Portugal 2014 travel journal – Travels with ‘Tia’.

day I.

it’s 3am and my alarm goes off. it’s early – too early – obviously still dark outside and i haven’t slept for more than four or five hours. i’m tired and excited at the same time, jump out of bed and go down the list again. this, that, this, don’t forget that, hat, tooth brush… the evening before i spent my time in the kitchen baking and the lingering smells beckon as i’m making coffee.

in a barely lit kitchen, accompanied by the soundless echoes of the night, i vaguely recall my days working in mental heatlh care. the early mornings and 7 o’clock shifts, tired and yet so eager for a new day. i am moving on a lack of sleep and anticipation, trying to be quiet while knowing fully well that my mother would be up to see my off anyway.

my lovely, loyal adventure-companion spends his time between the front door, guarding my bags as if saying ‘tie me to them, you’re not leaving without me’, and restlessly laying at my feet, wondering where it is that we’re going at this strange hour. he knows he will be left behind and i feel guilty for leaving on an adventure without him.

i always love visiting schiphol airport. there’s something about hundreds of travellers passing through, all on their way to somewhere. it’s as if the impermanence, the transience that hangs in the air becomes something solid and creates another world. a somewhat magical world that consists of nothing but odysseys and voyages, permanently being on the road. schiphol, like any airport, feeds the wanderlust in my heart. it’s been way too long since i stood on the other side of metal detectors and custom officers.

i keep checking my watch. i blink and find myself seated on the airplane and i blink again and we’re in the air already. it’s strange, for someone with a fear of depths, i have no problems flying. and then, before i know it, it’s touch down.

hello portugal.

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day II.

i always feel strange leaving home.

i’m excited to leave up to the day that i’m set to depart. then it suddenly hits me – i have to leave my bookcase behind. and my closet. and my bed. and my pillows. my desk. my endless amount of notebooks and pens. this happens any time i leave home for more than a night, despite fighting the urge to pack my bags two weeks prior. the worst is leaving behind my dog. i’m used to taking him with me wherever i go, dragging him along, always going on adventures together. it’s okay for one day, but waking up and not having to get up, get dressed and walk the dogs feels out of place on this second morning. at the same time, i am amazed at my own ability to adjust.

we took it slow on our first day – we planned to do some shopping and visited ‘my’ mountain (i keep forgetting what it’s actually called, but since we renamed it as ‘tess’ mountain’, i might as well just call it that). tia also took me to the island of faro – the place to be on your first day and we had a non-alcoholic drink at the same spot my dad always has his first beer (no matter the time!). the town of tavira was planned to visit in the afternoon. we drive and explore the direct area for the most part of the day and enjoying a lovely coffee and walk through fuseta – a town close to the coast with ferry rides to several islands.

i am overwhelmed with my first impressions of portugal. having a fascination for all things old, damaged and/or broken, i love this place. the buildings, houses and architecture are stunning. at the same time, i realise that what i find so beautiful is in fact a sign of poverty. slowly, the culture starts seeping through as i’m discovering a completely new world.

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day III.

day 3 already. i feel as if i am too busy to even notice the difference, which sounds like a huge contradiction. yes, i notice the difference – the actual, almost physical difference. the difference i can sense. the way the air is so dry it dries my skin, the way this country smells so differently, the often odd ways houses are build and decorated, how people sit, eat and drink next to the side of the road and call something with ‘ service’, a number of tables and a sign a ‘restaurant’. the never ending sound of space, combined with the often occurring noise of cars and people speaking in rapid portuguese.

the difference i fail to notice is internal. inside of me. yes, i am a tourist (and damn well look like one too!) but i don’t feel different. i don’t feel ‘foreign’. for years now, i’ve been wanting to travel to find an unidentified something. something that would ‘define’. now being in or at something unidentified, being somewhere else, i realise that it doesn’t feel much different. the longing hasn’t settled. the ache didn’t grow dull. i am still the same and whilst that is a good thing, it’s not what i am looking for, yet it is exactly right that. something different while being familiar.

in the back of my mind i know. there is more to explore. much, much more.

we visit santa luzia before taking the ferry to the praia (beach) and that evening, i have the utmost pleasure to meet two of my aunt’s friends, lyndon and leslie, who lived closeby. lyndon is a welshman and leslie, originally born in england, grew up in new zealand. naturally, we spent a long time talking about this beautiful country with both tia’s as my own desires to visit the islands. lyndon was almost uniquely kind, but i was not surprised for i find that many british men are extremely friendly. besides, he reminded me of a certain english lad that i happen to know and i smiled inwardly whenever memories of my trip to england back in ‘ 12 resurfaced secretly.

leslie in particular i found heartwarming and we quickly chatted away. it wasn’t until long that i named her ‘tia guru’, with her unique wisdom she was full of these beautiful life lessons. i sincerely hope to meet both of them again – lyndon with his dismantling peaceful presence and great stories, and leslie, with all her guru-buddhism-like words and knowledge.

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day IV.

we visited olhão’s market – a bit of a must-go-to – on saturday morning. soon, i was surrounded by an unique mixture of locals, portuguese and spanish people, and tourists. product-wise, the market didn’t differ that much from the market in my hometown. until we arrived at the market buildings – the first being the ‘fish area’ and the second the ‘fruits, vegetables and nuts’ hall. i choose not to eat meat nor fish, but visited the first hall as i wanted to experience such a matter. naturally, i enjoyed the green hall far more!

after a cup of coffee and me shooting several rolls of film back to back, we took the ferry for a one-hour ride to praia do farol (faro islands) for some lunch.

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day V.

the day before the big day. we were heading up north and then west, towards the civil parish of alte, up in the mountains, said to be (one of) the most typical villages in the algarve.

but before driving to alte, we made a stop at a beautiful church my aunt had discovered just shortly before my arrival. this old and somewhat abandoned church near barranco velho turned out to be more of an old parish – an old church with small house-like buildings located nearby. i could almost picture the seminarians and/or deacons (and/or priest(s) and/or nuns) walking around, chickens scattered across the grounds, goats for milk and pigs behind fences.

tia and i loudly and intensively fantasized about buying the place and opening a restaurant. there would be plenty of room for my mum’s and dad’s girlfriend’s bric-a-broc business, room for me for my photography business when i wasn’t busy working in the kitchen. my sister and her boyfriend could stay here as well. if only one would be able to experience such wealth of living in a utterly stunning and magical place like this.

looking back, barranco velho has to be one of the most if not the most beautiful place i’ve seen during my visit.

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day VI.

the big day had arrived. even before landing in portugal, my aunt had promised me to take me on a beautiful drive right through the mountains, to a small village called alcoutim. the village itself wasn’t much like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the drive definitely was. sharp turns, hairpin bends, steep climbs before diving down again, all the while being captivated by indescribable views of portugal. i sometimes felt as if i could see across the country (which, of course, i couldn’t) but i did see spain as we drove that close to the border before turning north.

the day started out well when we spotted a relatively large group of gypsies travelling by the side of the road. as i kindly ‘asked’ them if i could take a photograph (read: i put my camera in the air and smiled), they were really friendly and the man even gave me a kind thumbs up. seeing gypsies on the road is a rare thing these days, and seeing such a large group is even rarer, which makes it a bit of a happening to witness.

then a pit stop in vila real de santo antónio for some lunch, a cup of coffee, some cultural-historic knowledge and traditional linen gifts. founded as vila (town) santo antónio, the village was largely destroyed in 1755 due to a tsunami that was a result of the earthquake that devasted lisboa. the town had to be rebuild quickly (seeing it sits so close to the spanish border and was a thriving fishing town) and thus an architect (the same one who later ‘ renovated’ lisboa) rebuild the village according to a pombaline grid, which explains the design and layout of the streets. it wasn’t until after the completion only a year later that it became vila real de santo.

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day VII.

only a couple more days before heading back home again. time has definitely gone by fast. i have seen so many of this beautiful country and at the same time, i feel as if i have barely scratched the surface of what this place has to offer me. tia’s second house in portugal is for sale and optional to rent for a while. i contemplate on returning to portugal around october, to witness and capture more of this place. i could stay here for a month (bringing my dog naturally) and set up a couple of photography projects. i’ve heard a wonderful story about a man herding his goats up in the mountains, i’ve seen a village that survived the forest fires but only from a distance and i know there is much more character to portugal that i’ve been able to photograph so far. maybe, maybe i might just take that leap of faith, pack my bags and return.

i put the thoughts away at night, before going to sleep, knowing that there’s more in store for me tomorrow still and make the deal with myself, every night, to seriously consider this chance once i get back home. i’ve still got a couple of days left!

a few days before, i had the absolute pleasure to meet lyndon and leslie, living only a few miles from my aunt’s. lyndon told me about his morning walk – a beautiful route he hiked several days a week with their dog. enthusiastic as i was, he kindly invited me to come with him one morning. so there i was – wearing leggings and all stars, my most ‘hikable’ outfit, armed with a large backpack with very little in it (seriously!) and a good dose of excitement, tia dropped me off at their house and lyndon and i ventured out.

during our hike he told me all these fascinating things and pointed out several of nature’s beauty (i saw a tunnel spider’s web, which was beautiful, but dead scary and i now know how to spot an eucalyptus tree) but also telling me stories about the fire that destroyed large parts of the country a few years back.

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day IIX.

with just a few more days left of my stay, i wake up this morning feeling a bit under the weather. i decided to go for an early morning walk and hit the supermarket for some antioxidant-rich fruits to fight the cold, but a simple walk became a 2,5 hour morning route and once back at the villa, i realise that i feel more under the weather than i originally thought.

i caught a cold.

determined not to let this ruin our adventures, we still go out for some more exploring in the afternoon, after a lazy, hazy morning around the house.

i can’t believe that i caught a cold while on holiday. the weather had turned around a couple of days before – the air becoming even hotter and drier, and i know i don’t handle a change in the weather that well, nor does my body handle heat well. i am absolutely bummed as we had such wonderful plans for our last days, including a 2 hour train ride to lagos. i make sure i eat well, stack up on vitamins and get plenty of rest. the latter was also a great excuse to lazily hang out in the pool and reading good books in the pleasant shades.

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day IX.

i wake up sick as a dog.

bare in mind, i can take a lot of things, but a cold/the flu turns me into a guy – i don’t just have the flu, i suffer from the man-flu. tia came to my bedroom this morning with some fresh juice and to check up on me, but i guess she could tell that i wasn’t feeling too great.

i can’t believe i actually got ill while on holiday – i sincerely hoped that my good intentions of the day before would prolong the flu, at least until i got back home. since that wasn’t that case, there wasn’t much i could do. i was still determined not to let it ruin my stay, but at the same time i’ve never been one to ‘fight’ the flu, or any kind of illness for that matter. i know that i usually catch a cold when i return home from a trip abroad, so i ponder over the reason why i got ill now. i almost start looking for things i did wrong, trying to find out what i did differently that could have caused this as i stop myself at some point – it’s the friggin’ flu. not much you can do about that. perhaps i have seen too much of this country already and this was my body’s way of letting me know that i should take it slow – there would be more time. more trips to portugal. plenty of days left to discover…

we spent the morning around the house and after lunch we start the car to hit some towns close to the villa. shortly after leaving, we notice the famous ‘goat man’ by the side of the road. only a few days before had we talked about the man and his goats that walk around – his animals following him around like dogs. i was told that he could even give the goats commands and they would do as they were told.

it happened quite a lot during my stay – hearing a story one day and actually seeing a few days later. despite having come down with the flu, i’d say that i was overall very lucky and blessed in what portugal threw at me.

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day X.

after nine wonderful days soaking myself in a different culture and world, it’s time to fly back again. in my head the thoughts of returning, going back and capturing more of this country that fascinates me in its many different forms. perhaps, portugal.

no doubt, i have forgotten to mention stories, facts, or places i have visited. no doubt i have photos left in my archive that would be have deserved a spot in this selection. but the selection is large and the greatest thing of selections is that it is constantly changing. there’s a full series on my trip to portugal on my website, found here.

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