The last ride had been exhilarating, in fact it had been downright scary, more like living in a clip from Easy Rider.

We were sitting at the edge of a cork oak forest, some of the trees half naked-red where the bark had been removed. We sat with our backs to the trees having just walked gingerly away from the last ride. We were shaken and not sure if we should go back to the last hamlet  and wait for a bus to the Algarve. Carole suggested we pack up and go home, we had been travelling for 3 weeks, hitching down from the North of England, sleeping wherever we found ourselves come evening and just letting the rides take us to any destination.

Out of Lisbon we had been picked up with a really nice guy, who spoke terrific English, treated us to lunch and provided me with an expression that I would use over again. An hour after the lunch stop we were cruising through some hills when the guy pulled off the road and said he was ‘Going to pick some flowers.’ We hashed over why he needed to wander into the forest to collect flowers when he clearly had enough dosh to buy some at a flower shop. Hitching his trousers up as he returned to the car he sighed and said, ‘Feeling much better now.’ We looked at each other with raised eyebrows as he continued the journey, chattering away like a good ‘un. He had to turn off in a rural location so we decided to get out and head more directly south toward the sea.

In no time at all some Hell’s Angels on gut crunching Harleys came down the road and stopped. Now I am not a chicken but a dozen Hell’s Angels looking like agents from Hell were beyond my capacity to defend the fair maiden standing beside me. I was ready to sacrifice her without a fight as long as they left me with at least one arm.

Picture credit crunkish.com

The leader with flowing black curly hair, a white silk bandana, aviator specs and a ZZ Top style beard kicked the bike stand out and pointed to fair maiden and told her to get on the back of his bike. Carole was stammering, ‘NNnnnnNo thanks’ So I picked up her rucksack, smiled at ZZ and walked over to his bike, my mind screaming in panic. Carole, bless her cotton socks, straddled the bike, took her pack and ZZ was off with a great spray of gravel. The other 11 looked at me and my gut sank, none of them spoke. Were they going to shoot me? Rape me? Tie a rope around my ankle and drag me until dead along the rough road?

One of the smaller riders, wearing a helmet with horns on top waived me over. Shizzle, shizzle what is happening. I could barely move but scutched across and an arm indicated I should get on the back…yes yes YES, incredible relief. Almost before my leg was over the back the bike was gunned and we roared away, I was thrown back so far that I thought I was going to land in the road so I did the ‘sissy’ thing and put my arms around the waist of the lunatic rider. Yeeehaar Felicitas was a Nicole Scherzinger look-a-like! So I clung on with increasing delight.

Picture credit posh24.com

The delight turned to fear and the fear to abject horror as the ride unfolded. Nothing was going to slow these loonies, corners, goats, trucks and my need to go and ‘pick some flowers’ went unheeded. Flippin past like a reel of fractured celluloid, little made sense. I couldn’t see for the wind and muck hitting my face so I buried my head into Felicitas’s hair, she became my Angel from Hell.

Thankfully the ride did end quite quickly, after 45 minutes we slid to a stop because ambulances and traffic cops were dealing with an accident and the road had been temporarily closed. I noticed Carole nervously chumming up to ZZ and wobbled over to receive a great slap on the back. We were stars of the highway! The riders decided they were going back to Lisbon, once the tribe had powered away we were left sitting by the cork oaks and thinking it a good idea to find somewhere to pitch a tent when Pascoal turned up. Obviously the local farmer Pascoal had driven across his land on a curious rudimentary tractor to see what the hold up was. He wore rough work clothes and had a tough looking stubble that seemed to cover most of his face.

It was late in the day and we needed to find somewhere to crash so we asked Pascoal, using sign language, if he had somewhere we could sleep for the night. His pouchy dark eyes showed a disturbing glint, but he nodded and made the universal sign for sleeping and got us to sit in his little trailer. The day was cooling, the earthy smell of the farmland and comfy hay filled trailer imbued us with a cosy feel, we allowed our bodies to bobble around gently as the tractor negotiated the fields, gazing up into the indigo sky.

It was clear that we were pulling into a farmyard so we both sat up to find a courtyard filled with ubiquitous chickens and a couple of grubby farm dogs. Pascoal motioned us to follow him and he went over to the door, crashed a filthy paw onto it and walked in shouting greetings in Portuguese. Members of the family turned up from different areas and we were introduced without understanding a word. With nodding head one of the older women dressed in black crossed to the kitchen and came back with tumblers and a big plastic bottle. She poured great slugs of a clear liquid into the glasses and we all skulled it Salud…POW! This stuff was surely made as bleach for the toilets, not as a drink to salute strangers. (Medronho from Arbutus unedo)

After another glass each we went back outside with Pascoal and got into the trailer again. Giggling, with fire in our bellies, we had no clue where we were going, and didn’t care. Pascoal visited another 2 farms with the same ritual drinking session, at one we were also given slabs of bread, sheeps milk cheese and olives. By now evening was beginning to fall, we were well soaked with the grog and just wanted to crash. Pascoal clearly had the same idea and walked us around the building to a barn, making the universal sleep sign. Our mouths were numb from the drink and our heads felt a little swollen with the buzz, at least we were going to get some sleep.

Through a doorless arch he showed us piles of sweet hay and motioned for us to use this as our bed.  Taking his calloused hands I thanked him for his generosity and we wasted no time in getting out our sleeping bags. Following years of sleeping on the ground I have never found it difficult to fall asleep, we both snuggled down, used our clothes as pillows and I fell into sleep instantly.

With great difficulty I woke up as Carole was whispering that Pascoal had come back with a blanket and was snuggled up behind her and was trying to have a little grope. We discussed it for a while and decided he probably just needed to be told ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Carole had a brief cameo with him and she seemed satisfied things were ok. I dropped off immediately.

Once again Carole woke me up, ‘He is still trying his luck. You have to do something.’

Cough…’OK’

Shaking off my torpor, arms flailing a bit, doing the universal sign for you will get a slap if you don’t stop I told him, ‘Pascoal. Stop messing with Carole. She doesn’t want you to touch her! Not now, not ever. She is my wife and you need to respect that. Gorrit?’

Pascoal appeared to get the message because he flubbered his lips, turned away and settled down without another sound. To make sure he didn’t bother her again I switched places with Carole. From the new position my burning eyes took cooling comfort from a view through the window arch of the starry sky, with the peaceful sounds of sleeping heads and the calm of the world in the countryside, I drifted off once more.

‘Alright Pascoal, that’s it!’ yelling I bounced up and threatened to do battle with the Portuguese pest. Poor guy must have been desperate. I awoke to find him snuggled up behind ME and gently stroking my back and hair. The fire in his belly had clearly moved indiscriminately south.

At this point he did abandon his amorous tilt and left the barn, we slept on without further incident. Early the following morning Pascoal reappeared with hot coffee, bread, olives and figs cheio. As Jimmy Greaves used to say, ‘It’s a fanny owd wewld.’ Pascoal loaded us up again in the trailer and drove us back to the road. Before he left he shook our hands and, with a ridiculous grin, gave me a luscious smacking kiss on my lips!

For info on Medronho preparation read

Medronho or Portuguese Bleach

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