“Halloween on Haunted Hill”
Dutch and I patiently waited three days for a ride. We tried hitching during the day and slept at night on the bank of Rio Caia a river that served as a natural border between Portugal and Spain. We set up our camp in a grove of trees that sheltered us from view allowing us to bathe in the cold river and smoke hash in relative privacy. Looking across the river at Spain I felt like we just escaped from an unthinkable fate. At last a middle aged couple from England gave us a ride all the way to Lisbon. In our conversations with them we learned that the Portuguese government was basically a right wing military dictatorship. Shit! Did we just jump from the frying pan into the fire?! The good news was that their economy was tenuous at best and the government eagerly welcomed foreign currency (especially the US dollar) and didn’t care who was bringing it in, even financially handicapped hippies. Whew, that tidbit of information helped to quell our cause for concern, nevertheless we would have to make an earnest effort to maintain a low profile and keep ourselves under the radar. Everything would be copasetic, right? Our British couple gave us another valuable tidbit of information. There was a state park on the top of a hill overlooking Lisbon. For a dollar per day camping fee we would have access to such amenities as clean bathrooms, showers and a laundry room. We were sold! Why, they even drove us up to the park entrance. As we shook their hands and thanked them, they gave us a parting shot. “We should warn you lads that this hill has a reputation of being haunted”. Broadcasting slightly mischievous grins they parted with, “Happy Halloween, boys”! They then sped off in a cloud of mystery. Dutch and I looked at each other with wide eyes. I’m thinking of the 1959 horror classic “House on Haunted Hill” staring Vincent Price. This would be a perfect scenario for a low budget “B” movie titled; “Halloween Night on Haunted Hill”. Halloween! We had totally lost track of the days and forgot about Halloween. Undaunted by the prospect of spending a night on a haunted hill, we paid our fee and found a cozy little space near a fire pit and unfurled our sleeping bags. We were soon joined by a handful of other hardy campers. One industrious fellow brought logs and started a camp fire. We huddled around the fire exchanging pleasantries and a couple bowls of hash. It was getting dark and the cold finger tips of winter could be felt creeping over the hill and settling on the camp. It was time to crawl into our bags and keep warm. As I got up I noticed an array of green and gold eyes darting about in the forested woods surrounding the camp. What the Hell is this? I could feel the hair on my neck raise. I retrieved a flashlight from my back pack and cautiously approached the scores of eyes reflecting the now dwindling fire. When I turned the flashlight on I could see the figures behind the eyes. Dozens of feral cats quickly scrambled into the shadows of the forest. Cats! But, they were all black! The hair on my neck stiffened into porcupine quills. The ambiguous warning from the British couple about this hill suddenly became an ominous prophecy. I slipped into my bag and tried to sleep while thinking of Vincent Price. Just around midnight I woke up to the pitter pater of rain drops starting to fall. Shit! I sprang out of my bag, gathered my belongings and ran for the nearest shelter, the laundry room. Dutch tumbled in right after me. We were the only campers without tents; oh we did have cheap plastic tube tents which were already ripped and torn and claustrophobic. I think we discarded them somewhere in Spain. Anyway, we were two hapless hobos standing in a cold and uninviting laundry room. We made a quick and desperate decision. There were trailer houses scattered around the camp site that were summer vacation rentals. We made a dash to the nearest group of small two people sized trailers. Damn it to Hell! The door was locked and the rain was starting to pour. I had to resort to breaking and entering. My, what a charming little living space. It had a small camping stove, table and chairs, but best of all a bed! I could actually unzip my mummy bag all the way down and use it as a blanket instead of as a cocoon. Before hopping in bed I opened a curtain for a little light and to be able to watch the rain but was instantly frozen by a paralyzing blend of terror and awe. An apparition appeared just a few feet from the window. I can only describe it as a human form delicately draped with transparent moon blue silk. It floated like ethereal seaweed swaying in a gentle current. It hovered for a few seconds peering in at me. In a blink of an eye it passed through the trailer wall and right through me. Oh my God, it felt like I was having a blood transfusion with liquid nitrogen! After a few frozen seconds I thawed out and could move again. Despite or maybe because of my close and terrifying encounter with a paranormal entity, I experienced an indescribable euphoria. With a mixture of dread and hopeful anticipation, I slowly turned to see if it was still present. It had disappeared. I let out a giant gasp of relief yet I felt an almost sorrowful disappointment. I then burrowed under my sleeping bag periodically peeking out longing for another appearance. The morning light erased all hopes of its’ return. I sprang out of the trailer and made a bee line for the shower room. Relishing the simple pleasure of showering, I began to question the authenticity of my midnight encounter. Was it just a hyper realistic dream? I could feel the hot water cascading over me melting the remaining mini ice bergs still floating in my veins. A hard shudder expelled the last of my bone chill. No, I was convinced that it was not a dream. Whatever, this was one Hell of a Halloween night I’ll never forget.
Dutch and I gathered ourselves together and hopped aboard a bus heading down the hill to central Lisbon. Oh my God, Lisbon is not only one of the most beautiful but also one of the oldest cities in Western Europe predating London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. Lisbon’s colonial architecture is so post card perfect it’s almost a cliché. However picturesque the city was its’ inhabitants were very conservative and reserved. They looked at us with a cautious curiosity not quite able to understand or how to react to the likes of us. Another thing I noticed was the absence of our kind. At the time Portugal was not the most popular destination for hippies and it seemed like we were the only ones in the country. Still clinging to the plan of finding a boat we scoured the port and marinas. We did come across an old fishing vessel that was in our price range but was also in a sad state of disrepair and totally unseaworthy. Our dream seemed to be dimming. We were given a little encouragement from a young man who steered us in the direction of Nazare, a small fishing village north of Lisbon. He said fishing boats were scattered all over the beach. Ok then, Nazare it is.
“Strangers in the Hood”
With our spirits rejuvenated we started walking back through the city and stumbled into a very old neighborhood. Two story houses with balconies lined the narrow cobble stone streets. As we entered a quiet murmur cascading down the street quickly became a din. From their balconies little old grandmothers started to yell at us. Mothers would literally herd their children indoors as we approached. Even the men standing around shouted at us. The tone and inflection convinced us that they were not the welcoming committee. As we meekly marched further down the street the balconies filled with onlookers gawking at the spectacle of two Godless hippies parading below them. Women would watch us from behind slightly opened doors and children peeked through windows. It was too late to make a U-turn; we had passed the fail safe point. As we looked behind us the street again filled with its’ inhabitants who were probably thanking God that we, the two “Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, passed through without leaving a trail of famine and pestilence at their door steps. It is probably fortunate that Dutch and I didn’t understand Portuguese or we may have felt insulted or most likely frightened. We hastened our cadence and plowed through the verbal confetti showering down on us. We finally found a main boulevard, hopped on a bus and high tailed it up to the safety of our haunted hill. Well, so much for trying to keep a low profile. As we regrouped in the comfort of our campsite and with a bowl of hash, we sighed, “What the fuck just happened to us down there? In retrospect, I think we were innocent victims of a backlash caused by the infamous Charles Manson and his deranged disciples. The news of their murderous rampage spread around the world putting hippies in a very bad spot light. They no doubt thought we had come into their neighborhood to rape, pillage and plunder. Damn that Manson! Stoned and exhausted from the grueling day we retired as the lights of Lisbon burned brightly far below us. It was kind of like the Peter Pan ride in Disney Land. The next morning we packed it up for the bus ride to Nazare.
Again, I’ll have to say “OMG”! Established in the fourth century, Nazare is one of those special spots on this planet. The old section is perched on towering cliffs overlooking the Atlantic to the north and a southern view of a sheltered beach three or four hundred feet below. The sheer cliffs served as a natural fortress from invading marauders. From our lofty position we could see dozens of beached fishing boats. The only two accesses down to the beach were steep stairs carved into the cliff wall or an antiquated tram. We chose the tram. Upon closer inspection the brightly painted boats were not what we had in mind. They were basically large row boats made for short sprints out into the open ocean. We didn’t let disappointment put a damper on our spirits. Nazare was such a magical place we decided to stay for a while. We homesteaded at the base of a sea wall protecting the fishing village behind it. We settled into a daily routine of waking up at the crack of dawn, light a bowl of hash and watch the local fishermen harness oxen to their boats and drag them to the shoreline. We waited until the fishing fleet disappeared into the Atlantic’s horizon. Now it was time for a nap until mid-morning. Another bowl full gave us the impetus to tram it up to town. We found a little restaurant that catered to our standards, inexpensive but very good. An added attraction was a young waiter who spoke English. Portuguese is a difficult language to comprehend so we welcomed the opportunity for translation. With our bellies full we would walk around the town and wind up at our favorite afternoon perch; sitting on the stone wall of the lighthouse and sneaking in a quick bowl full. From this vantage point we could see the sheltered beach far below and to the north watch the monstrous forty to fifty foot waves come in and pound the cliff face. I heard that the winter waves could get to twice that size, a surfer’s wet dream. Anyway, we could feel the power of the Atlantic as the waves slammed into the vertical cliffs. The earth shook with resisting convulsions. The waves would hit and send a wall of water up the cliff face creating a spectacular show and showering us with a fine salty spray. We sat there for hours in a state of total content. I can’t imagine what the locals thought about two hippies sitting in an obvious trance. As the sun started its’ decent we climbed down from the wall and patronized our favorite restaurant and chat with our favorite waiter, Joaquin. The next activity on our itinerary was to repel down the steep stairs to the beach just in time for the sunset and the return of the fishermen. The homecoming became a family affair; the wives and children would meet their men and retrieve the catch of the day and carry it back to the village. The men would reattach their beast of burden and drag their boats back to their proper places. The boats were then turned over to dry out for the evening. After the nets were untangled and spread out the men quickly left the beach for their homes behind the sea wall. Dutch and I would light up an evening pipe, snuggle into our bags and sleep under a sky festooned with stars. One night we woke up to the sound of rolling thunder and then the first raindrops began to fall on us. We had nowhere to hide from the storm that was now upon us. We made the most logical and desperate decision; we sought shelter under the nearby overturned fishing boats. A perfect fit, ignoring the fishy smell it was dry with plenty of leg room. The heavy rain pelting the hull produced a rhythm that lulled me into a deep sleep. The last thing I remember thinking before passing out was that the storm was shedding its’ tears of joy in the form of melodious rain drops. I was abruptly awakened by the clamor of men surrounding the boat I was under. With a coordinated effort they heaved the boat over and screamed like little girls upon finding me. As they stood staring in disbelief a frightened scream came from the boat next to mine. Ah, Dutch had just been discovered. All I could do was to sheepishly grin and say, “Bom Dia” (good morning). The fishermen broke out into an uproarious laughing spell and became quite animated. I had no idea what they were saying but it seemed jovial. I think they may have been ribbing each other about who was the most frightened and who screamed the loudest. A crusty old fisherman extended his hand to help me up out of my bag, patted me on my back and then joined in with hitching up the oxen. As the boats were being hauled back to the shoreline the crew turned to us and still laughing waved good bye. We retreated to our little safe turf at the wall and completed our morning ritual with a bowl. As we got off the tram people we passed by would smile broadly and cheerfully greet us with a “Bom Dia”! Perplexed by this sudden attention we ducked into our favorite restaurant. Joaquin approached us and said, “You must be the two guys that the fishermen found under their boats”. Guilty as charged. “The whole town is talking about you two”! Word of our antics had spread quickly. “You guys caused quite a stir on the beach today”, he added. Just great! Once again we failed to keep a low profile, our cover was blown. The citizens of Nazare now knew us as the village jesters. We jumped on the very next bus back to Lisbon.
The bus ride gave us a chance to reconnoiter our present situation. Winter was rapidly encroaching and our plan for a boat was dissolving as was our financial holdings. Dutch suddenly blurted out a practical solution, “Let’s head south and blow our wad in Morocco”! Brilliant! I whole heartedly endorsed his idea. There was one major obstacle we had to circumvent. The Moroccan government was desperately trying to dissuade hippies and their ilk from pouring into their country. At the main point of entry, a short ferry ride from Tarifa, Spain crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, hippies were being turned back in droves unless they had a substantial amount of money on hand to sustain themselves and were willing to cut their hair. Well, we probably didn’t have the required cash for entry nor were we willing to cut our hair. We heard of a little known back door way of gaining entry without the harsh restrictions. There would be little if no hassle if you flew into Marrakesh from the Canary Islands. The logic was if you could afford a plane ticket you had money. It was worth a try.
Upon arriving in Lisbon we went immediately to the university and checked the public bulletin board for a listing of available rides. We found one that was going all the way down to Cadiz, exactly where we wanted to go. Cadiz was where we would hop aboard a ship to the Canary Islands and then catch a flight to Marrakesh. We scribbled our names on the signup sheet. The ride wouldn’t be leaving until eight that evening so we had a few hours to kill. We passed the time in the cafeteria snacking and ogling the cute coeds. A young student approached and asked if he could sit with us. He engaged us in a lively conservation about politics and world events. After sizing Dutch and me up he invited us up to his dorm room. His room was filled with students all in a state of high anxiety. A poster of Che Guevara was properly displayed on a wall along with Jimmy Hendrix. When the students realized we were Americans they started to speak in English. The air was heavy with anti-government sentiments. Dutch and I shared the last of our hash with our new friends. The discourse quickly became a heated condemnation of Portuguese politics. Looks like we just fell into a den of dissidents; a kind of dangerous place to be in considering the less than sympathetic military police force. Dutch and I were just getting into the spirit of the moment when we realized it was approaching eight. We had to meet with our ride. Damn it! I was grooving on some good vibes coming from a little and foxy Portuguese co-ed. As we started to leave our host jumped up and asked us to stick around. “There is going to be some fireworks tonight”, he whispered. “We are going to bomb the secret police headquarters and the docks where army troops are being shipped out to a supposedly secret war in Western Africa”. Portugal was embroiled in a military conflict over disputed territory and with a rebellious colony seeking independence; a classic case of evil imperialism and its’ wicked cousin, colonialism. I apologized, “Sounds like a lot of fun, but we really can’t miss this ride”. He understood, shook our hands and wished us safe passage. We ran down stairs and met with our ride connection. Dutch and I plus two hippies from the states and a young Canadian couple would be sharing a space in a VW bus. We climbed in and made ourselves comfortable for the long ride to Cadiz. As we left Lisbon I started to mull over what our Portuguese rebel rouser had intimated to us. If his claim was legitimate why would he disclose their plans to us, two total strangers. Nah, I wasn’t buying it. He must have been trying to impress us with bravado. We drove all night and arrived at the Spanish border early in the morning. The border was teeming with police. What the hell? Everyone on the bus was separated and subjected to a thorough search and a terse interrogation. The police wanted to know where we were last night around one in the morning. We corroborated each other with the truth, “We had been on the road from Lisbon since eight. The police scrutinized our passports and compared them to some pictures they were holding. They finally shrugged their shoulders and told us to leave. As we repacked our belongings we caught the buzz circulating around the customs office. Lisbon had been rocked by powerful explosions in the exact locations that we were informed about. Several people were severely injured and one fatally. Holy fucking shit! Stunned, Dutch and I looked at each other with our eyes popping out of their sockets. Holy fucking shit! We had been befriended by and mingled with bonafide bombers. We ever so lightly slipped out of the customs trying not to expose our guilt by association. We cowered in the bus until the driver sped away. Dutch and I made a quiet gesture of zipping our lips, a nonverbal agreement to never speak of this incident to anyone.
Here is Nazare. The old portion is on top of the cliff. We may
have slept under one of these boats in the picture.