Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Lagos, Portugal

Posted on 10/5/03

Lagos is a small beach town on the southern tip of Portugal. I knew when I made plans to spend a few rejuvenating days in Lagos that it would also likely be my last rewarding time with a beach for the year. It was late September and I had a lot of touring waiting for me much further north where it was undoubtedly already starting to cool down for fall. This seasonal change also meant that I needed to start adding to my wardrobe. A few more long sleeved shirts and a jacket were going to be needed by the time I hit Paris. But first things first. I had to get my ass to the beach.

Pulling into Lagos I was awash with an untimely bout of sand dread. While the bus had been meandering through the desert-like countryside of southern Portugal, I had been voraciously reading “Road Fever,” by Tim Cahill, a travelogue of his 1987 record breaking drive from the southern tip of the Americas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile) to the northern tip (somewhere in the Alaskan oil fields) with professional endurance driver Garry Sowerby. They got it done in 23 and ½ days. Their drive took them through South America’s Atacama Desert, a place that was so dry that it made Death Valley look like “a zoo set in a botanical garden.” I occasionally gazed out at the ocean of sand outside of the bus while being immersed in this commentary and for the first time during my voyage and possibly the first time in my life, I wanted nothing to do with the beach. To purge myself these thoughts, I closed my eyes and let myself slip into visions of a cool, refreshing water park with a poolside bucket of ice and self-service sangria tap.

I got off the bus dying of thirst and completely at a loss for where to go. I had a reservation at the youth hostel, but I had no idea which direction to go and no map. I took a brief look at a map lent to me by some fellow recent arrivals. Lagos was set up in what was becoming the predictable southern European street design. All of the streets were about eight feet wide, with no serviceable sidewalk, twisty, uphill and changed names every two blocks. To add to my confusion, we weren’t even dropped off at the bus station, so I didn’t have the advantage of using that as a point of reference. We had been inexplicably unloaded onto the non-descript road that ran along the pier. Even with a map I was lost.

Eventually, I decided to listen to my natural, internal sense of direction, which told me to go left. Being well aware that my natural, internal sense of direction had repeatedly and continuously failed me all summer, I decided to use reverse psychology on myself. Once I was sure that my guts were telling me to go left, I turned around and went to the right and found the hostel immediately.

The Lagos youth hostel easily ranked in my top five hostels of the summer. It was cheap (10 Euros a night!), clean, good atmosphere, great staff and featured a breakfast that made getting up after only four hours of drunken sleep totally worth the effort.

I spent my first three days in Lagos on my ass and drunk as a Scottish teenager. Lagos has a round-the-clock drink special atmosphere. At almost any hour of the day, you can find two-for-ones, ladies’ night (ladies’ afternoon, ladies’ morning…), happy hour and free shots for just walking past the front door of a bar. I spent many content hours at the Three Monkeys, Joe’s Garage and The Red Eye (until I learned the hard way that the impatient and gutless Red Eye staff and owner think nothing of physically “assisting” people out the door with a punch to the back of the head if you don’t leap up and sprint out of the building the instant they call out closing time). I happily re-familiarized myself with the wonders of “Sex on the Beach” and “Long Island Iced Tea.” After three days of this, my flimsy drinking stamina asserted itself by turning me into a hollow, brain-dead zombie. I was barely able to walk in a straight line, much less enjoy myself in any activity more strenuous than a nap.

My primary goal in Lagos was to not only rest my feet, but to also rest my attitude in the hopes that my writing rhythm and work ethic would float back to the surface and I could get on with the rest of my trip. As I resolved to spend nearly a full week in Lagos to get this accomplished, I was having pained and paranoid images running through my head of delaying my travels, which could result in me staying on the road right through Christmas. Despite this onslaught of trepidation, I knew beyond a doubt that this break was a necessary stop and I fought back my fears accordingly. Once I got the out-of-control drinking out of my system and my feet were feeling less tortured, I dried myself out, detoxed with gallons of water and healthy food and started working on my mental fitness with numerous naps, idle afternoons on the beach and entertaining free-reading (I whipped through the book “High Fidelity,” by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite movies and a fun read even though I didn’t get half of the British, late eighties, cultural and social references).

Although I promised myself that Lagos would be a work-free, dearth of productivity, between my guilt of letting my laptop sit locked and alarmed all by itself in my room compounded with getting the thumbs-up from the editor of Juggle magazine to do a profile piece on a juggler I ran across in Dublin, I was back in front of the keyboard after only three days.

Since I was reneging on my self-imposed work break, I thought I’d go all the way and case the city for photo opportunities. Certain parts of Lagos were wretched tourist traps. Four out of every five business on the beach-front were condo agencies. A stroll by the water meant being accosted every 12 feet by someone selling boat tours of the grotto and dolphin-watching junkets (pictured). My only consolation was that I had had the good fortune of arriving in Lagos in late September, rather than mid-August when tourism and tourist hassling would have presumably been unbearable.

Another sure sign that the tourist high season was petering out was the lack of street performers. The only decent act still in town were these twin old guys playing harmonicas (mic-ed and pumped through a $20 amp, circa 1959), a cymbal and a baby rattle (pictured). It sounds terrible but they could tear up “Oh Suzanna” for a good 20 minutes.

My inability to find decent food in Portugal plagued me in Lagos as well. I made a point of finding high class looking places and they were all terrible. Then I started taking referrals from fellow hostel residents. Obviously I’ve become a culinary snob because what those people considered “good food,” I considered “good food, if I were a sophomore in college.”

I achieved my main goal in Lagos. The break straightened me out. By the time I left, I was refreshed, detoxed, the writing was coming fast and furious and I was more than ready to hit the road. Porto in northern Portugal was my next destination. Every single person who heard that Porto was my next stop raved about how it was their favorite city in Portugal, including the woman who sold me the bus ticket. I couldn’t have planned this better.

Go to Porto


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