A few weeks ago I began to get bored with my normal travel routine. Bus-plane-hostel-tram-tour-plane was beginning to get tedious and a little too comfortable. I was seeing quite a bit, but felt like an important cultural element of my traveling was lacking. On the first day I met Ilmer, he told me of his plans to hitchhike around the world in a year, and right then I knew we would be great friends.

Tuesday was a public holiday and Ilmer didn´t have to work, so we decided to check out a natural park nearby and try our hand, or rather thumbs at hitchhiking. We took the train from Lisbon to Setúbal, and steaked out a promising spot along the road leading into the park for our hitchhiking endeavors.

We stood on the corner for 40 minutes with our two fold "Arrábida," sign watching car after car passby, I was beginning to get impatient. Ilmer said that if you juggle flaming batons or you write something like, "I don´t smell" or "it´s my birthday" on the sign, your chances of getting picked up increase. They all sounded great to me, I was willing to do anything at this point, so while we were pondering which of these options would be most suitable, a black Kia mini van pulled over. A woman jumped out of the passenger side and opened the sliding door for us.

Our two hosts, Luis and Maria, turned out to be a Portaguese/Italian couple who frequently moved between the two countries, and had just bought a home in Setúbal. They were headed to the beach for a day of fishing when Luis spotted us and insisted on stopping despite his wife´s protests.

We were expecting a short ride into the park, but Luis insisted on giving us a full tour. We stopped at a beach to take some pictures, and Luis decided that we would all have a nice clam and wine lunch and get to know eachother. We were impressed by such a kind gesture, and decided to go along with it.

The conversation began normally with small talk of where we were from and what we were doing in Portugal.
Ilmer told Luis about his life growing up in the Netherlands and Portugal, and Luis automatically assumed I was German...that is until he tried to speak to me in German and I stared at him dumbfounded and explained that I was from the United States.

At that point, Luis quickly changed the conversation, stating that he would rename Ilmer "Marco" because that was much easier to remember, and I would be called "Hamer" the (according to him) Turkish version of my name. He went on to insist that I must have some Turkish ancestry because my hair color was very Turkish. I decided it was better to let that one slide, he did buy us lunch and give us a tour of the park, so letting him pick our names was the least we could do.

We continued to eat and learned about Luis´ job for Coca Cola working in the bottling plants and traveling all over the world. He told us about living in Venezuela, the beaches in Thailand and his sword collection from Yemen. Finally, he started a side conversation with Maria in Italian and looked at us with an embrassed smile explaining that him and Maria had agreed to invite us to their house for dinner.

The adventure had been pretty interesting so far, and we decided it could only get better, so we agreed. They took us to the grocery store, handed us a basket and said we could pick out anything in the store for dinner. Ilmer and I had no idea what to do. We had never been in such an interesting social situation and weren´t sure how to politely do grocery shopping for someone else. Since Luis was obsessed with fish, we insisted that he pick out his favorite catch.

On our drive back to Luis and Maria´s place, things got a little more interesting. Luis started to explain that fishing was taken very seriously, and how it was common for fishermen to kill other fishermen in order to get the perfect spot. Luis continued on, "I´m not sure if you noticed, but in my right pocket I have my cellphone, and I also have something else...it is very important to protect myeslf."

Ilmer and I glance at eachother, a mixture of concern and fear on our faces as we think, "Oh, shoot he has a gun! What did we just get ourselves into?" We immedietly start regretting our decision to agree to dinner. Our minds are racing, should we think of a good excuse to leave, or we could always just open the van door and jump out. I considered several possible excape scenarios, all preposterous and sure to be awkward, but eventually convinced myself that Luis seemed like a nice enough guy, he would surely mean us no harm, right?

It turned out to be a good decesion, because it wasn´t a gun afterall! At dinner Luis withdrew a pocketknife from his right pocket and began to cut his fish. He was very proud of the tool and explained how he bought it for 1000 Euros in some far off land.

The remainder of the dinner was relatively uneventful compared to the earlier happenings. Luis insisted on watching the one German television channel he had, just so Ilmer and I would feel at home (half way through dinner, he switched it off and put on an Italian movie). Luis also assured us that we were great friends and he would do anything in the world for us. If we were ever in trouble, he would send someone...he knows people from all over the world and has kilos of contacts. He was also kind enough to give us his 24 hour direct phone line. Needless to say, I definitely got my dose of culture that evening.

By the time the food was eaten and the movie was finished, the last train to Lisbon was long gone. Luis offered to drive us back, and totally impressed us with his high-speed-chase-like driving skills and ability to zoom through red lights when no one else was around! We even learned that he once got four speeding tickets in a 26 minute span. Bottomline: If you are ever planning on getting involved in a high speed chase...I know your man, just ask I have his 24 hour hotline!

Lunch with Luis and Maria, our new hitchhiking friends!
The beach in Arrabia