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PORTUGAL

My first day in Lisbon was a kaleidoscope of colors and celebrations. I arrived during a festival and the city's vibrancy hit me immediately. The beautiful ceramics on every building facade were sparkling in the sunlight and the streets were alive with music and laughters. My hostel was buzzing with activity too, but no one in sight that felt worth my attention. Except, at night, I realized there was an old man in my dorm. He caught my attention because he was lying still, with his eyes open -and for a moment I wondered if he was dead. I felt asleep thinking I was going to have nightmares -because of him, of course, but also because of what was about to happen next. The following morning, I was flying to Madeira and picking up a car to drive around the island for a week. I was a bit stressed by the idea of driving, alone, in the mountains. 


Driving in another country was a challenge I had set myself to do-  because although I love being behind the wheel, I always seem to default to letting my boyfriends drive when I am in couple. I don’t know if it’s by comfort or just because internally I know I would be stressed out, but I needed to do more actions to live by new mantra:  if boys can do it, so can I. 


When I arrived in Madeira airport, I went straight to the car rental counter. Panic set in when I couldn't find my driver's license. The guy at the counter refused to give me the car without it (obviously) and I spent a frantic ten minutes searching through my luggage. I almost died of joy when I finally found it. Driving to Funchal was surprisingly stress-free. The narrow streets and the bustling atmosphere was not yet at it’s peak, as I arrived super early. I parked under my hotel, welcoming with relief the fact that my room had been upgraded. The city was also hosting a festival and I wandered through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds before falling asleep early, knowing I had to leave at 5:30 AM, the next day.


Waking up at 5 AM, I left Funchal in the complete darkness. The drive to the top of Pico do Arieiro was eerie, with thick clouds reducing visibility to almost nothing. But, the empty streets allowed me to take my time -I was driving at about 40Km/h in the curvy mountain roads. I parked at the top and began my hike, after my hour long drive. The trek between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo was absolutely spectacular. The views were some of the most breathtaking I had ever seen, making it one of my favorite hikes ever. Not something easy to say, when you have hiked the Inca Trail. The return trek was harder, but I finished it in six hours, feeling accomplished -drained but happy. From there, I drove to Machico. Despite the GPS occasionally leading me in one-way streets or telling me to dive straight into the Atlantic -I found my hotel easily. The town was hosting a medieval festival (what was up with all those festivals!) and I drank my first poncha while wandering through the festivities. At night, I opened Tinder again and quickly closed it after I realized that Portugal wasn’t going to be more fruitful than Spain, in terms of quality of dicks. 


The next day, I drove to Ponta de São Lourenço for a trek that felt like walking on Mars. My legs ached from all the hiking and I remember wondering why. After all, the Inca Trail was longer and harder and I didn’t recall feeling any pain at all. The possible correlation with chewing coca leaves only came to my mind later. After my trek, I drove to Santana, arriving a bit too early to check in. I decided to head to Queimadas National Park for another trek, trying to push through the pain. It was easier -but my legs still protested every step. Driving back to my hotel, the narrow, winding streets of Santana were getting more challenging, especially because cars were parked everywhere on it (even in curves).  At least, the lack of traffic allowed me to slow down and enjoy the drive. I fell asleep early, preparing for the next day's journey to Seixal.


The drive from Santana to Seixal was uneventful until a speeding driver swerved into my lane, near the small village of Sao Vincente. I had to maneuver my car sharply, grazing a wall on the cliff side of the road. The other driver stopped, looked at me, and then drove off. I felt strangely numb rather than scared. I don't know why, I have a hard time to feel scared. During my travels around the world, I got into some situations that are suppose to be scary -but I always ended up feeling angry or numb, instead. Now that I was realizing that if I had driven a tiny bit faster, I would have or do a front-face collison or pass over the little wall and fall off the cliff with my car- the lack of 'scared feelings' was a bit concerning. For the rest of the day, I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t scared- even of death, and I realized that I was…  just not about mine. 


I was scared that my cat would die, because I remembered how terrible I felt when Croquette left. I was also scared that my dad would die before my mom. Because I don't think she could handle it. She can't talk about her feelings… never was able to talk about her past, her fears, her goals and dreams.. so i am really afraid that she would just slowly let herself die, without wanting any help. She really doesn't want to be vulnerable and I feel like she is slowly giving up. She barely goes out of the house and I wonder if deep down she is really happy. I honestly feel like she is surviving only because she has my dad by her side. For a woman who was so resilient, a woman who fought to escape her bad famillial situation, who fought to not be poor, to educate herself, to help others with her free time, to educate her girls and give them the famillial situation she would have dreamed of, when she was just a little girl -it is very hard to see her slowly lose her will to be fullfilled and happy, as the years pass. I read somewhere, once, a quote about Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s suicide saying: “Sometimes people who inspire others aren’t able to inspire themselves”, and unfortunately, it hits home with the intrusive thoughts I have about my mom. I wish with all my heart that she would go to therapy and find back her will to live -not just survive, but she is too scared to open herself up. Maybe it is why I am trying to be so open and vulnerable. Maybe I secretly wish that she would read this blog and tell me that she wants help... that she needs help. 


At the beginning of the year, my dad went to the hospital because he contracted shingles. If you don’t know what it is, Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash and attacks deep as your nerves. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus -the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the body's nerve tissue and can reactivate years later as shingles. Although my mind seem to have freeze his age at 62 -my dad had turned 70 this year. Shingles is extremely painful and the older you get, the more dangerous it gets. My dad was in extreme pain -like i never saw him in pain before. And for the first time, he really looked his age. He looked old and fragile, and it gave me a huge wakeup call that my parents aren't immortals. They are getting old. And yeah, this is scaring me a lot. 


I finally arrived in Seixal, where I parked the car and decided to explore by foot for the rest of the day. I was lucky enough that my airbnb let me check-in early, and even luckier that it was 5 min walk from the famous black sand beach. It was absolutely stunning, i felt like in Jurassic Park, minus the stress to be eaten alive. Seixal was a small town in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by cliffs on one side and peaks on the other. I am not sure why, but I always loved mountain towns. There is something serene yet powerful in those places.. and maybe because they are harder to reach, they also feel more authentic.


After my day chilling around the town, I felt asleep feeling better. I knew i needed to drive again the next day and I was a bit stressed, but I also knew i was going to be ok. 

I wokeup the next morning, took the car and started driving to Achadas Da Cruz. The drive was a bit crazy, as it was on even smaller winding mountain roads.. but there was no one in sight so i felt more relaxed and in control again. I arrived at Achadas Da Cruz funicular, around 9 AM. It was broken. They were reparing it, in front of me. It was going to be a 98% angle drop, from the top to the bottom. I knew i would have been scared previously, when i was afraid of heights, but i was not, now. I waited patiently that they finished the repairs and then was called in. Two man came in my pod too- they both holded machetes. One of them go out of the pod, last minute. It started going down and I made a joke about hoping the guy wouldn't kill me. He laughed, asked if i spoke just english, I said 'french too’. He said: 'moi aussi!' He told me his story. He was from France but came here on holidays, 5 years ago. Met a girl, married her. Came back to leave with her on the island. We said goodbye, once the funicular has dropped us down and I explored around for about 2 hours. It was breathtaking. I went back up, started driving back to the airport, feeling somewhat happy to leave the car -but a bit sad too, as this was a sign my trip was coming to an end. 


I dropped the car at the rental company, explained everything about the incident and they said it happens all the time. "Sometimes locals do it on purpose”. Apparently, locals were pretty mad about the government allowing tourists to drive around the island, as the infrastructure wasn’t meant for that many people. Angry that we steal the already scarce parking places, they find rental cars and cause intentionnal accident -or even use their keys to scratch the cars. I felt bad for not knowing that before, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in my choice anyway, as lots of places I wanted to visit where only accessible with a rental. I took a taxi back to Funchal, where I went for a typical toboggan ride. It was super fun and I came back to my hotel with a smile. I fell asleep feeling sad of leaving that beautiful island. I promised myself I would come back, one day. 


I flew back to Lisbon, the next day. I was going to be there for three nights. In these four days, I explored Sintra, Belem (I still don't understand the hype about pastel de nata) and I also just chilled in Lisbon and attended a few festivals. One night, i met a guy at the hostel and he paid me a drink. He was a cute canadian guy from Toronto. A firefighter. I first thought to myself, why not? But after about 25 minutes speaking with him, I got bored to death. The guy only spoke about himself. He spoke so much I couldn't even place a fucking word. We were now about 25min walk away from the hostel, in a huge festival happening in the streets. I told him I needed to pee and he told me he would wait for me at the bar (a makeshift bar outside). I started walking to try to find a place to pee, but as none of the restaurants/bar wanted us to go inside, I decided I would just go back to the hostel. Anyway the guy loved himself so much I wasn't sure he would even notice I didn't came back. I felt asleep without an once of remorse. The next day, though, after a day out wandering the streets, i came back to the hostel and saw him coming out. He didn't see me -thank god. It was my last day in Portugal and the first time in all my travels that I did not met anyone interesting. I thought that maybe it was because I really needed to be alone. Maybe i wanted it so bad that I was just not as approchable. And that's okay. After all, I had an epic trip that definitely taught me a lot about myself, what I want and what I am capable of. 

   

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