Fri 19 Dec 2008
This afternoon I arrived at the train station in Vila Real de Santo António assuming a short wait. Instead I found the online schedule had been wrong, and I had just missed my train, and would wait another hour and a half for the next one to Tavira.
In the same situation was Domingos, a young man from Guinea-Bissau. He offered me swigs from his one-liter Super Bock beer, which he tilted carefully above his mouth to avoid mouth contact. It was a polite action I'd seen before in my travels -- perhaps in Morocco or Romania? I offered him apricots, bought this morning in the mercado where fish merchants sold still-writhing eels.
Domingos & I commiserated about the long wait ahead of us, he in a patois of Portuguese, French, and Spanish, and me monolingual at best, scattering simple, pan-Latin words when I could.
But we got along nonetheless, as strangers usually do. I had to pee, and Domingos suggested the nearby supermercato where he'd bought his beer. As I relieved myself, Domingos got cash from the ATM and took a number for the queue at the little cafe within the supermarket. He got himself another beer (he'd finished the liter we'd started in the station), and ordered me a coffee, and, just for good measure, a small glass of pungent port.
We sat amongst the chatty women and the quiet men at the tiny cafe, and talked of Africa, of mothers and brothers and girlfriends, of work and of play, of music and the timing of trains.
After another beer, it was time to go, and we walked back to the station in the golden sunlight of the day's end. We boarded the waiting, empty train. Domingos showed me the bottle of Madeira wine given to him by his good friend he'd been visiting, and poured a finger into the glass he'd stolen from the cafe. As the sun went down among the marshy pools of the Algarve, we sipped the warm liquor and headed west to Tavira.