Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Portugal - Part 3

Have you even read parts 1 and 2? I only ask because different people have said different things to me about each one and it seems that some of you have read one and some of you have read another and some of you have read both. I don't want to waste your time by forcing you to go over old ground or anything, I just think some of this crap might make more sense to you if you have read each of the previous two installments.

On Sunday morning a man stole our seat at the breakfast table. There were no recriminations, no whailing or gnashing of teeth as they say, it just happened and nothing was said. We'd got up at around 8 in order to get down to the restaurant for around 9. We had plans to visit the Tourist Information Centre and then leave ourselves enough time to do whatever came off the back of that. Which was nothing, but more on that later.

For now there we are in the restaurant, trying to find a free table. It's very busy so we end up somewhere near the back, but it's a table for two with not too many other seats close by so it seems like a suitable enough place. I pull the chair out of the way. I could transfer on to it from my wheelchair but I am a lazy bugger at the best of times and I didn't feel much like transferring into and out of my wheelchair every time I wanted to get up for another course, or a brew or a glass of juice or whatever. Besides, I'm already aware of the possibility that someone might steal our place if we leave nothing there to indicate that it is taken. So I move the chair and we go off to the breakfast buffet.

We only grab a bowl of cereal for now but this takes long enough in the crowds. It's very busy. We get back to our table a few minutes later to find a man sat there with a plate in front of him, about to tuck in to his breakfast. He has put the chair which I moved back at the table and is sitting on it. Clearly he has not given any thought to why it had been moved. Now, he just looks at me like a frightened deer looks up from his grazing when he hears a suspicious noise, and then goes back to his bacon and eggs. We find another table and resolve that moving a chair away is not going to be enough in future. We'll have to get our juice first and place that on the table before we go off to find our food. If that doesn't work there is always my hat, but I'm worried about it getting stolen also. It's every man for himself in this place.

This is the bit where you might need to have some knowledge of what is in the first two pieces in this surprisingly elongated series. The first thing we have to do after breakfast is get the room situation sorted out. We had been promised an opportunity to look at a room with an ocean view (which we had booked and paid for, but not got on account of some access concerns) and then decide for ourselves whether to stick or twist, as it were. However, yet more light years pass by in the reception queue before we are told that there is not a room available to view just yet but there will be by 11.00 if we would like to come back then.

We leave in search of the Tourist Information Centre. Which does not exist. We have only walked a short distance and made a couple of left turns before we find a map mounted on a small billboard. It has every single place of interest in Vilamoura marked on it. Supermarkets, mini-golf, car-parks, the beach, the marina. Everything. If there is a Tourist Information Centre it will be on this map. We walk on a little longer and pop into a shop which is advertising excursions. Glancing quickly around at what's on offer we ask about the possible whereabouts of the Tourist Information Centre and are told that it is 'in the next city'. The lady, who to be fair has better English than I have Portuguese, does not however seem to have the required vocabularly to expand on where the next city might be. Lisbon? Porto? Braga? Weston Supermare? Copenhagen? We don't know and it scarcely matters because we are likely not getting there today anyway. There is no time to go to the next city, wherever it is, before we have to get back to the hotel at the agreed time to finally sort out which room we will be spending the next six nights in.

Just after 11.00 we return to the hotel, do the queue dance (not a lot of movement but a very regular, slow tempo), and are eventually given the key to room 234. Easy to remember, not so easy to live in. As we had suspected (and so to be fair had the receptionist but that wasn't our beef with him) it has a very narrow bathroom doorway. Staying here would mean jumping out of my chair every time I wanted to pay a visit, and placing another chair in there for me to climb on in order to use the mirror to wash, brush my teeth or shave. I'm willing to give it a crack if the ocean view is that important but Emma won't hear of it. She's not happy about it but she's also insisting that we are better off where we are in the junior suite. It's hard to disgree. So we stay put, hand back the keys to 234 and pay for another six night's key rental for the safe deposit box in room 126. Another €15.

In the absence of any tourist information we go back out on to the marina to look for some other entertainment. After a long, long but highly pleasant stroll we happen across a row of stalls selling sea cruises from the marina. A greying man who speaks reasonable English if a little too quietly and creepily hands us some leaflets. We pore through them quickly and decide we might like something a bit shorter than the three hours we endured in Tenerife. The memory is still vivid of all those people vomiting into their sick bags on the choppy seas that day. I'm not normally sea sick, but after three hours of looking at other people go green and baulk you can't help but feel a little queasy yourself.

In the literature we find a two hour cruise called the Sunset Cruise. It sails in the later part of the evening, meaning it might offer a little respite from the searing heat, but the key thing is that it is only two hours in length. We think we can cope with that amount of time without being sick. Hell, we might even enjoy it. We ask the greying, quiet man about it but he informs us that the Sunset Cruise won't be sailing. Furthermore it never sails because there is never enough interest in it. He needs at least six people to make a booking to make it worth his while, he explains, but since he won't take any names or accept any money for it it is going to be incredibly difficult to reach that particular target. So in effect what he is saying is that it is a non-cruise. A mythical cruise like something out of a Sinbad movie. It's Jason And The Fecking Argonauts. Do we get a Golden Fleece as a free gift just for enquiring? No. Not even a free Parker pen. We get to make another choice or bugger off. After some more deliberation we opt for the three-hour cruise which looks as though it might provoke the least vomiting. It sails at 4.00 this afternoon and we are to return here to the marina at 3.45 when he will tell us where the boat is. As if it is a game show with clues or something. Where's Anneka Fucking Rice?

When we get back there the secret of where the boat sails from is staggeringly underwhelming. He tells us to go to the end of the marina (some 30 yards from where we are currently situated) and wait in a raised area in the shade where we will sea the boat come in. More waiting then, but mercifully the boat is on time. It is a catamaran but, having been assured by our friend that it is fully accessible we discover that this is only really a half-truth. Three-quarters, maybe. There are ramps down from the marina to where the boats are all docked but as we approach our catamaran I turn left towards it and discover a large ramp leading to it. It's a ramp, so that should be fine right? Wrong. It is a ramp with little raised grooves on each side of it, the reason for which is a mystery to me. I have to be physically lifted over these and then over the slight gap between the 'ramp' and the boat. So it's accessible if you don't mind being lifted on in your chair by two burly Portuguese men who don't speak much English. I don't, but some people might.

The cruise itself is enjoyable enough but our prediction that three hours might be a little overdoing it is not far off the mark. An hour or so in the boat stops near the rock formations and the caves at which point you can, if you are able, get off the boat and on to a small dinghy which takes you into the caves for a closer look. Emma changes her mind about whether to do this at least twice but ends up having a go anyway. She can't drink the sickly white wine they have offered us (it's free, at least) so she's sober enough to be able to step down on to the dinghy. I remember thinking that everyone else was being helped with their life jackets as they prepared to get on to the dinghy, but Emma and I seemed to be invisible. I'm pretty sure this is the curse of one who spends too much time with the likes of me. I have a level of invisibility at times that Harry Potter's cloak could not help you match. Anyway the man ignores her but she manages to sort out the life jacket herself and off they go. A small boy has a life jacket on but finally decides that he won't get in the dinghy. His parents try to coax him in and he screams the proverbial blue murder. In the end his mum goes alone while his dad waits with him. While they are away I finish Emma's wine while some of the people for whom there was no room in the dinghy (including the little boy and his dad) dive into the water for a bit of a swim. They're making two trips so they will get their turn. There's an acoustic version of Eye Of The Tiger playing on board which I quite like, but can't for the life of me fathom out why anyone would bother to have found it. It seems painfully obscure but no doubt it is on one of the many cash-cow Rocky Soundtrack albums that have been churned out down the years.

The cruise back to the marina is long and I start to feel a bit green towards the end. By the time I am hoisted off again by the burly men I am pleased to be back on land. We're off out for our first proper evening meal of the holiday this evening. Since we are so fond of Nandos, we have chosen to sample some of the chicken piri piri on offer at one of the many restaurants for which we were handed leaflets on our travels yesterday. It doesn't turn out to be quite like Nandos.......

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