My CouchSurfing host in Lisbon was Teresa, a sweet, generous woman who as a child would smash flies on the wall in the shape of a map of Europe while waiting for the adults to finish eating dinner. Who as a teenager made bets with her friends to see who could seduce the most men in 15 minutes. Who in her twenties formed, along with the offspring of several other well-respected local families, an organized band of thieves to steal from high-end boutiques in northern Portugal. Who now, middle-aged, is a professor of art history and children’s literature and a volunteer with amnesty international, and has in the past few months accidentally tricked all the local fado singers into thinking she’s a TV producer. Exploring the traditional music scene with her and the eight(!) other CouchSurfers she was hosting at the same time, we had the best seats in the house, every night.
From Lisbon I took the train to the southern coast of Algarve, making my way to Salema where I arrived at 9:00 pm and found a house with a “Quartos” sign in the window, indicating that it had a room for rent. The owner was a couple in their 60s, and I stayed there for 15 euros per night (haggled down from 25). The man, Didier, a French street performer, let me play his guitar and sing on the ocean-view balcony for a few minutes, during which a small group of people stopped to listen and take my picture. The next day Didier took me to Lagos (the larger tourist town about 20 kilometers away) and he showed me the way he plays a few songs to dining tourists seated at terraces before approaching them with his collections cup for donations. Uncomfortable with that specific approach, I borrowed his guitar to play a few songs while seated on the sidewalk, hat out in front of me for passive collections, and made over 6 euros in 20 minutes.
As I ended my short debut performance, Johnny and Lewis, two vacationing Scottish guys around my age, befriended me and bought us round after round after round of whiskey drinks in the afternoon Portuguese sun. We spoke fervently about topics ranging from indie rock to business to how to pronounce “Ediburgh,” and several times I rescued Johnny’s cellphone from his spill-prone gesticulations. Eventually he fell asleep at our table, and after Lewis and I revived him I took the last bus back to Salema, not realizing until the next morning that I’d accidentally taken Johnny’s phone with me.
A couple of days later I went back to Lagos to buy a ukulele and return Johnny’s phone. Trying my hand again at street performance, I made about 30 euros per hour playing the uke and singing under the shade of beachfront palm trees. I didn’t realize until I’d been playing for over an hour that my new instrument had been tearing up my fingers, splattering little red dots of blood all over the inside. I bought picks after that.
Note: The first third of the pictures below will appear strange on some monitors — larger than normal, stretched and cropped oddly. Sorry for that. They should all be correctly viewable if you click through to see the full image, though.