At the mouth of the Douro near Porto, is the small fishing village of Afurada. Gritty, working class, traditional and vibrant. Groups of women in aprons dole out the gossip in the streets, while the local Fashionista had plonked her makeshift shop on the corner, the sardine griller was setting up his his charcoal fires and the local police had parked their bikes outside the bakery to check their facebook status or secret police business?
Then there were the loudspeakers at 10.00 am blasting out traditional Portuguese ‘Musak’, which I initially thought was appealing, but I am now starting to have piano accordian fatigue. Our Airbnb is fabulous, probably the best we have had in Portugal. The double glazing on the windows keeps the apartment cool and quiet- a welcome respite from the piano accordian.
We departed our Douro River Cruise after a Gala Dinner and Folkloric Dance Display ( yes piano accordian) . Our select and (elite!) Group of English Speakers demanded butter at every meal and racously called for more wine. Finally the staff got it and by the end of the cruise the butter was on the table and the wine was flowing. Apparently we were the only butter demanders on the boat. Part of our group left early in the morning before us, and they secreted butter into our coffee cups as a parting gesture. We were also the rowdiest table at dinner. We never saw our fellow passengers smile. The Panama Hat described them as loud,pushy bogan French and Danish pensioners unable to smile or make eye contact.
The cruise through the Alto Douro and its many locks hide the fact that transporting port on a rabello boat to the Cais de Gaia was once a dangerous activity. Many lost their lives as they manoeuvred the raging rapids, narrow gorges and rocky shallows. White chapels dot the landscape in their memory, amongst the terraced vineyards and steeply hewn stone walls.
We were bombarded with irrelevant messages in three languages. French, English and a Danish translation and later Portuguese and Spanish. We attempted to turn the speaker down in our room but it still managed to penetrate.
The weather had been cool but by the last day the sun was in action again and the river was a hive of activity as it was a Sunday. We witnessed a fire- not too serious and the helicopter scooping water out of the Douro to douse it. The river was full of ‘dickheads’ on jetskis – obviously a global problem, dickheads without borders.
After dinner the ship cruised to the mouth of the Douro- past vibrant Porto which was in party mode for a Sunday night. The bars and the cafes lining the river were full of tourists and locals, and party boats sped up and down the river. We also passed our fishing village of Afurada which was in the middle of yet another religious festival and parade. Marching bands, banners and artefacts were being hauled in and out of the church.
We survived yet another Sao Pedro ‘s festival and just when we thought normality had returned and the carnival caravans pulled out, we discovered the real Afurada. Lavadaria Central. Then the local disco bar revved up its speakers, because we didn’t need to sleep! Everyone is seriously into washing, and it hangs everywhere , on the footpath and in every spare space. Fiercely guarded by black widows. ( just in case we were thinking about stealing their sensible undies!) The old Lavaderia which was once a place of employment for the fishermen’s wives is largely symbolic, but they are still alarming washing experts, and enthusiastic watering and scrubbing of the footpaths, with grim gusto.
The living is very close and is similar to Naples and the Emily Farente novel of My Brilliant Friend.
Everyone’s washing and conversations are public property and the two foreigners in town were ignored initially , but we are now getting a few ‘ Bong Dias’ from some of the black widows. Our neighbours are particularly vocal and we are often unsure if they are having a huge argument or discussing the weather. We have eaten fabulous fish at the cheaper charcoal tavernas that dot this narrow fishing village on the Douro. I nearly caused a riot in the Fruitaria when I started to pick some strawberries in a bag- apparently only the owner is allowed to touch the fruit. Thankfully we were not banished for this indescretion.
It has been a lazy week in Afurada broken by a quick ferry ride across the Douro to catch the bus into Porto, which seems like a different universe. We are soon leaving on a tour of the mountain villages, which are hard to get to. The highlight will be Monsanto – terrible name- but it looks like a Fred Flinstone village made out of huge rocks.