This is what I wrote in the little journal I took with me on the trip:

Subhan Allah, what an amazing trip it’s been.

I guess places have different associations in your mind.

In terms of Portugal I kept thinking of this delicate Portuguese storyteller I met in Iran, who blew everyone away with the power of her stories.

Her name was Anna Sophia and all while we drove through the hills of Portugal, I thought of her. And I kept wondering, even though it was HIGHLY unlikely, if I’d run into her.

What surprised me the most was how run down Portugal is. We were in the main square of Lisbon and there were buildings in need of maintenance and repair, and it just looked tired.

The countryside had yellow grass and looked parched and at one point in Lisbon, at a time when it should have been rush hour, the streets seemed empty.

But then it was Sunday.

It was downright chilly in Portugal, which I of course loved! Everyone else complained. Some of the ladies had brought nothing but t-shirts and shorts so they were cold.

I loved Cabo de Roca, basically the western-most point in Europe. We were warned not to go outside the hand-railed areas, which was hilarious because people were doing just that, all over the place.

It’s a very windy area, and the plants have thick succulent leaves and lie low to the ground, as if even they’re afraid of being blown off. Our guide told us that with the wind there were people who’d fallen to their deaths.

I think Cabo de Roca was my favourite in Portugal although there were other beautiful sights too.

We did go to see the Our Lady of Fatima site, and I have mixed feelings about that.

I really don’t want to be disrespectful towards the Catholic community so I will try to put this as delicately as possible.

I just was very skeptical about the whole miracle behind the Our Lady of Fatima business.

Basically the story goes that way back, when Portugal was being purged of Muslims there was a famous knight who fell in love with a local girl whose name was Fatima. He wanted to marry her so he went to the church and they said he could if she converted and changed her name, which she did. They got married and during childbirth she died, and he dedicated a forest or something to her memory, under Fatima.

Well centuries later, in 1916 I think, these three very poor shepherd children saw a vision in the hills of either the virgin Mary, or Fatima, not sure. And from that, came the miracle.

When we went to the actual site of the miracle it was basically a paved area where there was a shrine on one side. It’s a place of pilgrimage and they were preparing for the hundredth anniversary when the Pope would arrive to do a mass.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. To take the word of three children, and make it into a big miracle.

Mind you, when I went to Pakistan and India, there was all kinds of similar stuff. “Miracles” and ‘holy’ sites and stuff, and that’s just not what religion means to me.

I’ll probably touch more on this because I saw an awful lot of similarities between the Catholic cathedrals and masjids in Pakistan where they have adopted a lot of superstition.

Basically I came away from that area with a better understanding why so many atheists view religion with such suspicion.

Back in Lisbon, they’d built a “Christ the King” monument on the top of the cliffs above Lisbon, on the other side of the river. It’s a HUGE statue modeled upon the statue of the same name, that looks down over Rio de Janeiro, and has become such an icon for Rio.

Since Brazil was once a colony of Portugal and is the only South American country that still speaks Portuguese (I think) it’s a bit of the case of the father mimicking the son, if you ask me.

Oh there was a sticky bit when we went to the Christ the King monument. Going up the 80 m. elevator  to the top then requires you to go through what kind of amounts to a crawl space that’s meant for single file, perhaps for maintenance workers but now they charge admission and you’re basically forced to squeeze past other people waiting for the elevator going down and then up a tight claustrophobic spiral staircase to an upper level where the view is, I have to admit, quite pretty. But I’m still not sure if that horrible climb was worth it!

It was a Chinese tour group and a lot of the people have asked us what a Muslim couple was doing on a Chinese tour.

What has been surprising to me is how unfriendly to Muslims these countries are. They don’t label pork products whatsoever! And often pork is side by side permissible items and with the way many people use the same tongs for different stuff on the buffet… it makes me squirm.

Today we went to Gibraltar and my older sister Bushra and her son, my nephew, were in my thoughts all the time.

She had wanted to take her son Tariq to Gibraltar on his 20th birthday or something as some sort of symbolic act but she never lived till the day. I wonder if Tariq has been there.

Gibraltar is named after Tariq bin Ziad who arrived in 711 from north Africa and famously burned his ships.

Gibraltar is an English colony. Very tiny, very dramatic with the huge rock of Gibraltar looming over the lower town. They brought maqaques to colonize the rock, and they’re everywhere when you get off the tiny bus that takes you up the mountain.

The rock seems to be a big hunk of limestone and is riddled with beautiful caves, especially the cave of St. Michael which they’ve turned into a sort of natural theatre.

We had the most lovely British style fish & chips in the shop casement area, which used to be a prison with iron maidens and stuff but now it’s a posh little shopping tourist district.