Our slightly inland route westwards across northern Spain was quite spectacular, bringing us up, down, and along beautiful mountain valleys, and on occasion, past what must be some of the largest open-cast coal mines in Europe. My standard of living increased dramatically as 1-star hostals became the norm, although we'd probably have ended up as frozen corpses on a couple of occasions had we been testing the limits of our lightweight sleeping bags inside our tents. Santiago de Compostela marked the end of Kirsty's cycling foray, and she began the return pilgrimmage to Edinburgh by train and boat, while I continued south to Portugal.
In the six days it took to ride down the Portuguese coast to Lisbon, one of the stops I made was in the northern city of Porto. I was staying in a hostel there one night, having locked the door to the dormitory since it was after midnight and I had presumed that no one else was going to be turning up. I'd just fallen asleep when there was banging on the door. Bruno was from a small town on the opposite side of the country, near the Spanish border, and he entered the room with gusto, turning on lights, appearing in no way apologetic to have roused me from my much needed beauty sleep, and he proceeded into a one-way conversation at full throttle. He immediately started to warn me of the dangers that the unwary visitor faced in Porto and advised me to leave nothing on display as only last night had he had a pair of shorts and a t-shirt stolen. I cast my eye dubiously over my own scattered belongings and thought it highly unlikely that some drug crazed FC Porto fan was going to run away with my Borat-style padded lycra shorts. "One can only hope" I muttered, trying to feign tiredness and irritation at having been woken up so abruptly. Despite my attempted indifference, Bruno's life story unravelled before me - his exchange year in Poland, finding work in Portugal as a fledgling civil engineer, his country town, and his father's recurring nightmares. When he mentioned that the source of the nightmares was as a result of his father's experiences as a soldier in the Portuguese colonial army in Guinea Bissau, I became more engaged. One of the last imperial powers to release its African colonies (present day Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Guinea Bissau), I was interested to hear a Portuguese perspective on their colonial adventure. Independence for the colonies only occured after Portugal's own liberation from the dictatorship of Salazar in the early 1970s. Bruno hoped to work in Angola in a year or two as a civil engineer, but he had clearly inherited a depressing and skewed historical perspective. Regarded by many as one of the more brutal and destructive imperial powers, particularly in the period just prior to their departure, Bruno had apparently absorbed the colonial baggage as he said that the collapse and failure of the infrastracture and newly independent nations was clear evidence that the Africans did not know how to govern or main the infrastructure in their countries. Too tired to argue the point, I rolled over and went back to sleep.