A Ride Across Borders

It was yet another day when the sun decided to give its best… 40 degrees of white heat. It made little mirages upon the tarmac; not a leaf stirred. We were riding across 600 kilometers heading for the Portuguese capital Lisbon- or “Lisboa” as in the thick accent of the Portuguese language. The little Spanish hamlet of Seville with its spires and churches and friendly restaurants was now a tiny speck in the rear view mirror as we cruised along route A66. The little streets from neighbouring villages poured out their traffic. There were cars of all sizes, shapes and makes and they cheered us on- with tiny honks, thumbs-up or just a wave as we breezed speedily past them. At Santa Olalla we veered off into the N-630 and shortly after, took to the route A-434. It was now noon, the next few hundred kilometres seemed unending. This was declared as the hottest week for all over Europe… the heat wave from Africa had brought in the warm air- and as the sun beat down upon us, the hot air singed on exposed skin and even pushed through the biking gear till our skin shrivelled under the blaze. We had to take frequent hydration breaks- and managing a constant 100+ kmph was really challenging in these conditions. We laboured on and it was early evening when we reached the Portugal border.

This was to be our first border crossing and we were a little uncertain. We pulled over at the parking bay at the border and tried to figure-out why a few vehicles were queued up behind a toll-gate; perhaps this was the border registration office. Nobody spoke English but we figured they were trying to insert their credit cards into slot machines. Hmmm… now what we wondered!

 

I walked to the nearby police center and caught up with a couple of officers smoking outside. “Holla Senor!” I greeted in the only words I knew of their language. “Hello there sir” they responded in cheerful, crisp English. It was like finding water in a desert- English never sounded sweeter. Over shared smokes and friendly banter, I figured out that this was the registration gate for credit cards used for paying highway tolls within Portugal. “If you do not register, you cannot go on toll roads” explained the officer. Across most of Europe, my experience with the law enforcement folks have been extremely positive- but Portugal’s officers seemed to outdo their counterparts in civility and helpfulness.

Over the next 30 minutes I attempted to register my card but in vain. Finally I gave up. In any case, our idea was to explore the country roads of Portugal- now we just mandated it for ourselves! Thus we crossed the border into Portugal on a hot summer afternoon- we were tired from a long ride, dehydrated from the Spanish sun, a little irritated with the card registration failure.

A kilometre from the border, we veered off the toll road and slipped into the Portuguese countryside. Suddenly – as if we were transported to Goa – we were cruising along its beautiful avenues. The air, the roads, touch-feel and indeed the entire countryside transformed itself. Flowers were in bloom and we cruised through carpets of lilac (Hortanceas), red (Papoelas) and yellow (Margaredas) all along the rolling mountain roads. Pedestrians waved out, and excited children tugged at their parents as we cruised along colourful houses and red tile roofs of little villages on that summer evening.

As we came closer to Lisboa, the traffic started building up. Once within the city, we were surrounded by chaos. Ancient trams jostled for space with large tourist buses and honking cars while we followed the cue of other motorcycles to fill-in the cracks between the four wheeled machines. I can imagine how terrifying it might be for folks from some other countries- but for me again it was homecoming. I was from India- perhaps the fiercest battleground for driving… boy I was well prepared for aggressive traffic and totally unfazed. Around 9pm, as the daylight left the skies, we finally arrived at our destination at Lisbon. The city of seven hills, the melting pot of cultures, the city of Portuguese pride- Lisbon, we have arrived!

This morning we were with Bea our Spanish host from Sierra Nevada, Seville and now, 12 hours past, we were at the picturesque cottage of Rafael- our Brazilian host in Lisboa. We had a harsh sunny ride, our first border crossing, we waved out to perhaps a hundred cars and people- and travelled across a countryside, breathtaking in its beauty and familiarity. Now we were with Rafael in Lisboa… a new face, a new place- and perhaps new adventures too! This is what we had signed ourselves up for!

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