Part X continues with my trip about Spain and Portugal. From Sacramento to Lisbon, follow my journey through these two countries. Another day in Salema brings an adventure on a beach before heading to the capital city of Lisbon.
Day 18 – Adventurous beach day in Salema
We woke up at 9:30 to the sounds of waves crashing and people talking. Salema is very beautiful, despite the tourists. After our breakfast of bread, cereal, eggs, and juice, we walked on the beach for a bit. I then headed back up the hill to hike along the trails above the beach I was on the day before. It was very hot and the sun was strong. The breeze was blowing so it did keep things comfortable. Unfortunately, I was out of sunscreen and had to pay 20 euros for a new bottle. The hike was steep at times as I went up and back down over a couple of different cliffs. I even fell once and cut my hand.
After an hour and a half, I found the only good stretch of beach around and made a very scary descent down. When I got to the beach, I realized it was a nude beach.
First guy I saw was a 40 something year old nude bald guy in good shape playing fetch with his dog. There were some old men and women nude and out of shape. There was another couple, both nice looking and in their early 30s in the nude taking a swim and laying out. However, there were some other women just topless and other families wearing regular bathing suit attire with no nudity at all.
For most Americans (myself included), nude beaches are risqué and astonishing, very much a taboo for our culture. It took some getting used to but I even talked with the 40 year old nude guy and played fetch with his dog. It was something that was weird at first but it is something you get comfortable with after a while.
For those that haven’t been to nude beaches, nude people are not a turn on, even the attractive ones. The most attractive person on the beach was wearing a two piece bathing suit and that was more alluring than the attractive nude girl. I don’t know if it is “right” or “wrong” that I accepted this and got used to the nudity. If anything, it made me more self conscious of how white I was without a shirt, much less the rest of me. If tan people on the beach are intimidating to those of us without tans, try seeing tanned nude people. I was more conscious of my lack of tan than I was of the nudity.
For the first hour and a half, I walked on the beach listening to my iPod – with shorts, shirt, and hat on. Finally, I took my shirt off and had to keep re-applying my sunscreen because I was so white. After a couple of hours, I got the courage and slowly began lowering my shorts, little by little – on the corner of a beach behind a rock. And applied LOTS of sunscreen.
Finally, I was all nude and VERY protected by sunscreen. It felt like I was going to take a bath in front of a whole bunch of people. After a few moments, I was comfortable with the nudity (sort of). Well, I at least relaxed. And I was more conscious and embarrassed by how white I was as with all these tan people than I was with the nudity. I felt people staring at me because I was so white. I walked up and down the beach and even went for a swim in the cool, but beautiful ocean.
After 45 minutes or so, I got dressed and took a couple more walks on the beach. However, I used my whole bottle of sunscreen on the beach. After all, I had more flesh to protect than I normally do. On my walk down the beach, I asked a nice British family (dressed in normal beach attire) if they had any sunscreen. They gave me some to use for my hike back and we ended up chatting a little. They come here every year for a week on vacation.
As much as I liked Salema, I could vacation here as well (I found out this was Figueira nude beach). I then began the long hike back, making a couple of wrong turns on the path, and had to make some scary descents over steep slopes to get back to the right trail. I made it back safely around 4:15 pm, used the internet, and then headed back to the hotel.
I showered, sat on the balcony, and journaled while watching the sun set. At 7:30 pm, I went down to the Atlantico because I wanted to meet the Rick Steves’ group that had been following us on this trip. I talked to one guy on the tour for a few minutes and then headed back to the room. I then went to the O Barco restaurant and was the only one there. I had a nice dinner of sirloin steak and mushrooms, port wine, and banana split dessert. I even sat there for a while, relaxed, and just spent some time journaling.
Afterward, I took a walk on the beach and walked until I reached a dark stretch of the beach, far away from the lights on the square. For half an hour, I just looked at the stars. There were so many and I even saw a shooting star.
The only other place where I had seen this many stars was a few years ago in Tahoe. The tide was low and I was able to walk so much further than we did the day before. Way out in the ocean, there were some small lights revealing the boats that were far out at sea. It was so dark, I couldn’t even distinguish between ocean and sky.
As I continued to walk along the beach, I listened to my iPod and was relaxed, calm, and at peace. It had been so long since I had experienced that. The quiet peace around me created a quiet peace within me. You can’t buy peace like that.
I realized how small I am while looking up at the endless sky and stars too numerous to count. To stand on the beach, watch the tides come in and out, and look at how big the sky is, how many stars there are, and how small you are, I found a moment with God. It was peaceful and it is those things – the quiet, peace all around and inside of me as I sat still and just experienced something beyond and bigger than me – that remind me God is there. And in this night, I took the time to enjoy it.
In realizing how small I am, it made me think about my fears and about my weaknesses and struggles, and those things I don’t want to talk to anyone about. And I fear myself. I walked back knowing I need to slow down and listen. And I went to bed realizing how weak I am.
As tonight is our last night, I will miss Salema. I wished we could have stayed longer. I experienced so much in one day and had so many different emotions throughout the day – scared, embarrassed, angry, excited, adventurous, joy, peace, wonder, fear. Not too many times have I experienced that all in one day and in one place. A new day, adventure, and city tomorrow – Lisbon, our final destination.
Lessons Learned - When traveling, you may experience things and places you aren’t used to at home. Even for a shy and quiet guy like me, it’s good to stretch yourself and try new things. It’s ok to be daring, bold, and adventurous. Just make sure you have plenty of sunscreen (or take the necessary precautions). Quiet moments can teach you a lot about yourself when traveling. It’s often when we travel that we can dig deep and discover things about ourselves.
Day 19 – Off to Lisbon
Woke up at 7:30, checked out, had a quick breakfast, and caught the bus to Lagos. At 10:15am, we got on the bus for our journey to Lisbon. I slept for the first hour and a half and then watched the movie The Terminal (in English too!) until we got to Lisbon.
As we came into the city, the city was so much bigger than I expected. Portugal only has 10.5 million people and 1.5 million of those live in Lisbon. We crossed over the wide Tejo river on the huge 1.5 mile suspension bridge called the 25th of April bridge (day of the Carnation Revolution when Portugal became a democracy). The bridge was modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Lisbon is a city surrounded on 2 sides by hills that look over the city – the Bairro Alto and the Alfama. On the waterfront is a suburb called Belem where Vasco de Gama and Portugal’s mariner history is honored.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and has a unique history and layout. The city is made up of the Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, and Alfama. The Baixa is the lower city by the waterfront, the Chiado is the nicer, more expensive part of town, the Bairro Alto is the high town with old streets, and the Alfama is the old mariner and fisherman area with its roots in Moorish history.
To the north of the Bairro Alto is the modern part of the city and Belem is across the bridge in the suburbs of Lisbon. Lisbon is one of the more diverse cities in Europe with people from all parts of Europe, Brazil, Africa, and even China. Lisbon thrived in the glory days in the 15th and 16th centuries when explorers opened trade routes to Africa and India which made Lisbon one of the richest cities in the world. This was Portugal’s Age of Discovery and this continued into the 17th and 18th centuries with gold, sugarcane, and diamonds from Brazil.
On All Saints’ Day 1755, a massive earthquake destroyed two thirds of the city and created a tidal wave (equivalent to the one in Asia 2004) that leveled the waterfront. Over 10 percent of Lisbon’s population was killed but the Prime Minister Marques de Pombal rebuilt the city on a grid plan with broad boulevards, even leaving behind some of the remnants and charms in Lisbon’s neighborhoods. Today, it is a friendly, prospering city in Europe and one of the more unique geographical and cultural destinations.
After arriving at the bus station, we took an easy Metro ride to Praca de Restauradores and found our hotel, right in the middle of a tourist filled area of restaurants. After settling in, we had a late lunch at an Indian restaurant. I had the chicken korma (chicken with mild curry, coconuts, and almonds). It was a nice relaxing lunch and much needed food since we had been on the go all day.
After lunch, we took our self guided walk through the Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods. We got lost a couple of times and I became very frustrated (a regular pattern when I don’t know where I am going). We saw a lot of sights on our walk – the Sao Roque church (first Jesuit church), Port Wine Institute, and the Convento de Carmo (the remnants of a church destroyed in the earthquake). We even took the furnicular up the Bairro Alto. The area had numerous side and back streets with a lot of people around.
After our walk, we made an attempt to do the Alfama walk but took the trolley in the wrong direction. So we walked back past some nice churches and national buildings even though we didn’t know what they were. After arriving back at the Bairro Alto, we went back to the Port Wine Institute to sample some wines.
In short, Port wine is a wine developed in Portugal (Porto) by the British. This wine ferments for only 2-3 days and then has brandy added and aged in mostly wooden barrels (although it can age in bottles). Port is generally a sweet wine but depending on how long it ages determines the type. There is ruby (aged 3 years), tawny (aged in smaller wooden barrels 10 to 40 years), white (aged earlier like ruby), Late Bottle Vintage (LBV – aged 4 to 6 years for those not quite vintage standard), and vintage (single harvest aged 2 years in wood and if passes the taste test, 10 to 30 years in bottle). The taste ranges from strong grape and pepper (ruby) to young and robust (white) to lighter, mellower, nuttier (tawny) to classier ruby tastes of LBV and Vintage.
All port wines are medium sweet and can vary from drier to very sweet. We sampled a white (Andresen), colheita (tawny – 95 Qta da Portal), and ruby (LBV – 2000 Qta da Portal). They were all sweet and were the best tasting wines I have ever had. I was so tempted to buy a bottle but didn’t want to ship or carry the bottle back home.
After our wine tasting, we headed back down the hill to our hotel. I went and found an internet café in the Bairro Alto back streets and listened to the USC game (South Carolina). After a very close game and the kindness of the man at the internet café who let me listen to the game after I ran out of money, I went and grabbed a bite to eat.
It was after midnight and there were thousands of people on the streets. There were traffic jams in the streets and people were spilling out onto the backstreets, bars, and cafes. It even took me 4 ATM machines to find one that worked and that actually had money. In all the European cities I have been to, I have not seen this many people out to party as I did here in Lisbon on a Saturday night. Maybe I was just in the right area and the square was smaller which made it seem more crowded. I went and found a cheap meal at Subway and on the way home, I saw even more people around the square and on the streets near my hotel.
After dark, there really isn’t much to do or see in Lisbon. It is not a city loaded with sites and places to see. It’s more about neighborhoods and people with an interesting history and mix of old and new. However, tonight people were out and about ready to have a good time.
Just from my experience today, Lisbon is one of the best English speaking cities that I have been to in Europe. Whether it’s shops, hotels, restaurants, internet cafes, or people on the streets, everyone seems to know some English and many speak it fluently. I also like the diversity. There are many Brazilians and African immigrants here and the Portuguese people are a mix of colors. I really enjoyed seeing black people again as I am not around them as much since I left the South. I enjoyed seeing different races mingling at times and hanging out together. From a simple, yet bustling big city, to its hills, rivers, and various city landscapes to its diverse group of people to the strange sounds of Portuguese and well spoken English, I really love this city.
Lessons Learned - While trains, cars, and planes might be the standard modes of transportation when traveling, many countries have great bus systems as well. They can take you long distances on in town for much cheaper than a flight, train ride, or car rental. Even at the end of a long trip, continue to keep your mind open to your final destination. It may be your best one yet.
Next up – Leaving Lisbon, heading home
Read more about my adventures in Exploring Spain and Portugal