I spent a few very enjoyable days in Salvador, including changing host on the Monday after 2 days with Axl. I moved further out of town, close to the airport, to the house of Pablo. Pablo was Axl’s polar opposite, with an infectiously positive attitude that made good things happen to him all the time.
We went out to the beach and on the way back stopped at a shop to show me some local snacks. While there Pablo saw a bird in a small cage, and inquired about buying it because he thought it wasn’t fair that the cage was so small. The guy in the shop wasn’t too keen to sell, and we bought some small things and left. Then Pablo, decided to go back in to ask about coconuts (he wanted to know if they could be frozen) and while inside asked about the bird again. Having been assured that coconuts actually are better when frozen, he decided to buy them, but when he got to paying for them, another customer (who had heard him talking about the bird) wanted to buy them for him because of what he had been saying about the bird.
I went out for carnival for a second night, again with a Couchsurfer I’d met a Axl’s place. Hyeonjung, a Korean girl, has been on the road for about 6 months on this trip which has seen her fly to lots of places – including Sochi for the Olympics. Salvador was her first place in Latin America, and it was lovely to see that positivity for the distinct way things are in Latin America. For her, Salvador isn’t just another colonial city, it’s the first one. Lucky!
In the rain
Getting to Lisbon
Most businesses in Salvador had been closed for carnival, meaning no way to get a bike box. I’d figured that when Thursday, the first day after carnival, came around I would be able to pick one up. There were a couple of bike shop near Pablo’s place, but neither they nor any of the electronics shops had anything. I had read about people going with the minimal approach to bike packing, and the TAP policy does say that it only needs to have pedals taken off and the handlebars rotated to 90 degrees, so I decided to go with that option.
As well as the bike, I had the issue of my bags. Being allowed 2 bags (of which my bike would thankfully be classed as one) didn’t really work with my panniers. People talk about big grocery bags, and then stuffing that with panniers, but I’d not really found one (due to minimal looking) and so I decided I would just use a cardboard box. Pablo had been given one full of engineering textbooks and it was the perfect size to store all my things. That just left me with having to get the 8 km to the airport.
I picked up plastic wrap, a pack of 100L bin bags and a couple of rolls of duct tape as a backup option in case I had problems with TAP changing their mind, and started tying the box to the back of my bike with a combination of bungee cords and some straps. It seemed a bit wobbly, but I started riding. It was wobbly. The only way it would stay there was if I rode one-handed with my right hand holding the box. That, combined with traffic and a very bumpy road surface made for an interesting experience. I got about 1 km before realising that there must be a better option.
Instead of standing it vertically, I figured I could lie it down. That’d surely help. It didn’t. I spent 5-10 minutes re-adjusting everything and got less than 1 km down the road before it fell off. Thankfully there wasn’t too much traffic, so nothing got run over.
The third attempt was still laid down, but using a new strap system with less reliance on bungee cords. I tried to take a picture, but my camera, which is giving me more frequent messages like LENS ERROR, developed a new one as it told me CARD ERROR. Lovely. I wasn’t late, but I had more important things to do than try to work that out to take a picture. The third way of strapping it down worked really well, and I managed to go the last 6km without a hitch and without having to hold the box.
Now it was just time to get the box packed and my bike accepted. After a bit of confusion due to a lack of signage, I got to check-in. I left my bike and boxed stuff against a wall nearby and waited. When I got to the front of the queue and was asked about my luggage, I pointed. The immediate reaction being, where’s the bicycle box? I was then bounced around a few people until I made it to the main TAP desk. They seemed not to want to speak anything but Portuguese, but at least I got them to slow down. I explained that the website had told me I just needed to remove the pedals and rotate the handlebars, and a later phone call to TAP customer service had confirmed that, so that’s what I had done.
The main lady was called Ivana, and she popped in and out of the office a few times. She seemed rather insistent about the box, or at least wrapping the bike at the suitcase-wrap people, but they wouldn’t wrap it (and I’d have been reticent to pay). After a while I eventually got her to explain to me what exactly the issue she had with my bike was, and it was that the handlebars weren’t completely immobile. I said I’d be back in a minute, went and grabbed my packing tape and a strap I use to secure my red dry bag, and then tied up the handlebars so they barely moved. That seemed to be enough, and I was told to go back to check-in.
This time it went smoothly, and my bike and boxed panniers were both accepted. I went through security, and at immigration (where I’d been slightly nervous about a lack of tourist card which I’d not been given, the equivalenet of the I-94 in the US) I met a guy who was more interested in talking about learning English and my Portuguese than immigration. There was a long line, but we spoke for the best part of five minutes before he finally told me I could continue. Then it was just sitting around waiting for the flight.
The flight was without issue. When I first boarded, I was sat in my assigned seat, next to a larger guy who was encroaching into my seat. He didn’t say hello, or make any other sign of being aware that I’d arrived. I spotted what looked like an empty emergency row seat, and after asking the stewardess, who told me I could sit wherever I liked, I scooted down the plane before anyone else could grab it. I was happy with my upgrade, and slept on and off for nearly the whole flight.
Arriving In Lisbon
Even though we’d left a bit late, the gulf stream must have given us a bit of a push because we arrived maybe 20 minutes early. I was one of the last off the plane being in absolutely no rush. We’d touched down before 11am, and my host (who lives about 5km from the airport) wouldn’t be available until 6pm. I also wanted to watch my bike and box coming off the plane, which I kind of managed but a bored security guy was making sure I knew that I couldn’t hang out there.
Even though I’ve been on a few planes in the last years, it was the first time I got to scan my passport and go through immigration without talking to anyone – a fantastic improvement! Most of the people on the plane were Brazilians, so had to line up, as the automatic option was only available to Europeans with some chip in their passports aka me. It meant that even with my dawdling I got to the baggage area before most people, and just in time to see both my box and bike arriving on the oversized luggage area. My box was definitely not oversized, so I don’t know if someone just saw that they belonged to the same person, but it definitely made it easy.
I gave my bike a check and it seemed to have survived the trip perfectly. More than can be said for an old cloth strap that I’d used to stop the front wheel rotating under demands from Ivana the night before. Other than that, and the chain having fallen off, it was exactly like I’d given it to them. I think having no transfers probably made it safer, but it definitely seems like the best way to travel with a bike – assuming it’s allowed by the airline.
By the time I’d got everything organised and packed on my bike I was feeling a little sleepy, so went outside – where it was 22c with perfect blue skies – and almost had to put my jacket on before I realised that I’m English and definitely not that soft! I lay around in the sun outside the airport for a while, reading and taking a nap, before I decided to go and do some sightseeing. On the way to the sightseeing I stopped by a European delight – the cheap supermarket that is Lidl – and picked up some delicious rye bread, cheese and ham. Having been limited to pretty plain bread across the Americas I’m definitely going to be doing my best to eat glorious European breads during my time here.
The river Tejo runs along Lisbon so I decided to go for a ride along it and to hang out in the neighbourhood of Marvila that I found on the way. It had a small and very chill park where I read my bike for a while, before a man called Carlos – who had been sat next to me for about 15 minutes – started talking to me about life in Lisbon, my trip and his thoughts of Brazil. He’d travelled there before, but told me he couldn’t live there because of the discrepancy between those who have, and those who don’t, which exists in all countries, but he found (and I agree) to be extreme in Brazil.
Around 6pm I got to the house of my hosts, Tiago and Daniela, and was welcomed in by Tiago. The evening flew by talking about touring (they have Thorn bikes themselves and are planning a big tour starting in 2015) and I’m not sure I could have found better hosts for my welcome back to Europe.