I woke up on a dry August morning with a mild hangover and a silly grin. Everyone was already up, walking around my bunk, showering, talking about the tides. In an hour I’d be paddling in the Atlantic on a softboard, learning how to surf for the first time.
My grin lasted for an hour. I could barely eat my breakfast (try eating cereal with a cheeky grin – not possible), but I was set, full and ready to go. I hopped into a beat-up station wagon, owned by one of the hostel managers, and we ploughed our way to the beach.
Surfing had been a pipe dream of mine (har, har) ever since I caught the movie Endless Summer on a late February night when I was going through my annual winter blues. As per usual, between the winter solstice and reading week I get a horrible sense of powerlessness that can only be resolved by looking forward. Endless Summer, the essential surfing movie of the 1960s, documents surfing around the world. I start dreaming, plotting my escape, and that’s how the Portugal trip began to develop.
Andy and I crammed into the car with some Germans and drove through the Portuguese countryside, ending up at the beach in less than ten minutes. All the surfers around me were jumping up and down, screaming with giddy anticipation – they hadn’t seen waves this good for months. We couldn’t have chosen a better day.
We went through the rigmarole of surf instruction in the sand before we entered the water, which only took 20 minutes. The water was wonderfully warm and welcoming, the wash was light and the waves were glassy and constant. 45 minutes of paddling, watching, wading and falling, and I was up on my first wave. Andy was slapping the water with exclamation, as were the other students, and every time anybody else made it up we all celebrated like we’d just learned to ride a bike for the first time.
This kept going for the better part of the afternoon: standing up and falling, wading and anticipating, until my shoulders ached with dull exhaustion and my neck was ripe with sunburn. Paddle into the beach, avoid the body borders who plague the shallows, and walk along the sand to the lazy hostel-goers who just wanted some sun. Eat a sand-filled sandwich with some Pringles and fall asleep in the middle of the beach, sprawled out, with the sound of the waves all around me. I’d done it, I’d surfed it, and I dozed off to that happy accomplishment in the back of my head.
Surfing was paramount to my happiness that week, but it was only half the story.
The most important part of my week in Raposeira was my encounter with the people there – the beautiful, outlandish, insane guests of Good Feeling Hostel in the South of Portugal – and the reason why I’ll return again and again and (guess what) again.
Any hostel-goer will tell you the same thing: your experience with the people in a hostel can make or break your time in a given city. I’ve been miserable in beautiful cities, and lost in others, because the guests can put you in a funk. Conversely, the smallest and unlikeliest hostels can deliver the greatest experiences of your life. Good Feeling, above anything I’ve ever seen, delivered this. Sometimes, time and place permitting, you fall into a place you never want to leave. A collection of travelers all in the right place at the right time, on their different ways, only there for a second – but a second worth remembering.
One of the travelers was Maria, an Austrian surfing babe with a big smile and a bigger heart. She called me Sandy (because I could never get the sand off my skin) and rolled her eyes at my German curse-word vocabulary. Another was Vincenzo, an Italian fashion company owner, a complete nut from Italy and an epic traveler. Jimbo and Sam were Aussies, completing a one-year transcontinental odyssey, stopping by Good Feeling for a few days before heading to Spain. The German girls, students from Munich, played me at backgammon every night and drank with us for almost a week straight. They told me how to pick up German girls at a bar and they actually wrote a script for me (which can be found somewhere on the internet). Now I know how to say “you are beautiful” and “I am no longer infected” in German … could come in handy?
But by the most important person I met while at the hostel was Ben, a loud, German, lone traveler with a big mouth and a ridiculous attitude to everything in life. Ben would drink with Andy and me every night, sharing stories from back home and talking about the places he’d seen. He, Andy and I were as thick as thieves, getting up to the stupidest of shenanigans.
All of these people were at the hostel at the same time, all interacting with one another, all feeding off each other’s energy. If only you could have see it.
I spent the week like this: surfing until my arms fell off, sitting in the sun until my skin burnt, eating until my stomach was full, drinking until I couldn’t stand, talking until I couldn’t stay awake. Eight days of this – eight days of love and interaction with everyone around me, eight days of a time spent and gone.
The 12-inch gash in my bag wasn’t going to fix itself, so Ben took it to the beach one day and spent three hours sewing it. To this day I don’t know how or why he did it, but my bag is bulletproof now. I was to leave the next day, and my pack was fixed and I was ready to go home. Vincenzo drove us all to the train station for our train to Lisbon. Good Feeling faded out of the rear-view window and that time was gone – temporarily, at least.
Another adventure awaits; it always does. I’ll return to Portugal, and to Good Feeling, in time. Never forget the promise of human interaction, the wonder of temporary friendship and the power of a bottle of wine with complete strangers. I may never experience a time like that again, but I’ll always keep looking for it.
Until next week, and my final travel article of my student journalism career, farewell, readers.