It’s been a week since I’ve been back in Portugal after Morocco — a week in which I have to admit my spirits were quite low. But today was a day of minor successes and I feel like I may be returning to good form and my regular level of energy and optimism.
I haven’t blogged much about Morocco because there is just too much to say about it, and I honestly don’t think I have absorbed the experience enough to know what it means to me. Traveling there was so amazing and I was fortunate enough to have a local experience in a couple of places so I really got a glimpse, albeit brief, of what it is like to live there. Even though parts of the trip were difficult, I still left there on an amazing high for a number of reasons.
One of them was the surfing, which was so much better there than it’s been all week in Portugal, where the west coast is being battered by a massive, messy swell and the southern coast is more or less flat. When I’ve been down before, surfing has given me the adrenalin high my body needs to raise my spirits; because of the surf conditions here this week that hasn’t been an option.
I knew leaving my job, New York City and the script that was written out for my life for so many years would not be easy, and I was somewhat prepared for this part of the experience. I knew that the day I would be faced with the quiet of life in the southwestern Portuguese countryside and no plans or goals for each day would be a terrifying day indeed.
I knew what I was getting myself into and so now I am in it. And I am learning that it takes more than a great holiday in Morocco and a week of reflection in a beautiful, quiet place to figure out how to change your life.
I guess I had set some deadline in my head that after Morocco I will hunker down in Portugal and get back to some kind of work, and begin pitching people with a vengeance to try to get some articles published. The thing is, when I got back from Morocco, the last thing I felt like doing was working; in fact, I was feeling quite blocked all week when it came to writing, and I also had absolutely zero confidence in anything that did come out.
I sent out a few tentative emails to people I’d been in previous contact with about work, but so far nothing has panned out. It really bummed me out to have a virtually empty inbox after the first few days, and I didn’t even have surfing to cheer me up.
In short, I think I have been a victim of my own expectations. I think I expected some amazing transformation to have happened by now, nearly a month to the day since my last day at my job. I think I expected the universe to just hand me the next logical step for my life as soon as I decided I was ready to take it.
Well, to put it bluntly, shit just doesn’t always work out that way now, does it?
After a conversation with my best friend last night to set me straight, and a fun dinner with Irma and Emanuel to help me feel more at home here, I decided to wake up today and take advantage of this down time I have instead of moping all over one of the prettiest places on the planet.
Today I reminded myself how much I love this place and how much beauty there is still left for me to explore. I am still a traveler in Portugal, after all, so I figure I should check out places I haven’t been on previous trips while I have this time to do so.
Today I drove down to Portimao and walked Praia da Rocha, a long beach lined with tourist and other short-term accommodations. Portimao is where I will start my Portuguese class tomorrow night, but while class is in the old town, the newer part that’s built up along the coast is mostly a haven for tourists from the U.K., Ireland and other less temperate countries in Europe.
It’s off season now and the beach was fairly quiet. I walked its length and watched the lone surfer out on the waves breaking near a jetty; he wasn’t catching much, but he was giving it an honest try, which is more than I can say for me lately.
Then I drove further east along the southern coast to a small fishing village called Benagil, where there is a trail that follows the cliffs about 4 km east. The ocean here at the end of the continent (next stop if you set out due south is Morocco) is mainly calm except for where it crashes against misshapen rock formations and into sea caves. It feels like standing at the edge of the earth to stand at the end of a continent; I dared not get too close to the edge so strong was my urge to dive in and start swimming for the next landfall.
I hiked the trail for awhile and saw barely another soul save for a couple of fisherman who were casting from the cliffs and a white-haired British couple who “Boa tarde”d me. It was the second time that day I was mistaken for Portuguese (a Portuguese couple had asked me for directions earlier), which is probably because of the blonde highlights in my dark hair and the color of my skin, which has gotten quite bronze. The women here love to defy their brunette hair with highlights, and my Sicilian skin is even darker now than some of that of the locals.
All in all, it was a really lovely day, and I feel a little more positive about my mission here. As my friend told me last night, it’s not necessary to have goals or to accomplish anything right now. This may be one of the last times in my life I will ever be so free from responsibility, so I should enjoy it and stop putting pressure on myself to be something or do something with my life other than what I am doing right now.
I know she’s right, but I guess it took a week of deprogramming for me to figure that out. The best and most appropriate things in life usually come when we’re not looking for them anyway. I figure the best thing I can do for myself is just stay calm, remember to enjoy all the beauty that surrounds me and ease myself back into some kind of routine without great expectations for what will come next.
That said, since tomorrow’s swell looks to be huge again, I plan to hit the Piscinas Municipais, this ridiculously pristine, Olympic-size swimming pool that just opened down the road in Aljezur. It’s 3 euros to get in and it’s unlikely there will be many people using it, according to what the locals tell me.
Emanuel and Irma chuckled over it last night, saying that the town spent millions of dollars on it more to show that it could afford such an amenity than become of local interest in having a city pool. No matter, I would have given my left arm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this summer for the local pool to be empty of other swimmers; I’ll gladly pay 3 euros to have my own lane and, with any luck, the whole pool to myself.
Tomorrow night I also start my first Portuguese class, which is an hour and 15 minutes of conversation at an intermediate level with a group of British and Dutch students. I have to brush up on what I learned in the class I took in New York before I go, since I don’t want to start the first day already behind everyone else. I’m sure I will have catching up to do, but hopefully the immersion will be good for my language skills.
On that note I’m off to cook myself a delicious dinner here in my cozy little home, and then watch the final episodes of “Mad Men” I’ve missed since I’ve been gone and that I downloaded today from Pirate Bay. (When Emanuel asked me what I miss from the U.S. last night at dinner I have to embarassingly admit I said “television.” And I don’t even watch that much TV!)
Though I spent nine years as a technology journalist and knew all about sites where media files can be downloaded illegally, I’ve never actually done it myself. But as I am now learning to abide by a strict budget, necessity became the mother of invention and I have finally and unapologetically joined the ranks of happy media pirates everywhere.