Early in the morning, I headed to this really picturesque town 40 minutes outside Lisbon. I spent about 20 minutes in the town before getting bored, and deciding it would be a great idea to walk to this castle I’d spotted on the hill. The walk didn’t seem too bad, and I love castles!
Little did I know, that hill was an evil optical illusion. After 30 minutes of walking I realized why all the bus rides up to the castle were so expensive. Instead of the leisurely stroll I had expected, I was in for some serious hiking and a few near death experiences. On top of being extremely steep and winding, the road itself was only wide enough for a single car and maybe a motorcycle to drive side by side comfortably, but for some unknown reason was open to both directions of traffic. It also lacked a sidewalk. And guard rails.
Either Portuguese people don’t fear death, or know better than to visit this castle on foot.
Cars, and the occasional bus, whizzed towards and passed me around steep turns. There were several moments when I was face to face with the front of a gigantic bus, and since there wasn’t room for both of us I was the one forced to dive out of the way, all the while making eye contact with the horrified passengers sitting (safely might I add) inside the bus. Signs pointing me in the right direction only seemed present themselves the very moment I was about to give up and turn around.
Two hours later, I finally got to the entrance, completely covered in sweat, shallow of breath and sore, only to see that not only did I have another hour or so to hike, but if I did choose to subject myself to more hiking I had to pay a whopping 18 euros to continue. I decided had been punished enough without having to pay money for it. Since my camera has pretty nice zoom capabilities, I opted for a free photo of the castle, then promptly, but carefully, descended the mountain.
I didn’t want my day to feel like a complete waste of time, so, upon suggestion, I decided to check out the most western point of Europe, instead of heading back to Lisbon directly. I boarded a bus and greeted the driver with the town name.
The driver looked at me a bit confused, shook his head and answered me in Portuguese, naming another town, as well as some other things that were lost on me.
I paused for a moment. I was too exhausted to actually think about what the driver was trying to communicate. Instead, I just my handed him my money and took a seat. Fifteen minutes passed before my brain actually registered the fact that we were going in the completely wrong direction. I sat in my seat for another five minutes debating what I should do. For me this was one of the worst predicaments to be in. Not only did I have to talk to a stranger, but I had to admit I had made a mistake.
I finally swallowed my pride and approached the driver timidly. After explaining to him that I was actually on the wrong bus I asked if he could let me off at the next bus stop. He just rolled his eyes at me and abruptly stopped.
“Here?” I was obviously hesitant to leave.
“Yes, here. Go.”
I hopped off and asked him when the right bus would arrive.
“Five minutes” he said before closing the door and driving off. If I had known that the Portuguese have a seriously twisted sense of time I would have stayed on the bus.
I took in my surroundings. I was in the middle of nowhere-Portugal, and I didn’t actually see a bus stop. I walked a little ways before noticing a sign with one bus number on it sticking up from the ground. The bus stop itself was a thin patch of grass between the road and a rock wall. I stood, pushing myself as closely as I could to the wall as to not get hit by passing vehicles, and waited.
An hour and a half later another bus approached. At this point I was crouched as low as I could get to the floor without being in the road, in an attempt to block some of the frigid wind from blowing through my thin jacket. The bus opened its door, and I was immediately greeted with a rush of warm air.
“Coba da Roca?” I whimpered in the doorway.
The driver looked at me slightly startled (she speaks!), “No.” This time I did not board the bus.
“When will the bus be coming for Coba Da Roca?” I asked.
I wanted to laugh, but it came out sounding more like a sob. Awkward.
This was the moment when I should have gotten on the damn bus. But, no, I had already waited this long, what was five more minutes?
“Five more minutes? Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He motioned for me to make a decision.
I thanked the driver and stepped back down on the patch of grass. I immediately began shivering. The driver then audibly laughed at me before closing the door and driving off. Always a good sign.
Another hour passed. The sun was getting ready to set and as a result the temperature was dropping rapidly. I was leaning against the wall when I saw a very hefty man, carrying an equally large bucket, exit a building opposite me. I was about to ask him about the stupid bus, when he violently chucked the contents of his bucket into a clearing, whereafter, (I kid you not) 40 ferrel cats rushed out of the woods. I stood there stunned, watching this ridiculous scene play out in front of me. I then saw a future where I was forced to sleep by the bus stop only to wake up surrounded by 40 dirty, hungry cats. I began sobbing.
Two terrifying hours and 50 agonizing minutes after the first driver had told me five minutes, a third bus rounded the corner. This time I couldn’t have entered the bus fast enough. I practically threw money at the driver.
“Coba Da Roca?” I squeaked.
The driver grunted in agreement and ended up handing me back my money and motioning for me to take a seat. This kind gesture brought even more tears to my eyes, and I began to walk to find a seat. The bus was packed and it seemed like every time I walked passed a person they would recoil a little bit. Who could blame them though, I looked like a someone who’d just escaped an insane asylum, my wind swept hair sticking up in all directions and my eyes bloodshot from crying. I couldn’t have cared less (at least that’s what I am telling myself now). I was finally warm and on my way to see one of the most amazing sunsets. But I told myself, no more solo days trips while in Portugal.