I’ve had a really nice first few days here in Portugal. Starting out in the city of Porto then heading north for a bit. My idea for this like any country; is to see tourist type things while trying not to be a typical tourist. See if I can get under the skin of this coutry a little. Now a lot of people when I said I would go to Portugal told me that the Algarve is great. Well yes it probably is I can’t really tell without going but for me it does not hold very much of an appeal. To me from the outside (and what I have spoke to Portugese people about) the Algarve is only really interested in one thing which is tourist money and it’s lost some of it’s former charm (or so I am told). The last thing I want when I leave the UK is to feel like I am being put in a place that caters for people who want the UK but with more sun. I actually quite enjoy feeling slightly uncomfortable. I noticed at times during my big trip that if I planned less then I had more opportunity to engage with random moments and over the last few days this has happened with no prior knowledge and very miimal planning. I find these moments incredibly enriching to my life in general and feel slightly blessed to of bumped into them so to speak.
Today was one of those days. I arrived late afternoon in the city of Guimaraes which is known as the birth place of Portugal because it was the birth place of their first king. This city along with it’s rival but very close neighbour of Braga are heavily occupied by a mass of churches and universities alike. Every year in Guimareas they hold a festival for the new starters at the university, think of it as an equivillent of freshers week. I never went to university so I really have no idea what goes on during these weeks but I can tell you that in Portugal it’s a loud, joyful and somewhat crazy affair.
The freshers are involved in a parade through the city the day before study starts. Led by their peers (the students who have been there a year or more already) who wear a traditional medieval feeling clothing they are put to task to do all manner of things. Some make as much noise as physically possible by banging large empty oil drums with big sticks. Others go with a more homemade version wearing long home made chains made from old drinks and food cans. Some stop mid procession to perform several push ups but all seem to have some purpose in common and that is to show devotion I think whatever subject they have chosen to study. It’s probably a really significant fact that they stop outside the churches on their route through the town and shout at the tops of their lungs their devotion (or at least that’s what I think they are doing). By some co-incidence I got to witness this all today with absolutely no idea it was happening, yay for not planning! Of course this should be a moment where we invoke Wikipedia to shed some light on this bizarre and noisy parade called Praxe
Once the main parade is done with the cleanup crew (local city cleaners) do an incredible job of removing any stray tin cans or mass of debris left behind in this ordeal. Within the space of a few hours the city is back to it’s pristene state. I went out and had some yummy dinner then decided to relax and read my book in a local bar before heading back and turning in for the evening. It was in this bar that I got a second dose of chaos as 50+ students arrived at the same bar and then proceeded to order food and drink. Now in the UK this sort of thing would normally make me leave any particular bar but I chose to hang around for a while slowly sipping a beer and continuing to read my book. I find people that have a latin base as a language (Italian, Portugese/Brazillian, Spanish etc) to be loud people. I think it’s something to do with their passion or it could just be me generalising. I am never sure if they like to argue or everything they say is said with such passion that to a very quiet person like myself it just always feells like they are arguing. Over the next hour or so the drink and food flowed out of the door unto the waiting crowd of students outside. I have no idea in all of this how (if at all) the bar staff kept track of who had what because as soon as they finished one order another happened and as far as I witnessed nothing was ever written down.
At times in the bar was madness as students came in to get more drinks and at times invade my personal space. Some people might of been offended by the seeming rudeness of it all but when it’s like this you have to take into account that your in a culture you don’t recognise and just to float along with it or get out. For me it’s an interesting test as I am a quiet and reserved person to get another beer myself was quite something to get the bar staffs attention. I managed to ask politely for another while students around me are speaking loudly and gesturing to one another. This all sounds like complete hell to some of you I am sure and as a mild introvert it does to me too but there is a twist in the tale. Somehow during all this craziness, all the shouting, gesturing and things happening around me I found calm. I think it is because I don’t understand what is happening, don’t feel threatened by what is happening despite having my senses (sight and sound) utterly assaulted. I certainly feel no pressure to be involved and so I happily recluse into my shell and continue to read my book. Is that weird?
It’s at times like this I feel I am probably the most introverted. The chaos happening around me feels like too much to deal with and too much to compete. Sometimes I run away from this sort of thing and at others I just let it happen around me and almost (in my mind) become invisible. There is a little voice in my head that is curious as to what the students were talking about and why they needed to gesture so wildly that it invaded my personal space but another side that is blisfully ignorant and finds the whole situation slightly magical.
I have just (after writing all of the above) learned that last year during this festival six students died. One of which was dragged out to sea by the strong current as they performed some sort of humilating ritual on the beach. I know traditions are supposed to be kept and everything but isn’t this just a little bit far? This is what happens when too much alcohol meets with the need to prove ones self.
Below is a set of photos I took during the day of the rituals