There are ants in the narrow twin bed that I had to share with Bruce last night. It’s just across the way from the other twin that, upon pulling the blankets over my head, I realized would be impossible to sleep in any level of comfort as it reeked of urine from top blanket to bottom mattress. Add that to the shower that Bruce had to manipulate and shove a pen up to get it to work, the Internet that intermittently functions, and the undrinkable water, and we have ourselves another vacation disaster.
We have seen everything on this trip. There are no words that can grasp the character of three-thousand-year-old cobblestone streets of Porto that narrowly wind through hand-built stone houses along a river bank so steep you can’t imagine how a twenty-first century contractor could build something there, let alone pre-Roman indigenous tribes. There will never be an accurate photo or description of the mix of modern and new from the castle top view in Lisbon, where San Francisco’s Golden Gate seems to hover over the widest river one cannot imagine, the sharp turns of cable-car streets buzzing below in yet another city that never sleeps. I cannot gather up in this blog the pain on the face of the singers and dancers in the Sevillan flamenco show, their heavy tap-dancing steps and gyrations, his bloody Spanish guitar fingers imprinted on Mythili’s heart, whose only words were, “That was AMAZING!” And the rock, the most famous rock of all time? Looking out over Africa, Spain, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, the late December sun so hot on our backs we had to shed sweaters as we climbed for the most mesmerizing view of ships that connect the world, carton by carton? I cannot describe it sufficiently here.
Yet, three kids and my cousin in tow, traveling across the Iberian Peninsula in a rented, no-cargo-room minivan, is impossible to complete without challenges. With rented apartments with specific check-in times, forcing us to rush and cut activities short as we move from place to place, the pressure was on. Add in walking up hill for three days (we’re not in Kansas anymore!) to three sets of small legs. We’ve dealt with whining, fighting, complaining, and moaning. The everyday life of parenting.
But toss into the mixture our first apartment in Porto, where the owner did not provide WiFi as promised, our phones didn’t work on any network, and the apartment flooded while the girls were showering, forcing us to spend over an hour mopping up drain water as we had no means of contacting the owner. Moving on to Lisbon, the owner was having a friend meet us. We arrived ten minutes past said time (early for the Portuguese) and rang the bell; no answer. There we stood on the steep funicular street surrounded by luggage our tired girls had just carried up and down hills for five blocks, looking around at passersby shooting out a language that sounded like a mixture of Russian and Italian, but nothing similar to Spanish as I’d hoped and imagined, with no functioning phones.
This is when moments of panic set in. When you look at the members of your family, when your husband and cousin seem as bewildered as you, when your children’s questions are unanswerable, and you have to gather up your courage and seek out a calm and peaceful resolution. These are the moments that aren’t happily posted in Facebook photo descriptions, that can’t be explained easily over the wires back home, the moments that tear us apart and bring us together at the same time.
Yet, it was only a moment. I walked up the hill, heard two British people talking, and asked to use their phone. Within ten minutes, the whole fiasco was resolved, and we were let into the nicest of all our apartments, one with freshly set out towels, homemade Portuguese pastries, bathrobes, and WiFi with an actual router inside the apartment!
The road trip continued. Having paid almost 40€ in tolls between Porto and Lisbon, and having already dealt with one puking incident on the first leg of the trip when we first avoided tolls for a winding, mountainous road, we drugged up the kids with Dramamine and headed for Seville on the back roads. They’re called back roads for a reason, of course. Bumpy, filled with pot holes, and dotted with slow-as-molasses trucks that are often impossible to pass. Bruce asked me to stop for one moment as we came across the toll road, and I almost wish I had given in to whatever its price might be. But it would only save an hour according to Google, and I had already bolted across the grounds of the Monastery of St. Jerome to retrieve the car, wound through the back streets at the edge of Lisbon, filled the car with gas and paid with my last bit of cash when they wouldn’t accept my cousin’s credit card, just to allow for that hour.
That hour was spent standing on the side of the tree-lined road with twenty other cars for a speed trap like I’ve never seen, pulling 300€ more euros out of our rapidly dwindling account (another credit card fiasco), and wishing we’d just given in to whatever the toll master might request. Thank God everyone, including the police officers, speaks English in Portugal (boy am I lucky)!
Then there was Sevilla, the romantic city along the river with the ginormous cathedral, the Plaza de España with its tile intricacies and endless tropical forest of a park, where Riona fell into a duck pond filled with poo, stood like a drenched rat crying at Bruce’s frustration, where we got into an argument over money in front of my cousin, where he walked her back with plans to meet us later only to have every ATM deny him cash, where an ATM literally ate my debit card, and where we had an apartment with one tiny space heater to fill the forty-degree void of freezing tiled floors.
Now our trip comes to a close. Yesterday, as I stood on the Rock of Gibraltar with my family, I ran my fingers through Isabella’s hair, only to discover that the lice we’d worked so hard to rid ourselves of had now spread to her times ten, nits are clinging to all of our roots with the tenacity of devilish temptation, and just like all the disasters of this trip, right down to the ants that are crawling over my legs as I write this, seems to show no sign of ending.
“Isabella,” I asked, tense concern resting on every syllable, “why didn’t you tell me your head was itching?”
“I didn’t want you to cancel our vacation. I wanted to see everything and stay in all these cool places. I didn’t want to miss it.”
One thing we can say, on our latest Vittetoe Adventure, is that we haven’t missed anything–the good, the bad, or the ugly!