Our first week on the open road was filled with possibilities. We had no plans and nowhere to be but in the front seat. We followed Portugal’s coastline north from Lisbon all the way up to Porto, making overnight stops along the way in a number of small coastal towns, always keeping our eyes open for parking spots along the water. In that heat, we were always desperate for a chance to cool-off. We were lucky to come across a town on the Aveiro Lagoon called Gafanha da Encarnação where we met a few locals who were more than willing to show us around. With daily temperatures close to 40ºC, we were more than eager to take a dip in the nearby river. Although we weren’t the only swimmers there, it was obvious that we were the only tourists. The area was entirely secluded all but for a small restaurant with a big patio. After our swim in the lagoon, the local pub goers took an interest in our story and were happy to give us tips on where to sleep and where the watch the big game that night.
On July 10 we watched Portugal move on to the Euro Soccer Finals in Aveiro. If you know much about Portuguese culture, you can imagine the excitement building in the streets as the game progressed. The entire town was gathered in the main square to watch the soccer game on the big screen. There were kids on parents’ shoulders, people brought lawn chairs and air horns, and the homemade wine was flowing. Joe and I stood proudly in our Portugal jerseys as the crowds around us went wild over the final score. We joined in and celebrated their patriotism in the streets. Taking part in the cultural festivities of a foreign country was inspirational. It was incredible to see how much a single event can bring such a large community together and we were honoured to be a part of it.
I believe that indulging in local customs is one of the most important aspects of travel. You can spend your whole life visiting countries around the globe but if you don’t take the time to really experience the different cultures, you can easily miss out. I quickly developed a strong sense of patriotism for the country, having been living there for just under two months. Joe and I even made our way back to Lagos to celebrate the final game of the Euro Cup with the other self-proclaimed patriots from around the world. Joining in to celebrate something as commonplace as a sporting event can really bring you closer to the heart of the community and its culture. We even wore the team colours and rioted in the streets with locals!
Another incredible experience we had in Portugal was finding ourselves in what felt like the middle of nowhere with nothing but the landscape and us. On our journey along the coast, we chose to stop in the surfer-famous city of Peniche, situated high above sea level. It was dark by the time we got there and the fog was so thick we could barely see the road ahead of us. We pulled off the highway onto a small dirt road that led us out into an extremely windy plateau. The air was cold and whipping but we were desperate for a shower so we lathered ourselves up in the pitch dark and doused each other with water bottles (our first attempt at showering while on the road; it was not ideal).
We opened the back door the following morning to find that we were just meters away from a 100-foot cliff drop down to the Atlantic Ocean. The sky was white and the ocean was livid. The atmosphere was both terrifying and breathtaking. We walked to the cliff’s edge and looked out over the growing white-capped waves. The mist from the ocean combined with the fog lifting from the night prior made for a surreal view. There was no horizon in sight; no way of telling where the ocean ended and the sky began. Nothing could be heard over the wind. It felt like we were standing in a no-man’s land of blank space but at the same time, I felt entirely unified with the natural landscape.
There were a few times throughout the trip where I felt completely overwhelmed by the power of nature and it was in these times that I felt the strongest connection with the world around me. Looking back to the day we spent in Sagres, as I discussed in an earlier post titled, Life At The Edge, there are certain times in life where you have to take a step back and appreciate yourself as part of something much bigger. Not only will this bring you an overwhelming sense of self, but it also creates a feeling of intimacy with the unfamiliar places you may visit. Personally, I like to travel for the experiences each trip may surprise me with. I never expected to find myself standing on the edge of a cliff in such drastic weather conditions or watching a soccer game with such a huge crowd of strangers, but I’m sure glad I did.