From the archives – part 2 // July 2022
My journey continues to unravel the first 48 hours I spent in Portugal in the summer of 2022 – landing myself in the small village of Carrapateira. If you missed Part 1, head over here to read about the first 22 hours.
26 hours to go.
Off we went, up the winding roads of the wild Algarve, lined with maritime pine trees and infused with conversations about the surf culture. The maritime pines soon became my favourite tree, with their clusters ballooning out like living umbrellas across the arid landscape.
Eventually we passed through the tiny village of Carrapateira, a small stack of white houses clustered together with a windmill topping one of the hills.
As we passed by the road heading west toward Praia da Bordeira, my temporary travel companions commented that they had wanted to explore this beach for a while, and at last – what a perfect opportunity.
It felt like we gave each other exactly what we needed. It’s a flavor of magic that I have found to be abundant in this wild and remote corner sitting at the edge of the earth. Life delivers what you need (though, I recognized a couple weeks later, not necessarily what you think you want).
Less than 1 km north of Carrapateira, we struggled to find our destination: first coming across a set of rustic apartments before we backtracked to find a dirt footpath leading up from the side of the road. With a generous hand from my carpool hosts, helping to lug my bags up the hill, they bid farewell and I met my host for the next week and a half.
Finally, I’m landed where I’m staying for 10 days. And as per usual, I felt disappointment creep up my spine. When you’re not thrilled with where you’re sleeping, ten days is a long time.
“As per usual,” because I see this pattern within myself. It doesn’t normally last, but is simply a side effect of letting expectations get carried away in the imagination. Hopes and dreams are often painted with a more vivid colour that reality struggles to stand up against.
24 hours to go.
The space: smaller than I thought.
The bathroom: some kind of outhouse.
The community space where I might be able to remote work: non-existent.
Coffee: non-existent (an unfortunate fact that also existed within the village cafes before 10 am).
12 hours to go.
Waking up with the birds welcoming the sunrise, I made coffee (I found some!), ate an apple with peanut butter, and sprinkled electrolytes into my water before throwing my ruck on my back and heading off to hike along the cliffs.
As soon as my feet got moving, disappointment began to fade away and I felt stronger. Moving my body paired with heavy lifting is almost always the medicine that I need.
I can do this. If nothing else, I can spend the next 10 days hiking the entire day. This will work.
Left, right, left, right. As my feet meet the earth, my steady pace beats as a metronome. This is where I feel strong: carrying the world (water, snacks, a journal, and pen) on my back, alone in nature, with the hip belt snuggly hugging my hip bones.
Despite the disappointments where my expectations did not meet reality, if nothing else, I can walk amongst the otherworldly landscapes all day, every day. Ten days will pass, one step at a time.
8 hours to go.
My feet carried me through the outskirts of Carrapateira, past Praia da Bordeira, and finally to Praia do Amado – winding along the footpaths that weave a web of human evidence over several kilometers of unstable cliffs.
6 hours to go.
When I finally reached Amado, the sun was beating down with a weight of intensity I had not experienced in Sweden.
Sweden, where the gentle rays of sun stretched long before and after waking hours, and where I laid for hours on-end without a need for sunscreen as my pale Scandinavian winter skin-tone slowly darkened.
I forgot how hot summer can be. How unforgivingly intense the sun can be. My approach quickly shifted from soaking up the sun, to hiding from the sun.
Idea to hike the country’s entire coast from south to north: officially revoked.
Emotional comfort in the idea of hiking all day, every day: also officially revoked.
Looks like I would need to buy more sunscreen and seek my emotional sanity elsewhere.
4 hours to go.
Somehow what was meant to be a 5 kilometer hike was taking more than three hours (when a normal pace is 10 minutes per kilometer), and in combination with the intensity of the sun, I chose to seek refuge at Sitio do Forno – a restaurant perched atop the cliffs a short meander above Amado.
Spoiler alert: the 5k ended up being 20 kilometers.
€10 got me a delicious meal of locally caught grilled squid. And because of my frugal travel habits, this meal became two – half being boxed up for takeaway.
It’s a habit leftover from a backpacking-hostel style of travel I took on during university. With 2 months to backpack France, Italy, and Spain on a student budget – photographing architecture for an independent study I designed – I would normally have half a pizza for lunch and take my takeaway for dinner.
As a creature of habit, one of my favorite things to do when traveling is sit with my journal and a pen to write – interrupted with intermittent people watching while I drink coffee. Ordering my meal, my waiter insisted that coffee would only come after I had my meal. A reminder of the customs in Southern Europe, which are rooted in logic, as coffee is in fact a digestif.
A reminder paired with another, that in many of my southern travels, the best meals are paired for two. I don’t know why it is, but as my eyes passed over photos of food, the most delicious fish stews had to be ordered for parties consisting of multiple mouths.
As I recovered in the shade with my solo traveler’s meal for one, I thought about the lessons that were already unfolding in front of me.
Hiking in extreme environments feels incredibly… vulnerable. With no trees to hide under and without a car, I didn’t have much when it came to shelter. If the sky suddenly opened up in a downpour, there were very few places I might be able to hide. As I trudged along the cliffs, I noted the rare boulder that might be large enough to huddle under for a short period. With expensive camera equipment, the hot and open environment made me feel even more exposed.
Speaking of camera equipment, my first hours in Portugal invited a new level of awareness – of how coastal humidity might encourage me to care for my camera a little bit differently. Especially being surrounded by sand, I had to take extra caution with lens changes.
With my squid leftovers packed in my ruck and the sun beating down, I wondered if my second meal would be safe to eat after crossing the many kilometers between myself and the fridge. Leaving the shelter of shade for the barren cliffs ahead, my mind emphasized how unforgiving the scorching sun was. If I wasn’t smart about my sun exposure, my upcoming surf camp would be slightly unpleasant: I imagined pulling a wetsuit over raw, sunburnt skin, with grains of sand rubbing between tender layers.
But, I was fully committed to my roundtrip trek and besides, doing hard things isn’t new to me. Carrying my ruck with upwards of 20 kilos is a normal walk in the woods for me. Yes, usually there are woods, and usually temperatures are cooler – but we finish what we start, wherever we are.
Eventually, I returned to the northern arm of the sleepy village of Carrapateira, winding my way between whitewashed homes and towering agave plants. To my delight, a friendly dog joined me for a few blocks. The delight soon turned to dismay as I made my final left turn onto the “highway,” and she decided to follow me.
As a blond in Portugal, I stand out as a tourist. As a blond with a dog standing in the way of traffic, well… you can imagine the enthusiasm of the locals. I tried walking along, hoping she would run off home, but still she followed me, weaving between angry cars. I waved at a few, but they begrudgingly interpreted my body language as an apology, rather than for help. Finally, someone slowed down enough to persuade them to stop, and I explained that the dog wasn’t mine, and was following me home.
In hindsight, it’s a silly thing to expect a stranger to be able to help get rid of a dog that isn’t yours; nor theirs. Fortunately, they helped by aggressively shouting at it in Portuguese, and off she went – back to the safety of the sleepy village streets.
Finishing up the final leg of the hike, I felt a full-body sigh. There truly is no way for me to muster enough anger toward a furry creature to shout at it with so much force. As simple as it was to shout at it, a local Portuguese was needed to get that dog home.
0 hours to go.
The prize at the end of the many steps I walked that day was a handmade pizza night at the place I was staying. Though in Portugal, Italy seems to follow me everywhere. The hosts in question were from there, bringing their roots to the guests in another country.
No complaints here – there are few things more delicious than Italian-made pizza from a fire-fueled pizza oven using farm fresh ingredients.
And so concluded my first 48 hours in Portugal.
A hike, plenty of time in nature, the inability to resist doing hard things, fresh food… A typical day in the life, living the ultimate human experience.
If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy journey, I’d love to hear from you! What does your “landing ritual” look like when traveling to a new place? How do expectations match with reality? I’d love to hear how you navigate those changes.