Lisbon in 1968 was for me a delight. From a reasonably priced pensão off the beautiful Rossio Square, I explored from the Castelo de São Jorge to the Torre de Belem. But, stepping off Avenida da Liberdade was to find the real Lisbon; friendly, inexpensive and a world of new experiences.
From a long way off, I saw an old Pretoria Boys’ High acquaintance, Wayne Crooks, as the two of us towered above the pedestrians. I am six feet four and he was six five, so the two of us together would be invited into shops we passed for an aguardente or two and a friendly chat by the shopkeepers! I had never encountered that fire-water before and was watched with amused contempt as I threw the shots down my throat as tradition demanded and nearly choked.
Through Wayne, at the Sol-A-Sol Drugstore, I met many interesting, hospitable locals. He warned me against an American homosexual we met there, Arnold J. Lauret, but I found him interesting and we took a train to explore Sintra one day. He was the first of his kind that I’d met. He talked about his sexual persuasion openly, presumably to sound me out, but dropped the subject when he saw my negative reaction.
It was raining, on and off, during the week I spent in Lisbon, but it got worse when I started my journey north, getting colder, too, with occasional snow. The scenes were of little red-tiled villages, olive groves, winding roads and pine-crested hills. It was slow going with lengthy waits by the roadside in the rain, and short lifts. It took me four wet miserable days just to get to the border. There was no longer a dry article of clothing in my pack. But all my misery was not man-made; I met with kindness and hospitality all along the way, with one unforgettable incident near Covilha.
It was pouring down. I took refuge in the closed doorway of some sort of factory, shivering so much that my luggage rattled against the door. It was opened by a small, red-faced Portuguese man who gestured me inside out of the elements. It turned out to be a rag-factory, with long tables piled with bits of cast-off cloth being sorted and packed into bales by a dozen women. He was the foreman; he got some polythene bags to cover my bedroll and pack while the women smiled and jabbered. I felt awful when they dug into their own meagre food to gather for me some bread and smelly dried fish.
While I was arranging my kit, a man in a suit came in and roared at the team to get back to work! He told me to get out, but I ignored him for as long as it took to make elaborate obrigadas to all the kind folk there, hoping to nudge the man into feeling some sort of shame.
At Guarda, having spent a night there, too, I bought new boots to replace my leaking pair and started walking through the falling snow, but eventually, after no lifts, I caught a local train to the Spanish border at Vilar Formosa. There, I wasted more money and bought a first class ticket to Paris and slept all the way through Spain, except for a brief awakening at the French border.
My first experience of Paris and the French was not favourable. I crossed the city by taxi to what I hoped was a hotel near Gare du Nord where I was told I could catch the ferry train, but was dropped off in the red-light district where painted ladies in doorways tried to solicit me. Followed by cat-calls and laughter, I scurried off to the station. Trying to wait out the long hours, I was thrown out of the waiting room by the Gendarmes as, that late at night, the ticket kiosks were closed and would not open until the next day. Shouldering my kit, I then discovered that some bastard had stolen one of my bags while I had dozed off. The camera, radio and binoculars that it held were all replaceable, but not the six rolls of film documenting my whole trip from Swakopmund, through Angola and Portugal! I was shattered.
Forty-four years later, I’m still pissed off! Photos are such a good aid to a failing memory.