Friday, October 31, 2008

Hannah Brown

Day: 400
Beja to Mertola
Time: 2:39
Distance: 51.6 km
Avg Speed: 19.5 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 37˚ 38’ 20.4”, E 07˚ 39’ 40.8”

We left Beja this morning with a whipping cold tail wind. I guess cold winds aren’t too bad as long as they are behind you. The riding took us from the hill top town, down to the plains and into the rolling woodland and farmland along the Guadiana River. Our riding took us along more cork oak and olive trees as well as several flocks of sheep being tended by their shepherds. The town of Mertola appeared as we rolled over the final hill. We were greeted by more white washed buildings and another castle. Part of the town sits in the walled part of the castle where several museums are situated.
Our little hotel host gave us the low down and told us what museums are the good ones, and that the cheapest museum ticket is a pass that can be bought at the local visitor’s center. We located the visitor’s center and that is where we met George. He recognized our American accents and we recognized his. We chatted briefly and found out that he had sailed his boat up the river and was moored down on the dock. He invited us for drinks at his boat and we agreed to meet later. Leslie and I checked out the castle, which was built on the old Moorish fort and then went onto the Moorish museum and the Roman museum. Mertola’s unique location near the end of the tidal flow of the river and close to farm and mining areas made it an important town on the trade routes. The Romans recognized this first and set up a settlement to take advantage of that strength. The Roman museum is housed in the basement of a municipal building here and the only requisite to see it is to make sure you shut the lights off when you leave. During excavation of the current building, ruins were discovered and instead of moving them, the builders constructed the building around them. We weren’t sure if we were in the right place when all we saw were offices and desks, but we eventually found it. Statues, columns, coins and tools all dating from as far back as the second century AD can be seen there. Very cool.
After some museum walking and a little snack break we headed down to the Hannah Brown docked on the river. George invited us in and showed us around his home for the past 12 years. The sail boat has been all around Europe, the Arctic, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US. He had promised to take us to his favorite bar in town, but once we started talking, we never left his galley/bedroom/living room. He made us a great salad for dinner and we split a couple of bottles great Portuguese red wine. For dessert he busted out some homemade peanut butter spread over dark chocolate squares. The conversation was great and we grilled him with questions about life on a boat. I warned Leslie before we headed down that he was probably going to corrupt us. I was right, he did. Sailing for that long is probably as romantic as bike touring for several years (which he did as well), but once you make a life for yourself you just keep on living it. He is 67 years old and is pretty sure he will keep this way of life for a little while. He did say that he hasn’t been to some of his favorite places in over 20 years so maybe he will store the boat in Europe and go to the US for a year and tour. His company was well timed and we were sad to bid him farewell. We are going to try and meet him at his café in the morning, but if that fails we at least met another soul from the road.
Living the life we made

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