The grocery stores in Lisbon resembled the ones I had been to in the States. Except there were strange exceptions here and there. A gigantic cow knuckle would be proudly displayed, while fully eliciting a scene in my mind of the poor animal while it’s limbs are being severed.
A monkfish is known to be one of the ugliest fish discovered by man. It is also known for it’s texture and taste, while being called the “poor man’s lobster” due to their similar tastes.
The main dish of Portugal is called baccalau. It’s salted cod cooked in cream and potatoes. I just remember it being spiny and difficult to eat. Tasted pretty good but the frustration wasn’t worth it. Every bite was an ordeal of searching for bones to avoid choking on my meal.
The streets are lined with apartments above the boutique shops along downtown Lisbon. You can see residents sitting in their windows while going about their daily lives. A man would enjoy an afternoon drink while reading the newspaper. Two young women would be giggling and pointing to people on the street. Probably discussing who they believe is good looking as people pass by. They didn’t point to me. At this point in the day, they haven’t even begun to think about dinner. Around 6PM I’d usually have my meal finished and paid for.
Europeans have a tradition of eating quite late into the night. Oftentimes around 9PM would appetizers be served and usually finishing with drinks and desert around midnight. This is the reason why most of the nightlife doesn’t start around 1 to 2 in the morning. If you really look at it, it’s one whole continuous process. Dinner is usually accompanied by unending bottles of wine which continues into post dinner cocktails. By the time morning arrives, you can be stumbling through these cobblestone streets while trying to navigate the maze that is Lisbon.
All of the nightclubs start developing lines around midnight. People flood the alleys and pathways of Bairro Alto which is the epicenter of all partying done in this city. It sits above the city by a couple hundred meters. To reach the top is an arduous journey that can be avoided by taking a tram whose sole purpose is to save people from this walk.
I remember walking through this area with some people I met at the hostel with beers in our hands. Everyone else in the area was doing it and the cops didn’t seem to mind. They’d walk through the crowd and make sure that people weren’t stabbing each other or selling drugs openly. The drug dealers were usually very aware of the authorities and did their business with discretion and guile. There were several instances where I could’ve purchased some cocaine or ecstasy from a number of different people.
Even at 4AM, the streets are filled with people intoxicated on what Bairro Alto has to offer. Their bloodstream is a cocktail of drugs and alcohol causing stars to appear and judgement to be skewed. Men who have no chance in a sober world are embracing women of unattainable caliber. The uglier women who couldn’t get lucky are chewing on sandwiches and burgers while they’re oblivious to their pretty friends entering a cab with complete strangers. The remaining single men dart around the plaza to interview potential mates for the rest of the morning. After admitting defeat, they return home to sleep and start again tomorrow.
The festivities inside the hostels rival what happens in the streets. I was the only American in a room full of Italian backpackers here to party. Countless bottles of beer were handed to everyone along with joints filled with hash and rolling tobacco. This was the night that I discovered that I had the ability to understand Italian. It must have been a combination of Spanish’s similarity to Italian along with the many hand gestures that were being used. We all got kicked out the next day because we couldn’t keep the noise down.
Ginja was a very common sight of something I have never encountered before. It was displayed in shop windows and people were drinking it in groups in front of a bar that served only Ginja. A cherry based liqueur that tasted similar to cough syrup went great with Coca Cola. At least, that’s how the kids at the hostel were drinking it. The taste wasn’t very appetizing by itself. Yet, at the public Ginja bar, the older Portuguese men drank it in small shot glasses while discussing current events.
Since 2001, Portugal’s drug policy was loosened to the level of decriminalization for amounts of drugs that would be less than a 10 day supply. Legally, these limits were defined by arbitrary amounts decided by government authorities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_Portugal#Amount_limits
On my first full day in Lisbon, I decided to medicate myself at wander the neighborhood streets. In my bag, I smuggled a cookie from a cannabis club in California. This cookie had an extremely high dosage and it was recommended to eat it in pieces. I ate the whole thing and didn’t look back. The streets were lined with exotic pieces of graffiti. The cobble stone streets were surprisingly even and easy to walk on. Some of them were missing but filled in with dirt and dust.
My face had a gigantic smile that I couldn’t hide at that moment. About a week before this, I was walking around Pacific Mexico and now I’m in a completely different part of the world. There was an entire ocean separating me from the life I used to know in California. If some shit went down, and the world completely fell apart, my ass is stuck in Europe. It would be nearly impossible to return to the United States unless for an airplane.
I walked westward until I hit the ocean and passed through this giant archway called the Rua Augusta Arch. This took about an hour to get to and my entire body felt completely numb. My mind was painfully aware that I had an enormous grin on my face but was unable to remove it. The sheer fact that I was only starting my adventure was fixated on my conscious. It made me look like a complete idiot and an easy target.
Normally, I would have my guard up, but today I was feeling great and a little sociable. A tall Middle Eastern man approached me immediately. He was unshaven and wore a faded navy blazer over his thin sweater. The skin on his face was reddened by the sun and was unshaven. This man approached me and held out his hand which contained a small bag filled with what looked like marijuana. His desperation to sell this to me was almost to a state of panic. It’s as if he couldn’t stand still. He told me it was 20 Euros and shoved it into my hands. For that size, I told him that it was worth around 10 and handed it back to him. He said deal for half and proceded to split his bag to give to me. Once I realized what he was doing, I stopped him to take a look at it. It didn’t even smell anything close to shitty Mexican ditch weed that I started smoking in high school. There wasn’t a smell to it at all. Upon closer examination, it wasn’t even what I thought it was. Not wanting to offend the dealer, I told him that I wasn’t interested and walked away. I took a seat looking out at the water (picture above) and looked over my shoulder. The dealer was speaking to another guy and pointing at me.
The new guy came over to me and had a seat next to me. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a piece of hash and asked if I was interested in hash instead. Because of his association with the first guy who just tried to sell me oregano, I was weary of the new one and what he had. I didn’t even bother to examine what he had with him and just refused him flat out. That didn’t stop him at all and he kept talking until I left. Later on, I found out that it’s common for drug dealers to sell false wares to unknowing travelers.
This is an example of some fake hash that I purchased in Bairro Alto district. Another middle eastern man stopped me in the street and offered to sell me some hash. For 5 euros, I purchased it and brought it back to the hostel I was staying at. There were some older guys who were staying there that told me that I just bought poison. It was hash cut with random ingredients like glue and plastic. If smoked, I could’ve gotten really sick. One of them snatched it out of my hand and threw it in the garbage. Before I could get mad, he handed me a joint and told me to try some hash. I did and it was great.
Most of the hash in Lisbon comes over from Morocco due to it’s close proximity. It is easily smuggled through boats over to Portugal’s expansive coast line. Upon examination, you’ll be able to distinctly smell the dank odor of marijuana along with an earthiness. It will be crumbly and gritty while having a bit of flexibility. This is crumbled onto a rolled cigarette or smoked out of a pipe. Any of the bars playing reggae music will be able to guide you towards the right people to purchase hash. Some of them will have patrons smoking it openly while having a drink.
I began the European part of my journey in Lisbon, Portugal. The capitol city of this small coastal nation once conquered the globe and had colonies throughout the world. Now a laid back sovereign nation exporting cork and wine, Lisbon is inhabited by a mixture of European artists and students. My decision to stat with Portugal was because I wanted to work my way east from the most western point of Europe.
The side streets of Lisbon wind through the city in random directions like a maze. If ever disoriented, finding your way back becomes a challenge. Everything looks old and rustic with a friendly nature. As if the citizens tried their best to clean a very old building.
It was pouring rain when I first arrived that night. Being that it was February, it was still very chilly in comparison to my previous destination of Mexico. My Spanish was poor at the time but Portuguese seemed like Chinese to me. Previous to my arrival, I researched the exact directions in order to walk from the airport to the hostel. It was 11km in the rain and wind. Before I left, my mother insisted that I take an umbrella. I remember feeling stupid for resisting my mother’s advice at the time but glad that I accepted her request. By the time I arrived to the hostel, my lower half was completely soaked.
Looking out one of main window of the hostel, you can see the main square where people gathered to socialize in the daytime. I would spend many days here drinking wine with other guests and backpackers while exchanging travel tips and stories.