge’s Father Daughter Weekends!), so I was ready to take on this challenge with my friends and was ready to compete against the two other teams. However, shortly after we were given our instructions the inevitable rain began to pour down on us. Our first instruction for the scavenger hunt was to take one of the iconic tram cars across town, but after waiting for it in the rain the tram simply passed by us because it was already full of passengers. My friends and I, now joined by our scavenger hunt guide, climbed the central hill of Lisbon by foot for the second time. Our guide was there with us to make sure that we were going in the right direction, help with the language barrier, and was supposed to provide us with hints to the answers for the required questions in our scavenger hunt booklet.
During our trek uphill, the mixture of rain water on the smooth cobblestone streets under our feet with the extreme incline of the hill created a dangerously slippery mess for us. This slowed down our pace, but when we finally made it to the castle we were happy that we hadn’t paid to go in the day before since our admission was included with the scavenger hunt. The view from the overlook area inside the castle was incredible but we didn’t want to waste precious competition time so we took a few pictures, found the information we needed, and exited the castle to meet up with our guide again. Only when we arrived at the spot where we agreed to meet him, he was no longer there. We quickly realized just how short-lived his help would be and knew that from then on we would be entirely on our own.
We struggled trying to find the streets that the directions told us to take mostly because we were in a very residential area of Alfama, so some of the “streets” were actually more like pathways and there were even some that were just sets of stairs. We stopped to ask locals for directions many times and got lost on multiple occasions all the while trying to huddle under our umbrellas in shelter from the heavy rain. As it turns out, we ended up being the last team to make it to the end and I ruined my reputation as a scavenger hunt champion when we received our certificates naming us as the team in last place.
Since we got back later than expected, we rushed onto the ship to grab our bags and then left to catch our bus to Seville, Spain since we were going to overland to the next port. Over the span of the voyage there were a few ports where overland travel was allowed for SAS students, and Portugal to Spain was one of these instances. What that means is that we were allowed to journey on our own from one port to the next without having to travel on the ship. The desire to see more of Spain than just Cadiz drove us to do the overland and spend some time in Sevilla!
In the end, even as we were leaving the country of Portugal we couldn’t escape the wrath of Mother Nature. By the time we were finally able to hail a cab, we were completely soaked by the rain. When we arrived at the bus station, we jumped out of our cab into the warm beaming sunshine as people stared at us confused as to why it looked like we just jumped in a swimming pool with our bags and all. However, boarding the bus was a sigh of relief for us. Although we had a six hour ride ahead of us, at last we felt as though we could relax. I took in the beauty of the Portuguese countryside outside of the bus window which was carpeted with cork trees. (Fun fact: Portugal produces about 50 percent of the cork that is harvested each year worldwide!) But when I saw a double rainbow in the skies above those fields, I officially had a smile on my face and was reminded of where I was. I was out living my dream of traveling the world, seeing and learning about places that I had only ever read about or seen pictures of, as well as being on my way to Espana! I looked down at my soggy outfit and laughed because all I could think about was how life couldn’t get any better than this.