Tuesday, May 18, 2004

PORTUGAL Day02//28.Apr.04 - Faith, Fortune & Fado: Fatima - Cabo da Roca - Cascais

The previous night of rest has fueled everyone's appetite. Everyone ravenously approach the breakfast buffet spread and return to their respective tables with plates of bacon, sausages, rolls and cereal. After wolfing down breakfast, we were ready for the 105km drive up north that will take us to Fatima.

Fatima is a small village with approximately 10,000 inhabitants. However, every May 13 and October 13, thousands would descend upon this quiet village as it is an important pilgrimage site due to the apparition of Virgin Mary that occured from on the 13th of every month for six consecutive months starting from May to October of 1917. The initial apparition was witnessed by three children and by the last sighting, there were close to 70,000 witnesses.

What we witnessed when we got there was that of devouts walking on their knees round the central square in front of a huge cathedral that was built shortly after the sightings in 1917. This sign of penance was again seen in the Chapel of the Apparitions, which has a single white column marking the spot where a small oak once grew, and where Mary first appeared to the three shepherd children. The oak tree was apparently torn to pieces (as souvenir items) by believers. These days, some believers would instead bring with them candles as long as 4 feet to be burnt as offerings.

As we made our way to the impressive cathedral, we could hear faint melodious hymms from the choir, which resonated clearly by the time we arrived at the heart of the church. We experienced a moment of hushed silence when the priest addressed the mass. As a sign of respect, we dutifully waited for the mass to disperse before touring the church. This church holds the tombs of Jacinta & Francisco, two of the three shepherd children. I am not a Christian, nor a Taoist, and usually proclaim myself an agnostic, but I was so overwhelmed with the faith and devotion that reverberated in the church that I donated a token amount to Jacinta's tomb.

Jacinta died a nun. But it was live nuns that was running the hotel cum restaurant where we had lunch. Lunch was simple yet delicious. Murmurs of approval mingled with the smell of freshly grilled sardines, roasted potatoes and fresh garden salad drenched in olive oil. Stomachs full and lulled by the engine of the bus, most of us slept all the way to our next destination - Cabo da Roca.

Cabo da Roca has the distinction of being the most western tip of continental Europe (i.e. not including the UK). It faces the Atlantic sea, beyond that, the Americas. Cabo da Roca is a few hundred metres above sea level. As we meandered uphill, we ooh-ed and aah-ed over the bright wildflowers, blue horizon, green valleys and hillside bungalows that were within vista. Strong gusts of wind tangled my hair and threatened to blow mom's hat away. But the view of the ragged cliffs and white-washed lighthouse, and to be at the very tip of Europe was worth it. From where we were, it was a 485 feet drop to the turbulent Altantic ocean.

We came back down to sea level and took a coastal drive up to Cascais. Touted as Portugal's version of the Riviera and playground for the rich, that soon became apparent with the appearance of beachfront bungalows, dock-filled yachts and the Estoril Casino. While the rest traded money for a shot at instant fortune, parents and I took a leisurely stroll along the beach.

Lisbon beckoned for dinner and we had to adhere to schedule so as not to miss our after dinner Fado show. Fado is a traditional Portugese singing of wistful, melancholy tunes. It is usually done solo accompanied by guitars. The richly-tiled restaurant had bowls of jumbo peanuts, pretzels, and biccies for us to snack on while enjoying the performance. As the evening progressed with performances from Fado singers and castanets-aided dancers, the waiters made sure that our wine glasses were religiously topped up with more porto wine.

It was the porto wine which made dad squeal with glee as our Schumacher wannabe taxi driver took us to Lisbon's biggest shopping complex after the Fado show. The Colombo complex closes at 12am and we had around and hour to shop. We spent all our time at the supermarket that has 100 cashier counters! After paying for our purchases, we took our goods and weary legs back to the hotel.


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