We Like to Get Lost: Van Life in Portugal [GALLERY]
By Michele LaCorte
Van life in Portugal consisted of a journey through a land of contrasts and beauty, progress and wild nature, creative cities and savage beaches. Algarve, Lisbon, Peniche, Nazarè, Porto, all cities that made up the itinerary of an autumn that felt like summer.
Truthfully, Portugal and I started off on the wrong foot. I went through a long and heavy series of unfortunate events. At one point, my friends from Rome told me to leave Portugal: "Keep going straight north and get back in Spain, some places just give you negative vibes."
I was very close to fleeing away.
I decided it couldn't be. I wanted to stay. I wanted things to work out. So I waited, and when I did, everything else fell into place. Days were sweet again, sunny and smooth. The people I met were warm, pleasant and kind. And the places I'd been felt like home.
I spent two months driving up and down from the southern coasts of Algarve to the northern cityscapes of Porto, enjoying every bit of my time there.
I entered Portuguese border in mid-October. I know Portugal is crowded in the summertime, but it was still warm and cozy with plenty of waves to surf in autumn. I decided to avoid the big crowds and roam there when fewer people were around. The van life community shrunk down to a few road warriors, and the lineups are a bit less busy. Apparently, we were lucky and gifted by late summer weather, persisting overhead all the way to mid-December. Nights would still get cold, but daytime would burn warm and bright.
Driving around I kept running into other travelers.
Some people were there for months, some for just a few days. Most people came for a short weekend break during the summer and ended up giving up their jobs and moving here for years. Many girls traveled solo with their vans. Young couples, digital nomads, entrepreneurs, artists, families, yoga instructors, and a few hippies, van lifers compose a vast, diverse and creative traveling community in which a lot happens. Many people come, go, and meet again as gatherings blossom spontaneously and loosen with the same ease.
In this eclectic landscape of people, places, and smiles, I found new friends. I found peace. It felt so good.
This made me think back to a couple of years before when I bought Jumbo, my van, and to a year later when I finally sold my house.
I was free, but that freedom had a bitter aftertaste.
I felt like a kid who had bought a brand new toy, but there was no one around with whom to share it with. I had to cope with contrasting feelings: freedom and loneliness; what was right, and what is commonly accepted; comfort and adventure.
It was not easy. Some days felt terrible. Some days I cried.
I am glad I resisted back then. It made it possible for me to overcome all the tough shots Portugal threw at me in the very first week.
I lost my brand new surfboard on the road to Lagos and spilled a full glass of water over my MacBook in Porto, rendering it useless. I, then, broke a tooth, got fined by the police in Nazarè, and got into a nasty argument with some sexually-challenged locals in Ericeira.
Sometimes all you have to do is sit back and do nothing at all.
That said, Margot, my dog, almost died from food poisoning. That day, doing nothing was not an option. I had to run to the vet. Luckily she had a slow but very healthy recovery.
And that's how it went. That's how I got to enjoy this wild country of contrasts, where I could space from the progress of advanced cities to the emptiness of the golden coastline, playing, surfing, jamming, working, exploring, mingling, loving, celebrating life.
In the end patiently waiting rewarded me. I finally felt a part of something.