It took me two days of train travel to reach this place. I went to the Marseilles train station thinking I could easily reserve an overnight train ticket from Paris to Lisbon to arrive here at the Quinta do Estrada da Barranco hotel on the day that I had told its owner, Frank, that I would. How naive I was. All the Paris to Lison direct routes were booked for weeks, and quickest way for me to get to Lisbon, and ultimately to my eventual destination in southern Portugal, was by travelling from Marseilles to Montpellier, Montepllier to Barcelona, an overnight train from Barcelona to Madrid where I would arrive at 730am and would have to wait the entire day for the next night train at 1030pm from Madrid to Lisbon, arriving at 8am, and then taking regional trains south with a stop over in Pinno Novia, and ultimately reaching the closest train station to "paradise in portugal", santa clara~saboia. I would arrive one day later than I had told Frank, but really, I had no other choice. So I reserved the tickets and got on with it.
I was lucky to catch the connecting train out of Montpellier to Barcelona becaue the small window of stopover time was taken away by the obnoxiously late departure out of Marseilles. It was sad to leave my cousin who I really have come to love so much. Nanor wrote farewell messages on the exterior of my dusty window before we left, and I took it with me all the way through. FOrtunately, the connecting train in Montepellier was right next to the train I arrived on, and was soon headed to Spain for the first time.
No bed this time. I was crammed in a small car with 5 others, two of which spoke great english. One was named Adrian, a student of engineering and innovation management ~when he inquired about my journey, he challenged me to identify my passion, to state my goal. How very contrary to my purpose. I told him that he had the mind of an economist, which as an aspiring innovation manager he was trained to have, and he saw my side of things. Next to us was an oboe player who stumbled onto the train drunk with his oboe case, excited to meet his friend in Madrid. Sleeping was impossible because there just wasnt enough space. I dozed off in the cafeteria car for a bit before we arrived. I needed some more z's beore exploring the city, which I had all day to do.
The first thing I saw in Madrid when I exited the metro statio in the heart of the city bright and early on a Sunday morning was a pack of prostitutes. I wasn't quite sure of it until I walked past them and one of them latched onto my arm and started sweet talking me calling me a big boy and telling me that she could rock my world. I told her I had no money. She asked how old I was. I said 5. She laughed and delatched, "Five. You'll always be that way," she said. "Just a five year old." That sounded good to me. I went on.
Madrid was interesting - the women were fantastically georgous, the city fantastically hot. I had some time to practice my harmonica skills which I decided to cultivate on the beach near Marseilles. It was good to swim in the Mediterranean that day, and by george, I was surrounded by more bare~chested women than I could count on my fingers, toes, ears, and nostrils. Madrid was mostly relaxing. I got on the train to Lisbon, and getting down to the connecting city of Pinna Novhio was easy. I had a few hours to kill there, so I walked around, bought a great straw hat which has served me well since I am constantly working under the sun here (just the way I like it).
The Santa Clara/Saboia stop, my meeting point with Frank, looked more like a deserted gas station surrounded by cactus and bores than it did a train station. I got off the train with my backpack and slim guitar. There were only two people at the station, one of them was Frank. He spoke in a charismatic british accent that has since been a privilege to hear and study.
"Have you ever ridden a bike?"
"Of course," I told him. I love to ride my bike. It's one of my favorite activities and has become a fundamental part of my identity ~ just pedalling and pedalling and pedalling.
We turned the corner and I saw a motorcycle. Frank handed me a helmet. "Good." He jumped on to the chopper, "Hop on."
I then told him I had no clue how to sit on one of these things or what to expect. He quickly instructed me, and soon we were speeding through sparsely populated mountain valleys. My backpack was on my lap weighing me down, and I just hoped nothing would go wrong.
No problems ~Frank, it turns out, is an expert motorcyclist and has been riding his entire life. We arrived just in time for dinner at the hotel, where the first things I met were the four dogs! Molly, Lucky, Sideways, and the yet unnamed pup are all fantastic personalities with loving spirits. After the customary jumping and barking, we plowed through to the dinner table where I met the hotel's only guests, a honeymooning couple from northern portugal.
The food was incredible, prepared by the master vegetarian chef, Daniella, from Austria.
Anyways, a quick rundown is in store. This place is not in fact a farm, although I found in on the "Willing Workers on Organic Farms" (WOOF) network. It is a hotel truly in the middle of nowhere ("woop woop" as my fellow australian volunteer calls it), sitting at the lip of Europe's second largest man made lake. Check it out at www.paradiseinportugal.com . It is absolutely georgeous here.
I must wrap up because dinner approaches. Yesterday, I worked with a truly incredible individual from East Germany named Uwe. We built a wall around a building with a generator ~with cement we mixed ourselves and shattered stones. Bricklaying! We did it today to, but down at Frank's residence where a wall had collapsed.
I must go now, but things are fantastic here. There are two other volunteers « Francoise from Quebec, and Mel from Australia. i dont know if i want to part ways with this place to hike 800km for 5 weeks, the life is just too goodright now. we will see.