A burly, middle-aged man passes me, turns around, and comes back. “Barco?” he asks. He points the way to a shack covered by tarps and lifts the flap for me. “Frio!” It’s raining heavily and it’s chilly. He wants me to wait here. So I wait.
About thirty or forty minutes later, the ferry, the Flor do Gaz, pulls up to the dock. The captain, in a yellow pullover and the archetypal captain’s hat, gestures to come onboard the small boat, and when I step below deck, he directs me to a seat on the long wooden benches.
The ferry pitches violently from side to side and I begin to wonder if I’ve made an error in judgment. I clutch the bench and the captain notices my discomfiture. He mocks me - “Oh my god! Oh my god!” – but with a German inflection, so it sounds more like “Oh my goot! Oh my goot!” I wonder which tourist he picked that up from.
When we dock, I’m too eager to pop out from below deck and the captain holds up his palm: “Easy. Easy.” It’s drizzling as I jump to the dock and walk along the riverbank. It is very quiet, a few men on street corners, a photogenic cat or two darting between doorsills.
When the sun comes out, the sky is suddenly blue and there are sounds of life at lunchtime. Several men have a grill set up on a street corner and are flipping spicy, grilled pieces of frango (chicken). Tempting, but I don’t feel welcome here. While Afurada is no stranger to publicity and was the subject of Pedro Neves’ documentary A Olhar O Mar (Gazing out to Sea), I am here months before the tourist season and my camera is causing questions. Nonetheless, when a wizened but sturdy dowager asks the time, I take advantage of the opportunity and ask, “Foto por favor?” She agrees.
It is a bizarre image: A woman garbed entirely in black, clomping around in heavy rubber boots, hanging her laundry to dry on the communal racks. In the background looms modernity.
Abruptly, she is done. She veers away from me and heads home.
I’m hungry now, so I board the ferry. The crossing is choppy again. Two women, wrapped well in shawls, are my company. Their expressions are impassive, but almost a bit dreamy, though the waves push our tiny vessel to and fro relentlessly.
Perhaps this is just the nature of the Douro.