The Algarve. Portugal’s southernmost province is known for its diverse beaches and incredible coastline, characterized in some areas by thousands of eroded limestone cliffs. It’s the region where the historically significant Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula is still very noticeable, both through the many oriental architectural elements and the name Algarve itself, which is derived from the Arabic term for the West: Al-Gharb.
Most of all it’s a place where the pace of everyday life seems to slow down a bit, where it’s easy to get lost in mazy streets of picturesque towns and where travelers come to wind down and live the good life for a while. Which is definitely what I did. After the intensity of northern Portugal, the six days I spent in the coastal town of Lagos were the epitome of mellowness and respite. Which is not to say that they were uneventful, in fact quite the opposite. Cliché events like walking down to sunset point every night with good people and cold beers. Educational events like learning silly phrases in Portuguese from the hostel staff (Gosto dos teus sapatos – I like your shoes). Crazy events like spending an afternoon swimming from beach to beach with just a waterproof bag and one functional arm. Surreal events like watching Reservoir Dogs with Portuguese subtitles and people while sipping lemon peel tea. And that’s just by day.
Night time in Lagos is when everything changes. Laziness becomes craziness, sunbathing turns into moonwalking and a sea of liquor floods the throats. It’s as if all the energy charged up during the hot day is let loose again in the overcrowded dance bars and night clubs. This hedonism is passionately encouraged by so-called party hostels, one of which I stayed in for a couple of nights. Daytime is mostly spent recovering from the debaucheries of the night before, followed by mentally and alcoholically preparing for the one to come. It’s home to Australians with superhuman party stamina, dorm rooms with names like Hard Cock Café and Suite 69 and above all an unrelenting tsunami of booze. Suffice it to say that this place was anything but boring, in its own extremely unique and uniquely extreme way.
Meanwhile my skin tone has been progressing through 50 Shades of Brown to the point where my full body complexion could now best be compared to an Oreo cookie (yes that's right). It’s become clear to me that what we at home consider tanned is really quite a laughable concept. Here, life is a beach and death probably a cancer.
All joking aside though, Portugal has been a revelation and will remain one of my favorite countries in Europe. A place that definitely will need to be revisited. It was the perfect way to start this trip in and it has provided me with the traveler confidence I knew I’d need like no other place could.
I have been spending the last couple of days in Seville and have just now arrived in Granada. And boy has that been a great weekend. In an attempt to spice things up a bit and get a more local experience (and also to save money who are we kidding) I’ll be CouchSurfing whenever I find people that’ll host me and not murder me. For the first night in Seville I found such a couple, and an amazing one at that. It’s not every day you get a customized city tour by a high-ranking official of the local far left wing Andalusian labor union, ending in a whole night long Balkan-Cumbia style dance party with members of said far left wing Andalusian labor union. All of this while simultaneously being schooled in the civil and political struggles faced by the south of Spain and especially Andalusia.
Learning about a place through the eyes of locals is something I appreciate incredibly, especially when they are really passionate about their beliefs. It’s a different and at times refreshing exchange from the conversation that often takes places amongst foreign travelers. You learn more about what life is really like somewhere, and how people actually live where you’re just passing through. Even though going for a midnight shisha with seven solo travelers from as many different countries is pretty inspiring as well.
Speaking of passionate locals, I have to mention Medi. Medi is without any doubt and by far the best walking tour guide I have ever encountered. And I have been on my share of walking tours. The boundless energy and genuine enthusiasm with which he talked about the city and its history was unparalleled. It was so good that half of the morning tour crowd returned for the evening tour. I can’t even remember the last time I listened to someone talk for five hours in one day voluntarily. So if you’re ever in Seville ask around for him, he’s absolutely wonderful.
And so we arrive at the present. After seeing the Alhambra tonight I will leave Europe and go explore Morocco for about three weeks before heading to Egypt. The fact that I’m half-Moroccan myself and have never been there makes this an especially important part of this journey. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that it’s a stunning place, and I fully expect to confirm that sentiment. At the same time I believe that leaving Europe will really mark a proper departure from most of common Western culture and in some way the real exotic beginning of the rest of the year.
September 20th, 2016