I had been accepted at L’Abri, a Christian center for truth seekers and travelers. The hope was to “get my head screwed on straight”, as my plain-spoken dad put it.
A circuitous path en route to L’Abri led me to an evangelical commune on the Swedish/Norwegian border. This is where my linguistic and entrepreneurial skills were put to use as a “finder”. My job was to approach business owners and to see if they would contribute damaged goods or out-of-date produce to share with our little group and others in need.
Eventually my visa expired and I was offered the same sort of job in Spain. So, off to the Canary Islands I went!
Oddly, my new visa expired in Spain as well after 6 months. By this time I was in Sevilla, Spain. I never was very good with calendars! So, once again I was offered the “Finder” job in Portugal. I discovered that the Franco and Salazar regimes were less-than-accommodating of my plan to simply enter Portugal. Foolish 20 year old that I was, a friend and I decided to sneak across the border.
We hitchhiked to Badajoz, Spain, and then got a ride from a young Portuguese hippy-type couple to the border. They dropped us off and told us to walk westward through the woods until we came to a main road and follow it for about 2 hours, until we came to a small town. They would meet us after dark and take us to Lisbon. Crossing that border in the dusky woods was just a bit nerve-wracking, even for two perpetually optimistic young men.
Amazingly, the plan worked and soon we were tooling along with our friendly couple and arrived in Lisbon in the early spring of 1974. I promptly forgot about any visa issues and started my new job as a Finder for this little group who were sincerely trying to make the world a better place.
Mostly because I didn’t know any better, the strange sounding language was pretty easy to learn. After all, that’s pretty much all I heard all day long and I somehow had to talk with these business owners. English was not so widely spoken at the time.
I don’t really know why I didn’t fear the two dictatorships very much. I was advised to never argue with the armed soldiers and guards, no matter what. They were everywhere and seemed to appear out of thin air when least expected. There were many encounters with these guys, but, luckily, not too many bad things happened between them and us.
It was clear that something was “in the air” in the spring of 1974. When I was alone with these businessmen they would sometimes vent their frustration and resentment about the oppressive government. I thought Nixon was bad, but this was on a different level.
The week of April 25 I noticed a lot of housewives with those pretty smocks were obviously stocking up on groceries. This added to the suspense, but I had no idea whatsoever what was actually going on.
The morning of the 25th I was a few blocks from the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon waiting for my bus. Suddenly, instead of my bus, there came a troop of soldiers on horseback, complete with spiked helmets. They raced past me and headed toward the plaza. Soon the double-decker bus arrived and, once I got seated on the upper level, we arrived at the plaza.
What an incredible sight! It was packed full of people, all singing, dancing, waving flags and just going nuts! Someone described it as a national orgasm.
I still didn’t know what was going on, but quickly learned that the nearly bloodless coup called the Carnation Revolution had just occurred! It was too much to take in and still, after 48 years, I’m moved inside.
A friend and I hitchhiked to Porto and back again right after this experience and it was the same everywhere: rejoicing people and even the land seemed to be part of the celebration. All those spring flowers, the leaves on the trees, everything seemed to turn from black, white and sepia to vivid color. Amazing.
My wife and I visited the Praça do Comércio this spring. As we approached the plaza from the same route as in 1974 all those emotions came back. We lingered a while, walked to the water, where I actually had to sit down and wipe my teary eyes. Eventually the memories of my friends, the girl I left behind, the well-meaning Christian group I was part of, and all those jubilant Portuguese citizens subsided and we had to get some lunch.
I never did make it to L’Abri.