Portugal Part 2: Naked Paddleball Is Just the Tip (Of the Iceberg) (Mike)
(Original Photo Censored)
The next stop on our Portugal adventure was the Casa Grande guesthouse in the tiny, charming coastal town of Burgau. It was here that we met the best character of our adventure: Sally, the British Wonderwoman. A successful actress in her younger years in both England and the States, Sally moved to Portugal where she lived the dream by opening a guesthouse with her husband and four children. Unfortunately, her husband left the scene after only a short time and Sally was left to run the house and raise her children on her own. That might have been simply too much for the average person, but not for Sally. She raised four kids who now all live in different parts of California and have incredibly impressive lives. Sally is the type of person who knows literally everyone and she shared with us stories about almost any famous person you could think of: President Kennedy? “Oh, I met him when I was working at the British embassy, delightful fellow.” Tom Cruise? “My son does physical therapy for him and I met him at the opening of one of his recent films. His mother and I had lunch together. What a sweetheart.” Winston Churchill? “Oh, his daughter was in a play with me in Chicago, what a sweetheart.” Mrs. Padmore from Downton Abby? “You mean Leslie? One of my good friends! She stays here from time to time, of course. I’ll let you know when she’s going to be here next.” (See photo immediately below for proof) And so on. Sometimes the name game can be obnoxious, but when Sally told us her stories, we were completely charmed and entertained. There was absolutely nothing off-putting about it.
When we told Sally that it was the Fourth of July and we wanted to find some fireworks, she immediately said, “Well, you know what we have to do. We have to throw a party. Why don’t we say eight o’clock?” So there was to be a party and Sally invited all the guests in the house (about seven people) to celebrate. After a day at the beach, we came back to the house to find Baz, the Irish groundskeeper, setting up candles, glasses, and cold beers outside. Sally even had him pick up some sparklers for us. While we sat around a bench outside in the warmth of the summer night, Sally ordered us pizzas from a local place (two veggie, two meat, and two “Sally’s” – named after Sally, of course). She then told us ghost stories about the house, which is a delightfully huge and old manor with about six color-coordinated guestrooms (green, blue, red, etc) with old furniture and 20-feet high ceilings that look straight out of any great horror movie.
The trouble, Sally explained in the flickering candlelight, was that the red room was seriously haunted back in the 80’s and 90’s. Anytime a guest would stay in the red room, they would complain the next morning at breakfast about having a nightmare, and it was always the same: they dreamed that three old women were screaming and trying to claw their way through the walls and into the room. Yikes. Sally had two priests come and try to exorcise the ghosts, but without any success. Finally, she consulted with a “good-witch” named Gita who was friends with a friend of Sally’s. Gita Good-Witch gave Sally a free psychic reading and immediately detected that there was a dark presence in her home. She agreed to come to the house to drive the ghosts out. Sally was a little suspicious, of course, so she introduced Gita Good-Witch to her mother who was herself a bit of a psychic. After a brief interview, Sally’s mother gave Gita Good-Witch the thumbs up and Gita showed up at the house one next the exorcise the spirits. According to Sally, Gita ran around doing a bunch of weird stuff and then took Sally out into the street (this was during the night) and used kerosene to burn a cross into the road. “I can’t imagine what the neighbors would have thought if they would have seen me out there, in front of a burning cross with Gita dancing around and inciting her incantations and whatnot,” she recalled fondly. Apparently, the treatment worked and Sally swears that from that day on, nobody ever complained about the dream. However, having an apparently sane person tell us this story gave us the heebie-jeebies and we went back inside the house only with extreme trepidation. Anytime we made a reference to the house being haunted, Sally would say, “Hush now, it’s not been haunted for nearly 13 years. You’ll be fine.” Then made a face like, well, maybe you’ll be fine.
She then changed gears by pulling out a guitar and we had an international sing-along at full volume for the next 4 hours. We had Baz from Ireland, Sally from England, us from the US, Mary from the Netherlands, and Helen from Switzerland – the German couple refused to join us and Sally gave them enormous amounts of shit for that when they returned: “But you did know that the party was at 8 o’clock, didn’t you?” We were also treated to Katie’s singing – Katie literally majored in music in college with voice as her instrument. She is an incredibly talented opera singer. We already knew this, but earlier in the trip, she was more than reluctant to bust out opera in front of new people. However, Sally’s magic brought her out of her shell, along with the fact that she was just a little “wine-drunk ya’ll!” along with the rest of us. So she stood up and blasted out four or five awesome pieces which must have rattled the windows of the neighbors. Katie has some serious pipes.
We concluded with a rousing round of Hey Jude Tournament, where we sing Hey Jude and then everyone goes around and does their best impression of the part of the song that goes “Oh Judy-Judy-Judy-Judy-Judy, WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Whhaaa Whhaa WHHAAA.” We burst into cheers when the slightly reserved (by Irish standards) Baz, blasted out his part with gusto. The night ended with us using sparklers to try to spell out Casa Grande while Nathan to a long-exposure delay shot with his camera. It didn’t come out perfectly, but we had fun trying. All in all, it was a Fourth of July for the record books; certainly one of the strangest and most enjoyable in recent memory.
After near-tearful goodbyes with Sally the next day (and after she made us come back to the house for a mini-concert with her weekly mediation group), we drove out to a promising-looking beach on the way to our next beach town. In the exhilaration of the moment, Nathan flew past the beach parking lot and we ended up driving about a quarter of a mile down the unpaved walking path before we realized that we had come too far and couldn’t drive any further. In backing up the car, we started falling down into a ditch and couldn’t get the car out. Miraculously, right when we were getting desperate, a group of Portuguese dudes came walking by and asked if we needed help. Almost as if they were an F1 pit crew, they seamlessly took their places behind the car and pushed with Nathan and I as Laura pushed the gas and the car hitched up and out of the ditch. Disaster averted. Again, it’s the ends and not the means that Nathan focuses on. Hey, we made it to the beach, didn’t’ we?
The beach ended up being our first majority-nudist beach. After passing by naked father-daughter teams playing paddle ball and other weird naked scenarios, we gradually realized that this was a “when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” situation. The reality is, being naked at the beach feels amazing. Hold on, hear me out here. First, you don’t have this chafing suit, which is great. Then the water just feels better when you get in you don’t have clothing dragging every which way. You feel free! Liberated from the tyranny of clothing! Okay, maybe I am overstating things, but I enjoyed the heck out of it either way. Try it sometime and see for yourself. The other noteworthy thing is just how fast you adjust to being naked. So much so that Nathan and I found ourselves in a serious paddle ball game. It was great until a family of clothed people with young clothed kids showed up and then it just felt wrong again and we retreated off the beach and back into the real world. Naked Paddle Ball calendars for 2014 will be available for sale shortly. Pre-order yours today!
The rest of the Algarve followed much of the same pattern. We woke up, had breakfast, hung out at beach 1, enjoyed a huge lunch near the beach, then headed to beach 2, then had lunch. Rinse and repeat for 7 days and you have the formula for a great time. The only downer was that both Nathan and Katie picked up a bug and were fighting it for a lot of the trip, which is never fun. But they were both troopers about it.
Lisbon was fantastic and included these highlights:
– Smashing huge crabs with hammers at an incredibly packed and busy cerveseria. This old-timey restaurant had an oil-painting of its deceased original owner which depicted the owner as a type of saint with various types of seafood surrounding his head in a type of halo. Note: If anyone wants to crate a painted image of me with a lobster/cod/crab/clams halo when I kick the bucket, I would really welcome that idea.
– Pastel de Belem. Perhaps the world’s best little pastry treat, only three people know the secret recipe and they serve it piping hot at a baker that is well over 100 years old.
– Back at Katie and Nathan’s classy hotel bar, an old, drunk Icelandic man tried to engage us in a fist fight.
Katie had to head back to the real world from Lisbon, but Nathan, Laura and I bravely sojourned on. We explored hilltop castles and a palace in Sintra, listened to violin tango while climbing city walls in the medieval town of Obidos. Toured perhaps the most impressive library in the world at the University of Coimbra, which dates back to 1290. Gnawed on pig bones and wild boar stew in a tiny and hotter-than-Hades restaurant on a hidden ally in Coimbra. Watched a sand soccer tournament while the sun set on the huge beach town of Navare. Finally, we all fell in love with the same woman in the amazing city of Porto…
(See Part 3 for details)