Friday, June 10, 2011

See You Later, Hello!!

My vacation is coming to an end. Tomorrow at this time I will be landing in Dublin on a layover back to Boston. It has been twenty-one great days away from work stress and my daily chores, but time has come to once again re-enter my routine. Being away is always contemplative for me - I tend to let my mind wander and think of ways to change the things I don't like in life. Some are rather lofty ideas, I must admit, but for the most part they are realistic and possible. The problem seems to always be putting them into practice once "real life" sets in again.

I started today with another nice one-hour hike through field and fauna with Fritz, our lovely family dog and some friends.

Fritz is by far the most fascinating dog I've ever known. We don't really know how old he is. Dad found him about five years ago wandered the valley near the house. He was well-nourished so not likely a stray, but no one came to claim him after Dad posted signs all over town. Off to the Vet for a check-up, shots and a chip implant and Fritz, as he was named, became part of the family. Like his exact age, his bread is a mystery as well. A mutt with a tad of Rottweiler is my best guess.

He sees me once a year, twice if we are both lucky, but from the moment I drive up it is like we have never been apart at all. He rolls onto his back and begs me to play. Once unchained (mom says he'll go after the chickens if he is let loose all day) he runs circles around me and licks my legs. We usually go for walks, but this year I decided to hike into the hills behind the house. One path starts just a few meters down the road from our front door. It is pretty steep for the most part on the way up. A trail of red earth winding past fields of wild lavender, mountain roses and dozens of other plants and trees I recognize but can not name. Fritz keeps up with me, or I with him - I'm not always sure who is leading who - all the way to the top where we take a break. Fritz rests under a cork tree while I marvel at the view each and every time as it was the first time. We've done this hike four times in the past week, but neither one of us finds it boring. On the way down the other side, the path is shorter, but equally steep ending up at a major road. Fritz waits patiently when I call out to him to stay put until I get his leach hooked. Until then he gets to roam free, but the road is to busy and dangerous for him, so I make sure we both stay safe along this stretch that leads past dozens of Eucalyptus trees into the little village of Alportel. From here we follow the main road for a while, sometimes stopping to say hello to someone I have not seen in a long while, sometimes because Fritz found something interesting to smell. There are a few different ways to get back home - sometimes we stay on the road, sometimes we cut across the fields and follow and old river bed and other times we mix it all up. A hundred meters or so before we reach the house I let him off his leach again. He runs up ahead, straight to the water bowl and a quick roll on his back before he is hooked back to the chain.

The weather has been mostly cooperative. Some wind and a bit of rain, but nothing to keep me from roaming about. While I did not get to do all the side excursions I had planned, I did get to do the most important part - spend time with family and friends, including a trip to the cemetery to "see my grandparents, other family and friends who left way too soon". It may sound strange, but I talk to them all. So far no one has talked back. A good thing that is too as I'm not sure how I would react if anyone did. Jump a thousand feet in the air or get out my list of questions?

I really enjoyed playing tour guide to my girlie Ilham and her friend Amina who came to visit Portugal for the weekend. I got to introduce them to my parents and they shared Dad's birthday lunch with us. It was so much fun to spend time with them, drive them around and show them "my" country. Well, a part of it as we only had a couple of days. From the mountains and medieval castles and towns to the Vincentine (West) coast and amazing beaches like Carrapateira, an unfortunately named slice of heaven (Carrapato is a flea, the bloody type you find on dogs) I tried to fit in a good sample of what the Algarve has to offer. And going back to the unfortunately named beach, come to think of it, it might be more a case of deceptiveness. Like Iceland which is not all icy and actually very diverse in its landscape and Greenland which is really icy and not green at all, I think someone was trying to keep the masses away from this idyllic beach and baptized it with an unpleasant name. Flea beach does not sound very appealing, but having been there a few times I can attest to the contrary.

I also spent a wonderful afternoon with my cousin Celia. We basked in the sun of Quarteira beach, enjoyed some espresso and got caught up on our lives. We both lived in Germany at the same time. I was there when she was born, well not literally there, I was ten. Like me, she is an only child and like me she lives life on her own terms despite a rather confusing and strict upbringing. I guess I could call her my gypsy twin.

And a trip home would never be complete without seeing Manuela. Yes, Steve you, too!! This time in stayed overnight and we got to talk like old times when we shared a one-room and a bath apartment while doing our hotel internships in Albufeira. We both can recall those days well. It was good to feel the bond we created back then. a bond that I know will be there for as long as we both are on this planet.

As I write this, I know that Monday is slowly but surely approaching. With it will come work, commuting to work, dealing with the daily routine and I will be far, far away from the bronzing rays of the Algarve sun and scent of Eucalyptus trees. In the same moment I remind myself that without that, THIS - here and now - would neither be possible nor so greatly appreciated. So, yes I am grateful for the routine I'm going back to as it comes with another great set of friends and surrogate family members who make each day special.

Monday, June 6, 2011

On Winding Roads

From the moment the plane hits the Tarmac, life takes on a different meaning altogether. As I step out onto the stairs I feel the hot sun on my skin. I take in a deep breath. Everywhere I have in been in the world is different, has a different feel, smell and vibration, but the Algarve is home in the truest meaning of the word like no other place on Earth. It has it's very unique feel, smell and energy.  My favorite part when I first arrive is the drive from the airport to my parents. I love the mostly narrow winding road that stretches from the ocean into the mountains for a little over 20 kilometers. My little rental car obeys to all the gear changes necessary to hug the curves just so and I feel a bit like a Rally driver.  I love to drive on this stretch in particular because I used to ride it daily on the bus to and from school when I attended the last two years of high school. As I kick into the gears into fifth, back to fourth and then third and back to fourth again, I always have the same thoughts - this is where came from, where life started for me and where I will always belong whether I want it or not. This land speaks to my soul and that is hard to ignore.

But coming home to Portugal is always filled with a dichotomy of experiences. In some ways it seems as time stood still - some people you knew are still living in the same exact house, doing the same exact things day in and day out and have the same close-minded view of the world.  Progress happens all around and changes the landscape. An old house gets torn down for a new apartment complex or mini mall; another field turns into a parking lot; another idyllic road becomes a busy throughway. Coming home is always bittersweet too when you have more then one place to call home. Living life on two separate continents is way less glamorous then one might think. Your always leaving your friends and family to go home to your friends and family.

As I come around the last corner before a short straight stretch I see my parents home, the house I was born in, emerge up on the right. I press the horn on my little Hyundai. Mom sticks her head out the kitchen door and presses the control to open the gate. I'm home, for now......

Friday, June 3, 2011

Truly, Madly, Deeply….. Continued

(Sorry to have been "in hidding" for a few days. As it happens, life IS what happens while you made plans to write your travel blog every day. Life happens, and the blog must wait.)

I am happy to report that the elusive pictures taken by the strange Polish photographer Adam have arrived the other day via email, as promised.
But on to the rest of my Dublin trip.
I met a few really nice people and made some new friends. I am blessed to have such good fortune and people who care about me. Thanks to I, P and D for making my trip special.
Dublin was a really nice experience even with all the rain and wind on some of the days. Definitely a city worth another trip, for the Guinness and good friends alone!
Oh yeah, why Truly, Madly, Deeply? Well, some of you may recall a song by this name, by the Australian pop band Savage Garden. When I first saw these word on a page of the in-flight magazine on my flight from Boston to Dublin that was the first thing that came to mind. However, Dublin has adopted these tree words as its slogan for the city: Truly, Madly, Deeply…. Dublin!  Pretty clever. 
As I found out, there is a movie by the same name.  Something to check out when I am back home.