I’m sad to report that Jeff and I have divorced and I am now married to a Portuguese corn farmer and living in Northern Portugal with my 5 adorable children. Am I happy? Happiness is a relative term. I’m happy I’m no longer traveling on roads that make the bogs of the west of Ireland look like a motorway. I’m happy I’m out of the car. But let me start at the beginning.
Today I awoke in Oia after a hell-ish night of mosquitos, broken AC, and hotel construction that went on until midnight. I am deadly serious about all of it. Jeff was eaten alive and I am 10 lbs lighter through exactly no effort, except my own sweat yoga and rage. We awoke groggy and grumpy. It would not bode well for things to come. I was up before the sun rose, sitting on the terrace and watching these hearty souls collecting muscles on the rocks as the tide came in. In their wet suits they were cooler than me.
After a breakfast buffet, whose COVID procedures were so extensive we were issued our own personal tongs and serving spoons – I am not kidding – we got on the road. Happy to put the hotel/spa where we were staying behind us. I offered to drive. But we have been on the road for days and our car leaving Valencia was already covered in pandemic dust, having been in our parking garage for 4 month with only a few forays out into the nearby.
The sun on the windshield this morning was blinding and the dirt and bug carcasses of our recent travels made it nearly in navigable. So it was time to find our first car wash since purchasing the car in February. We haven’t had to attend to this particular procedure in Spain so we were both unsure of how it would go. But the man in front of us was sitting on a bench while his car was automatically washed so that tipped us off.
Jeff hopped out and went to the machine. I put the side mirrors in and rolled down my windows in case he had a problem. Mostly, I just heard him talking to the screen. Reading out the menus in Spanish to the machine and then swearing loudly in Ingles. It was super fun to watch in my rear view mirror. It only took coins so he had to come back and open the hatch to retrieve the requisite euros from his back pack in the back. I heard the coins drop and we were good to go. But the machine roared to life when the final coin hit the metal tray so Jeff was stuck sitting on a bench watching me inside the car as the auto wash robot did it’s thing.
When it was all over – with a line of cars behind us – Jeff hopped in and I pushed the button to restart the car. But it wouldn’t start. I tried again and got a message on the dash. After 4 and a half months the key fob battery was dead. I have a spare so I got out and got that from the back and we tried again. But the cryptic message said we need to put it on ‘the plate’ to start the car. But where was ‘the plate’? The manual from the glove box – in Spanish – elicited more swearing from Jeff as we both frantically Googled ‘Key fob plate’ as the car washing rage built behind us.
I put my good key on every surface I could see. Nothing. We began opening all the compartments and holding the key up and trying to start the car. Nope. I’m very sure we looked like complete idiots to all those behind us. Finally, Jeff put on his new glasses and saw a weird symbol in the center console against one wall. We pressed the key to that and pushed the button. Voila! It worked. Thank God. We waved at our furious car washers waiting in the line that snaked down the street and quickly exited the area so as not to incur any more of their wrath. Then Jeff input our destination into the car’s GPS and we headed out to cross the border.
We knew where we wanted to go – we had an address – and we had plenty of time. But the GPS pulled an ‘Ireland’ on us and began routing us through a series of maneuvers that can only be achieved if you have the ‘Avoid Everything except Ferries and roads piled with manure smells’ box checked. It tried to take us to the 5 car ferry on the Mino River that creates the border between Spain and Portugal. But I was on to that trick and kept going to a bridge that crossed the river 15 minutes further on. It worked just fine. But that car wash thing where the ignition wouldn’t work without the plate thing had done something to the navigation settings. It would only get worse from there.
We drove down an ‘A’ motorway. That was fine. Then were directed off and onto a small road with stone walls on each side and a cobbled street surface that made both our cheeks shake like blood hounds. I’ve experienced this before so I promptly stopped at the first service station and asked Jeff to check the coordinates. He did and assured me we were on the right track. I drove on as my brains were scrambled more than they already are. The manure smells just got more pungent.
I made it to a small village where the GPS directed me to circle the round about – indefinitely. You think I’m kidding. It only took me two go-arounds before I was fed up as I watched a group of old men who were sitting on the steps at the base of the cross in the middle of the round about watch me go by for the second time. I waved and then came to a stop. One of them spoke English and this is where I learned that old men in small villages know infinitely more than the GPS systems of expensive German cars. By orders of magnitude. And the biggest piece of wisdom they possess is that El Corte Ingles never builds large department stores in the the middle of corn fields in freaking Portugal! Good info to have. And this is why I’m now married to a corn farmer in Portugal and why I have no idea where Jeff is and how he’s faring trying to get out of said corn field, because I am fed up!
We were attempting to get to Central Portugal to make an offer on a house – the house I fell in love with only a few days ago. But the Germans weren’t allowing us to get there. It was like WWII all over again! P.S I adore the Germans – Peter and Martina this means you.
At long last – after some harsh words (not just from me) we made it to the A17. But that’s where the tolls took their toll. The GPS began to work her black magic again, and in a decidedly British voice that liked pronouncing the city of Porto as ‘Portoooo’ told me to ‘Stay to the left’ when staying to the left meant I was going through a toll booth in the lanes reserved for the Via Verde automatic pass which I don’t have. Or ‘Stay to the right’ when doing so meant we didn’t go through the ‘foreigner’ area so that our next 10 electronic radar tolls were not exactly kosher. So I’m pretty sure I’m a fugitive from Portuguese toll-justice and I don’t even own a house here yet. I can’t wait to try to register my car or swap out my driving license. I’ll have to contact a lawyer in the nearest city, in advance to let them know to be prepared with bail money because I’l be taken to jail the moment I enter the Portuguese equivalent of the Jefatura de traffico.
We made it to our hotel after more GPS nonsense. Jeff says Garmin has a GPS that has the voice of Samuel L Jackson as an option. I’d rather have him yell at me all day than the polite British woman who lied to me for hours on end and apologized to me for every ‘wrong turn’ I made. Jeff is taking a nap from the day’s excitement. I’m just hoping the police don’t come knocking on our door as I lay here dreaming of the simple life of being the wife of a Portuguese corn farmer. Right now that sounds pretty good.