First Steps Towards the Sahara

Pigs. They might be my favorite mammal, pigs. Cuddly, funny, intelligent, burly and self-reliant. But most of all, every part of them from literal nose to tail is supremely tasty. Many cultures have gained proficiency in raising, slaughtering, cutting and preparing the pig for sustenance. The Spanish however, are more proficient at this than most.

Madrid was intended from the get-go, as a simple layover stop on my oncoming journey towards and over the Sahara. Three weeks ahead of me, spanning four sovereign nations and two continents. But only a sliver of that, an evening and almost an afternoon, would be spent in Madrid. Even though I knew I’d have much more time to delve into the wonderful world of pork down in Andalucia, I was unable to resist the lure of spending almost all my time in the Spanish capital stopping in as many markets and bistros sampling the local swine. A short detour to a book store to drink wine and acquaint myself with the local literature and music, sure. A stroll through an art gallery or two, sure. Even the odd distraction of a plate squid or bacalao to clean the pallet. But by the time I was finally on a bus headed for Lisbon, with a bocadillo de jamón in hand, my culinarism had already resulted in the deaths of many a porker and hog.


Even though separated by less than half a peninsula, from my very first awakening in Lisbon, the city and country had an uniquely pleasant and non-Spanish aura to it. A lot of it is that quiet self-assured confidence and openness that many seafaring trade cultures share. A relaxed approach to serious things like food, drink and smoke.


Sitting next to a body of water with a drink in my hand is perhaps my favorite travel past-time, along with contemplating the lives of people walking past my momentary park bench or cafe corner. Lisbon shines in enabling the enjoyment of both these things simultaneously. With the pleasantly warm spring evenings, I found myself lazing around the shores for hours on end eavesdropping on conversations, watching fishermen whip away at the waves and following the slow progress of sailboats into the horizon.

Of course this city has many more lures than just the simple enjoyment of a mug of wine on a pier. The steep but beautiful streets of the city are primed to let a mind wonder through the lens of a camera. Tiny restaurants dot various dark alleys, markets brimming with blood sausage and other delicacies scatter the squares and up on top of the hills beautiful vistas open up over clay roofs.

My original intent was to spend more time exploring Lisbon, but thoughts of warm African beaches made my feet quiver with excitement. The city did leave an exquisite impression on me. I felt genuinely welcome at all times and in all places. Every morsel of food and drop of drink that passed by my lips was of the highest quality and the sea had an especially pleasant hue to it. Portugal would certainly require a more thorough dive in the coming years.

Before I knew it, my duffel was again hoisted onto the trunk of a small Renault and a friendly face was driving me further down south. To my surprise, there was great difficulty in acquiring accommodation back on the Spanish side of the border. The cause of this would be revealed to me in a shock in mere hours.


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