Lagos; Headache; George the dog; Vinho verde; Rocks and water; Yet more sunburn; Laughing seagulls; Slow breakfast; Sea kayaking; Lagos to Évora

Sheryl woke up with a bad headache the day after we arrived in Lagos - one of those nasty ones that come without warning for no particular reason, and it put her out of commission for the whole day. We decided it might be best if we stayed at the guesthouse another night and pushed back our camping plans. The woman who ran the guesthouse was very understanding and even turned someone away from the door so that we could have the room. Sheryl thinks she’s a drunk, which is probably correct, but she was good to us.

So, Sheryl being unable to move or tolerate any light, I was left to my own devices. Not wanting to stray far, I contented myself with exploring the town and, naturally, spent some time on the beach. Lagos has more than its fair share of beaches - half a dozen small ones to the west of town, and one gigantic 4km monster to the east. They’re lovely beaches, too - fine white sand that doesn’t stick to you, and they’re punctuated with ragged coves and outcrops of red, yellow and orange stone, making for some dramatic scenery. They’re a lot cleaner than the beach at Málaga, too. Bloody freezing water, though, it’s the Atlantic, not the Med, and you can tell. The town itself is generic-Mediterranean in white, with the addition of the ubiquitous Portuguese tiles. They cover everything - walls and roofs, and they’re used for street signs. The roads are paved with them, too - which means, since the tiles are very smooth, that even in dry weather (which is the only kind Portugal has) they’re quite slippery. I can only imagine what they must be like when the streets are wet. Some of the streets are steep enough that it would be impossible to climb them. I definitely wouldn’t want to be a bike messenger here, I can tell you that.

I came back to the guesthouse around 6pm, to find Sheryl gone. She’d left me a note saying she was going to the beach a little earlier, which meant that we must have crossed each other, me returning, she going. Figures. I turned around and headed back to the beach again and found her, making friends with one of Lagos’ roughly ten thousand stray dogs on the way (see Nicola? It’s not just cats). He was a pudgy tan dog who looked a bit like a Labrador Retriever. We named him George. Lagos is swarming with semi-stray dogs (I say semi-stray because a lot of them are wearing collars, though they don’t seem to belong to anyone). They’re everywhere, grifting the tourists, swimming in the fountains, fighting, barking and generally having a wonderful time. George seemed to be onto a good thing, though, since he was roughly twice the weight of any other dog in town - fat enough that he didn’t run or even walk very fast, just sort of ambled calmly along, always catching up to us long after we thought he’d lost interest.

I’d picked up a cheap bottle of wine earlier in the day, and we took it down to the beach after dinner. Portugal is known for its cheap, good wines. I drink red by preference, but Sheryl only drinks white, so I’d picked a €2 bottle more or less at random (because it had a cat on the label), not really paying attention to what it was. Turned out to be a vinho verde which is a sort of very young semi-sparkling white wine, and quite, quite nasty. We couldn’t take more than a glass each. It was late by that time anyway, and Lagos gets very chilly and very windy at night, so we called the game and headed to bed.

Next day dawned hot and bright, with the sky a deeper blue than I’ve ever seen. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed down to the beach. Me, I like doing nothing on the beach but reading, listening to music, and just generally emptying my head and relaxing as much as possible. Sheryl prefers to wander up and down the beach. I lost this time, and so after an hour or two when she came back I packed up my things and followed her crankily. I wanted to see the grottoes and arches up close, which is why I tagged along despite my bad mood. I was unhappy to find that a) You can only reach them by swimming or wading through deep water, b) The water is incredibly cold, and c) The rocks underfoot are very sharp and pointy. Being in cold water is o ne of the things I hate most in the world - being cold at all, really - and so my mood took a further nose-dive. The last straw was when, pulling myself up into a passage through the rock with a rope, I hit my knee square against the corner of the stone with a sickening crack that echoed in the tunnel and nearly made me pass out. I knew I wouldn’t be much good for anything after that, but I also knew I had to keep the knee moving, so I told Sheryl to go ahead and I’d climb the stairs, walk along the cliff-top path, and meet her a few coves down the coast. That turned out to be a slightly dumb idea, and when I finally made it there, gritti
ng my teeth the whole way, we decided to just sit down for a drink and then head down to the beach again. I was ready to call the whole day a write-off at that point, but I wanted my beach.

I probably should have called it a day, in fact, since the extra couple of hours were enough to give us both a right and proper sunburn. We’re toasted to a nice fuschia hue on both sides. I wish I had some of Emilie’s magic French sunburn cream right now. Sheryl never gets sunburnt, so the sun must have been stronger than we thought. Staggering slightly with our heads baked hollow, staggering from dehydration or knee injury, we made a tactical withdrawal to the guesthouse. We’d been due to check out hours earlier, but the manager had let us store our packs there for the day, so we grabbed them, said our goodbyes, and went to the campsite.

The campsite followed the Spanish pattern, which is to say that it’s essentially a dirt parking lot with a couple of sad trees around the edge. We’re spoiled by the ready availability of prime camping sites in Ontario, we really are. I just hope that the rest of Europe isn’t like this… or at least that the rest of the world isn’t like Europe, anyway. We found an empty parking spot and gazed helplessly at the diamond-hard ground, wondering how to pitch the tent. A lovely and wonderful woman lent us a hammer, for which act alone she should gain admittance to heaven. I’ve pitched that thing in a pouring thunderstorm on top of a mountain in New Zealand - drunk - and it took no more than five minutes, my hand to God. This time we decided alcohol would help to mitigate the helpless absurdity of it all, so we bought a couple of liter bottle of Sagres from the camp store and set to. Even with the hammer it took an hour to set up the tent. The whole time we were watched by a few hundred of Lagos’ resident swarm of seagulls, who make the weirdest set of sounds I’ve ever heard a bird make, ravens included. They laugh, I’d swear they do. It’s a strange sort of shrieking, chuckling laugh, but I’d swear they were hovering above us in the stiff wind the whole time laughing at us. They also make a sound which sounds exactly like a cat meowing, which makes me look around for the cat every time I hear it. Which probably makes them laugh at me. Stupid things.

As we were leaving, the nice hammer lady’s boyfriend came to tell us to be careful of our things, since there were a couple of thieves in camp. We’d seen them around in town - two older, scraggly men with walrus mustaches with their faces painted gold and green and their pants covered with shiny metal noisemakers made from tin cans. I think they fancy themselves street performers, but having watched them, they’re just a couple of old burnouts with a hat out. We were grateful for the warning and took what few valuables we have with us when we left. Each zipper on my pack has a little lock, and the top is cinched with a cable lock, which should be enough to deter a quick snatch-and-grab, and Sheryl has nothing valuable in her pack at all, so we could go out for Indian for dinner without worrying.

The next day we had the slowest breakfast in history. I’m not a stranger to slow breakfasts, being a veteran of the Lakeview Lunch Room in Toronto, which is positively legendary for its glacial morning pace. The Odeon Café in Lagos topped it, though. We went there because it was - you guessed it - a cheap meal, at €3. We figured we couldn’t go wrong for that price. Waiting in line to get in, okay. Waiting for a table, okay. Waiting half an hour to place an order and finally having to give it to the cook directly, not so okay. Waiting an hour for food even after placing the order, definitely no okay. We were nearly fainting with hunger by the time it finally arrived, and wolfed it down without tasting it. I had actually been eating biscuits at the table to keep myself alive until the food came, that’s how bad it was.

The big plan for the day was to rent a kayak and head out to sea to investigate the coves, caves and rock formations that abound near Lagos, and so we did, after a bit of time on the beach and a bit of equipment shopping. We needed some way to waterproof our cameras to take them on the kayak, not being able to face leaving them behind and sacrificing all those potentially good shots. I was very nervous about taking my precious camera out onto the open ocean, fearing it vanishing beneath the waves. Even if the worst didn’t happen, a light splashing with salt water is enough to kill a camera. I’ve taken it out on a kayak before without mishap, though, in Algonquin Park, and was willing to risk it again - even though I had no dry-bag this time. At the grocery store we managed to find some plastic food containers and improvised a budget version of a <a href=”http://www.pelican.com”>Pelican</a> case, and I’m happy to report that it worked quite well.

We took the kayak out in the late afternoon. I hesitate to call it a kayak - it seems disloyal to some of the sleek and narrow boats I’ve paddled. This was a wide fiberglass barge that sits on top of, rather than in, the water. To be honest, though, it performed well on the ocean, with 60 or 70-centimeter waves - not huge, and I don’t mind spilling and righting a kayak a hundred times, but enough to make me nervous about the cameras. But all was well - we paddled out a few kilometers with a strong tailwind and poked into and out of the sea caves, some of which are amazing. The tides are fierce and could easily have smashed us into the jagged rocks - I was glad of my previous kayaking experience. Coming back into the headwind was no fun at all - just a half-hour grind, but seeing the caves was worth every second of it.

The next day we left Lagos for Évora. A nice guy named Paul gave us a ride to a place somewhere near the train station, and invited us to a (sort of) commune in southern Morocco, near Tarfaya. It sounds like a very cool place and I’d love to spend some time there - it made me sad that we’ve already been through Morocco. The trip to Évora involved three trains -changing in Tunes and in Funcheira. The leg from Tunes to Funcheira was in the first-class car. I’ve never travelled first-class before, on any sort of vehicle, and I must say I could certainly get used to it quite quickly. Our train passes are ostensibly first class, but I don’t think that’s worth much, to be honest. Tunes was a small place with a big station (ten or twelve tracks) but Funcheira was a fly-blown empty village. When the train arrived for Évora, Sheryl and I nearly broke down laughing - it was one car. Seriously. It wasn’t much bigger than one of Toronto’s streetcars. Of course it makes perfect sense given how unimportant the destination is and how few people need to travel that way, but still… it was absurdly cute.

We arrived in Évora in the early evening, after a trip of about three hours from Funcheira. We’d planned on camping for one more night, and we knew there was a campsite, but it was easily two kilometers away as the crow flies - three if taking the route found on the map. I left Sheryl at the train station, over her protests, and went out sans pack to scout out the route. I was able to find a more-or-less direct route by cutting across a strip of waste ground between the train tracks and a neighbourhood of what looked like housing projects, and went far enough - about twenty minutes - to be sure that I could find a route through to the campground in the maze of streets in Évora’s industrial area. Finding one, I went back for Sheryl and we brought the packs over, a walk of about half an hour. It would have been vastly preferable to leave the packs at the train station, but there were no lockers, and no left-luggage office, unfortunately. A nice train employee offered us a lift, but he didn’t get off work for two hours and we didn’t feel like waiting around. It wasn’t such a bad walk, we’re used to carrying our packs for long distances now. The campground itself turned out to be quite nice, with even a couple of trees and a few patches of actual grass. The ground was still diamond-hard and I had to pound on the tent pegs for half an hour to get them in, but any imporovement over the dirt-parking-lot style of campground makes me happy.

Flourish

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One Comment on this Dispatch:

August 6th, 2008

hahaha I’m happy to see you don’t discriminate against what kind of animal you make friends with. Except of course baboons/apes. :) We have a stray black cat here that likes to use our front lawn as a litter box. I would be quite happy if you would come visit and make friends with him and kindly inform him to find a new location to relieve himself. He is quite friendly as was evident by him trying to come say hi to me…needless to say I soon put an end to that. :)

¬ Nicola
August 10th, 2008

Tell him I said meow-meow-hiss-meow - that should help.

¬ Chris
Flourish
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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