Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Portugal: Day One


We woke up at 2:50am to be at the airport at 4:30am. Our flight left at 6:30am. When we initially booked our tickets, this sounded like a fair option. However, as is so often the case, what seems like a good idea at the time is in many cases just not, and when six people are stumbling around, blinded by the sleep in their eyes and trying to rush through their routines in only 2 bathrooms, it's just plain chaos. We somehow managed to get ready on time, and we were out the door and into the cab with minimal issues, besides OJ "losing" his phone, something which he does with startling regularity, as will become evident. Definition of "losing" - to go into a flat panic when you cannot find a particular item, only to realise 10 seconds to a minute later that said item is in fact safely stowed away where you last put it. Unfortunately, OJ not only "loses" things, he really loses things as well, hence his name OJ, which comes from our constant sighs of 'Oh, J!" as he flaps around searching for yet another misplaced thing.

Our flight was fairly uneventful. We'd had the presence of mind to take our pillows on board with us, and we all caught up on a bit of much needed sleep. By the time we landed in Porto, we were fairly awake and good to go. We collected our car - a 7 seater van with aircon and tough front speakers - and off we went. Eyes took the first driving shift, and the rest of us in the back sat, white knuckled, holding on for dear life as he negotiated a few obstacles such as oncoming cars on the wrong side of the road, while OJ attempted to get the GPS software on his mobile working. It took a while to get over our raging fear that we were going to be hit by oncoming traffic every time we turned a corner, but Eyes did well to keep us all alive.

Our plan was to drive through to the city of Porto, wonder around there for a couple of hours to soak up a bit of Portuguese culture, and grab a bite to eat before heading out on the 420km trip to the party, which was near a little town called Elvas. However, even the best plans go awry, and when you're a group of tourists in a non-English speaking city with very little idea of what you're doing, it's a recipe for a botch. We drove to what we thought was the Museum of Transport and Communication, the place where the tourist info chick at the airport had told us we could park. It probably would have been a good idea to actually check that the building we thought was the museum was in fact the museum, but enthusiasm was high and sensibility was low, and our map-reading was clearly not as good as we thought, so we jumped out the car (after a minor pause as OJ "lost" his spare mobile battery) and started walking in what we thought was the direction of Old Porto, the cultural centre of the city. I should just take a moment here to say that none of us is particularly cultured, but we felt obliged to see a bit more of the country than just an out of the way trance party venue, so we were going to take photos of the cathedrals and pretty buildings in order to not appear complete savages (the pics at the trance party would do that for us anyway). Of course, our lack of caution and below-par map reading skills meant we got TOTALLY lost, and our confusion was only reinforced by the few people we stopped to ask for directions; all of whom failed to mention to us that we were not in fact where we thought we were. After walking for an hour and a half through the parts of Porto that tourists never see, and with good reason, we finally hit a main road and attempted to find a bus station. By this stage we had decided Porto was run-down, dirty, poor and not worth a 5 minute pit stop. After much debating, stopping to ask for directions and general moaning, we came across the main square by accident, and found Tourist Porto - the part we were supposed to see. By that stage however, we'd had enough. We couldn't possibly have grumbled anymore than we were. You could have shown us a stunning panorama worthy of a postcard at that point - we still wouldn't have cared. It was definitely time to leave. We found the bus stop about 45 minutes after we'd first started looking for it, and managed to make our way back to the car without further incident. Conclusion: Porto sucks. The drive through to the party was uneventful. Along the way we discovered that the Portuguese in general do not speak any English (although perhaps this is different in Lisbon) and they have rather bland and tasteless cuisine. They also have no sauce sachets and all their food is very dry.

We arrived at the 2007 Freedom Festival at about 6pm Thursday evening, and we were greeted by a large, very dusty open area with stony ground that was majorly averse to tent pegs. We dived headlong into an intense argument about where to pitch our camp (Shoes and Eyes were on Team Tree - the area under some sad looking trees for shade but miles from the dance floor; Scarf, Neutrino and I were on Team Toilet - the area close to the loos, dance floor and road leading to the food stalls; OJ was on his own team and was miffed that no-one agreed with him). We'd been travelling for 14 and a half hours and everyone was a tad tense. Eventually, Team Toilet won out - Team Tree and OJ gave in most ungracefully - and we started to set up camp. To say it was a good start to the party would be a lie. Even though we cracked open a few vodkas and beers to drink while working, the day had gotten to all of us and setting up was a tangle of guy ropes and tempers. Soon enough though, once we were fully settled, tempers abated and the joy of being at a trance party in another country returned, and we started to get into the spirit of things. The plan: to get well pissed and hit the dancefloor like there was no tomorrow.

The venue could have been better - it was so open and dry that when the wind came up on Sunday the dust storms choked us, and the terrain was tough and unforgiving, but things like that don't matter when you're on the dancefloor stomping it up to some banging tunes. We caned it that night, giving it all we had. We had to - we were in Portugal!!!!!! The beers and vodkas were flowing copiously (we'd stopped on the way to buy all our own booze) and finally, we were getting in the swing of things. No-one remembers too clearly how it went down that night, but we know we drank too much, danced a lot and stumbled to bed with the music still thundering in our ears - Team Tree had a point when they indicated Team Toilet's spot was going to make it tough to dos. We hadn't counted on the toll 14 hours of travelling would take on us though, and we all collapsed into bed at 12am, falling asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows; dreaming of another day of freedom and mayhem in Portugal.

To be continued tomorrow......

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