James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Surprisingly Happy Ending for a Trip That Involved Lots of Vomiting

A Surprisingly Happy Ending for a Trip That Involved Lots of Vomiting

Wine in Portugal

When I suggested to some friends that we visit Berlenga, an island just off the coast of Portugal, I was picturing tan lines and Crayon-blue water. Getting there seemed simple enough: a bus from Lisbon, a ferry ride from Peniche, a walk from the harbor to the 300-year-old fort where we would be staying, and repeat the process in reverse the next day.

I should have known things might not go according to plan when each person on our ferry was handed a tiny plastic barf bag. We chuckled as we bobbed away from the harbor, but the retching of my fellow passengers soon made it abundantly clear that those bags were indeed being used. I watched a man holding a birthday cake on his lap empty the contents of his stomach to one side of me, while others behind me started to whisper Hail Marys in time to the duck and roll of the boat.

I’ll save you the suspense: we arrived safely. We walked from harbor to fort, where we filled our day and night with glowing blue-green water and more bottles of wine than I’m willing to admit. On top of the fort that night, I barricaded myself against the howling wind and took in the expansive starry sky. “Isn’t this nice?” I thought. “This is easy.”

The following morning, things were decidedly less great. The wind had picked up at an alarming rate. Questionable fort plumbing meant… a lot of bad things. Hangovers were in full swing, and barf bags were sure to follow. We trekked back to the harbor to discover no boats were returning to the mainland until the evening, if at all. “Does anything ever go to plan?” I sighed.

Exasperated, we ordered coffees. At this moment, a pot-bellied, white-haired angel named Julius appeared. He was a fisherman and spoke no English, but between hand gestures and my warbling Portuguese, he made it clear that he wanted to cook us lunch and would return us to the mainland in time for us to catch a bus back to Lisbon. We cautiously agreed.

Julius’s hut overlooked a cove with water so clear you could see to the bottom. When we arrived, he shoved a banged-up aluminum cup into each of our hands and waved us toward the jugs of homemade wine sitting on the terrace table. The wind whipped us into conversation as his fellow fishermen grilled salty, red chouriço and passed plates of crusty bread. Julius brought out a colossal plate of fried stingray that we ate with our fingers.

There was salad, more oozing chouriço, more bread. Somehow the plate of fish disappeared and a pineapple coconut cake appeared in its place. I couldn’t stop smiling. The wind began to die down.

I raised my tin cup with the last dregs of wine to toast the uncomfortable things and the unexpected: to Portuguese hospitality, getting stuck, to Julius, to the reasons we travel.

Up Next

From Portugal to the Ironbound

Featured City Guides