Wandering Thoughts

September 8, 2008


Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 4:47 pm
Tags: ,

Ok, so I’m not really up to blogging yet but I thought I’d paste in an exercise from a travel writing course I took once. Just in the name of keeping the blog alive.



With a disgruntled lurch, the mini-van started its journey anew and I was left alone – standing on the edge of Palmeira’s village square, the harmattan catching my hair and tickling it across my face. With it, the wind brought fine desert sand; airborne from the Sahara hundreds of kilometres to the east. And the sand muted what should have been a blue sky to a murky, midday-twilight.

For a while I just stood there, waiting – after a few years roaming I’d learnt that the arrival of a lone tourist with a pile of surfboards usually led to something: a throng of hotel touts; curious children; offers of assistance. Palmeira – however – seemed indifferent. The square was almost empty; quiet except for the impatient rattle of roofing iron and the shish of sand weaving its way over cobblestones. Concrete-box houses lined two of its sides, while the third was occupied by a larger building – a Restaurante according to the sign over its closed front door. Both restaurant and houses had once been painted in pastel colours – pink, yellow, green – that had long-since worn pale. There were no buildings on the fourth side of the square, just two date palms and a view over Palmeira Bay.

Adjacent to the restaurant, looking over the bay, was a bench occupied by three old men – the only Palmeirans in sight. They were facing out to sea; not paying me the least bit of attention. But, with nothing else to do, I chose to watch them; wondering if I ought to ask them where I could stay in the village. I didn’t want to: elderly people always had the strongest accents; hiding recognisable Portuguese words amongst the ebb and flow of their Crioulo. But alternatives seemed scarce. So I watched; pulling my hair out of my face and tucking it behind my ears.

All three men were shoeless and clad in cast-off clothes. The first was wearing worn jeans and an old but clean white shirt. He had short, tightly curled hair and a tidy beard – both greying. His skin, like most Cape Verdians, was the colour of café com laite rather than the charcoal-black of the rest of West Africa. Sitting beside him, the second man was wearing dark green football shorts and a faded tank top. Age had turned his thinning hair rusty-brown but his uncovered arms still curved with the shape of well-defined muscle. The third man was taller and older; his hair straight and wispy. He was wearing trousers and an old suit top with nothing under it; his chest visible between the flapping lapels.

For a while the men were motionless but then, slowly and deliberately, the first man leant over to the second, and bit him on the shoulder. Not aggressively, but strong enough to provoke an Abe Simpsonesque cry of protest: “aaaayyyyeeeee”. Once he’d finished biting, the first man then turned away and sat up straight again, a satisfied grin hovering over his snowy beard. And for a moment things returned to normal; and I wondered if I hadn’t dreamt the vision amongst the midday haze. But then the first man turned and bit again, with the same result – “aaaaayyyyeeeee” – followed by the same almost-wolfish smile.

As the slow motion assault took place, the third man added to the strangeness of the scene by totally ignoring his companions. He didn’t jump; he didn’t flinch. He just kept staring towards the bay. Watching as the same gusts that tugged at his jacket made their way out onto the Atlantic; teasing first ripples and then whitecaps from the silver-green sea.

With one of the three men presumably senile, another potentially mad and the third busy being bitten, I was rapidly letting go of the idea of asking them for directions. Not to mention the fact that I wasn’t so keen on being bitten myself. So it was a relief when the door to the restaurant swung open, releasing the sounds of African reggae, and the promise of lunch and directions.

I put my pack on my shoulders; lifted up my over-weight and awkward bag of surfboards; and set off across the square.

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