Our place in Ribamar was run by Jose, a tattooed surf hipster who talked a big game. He greeted us on arrival and sauntered around the house, talking expansively about his portfolio of rental properties; various big waves, the local night life. There were hints of a kid somewhere back in Lisbon and a girlfriend, also conveniently distant, in Sintra.
“Sometimes I sleep here, sometimes there, sometimes in one of the other houses. I just see what I feel like.”
Nice set-up, we thought (or was it just me?), AirBnB keeps the rent flowing in, hassle free, while he surfs all day, parties all night and keeps his dependents at arm’s length. Is this an economic model we might consider for the future?
Alas, as with all things that are too good to be true, the ideal didn’t stand up to prolonged scrutiny. During our stay Jose’s grandeur gradually ebbed away like the tide. He went from owner to implied partner, then manager and eventually he settled as a glorified caretaker (to the distant and fearsome Miss Maria, who we never met, but who Jose kept scrupulously updated through a rapid-fire stream of text messages). Jose had a single dark room at the back of the complex with a mess of ketchup bottles, complicated coffee apparatus, ashtrays and piles of clothes. He would emerge from this little cave around midday in his skinny jeans, silver bracelets jangling, baseball cap awry, blinking and scratching. His footloose agenda seemed to be rather on hold. I suspected he usually crashed in any of the rental properties that were vacant, though I doubt Miss. Maria ever got a text informing her of this.
We talked whenever we met in the courtyard but Jose would often get called away just as I was getting a review of the local skateparks, or a description of the killer octopus in O Pescador. The Sintra girlfriend seemed to stay in Sintra much less that Jose might have wished. She was a strong-jawed, hard-eyed lady, and seemed to have him firmly in check. The kids were scared of her and maybe I was too. She would sit chain-smoking outside our back door late into the night and I would have to make excuses when Menna told me to take out the rubbish.
There was always a surfboard propped outside Jose’s door, but on the days when the swell got big at Coxos, he lay suspiciously low.
“Dude! You are mad to surf there. It is far too heavy this wave!” He admits one afternoon when I tackle him,
“But you said the entry point was tough and it was a fight to manage the rips. I thought this was your local wave.”
“Yes, but only from watching I know this. I don’t go in there to surf. I am only surfing for a few years. I like the beach break over at Santa Cruz. This is where I learned”. In this moment of candour and mutual levelling, I am able to confess that I too am far too poor a surfer to attempt most of the big waves we have spent hours talking about with such implied familiarity. We have both tacitly overstated our abilities. Now we bond over the pragmatic unlikelihood of ever being able to surf Coxos, Supertubos or Nazaré.
We all liked Jose more and more as his pretences dropped over the course of the week. Our leaving impressions were of a super open and pleasant guy who loved to chat but would sometimes get a little carried away with the detail. I have a lot of time for people who don’t let reality dull a good story. Menna likes to mother lost souls. The kids would do skateboard tricks for Jose in the courtyard and he would applaud.
Our relationship was slightly strained on departure though, when Jose spotted what looked like fresh graffiti all over our gleaming white doorframe. Stars and lightning symbols had been scrawled at waist height together with – the smoking gun – a clearly visible ‘A’ and an ‘M’. The kids made a good attempt at denying all knowledge of this, but the evidence was fairly incontrovertible. Under sustained interrogation they broke down. It had been an experiment. Scientific really. They had used the leaves front the potted agave plant here, which gave out a little juice like this, which when smeared on white paint, leaves a dark line like that. Arthur had done a project on cycads last term, so it was all in line with the school curriculum. Homework almost.
“It’s just leaf juice Jose. I’m sure it’ll come off easily!” I chuckled and we enthusiastically grabbed cloths and set to it. Jose frowned and grimaced, sent texts to Miss Maria. After twenty minutes of scrubbing it is clear that agave juice actually does not come off white walls. We offered to send Arthur back next day to repaint it, but after silently appraising him for a moment and estimating the quality of workmanship he would deliver, Jose declined. It is best he takes care of it himself he told us with a sigh. The Sintra girlfriend rolled her eyes.
We leave Ribamar with the kids in disgrace.