riday finally arrived and my partner in crime Sebastian and I picked up our fellow trippers (Fabienne from Antwerp, Belgium and Jessica from New Haven, Connecticut) in our brand-new mpv. After the all too obvious multi-purpose-vehicle jokes it was time to decide where we’d go. We didn’t have to talk for long about a destination. Of course we would drive off into the sunset, i.e. direction Portugal. The first couple of days were random but very enjoyable. Lots of good food, even more mediocre alcohol, uncalled-for dancing etc... During daytime we didn’t avoid the cultural sights although we probably spent more time at the beaches to shake off our hangovers. The scenery in Portugal was no less than breathtaking. Ironically, the many forest fires seem to have made the Portuguese landscape even more attractive, at least from a distance. The withered trees range in color from gold red to pitch black, contrasting with the bright green of young weeds.
was catching up with us so we turned our back on the beaches and headed
inland, towards the mountains. We ended up in the strangest of mountain
towns: Bragança. Although not at all a tourist hot spot, Bragança does
have an awe-inspiring, 13th century fortress. That’s not why I’ll
remember it, though. This town is the spitting image of Royston Vasey,
the English village from the comedy series “The League of Gentlemen”
where ugly, inbred locals molest and eventually kill innocent
passers-by. Obviously it wasn’t that fatal but Bragança did give us a
The first local we saw, we asked for directions
to our hostel. A big smile appeared on his face, he opened the door,
squeezed his burly body into the back of the car and insisted on showing
us the castle first. Scruffy-looking and reeking of liquor, among other
things, he introduced himself as Ramiro, owner of the castle. He
promised to give us an extraordinary tour. So far, we weren’t alarmed at
all and so we decided to go along. The big guy seemed harmless enough;
with his placid smile and doglike eyes he almost looked like the village
Which he apparently wasn’t. When we arrived at
the castle Ramiro pulled out a set of keys and opened the gate. No
problem, maybe he’s the janitor, we said to ourselves while we set out
on our tour. The guy we had figured for a well-intentioned simpleton was
now lecturing us on European history, momentarily interrupting his
discourse to demonstrate how you wield a 15th century bastard-sword with
amazing agility. Maybe it was just the sight of the castle at dusk but
all of the sudden Ramiro’s smile didn’t seem so placid anymore... we
were all getting a bit spooked.
When our guide, still
carrying the huge sword, insisted we’d follow him to the fortress’
dungeons, we simultaneously started muttering protests:
“Desculpe Ramiro, we are all getting really hungry...”
“Besides, we have to arrive at the hostel before eight...”
“Thank you so much for the tour, though.”
“We’ll be back tomorrow, for sure!”
And we practically ran out of the place.
may have been our heightened self-consciousness but we all felt like
the entire village was staring and pointing at us. We did our best to
ignore the glares and continued to the only hostel in town, where the
weirdness did not cease. By now we were psyched up and seeing ghosts
“You are not locals” the clerk stated. Clearly, there
was no fooling this guy. We slowly explained him that, not being
locals, we had come to this pension looking for a place to stay the
night. He nodded understanding. When we offered him our passports, he
shook his head and smilingly said:
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get them later.” I heard Fabienne break into sobbing behind me.
“We are not Americans...” I began in a misguided attempt to relate to the clerk. No reaction.
“Can you recommend a good restaurant?” I tried.
we have an excellent restaurant right here” was all he said. Somehow
nobody felt like eating at the hostel so Sebastian and I ran out for
take-out pizza and Porto while the girls barricaded themselves in the
rooms. Seb, as always looking at the bright side of life, laid out the
gameplan for the night. After all, the whole thing had provided us with
an excellent excuse to keep the girls company at night.
did feel stupid though, waking up the next morning. No one had been
poisoned or stabbed to death. Bragança was no Royston Vasey. Like little
kids, we had let ourselves be frightened by some eccentric castle
owner. And of course the villagers had been staring; they had just seen
four flustered tourists dash out of their castle at nightfall. Word of
the weird gringos had probably spread to the pension before we even
arrived. You are not locals, indeed.
And so, shamefaced
and tired, we got in our car and headed back to Salamanca,
contemplating our road trip. On the radio Lynard Skynyrd were giving
their best. Sweet home Salamanca!