Three Days Alone in Portugal

I arrive in Portugal in the afternoon; it’s all drama free. I know how to do this now. Book a flight at a sensible hour, find the left luggage at the station, wander about town til I can go to my couchsurfing host’s place, then arrive, cheerful and open. I climb a few flights to enter another stranger’s home – my hosts always seem to live on the top floor. We chat about our couchsurfing experiences to start then delve deeper and before you know it we’re discussing Life’s Big Problems and I feel free and wonderful and full of the world’s excellent people. We wander the streets of Lisbon in search of a fado house we never find and she is clever and thoughtful and funny and so am I and I am happy.

I am an extrovert. On some level, I feel like each time I travel I’m trying to prove my own independence. I set off for the beach alone for a few days – to relax. I find being alone relaxing for about 3 – 5 hours. Then I need human contact.

Three days of solitude later and I think it might be time to own my love of others. I can survive alone but I thrive in company. After two days of anxiety, I am only now feeling the tension start to slip out of my bones. I am a naturally happy person, so when anxiety hits it lasts a week at most. It’s unpleasant, the cyclical thought patterns, berating myself for decisions made, panicking over future choices. But it’s manageable. In the face of my privilege, indulging these woes feels embarrassing. But there they are.

Today, I find a sandy bay, wedged between rocky outcrops and ramshackle hotels, dotted with umbrellas and perfect bodies laid out like offerings to the gods. People are in pairs and groups and families. I amble over the sand to an umbrella and read my book.

The water – as always – is calming. I think it’s impossible to be sad in the ocean. I swim out further than the rest and face the beach, surveying the scene. I place the soles of my feet together, floating like some round-bellied yogi, lazily waving my arms through the water feeling it ripple through my fingers. Those perfect bodies prance along the sand, but we’re all equal in the water. We float.

A woman, all leathery tan and lime green bikini, climbs up a rock to pose for a photo. She wraps her limbs awkwardly around the flag pole like a novice stripper. The beach bar plays The Final Countdown’ and Billie Jean. People get sunburned. In the distance, an accordianist plays Que Sera. You can’t make these glorious cliches up.

The sky is perfect, streaked with cloud. I’ve always thought clear blue was overrated.