16th November 2020
Penha d’Aguia, Portugal – Alouctim, Portugal
Sensory deprivation, scary monster size bugs, sensory overload, officialdom. These are not the subjects of a dystopian novel or the subjects of a horror movie. They’re exactly what we’ve experienced as we ventured far inland into the back and beyond and then into foreboding official ‘systems’.
Sleeping far up river, far from civilisation, came easy. The sky was as black as soot, the hills so quiet that only crickets could be heard, and the air so still that the crickets were answering their own echo’s across the valley. We were however going to hear much more from those crickets.
Venturing ashore the only things that stirred were flying and jumping critters. The crickets that had made themselves known during the night hopped about the tracks and around our feet totally unphased by our presence and bugs the size of birds owned the air like the RAF. Things this big and prolific could only survive where the air is clean, the living is good and prey is plentiful
Wandering the hills, the only sign of man was in the thoroughbred breeding of the horses that walked the hillsides where they fostered their young. Even the mobile phone’s with their lack of signal showed that we were far from civilisation and from hustle and bustle.
Ruffian’s keel and our fear, had stopped us venturing further upriver to the ancient fortified city of Mertola, but Brock had none of these encumbrances and also had the added benefit of a big noisy powerful engine. Rounding bends and skirting debris there was still no sign on man and then finally the city was upon us, over us and dominating us. The fort’s walls loomed menacingly and we could almost feel the archers in the turrets, the swordsmen waiting behind heavy doors and the footmen poised at the overhead murder-holes.
On closer inspection we weren’t looking at a single castle we were looking at castles, built upon castles, built upon castles. Roman mosaics poked out under medieval walls, which themselves supported Christian baptism fonts and all surrounded by burials from every age. Our senses were being overloaded everywhere we looked and things got even more historic leaving the castle.
Churches which looked Christian were entered through doors of Moorish heritage. The Mosques whose turrets would have echoed the call of the Koran were disguised as chimneys. All this just showed the mixed history of the place where apparently ‘People co-exited happily, until the introduction of the Christian crusaders.’
Our time away from civilisation couldn’t last as we had a very important appointment with officialdom. Due to the chaos and short-sightedness of the Brexit situation (Iain now gets off his soapbox) we’re applying for residency in Portugal. The first stage of this is getting on the Portuguese ‘radar’ and that’s done by getting an official tax number. Having dealt with the UK HMRC we expected to be greeted by chaos, a total lack of ownership and a system where no two people ever talk to each other or even acknowledge the existence one another in the system.
At the appointed hour we knocked on the heavy doors that protected the inner tax sanctum and as it creaked open a scene of pure efficiency unfolded in front of us. Documents were processed, computers taped in earnest, printers spat out documents and then magically our official numbers were issued. The Portuguese system made HMRC look like they were working with pen and paper where the paper is wet, the ink invisible and the author illiterate. Well done Portugal.
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