Last March, I went to Portugal and fell in love. I went on a whim, seeking to escape the last clutches of winter in London. I knew nothing about the country and if I am to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much of it. I wanted to relax, spend time with my partner, and forget all that was going wrong at work. But as we started to explore the Algarve and its coastline, Portugal crept up on me. Its desolated scenery, rumbling trains, and ordinary life took me by surprise. I felt a longing for a life in the hills behind the sea with their barren ochre dirt roads. I gazed at them endlessly as I sat at the terrace of a small bar, sipping a cold drink and mindlessly playing cards. Next to us, the tables were deserted. The few locals there were remained safely barricaded in their cool houses. It wasn’t tourists season yet. I was glad of it. The region felt all the more real and people had time to chat about their day and their country to us. We were not quite another anonymous face in a crowd of foreigners.
A few days later, we were sitting in the soulless airport of Faro, an air-con unit trying to imitate a cold breeze. My stomach was tight and I was nervously rubbing a bracelet I had bought by a beach. Along with my photos and sounds, it was going to be the only trace of Portugal I could share. Somewhere in my heart though, the memories of the country had carved a nest of their own. I was starting to feel their strings pulling me back as the plane took off. Passport checked, luggage retrieved, I stepped outside Luton airport and felt sad. I was home but this was not were I wanted to be. I boarded a coach back to London and as it drove me further away from Portugal, I vowed to myself to go back.
Weeks passed, months passed and Portugal kept haunting me. I told everyone I would go back, take three months off from my life and zigzag my way through the country. I set a date for March 2016, thinking it shouldn’t be too hot then (maybe a little cold but I could deal with that), and began making small preparations. I read up on Portuguese history and discovered a country with a rich and unique past. I borrowed some of José Saramago books from the library and found a literary genius hidden on the European shelves. I learned the basics of a language so foreign I had to forget my old Spanish lessons and open my mind to distinctive sounds and structures.
Time ticked on, work kept deteriorating and I somehow forgot about Portugal. I was still mentioning my trip idea but it didn’t feel quite real anymore. March 2016 was months away and for now it was Summer and I had plans to walk the Camino de Santiago. Then September arrived, the last bolts were screwed upon my touring bike, and I was hit with the realisation that in less than six months I would be on the road. I tried to cower away from it. After all, I was about to begin a new job. It would not be fair to leave them after just a few months. I could delay my trip, work with this company for a year and ask for a sabbatical then. Couldn’t I? This possibility weighed at the forefront of my mind while at the back of it a small nagging voice whispered it was just an excuse. This job I had been offered is not my dream job, just something convenient among a friendly team. So I picked up my Portuguese books from the bedside table and let them swallow me once more in a culture I had become so intrigued by. It is unlikely I will learn as much of the language as I had hoped for, but at least I will go.
Pedalling Portugal will begin in March 2016. For more information about this upcoming trip, visit this page.