Having completed just 17 of the 30 European Portuguese lessons I purchased from Pimsleur, I felt tentative about my first foray into a country where English is not commonly spoken.
We've gotten through, so far, with lots of gesturing and only several awkward moments. A couple of times, I was complemented on my ability to speak the language, and my pronunciation. Other times, I received blank stares or confused looks. Before I return to Portugal, I intend to be fluent. The prospect of chatting with the elders here is incentive, in and of itself.
We met trekkers from all over Europe while we were in towns or on the coastal route, but none from the US or from Portugal. (In fact, we haven't yet met anyone at all from America.) They all spoke English to some degree, and we swapped trail tales. Actually, I enjoyed that we saw a total of three fellow hikers on the Merchant's Trail itself. Almost entirely, it was Russ and I and the trail. Our new friend Susanna declared this route "boring"compared to the Fishermen's Trail, with it's rocky cliffs and ocean vistas. But I prefer terra firma to sand, and the solitude.
Oh, Susanna! From Amsterdam, she set out to tackle the entire network of trails, despite the debilitating effects of MS. Alone. I'm duly impressed. Even more so by how she listened to her body and spirit and knew when to quit. We met her on the trail just north of Odeciexe, and we've been lucky to happen upon her in every village since. Except Porto Covo. There, I was just wondering why we hadn't spotted her yet when two Dutch hikers hailed us from their street-side table at a cafe. "Susanna says Hello!", was their message. I hope we get to see her one more time, in Lisboa!