The last day I spent traveling in Europe, I woke up around 10am, ate a measly breakfast of bread, jam, peanut butter, and lots of coffee. I had gone out the night before on a pub crawl, but only made it to one bar: The Three Monkeys. In good ol’ fashioned Spring Break-style, I partied the night away, chatting with the half-naked (ok, only their shirts were off) bartenders who were probably still playing with Tonka trucks when I graduated college. Anyhow, after a few vodka tonics, I was wearing my sunglasses at night and having conversations I knew I wouldn’t remember.
So it made perfect sense that, after my “hearty” pequeno almoço, I’d shut the blinds in my hostel room and crawl back into my top-bunk bed, under the black-white-and-red kitty Ikea sheet and away from the cringe-worthy sunlight. (One girl at the hostel in Porto had said that I was a vampire with a magical laugh. I took it as a compliment. Hey, who doesn’t want to be magical and immortal?) As fate would have it, the universe came knocking on the door in the form of Orianna, the sweet journalist-turned-hostel lady, telling me that a girl was arriving that day and had specifically requested a female-only dorm. What kind of backpacker comes to a hostel and is afraid of boys? I asked myself silently, and told Orianna in Portuguese that I’d gather my things.
At this point, I’d been traveling for over 60 days and had seen 10 cities in Spain and Portugal, and two in Morocco. It was my first time in Europe and in Africa. I’d loved every bit of it, finally able to use my Spanish again, and polishing off the thick layers of rust seven years without speaking Portuguese will give you. I fell in love instantly with Barcelona and Porto, Tangier spun my mind around with its labyrinthine infrastructure, and Madrid and Lisbon grew slowly, but strongly, on me like a luxurious moss. I learned so many things about myself that perhaps I already had known, and maybe this is why these Iberian countries had been tugging at me for so long.
I had 30 euros left to my name and hadn’t even paid for the coming night’s stay. I went into this expedition broke, and I would leave broke, but it was all completely worth it. And so, as I descended the stairs with blue backpack to the rear and brown backpack to the front (carrying my by-then useless laptop), I planned on stowing my things away for the day, using the hostel laptop, and taking the bus to Faro to get a good night’s rest. The next day, I’d be flying back to Barcelona.
But, as all good travel plans were intended, things changed. I ran into some people from the hostel who I’d chatted with before, and they were going to the beach. The best beach in Lagos, said the Canadian dude (with a random, sporadic English accent) who led the previous night’s pub crawl. I don’t have my swimsuit, I said. I need to go to the ATM, I said. I don’t feel like walking those horrendous stairs you described, I said. And then- possibly the most poignant thing I’d uttered in quite some time- It sounds like I’m just making excuses.
Not 10 minutes later, my swimsuit in my Travelon purse, I was walking with the Canadian dude, a French dude, my one-night-female-roommie from Australia, and a chick from Montana. We passed concrete walls filled with graffiti, and suddenly, a gorgeous view of the city’s 4 kilometers of white sand appeared, with cityscape and brilliant blue Atlantic water on either side. Automatically, I knew I had made the right decision.
After about 45 minutes of walking, I found myself on Praia do Camilo, or The Holy Child’s Beach, sipping on a shared plastic bottle of cheap, mass-manufactured sangria, passing around a big bag of salted peanuts I’d acquired. After seeing several, distinct-looking women (they could’ve been in a Dove commercial) sunbathing topless, I felt more than comfortable to go into a “corner” by one of the rock formations and change into my bathing suit. No one gave a shit; why should I? See, in Europe, people don’t have to be perfect; they’re just people.
I swam in the rough ocean for awhile, my stubbed toe instantly discovering the many rocks the ocean bed had blockaded us with. It wasn’t long before I turned back, unsuccessfully trying to get my footing, leaving behind the cold ocean water for another day and another time.
As fate would have it, this is how I left Portugal: Suddenly and painfully, yet knowing it had to be done.
The German guy in the room above us was violently puking up all the guts his mother had so devoutly created for him, and I knew exactly who it was. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 5am. I’d intended on sleeping in until 5:30, but I had a bus to catch. Damn that Jameson anyway.