Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sun Makes All the Difference

Our quest to follow the sun and 65-degree temperatures prompted us to make a quick detour to Portugal to round out our Andalusian adventures. With Mother Nature smiling down on us, we spent two glorious days in Moncarapacho, a small village just inland from Faro on the southern coast of Portugal. The Vila Monte Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property we enjoyed for the paltry, off-season sum of 70 euros a night, welcomed us with a bright suite, majestic palms and a lofty-ceilinged dining room with a view towards the ocean. It was just what we needed to regroup, repack and gird our loins for the trek to Morocco. My adventurous streak is offset by Joe’s extra gene for risk aversion, so we had a lot of reading, research and homework to complete before we boarded the ferry from Spain. I would get my African escapade and Joe would feel prepared.

Five days in Fes will end our trajectory south. We’ll then fly northeast to Milan where we’ll meet Chris and Caroline – at last! If it weren’t for being with our children and the prospect of skiing in the Dolomites, I might opt to just continue stalking the sun. At every opportunity, I bask in the warmth of the Mediterranean sunshine, drink in the vitamin D, warm my inner essence and bronze my outer self. To brighten my mood and lighten my spirit, the sun makes all the difference. We have our very own half-and-half routine that must be executed whenever we decide to take advantage of an outdoor cafe: our table must be half in the shade and half in the sun so that I can get my rays and Joe can keep his cool.

When we checked into the Vila Monte, Joe was happy (and I was thrilled) to discover that unlike restaurants in Spain that rarely open before 8:30pm, the dining room began serving dinner at the (in our minds) reasonable hour of 7:30pm. Always ravenous by 6 and not happy to fall into bed with bellies full, we prefer eating a bit earlier than the Spanish. Our stomachs growling steadily by early evening, we counted down the hours to dinner, anticipating the culinary creations of the hotel’s Orangerie restaurant. Sitting in the waning sun (of course!) and turning to my computer to do some long overdue writing, I looked at the time on the screen and suddenly realized that Portugal is in a different time zone – it’s an hour behind Spain! Oh não, quão terrível! my stomach shouted, “not two but three more hours before we eat!” We just couldn’t seem to avoid the protracted, hungry waits for late dinners.

As already noted, we should have spent more time in Sevilla and now we wished we could have prolonged our stay in Portugal. To a person, everyone we met was beyond pleasant. When we ventured into tiny Moncarapacho, three local women practically fell over themselves to show me how to get to the post office and they just about accompanied me all the way there, making sure I found it successfully. In addition to the kindness and generosity of those we met, the biggest revelation was the Portuguese language itself. While I knew that Portuguese, as a Romance language, might look similar to Spanish when written, I was astounded by just how different it sounds when spoken. To my ear, the many “sh” sounds and its particular cadence make it sound like a central European tongue. I had previously been exposed only minimally to the language (via the Portuguese women who worked in my college’s dining hall in Worcester, Massachusetts), and I’m sure that I’ve often guessed a speaker’s language as Slavic when he or she has actually been speaking Portuguese. Doing a bit of research, I learned that Portuguese is actually the sixth most-spoken language in the world. Our brief visit to Portugal definitely piqued my interest in its language. I may need to add a brief course in Portuguese to my list of “Someday I’ll...”

Our sun worshipping pilgrimage will now take us south across the straits of Gibraltar to the wilds of northern Africa. While a visit to Morocco has always been on my list of wishes, I’m not sure I believed that I would actually have the opportunity to go there. But my wish has come true: we’re making our way to Africa.

Pictures of our adventures: http://gapyeargirlgoestoeurope.shutterfly.com

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