In this journal:
- a snoozing Portuguese village;
- drinking alcohol from 1920s;
- ultimate destruction of Japan.
This EuroHop began unexpectedly. I was already on the flight over to Lisbon when I realized that another epic journey had just commenced. What was I thinking? The sad fact that I was about to go 25 years unnoticed by female companionship? The excitement of another great trip to one of my favorite places in the world? The growling noises emitting from my tummy? Not sure. Nobody could ever know what is going on in that messy head of mine. It is like a browser that is lagging, while a loud, noisy music is blasting from one of the 17 tabs open. By the time I snapped back to reality, my flight was already approaching the coast of Portugal…
I have been to Lisbon before, and you can check out the journal here. As a result, I headed straight towards the bus station upon alighting from the metro. It was a simple 2 hour bus ride to the quaint little fishing village of Sesimbra, where I got to meet my Portuguese bestie Beatriz. We encountered each other in a hippie hostel in Seoul during Voyager series, and I paid her a visit last year right here as well! She gladly picked me up at the tiny bus stop at the end of the road, and we proceeded towards my favorite hidden gem of the country: Sesimbra’s beaches.
It is nothing much, just a large bar of sand completely covering the coast of the cove, from one headland to another. On this particularly lazy Thursday, there were nobody on the beach, except us, accompanied by a huge swarm of seagulls fighting over fish carcasses discarded by the fishermen earlier that day. This is what winter is like in a resort town, which is breathed into life in summer only, quintipling the village population between June and August. The gigantic hotel sits at the edge of the center, lifeless like a hibernating bear, ready to be woken up in the next given moment when a tourist group shows up, but even that would be months away.
On the far side of the bay, the industrial area sits quietly across the center, barely staying awake among the humming sound of some strange machinery mumbling about in an obscure corner of the warehouses. Besides the wharf docked to the brim with small fishing boats, this area also boasts the biggest employer of the town, a fish-processing plant, still full of forklifts running about, operating nonstop to transport crates of seafood into the cargo hold of a row of trucks waiting impatiently outside. On the side, the row of fishermen’s adobes were full of relaxing workers, who had significantly lower workloads during this downtime of the year. Beatriz told me most of her family had worked either in this plant or the hotel, as these two are the only major income sources in town. At the very edge of the wharf, a tourist office sat by the waterfront, completely closed down for the season, and its space was gladly taken up by the locals drying their trawler nets. We eventually returned back to the heart of town before sunset.
This time, we properly entered Fortaleza, located right between California Beach and Ouro Beach. Unlike the castle at the mountain top I saw during my last time in town, this fort is not Moorish, but Spanish. During the heyday of Sesimbra seafaring days, the king would sometimes stay here to take care of the most important issues. Later, the fort was badly damaged by the English fleet attacking Iberian Peninsula for the dominance over the high seas, and was only used sporadically by the monarchy as a summer retreat palace. Now, it is a small platform and venue space, complemented by a posh restaurant. It was closed during our visit, of course.
Next day, the family was so kind that they took me to a local Chinese buffet place that had a mouth-watering price tag of 9-Euros-per-person. I have never seen any buffet in Europe this cheap, but Portugal’s lower cost probably had something to do with it. The establisment is gigantic, as it can easily accommodate at least 500 people. Besides being the only Chinese customer in this buffet, I was also mistakenly taken as a waitor for multiple times during my short visit. However, nothing can come even close to what I saw at the “sushi” bar. Yes, the “sushi” has to come in quotation, because I thought California roll and other North American inventions of sushi were already a painful slap on the face of Japanese culture, but this Portuguese monstrocity is about to brutally butcher this ancient heritage.
Let me introduce you to the reason why Japanese committed mass genocide in World War Two: Portuguese sushi. I don’t know what kind of twisted mind came up with that, but in Portugal, it is widely believed that sushi should be sweet. Yes, sweet. Besides a creamy cheese or salmon filling inside the rice, they are usually topped with a myriad of sweet ingredients normally reserved for ice cream, or a very cheap frozen yoghurt shop. You can see there are cake sprinkles, almond chips, and MINT, FUCKING MINT! And the sauces drenched on top of these unholy abominations include strawberry sauce, condensced milk, chocolate syrup, and probably the distilled soul essence extracted from all the Japanese people screaming in agony. I could not believe what I was seeing in front of the gigantic sushi counter displaying dozens of varieties, completely overwhelmed with emotions, mostly negative ones. From torturing myself with sodoku to committing seppuku, my options flashed before my eyes, and every single one of those sounded better than ingesting a sushi topped with almond and mint. Did I mention you dip them in sweet sauces too? And some of them are deep fried and topped with powdered sugar? Also did I mention a few people complimented my supreme skills at making them as they mistook me for a chef examining his wicked creations? Needless to say, these vile horrors belong on my Strange Food List. Ever since that moment, all my previous trips to Japan have been in vain, and their fond memories forever tainted.
Back in a safer space, I had dinner with Beatriz and her family, without mint topped on my rice, thank fuck. While we were busy talking about Beatriz’s new career as a flight attendant, her stepfather pulled out a large bottle of unknown liquid, covered in a layer of old soot. It turned out to be a very old glass of peppermint liquor, so ancient that the entire layer of cover had already started to come off. We chugged a shot of 80-year-old alcohol each, and suddenly the crowded living room seemed to become more vibrant and casual. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Beatriz’s grandma was busy preparing another local specialty, squid stuffed with a myriad of herbs and squids’ wiggly bits, simmered in a flavorful sauce…
I had never had squid cooked this way, and it turned out to be outrageously delicious. I think I ate at least 3 people’s portions in just one sitting, while the rest of the family was busy bombarding me with questions. I am very jealous of Beatriz, who can have such a nice, compact family, all living in the same area and get to see each other every day, while she would have to pay me a kidney so I may consider flying across a few oceans to gather my family members together, and even that, the dinner would never be as lively and full of laughter as hers. While her stepfather drank alcohol with her mother, we were discussing about some crazy experiences we encountered on flights, yet her brothers were quarreling about a certain girl in town, and her grandparents were trying to focus on the television amidst the chaos. This is how a family should be: coherent in commotion!
After dinner, while messing around in the family residence, I found two large jugs of bottlecaps sitting in the kitchen corner. Questioning if the entire household was preparing for the inevitable nuclear fallout, I got one of the most interesting answers an owner of 200 bottlecaps can give. It turned out that this is an initiative started by a local to collect all the bottelcaps and convert them into scraps, and the profits are donated to help children suffering from terminal illness. The community here is so tight that the participation rate is a stunning 100%, as every single household in Sesimbra collects bottlecaps for the wellbeing of suffering children. Woah, impressive!
Yet it was time to say goodbye. I was already satisfied with the large meal bequeathed to me by this passionate and close Portuguese family, and I did not want to intrude any more than eating half of their rations, more so because I was fearing that doing so would lead to even more weight gain. I bid Beatriz and her family farewell, and hopped onto a bus heading towards Lisbon airport. Thank you all, and see you all very soon~!
I jumped onto my short flight towards Rome, and was content with my brief visit. For my Portuguese family, life is relatively stable, in tune with the seasons and the tides, the hours and the months. Life is predictable, and fulfilling. A nice walk by the beach, and then a glorious seafood meal, and when they want to spice things up, a visit to the buffet of unspeakable doom. It is like a geosynchronous satellite, relatively stable yet perfectly happy in where it is, because it is surrounded by others of the same kind, and their utility is maximized only when they remain together, as a family. Here, I learned not to tout my extensive footprints or my traumatic past, because for a family in geosynchronicity, it does not matter. What matters is that we are here and now, and we are not going anywhere.
My plane started its descent into Rome, covered with a thick layer of clouds. “It is about to rain.” I murmured to myself like a homeless man stuck on an airplane (not too inaccurate of a definition for my identity), but I knew it would be fine, because it is a city with a personality, someone who always has the perfect sunshine.