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June 28, 2015
It has been a week since we arrived in mainland Portugal. It has struck us that the relations with, and behavior of, officials could be viewed as a measure of the social relations within a country. Once you begin to pay some attention to this, it does not reflect well on the U.S.
In Central America, Panama and Caribbean Mexico, dealing with immigration, customs and port officials was always complicated – until you understood and accepted that the whole process was aimed at extracting as much money from you as practical. Once you paid the various agents, fixers and officials, everything was relatively smooth and painless. It was a straightforward process of poor countries redistributing some wealth to those with a little power.
But in the U.S., as we re-entered the country in Key West and then Miami, officials were, by and large, hostile, arrogant and definitely militarized. Packing big guns, shouting on occasion, threatening various dire consequences – it was not about money, but about the distinct difference between us and them.
The degree to which this state of affairs has become the norm in the U.S. is made more clear when you get to a place like Portugal (including the Azores), where officials are neither armed nor domineering. It has been relaxed and friendly, with a few exceptions where officials seemed exhausted and a little bored.
This low-key attitude is amazingly widespread, so far, in the country. People are easy-going, to the extent that almost every aspect of life seems less tense, less fraught with anxiety, and way less expensive.
Maybe it comes from the tough economic times here – that make it unlikely that anyone is going to get rich quickly. Maybe the absence of big “ambitions” is why the atmosphere is so comfortable. Whatever the reason, it’s making it easy for us to adjust to the idea that we have nothing to do but to learn something about the culture, the food and the wine.
We’re also happy that we’ve been successful in getting some much needed boat items here in Lagos. A replacement for our spare autopilot came in on Friday, and tomorrow we should get delivery of a step-down transformer, to enable us to connect the boat to the 220 volt, 50Hz power available in the marinas in Europe. Not all play and no work, we got some varnishing done, catching up with damage done by the sun over the last few months, and found and fixed an annoying leak from the cockpit into the engine room.
Yesterday Cato and Birgit beat the 100 degree (F) heat by taking a kayak trip into the grottos and sea caves to the west of Lagos. Temperatures will be moderating in another day or two. Whew.
Once we have the transformer in hand, we’ll be ready to move on. Our next stop will be in the river that forms the border between Portugal and Spain, perhaps traveling up that river for 20 miles or so to a small Spanish town established a couple thousand years ago by Greeks trading for the silver produced by Spanish mines. We’ll probably leave Lagos Tuesday or Wednesday evening, for an overnight sail of about 70 miles to the river entrance.
From there we’ll go on to Cadiz, still on the Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar. We’d like to do a little exploring from Cadiz, into the sherry-producing area of Jerez, and then we’ll look for a weather “window” that will enable us to get through the Straits and into the Mediterranean without drama.
This next leg will be our new crew member Cato’s first ocean trip, and we’re all looking forward to getting Serafina sailing again. In the meantime, the beach here is inviting, the crowd pretty evenly split between European tourists and locals enjoying an afternoon in the sun and sea. Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…