Portugal | And Away We Go

First day of it all. Weird.


I arrived off the plane feeling odd – a bit numb, probably from all the big questions I’m wondering about at the moment: what will happen, where will I go, who will I meet, will I enjoy it, will it work out – everything.

I got the bus from the airport and into Faro, and arrived to find a tiny town that feels as though it’s about 100 metres from end to end. It’s by the sea, but there’s a jumbled seafront with a lot of criss crossing land bridges so you can’t go down to the water – or if you can, I don’t yet know how.

I checked into my hostel, feeling very unsure of myself – it feels like putting on a pair of shoes you’ve not worn for years and finding the fit is familiar, but not quite right yet. Need to get walking in them again. After a ramble around the empty town, I found a bar in a courtyard and ordered a ‘grande’ beer – which turned out to be a litre in a giant flagon. It was so large that I laughed when it arrived. Feeling a little self-conscious, I drank my massive beer and watched the people around me and read through my old Cuba diaries, trying to remember how I felt on previous solo trips.

Fifteen minutes later, when a couple arrived at the bar and sat down, I heard them ordering drinks, and again the waiter suggested the ‘grande’.

“How big is the grande?” the man asked.

The waiter turned and pointed to me, sitting alone on the other side of the bar. I gave them a thumbs up.

“No, that’s too big,” said the man.

I stayed in the bar for an hour or so. The drink helped me settle down and find a new rhythm. I left and wound my way back to the hostel, enjoying the old buildings and quiet streets. I was determined not to spend my first night in Portugal all alone and pensive, so forced myself to talk to someone: back at the hostel I went into the kitchen and asked a girl what she was cooking. We got chatting and she invited me to sit with her while she ate. She was called Mali, from Frankfurt, on her first solo trip, due to fly to Belgium the next day.

As we talked, we got involved with a girl beside us on the table. She was called Gloria, and from Korea, though she’s not lived there for a decade. She used to live in Berlin at the same time I was there – a weird coincidence which we bonded over. We drank a few beers together – Mali didn’t partake – and then split at 8pm so Mali could shower and Gloria could finish some work on her laptop.

At 9pm we met up again in the common area and bought beers from the reception. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast – wasn’t hungry at all the whole day, maybe nerves – and got tipsy fast. Met an Irish guy called Chris from County Kildare, who’s been cycling around the coast of Portugal and Spain for months. He mentioned something about discovering spirituality but I didn’t press him on it as I hadn’t the energy for that conversation just yet. Only just got here, my mind is more on visas and dates and tickets and plug adapters that it is on chakras and clouds.

The four of us sat and talked for a few hours, and at 11pm when the hostel bar closed we went next door, to a small local pub with pool tables and a lot of very tanned Portuguese men smoking indoors. We only had one drink there, because after a long day of travel and exploring and fretting and emotional goodbyes and not eating a bean, I suddenly became very drunk and sleepy, and whatever charisma I had conjured earlier vanished, and my conversation became very abstract and tilted and slow.

“We’ll all go back after this one,” Gloria said, sympathetically.

I fell into my bunk face first and got in a solid half hour of sleep before the snoring started: not one person snoring, but three at the same time. And not gentle, cute, puppy snoring either – Motorcross dirt bike snoring, engine revving, horrible horrible. In my half-awake confusion I struggled to remember hostel etiquette: can you prod someone who’s snoring? Would it be weird to cross the dorm and give the old bastards a poke in the ribs and tell them to knock it off?

I decided it was likely to be frowned upon, so instead pulled the duvet over my head and put my fingers in my ears and, somehow, actually fell asleep that way.

At 6am somebody woke up from what was presumably a nightmare going ‘aaah!’ in a high-pitched little mouse voice. It made me chuckle.

I woke up this morning with a strange feeling – I have nothing to do at all. Not one single thing on my agenda. I’ve got so used to having a hundred things to do and worry about that my brain doesn’t trust the idea of freedom; I feel suspicious of it, like it’s a trap and if I dare to lie down and have a nap I’ll wake up to ringing alarms and missed deadlines. It’s gonna take a while to readjust.

Anyway, I got up at 8.30 while everyone else was sleeping and came outside to find the day already warm, and the hostel reception man said hello and recommended me a good spot for breakfast. I took his advice and crossed the town – all twenty paces of it – and ate poached eggs on toast with a black coffee that was much more potent than I bargained for.

Went back to the hostel keeping my eyes peeled for a shop where I might buy the items I neglected to pack: toothpaste, a towel, showel gel. They have pharmacies here on every corner – those ones with the big green LED cross outside that says the time and temperature, which I’ve always found very aesthetically pleasing for some reason – but I’ve yet to find anywhere selling toothpaste.

Today I don’t really want to do anything; I just want to listen to my body, drink a lot of water, take a nap, and drift idly around this warm coastal town like a leaf on the breeze.


Afternoon update: went into a surf shop and bought a towel without looking at the price. I got a notification on my phone after: €49.99.


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