There are so many different kinds of travel and as many different reasons to leave everything one knows behind them to venture into the relatively unknown. People travel to see sights, to go shopping, to live with nature, to learn about new cultures, to meet people, to relax, and the list goes on. Most of us engage in each of these kinds of travel at different times in our lives according to our needs and desires.
Four days ago I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal to start a trip of my own. But this trip is not to see the sights. It’s not to go shopping. And it’s definitely not to relax. I’m going on a journey to get to know myself. As long as I’m able and have the time, I’ll definitely do my best to see some of the sights in Europe. But my main goal is really to challenge myself, learn to enjoy the challenge, and to understand myself better in the process.
I arrived in Lisbon on April 13, a bundle of nerves from anticipating the challenges I would be facing ahead – ALONE. My first challenge was reassembling my bike. I had never done this before and I was very worried after I took it apart that I’d never succeed putting it all back together again. I got to my hotel, took everything out of the cardboard box, and gradually set about assembling a bike. I faced some minor difficulties with the fine-tuning, but after watching a couple of youtube videos and speaking with my husband on Skype, it was done! I still worried the bike wouldn’t function once on the road but I’m a big worrier anyways. The bike is functioning as well as can be expected.
On the morning of April 14, I cycled through Lisbon to catch the ferry to Montijo. The ticket office was still closed and after a short conversation with a security guard to understand my options, he let me through the gates without paying so I could catch the ferry that was just about to leave. Starting my journey with another’s act of kindness was a Godsend.
My first day involved 115km of uphill cycling. It was hard going for the second half of the trip. At one point I had a long conversation with myself:
Those pieces of tire rubber on the side of the road look like snakes. What would happen if a snake jumped out of the grass and bit my ankle? What would I use as a tourniquet? I know! I’ll use one of those bungee cords I brought. Then I’ll flag down a car to take me to a hospital. But I’ll tell them I have to bring my bike too. I am NOT leaving it behind. I wonder if hospitals in Portugal have antivenom? I’ll bet you they don’t! I’ll bet you I’ll end up one of those rare untreatable cases.
I then proceeded to roll my eyes at myself. “I’ll bet you they don’t even HAVE snakes in Portugal, Nadia! THAT’s why the hospitals don’t have antivenom, you idiot!”
So what do I see while cycling the following day? You got it! A SNAKE! Albeit dead and smushed by the side of the road.
I camped on the first night just outside of the World Heritage town of Evora. After setting up my tent and showering, I cycled into town to find a nice restaurant to have dinner in. I was famished. Did I find one? No. All I could find were little snack bars that would hardly do the required job. Evora was nice but I needed food. So I returned to the campsite and went to the restaurant across the road.
“Do you have a menu?” I asked the woman sitting behind the bar. She looked at her mother and said something in Portuguese that I translated in my head as, “I think she’s asking for a MENU, Ma!” Her mother said something and she set about looking for paper and pen and actually wrote a menu for me. In Portuguese. I had no idea what it meant and she spoke no English. In the end I understood that two of the choices were beef so I put my finger on one of them and told her I’d have that. By then I was seriously worrying about food. I bought some pastries while in Evora for breakfast. I realized I wouldn’t have food for breakfast otherwise. But what if it will always be like this? I need vegetables! I need milk! I can’t eat crap for two months! I am not a pastry-in-the-morning-person and my stomach suffered for it the next day.
I cycled 105km from Evora, Portugal to Badajoz, Spain on April 15. It was very hilly and very hot. I suspect I was on the verge of heat exhaustion that day. I stopped twice at cafes for some food. The second time I was afraid I would throw it all up. I kept going until I saw a green sign that I instantly recognized: El Corte Ingles, my favorite Spanish department store. Civilization was near! I hadn’t passed through many towns that day and I was desperate for some “normal”. I called out, “El Corte Ingles! Ba7ibbbbaaak! (Arabic for I love you)” i cried a little and kept going. When I saw the sign that indicated I had crossed into Spain I bawled like a crybaby I was so happy.
The plan was to get into Badajoz and look for a hotel. I cycled around town for 45 minutes not finding a thing eventually people helped me and pointed me in the right direction. I stayed in a nice hotel, had a proper shower, washed some clothes, ate a big meal, and slept on a proper bed. It was exactly what I needed after two days of difficult cycling.
The cycle from Badajoz to Merida was only 68km long and was dead flat for most of the way. I really enjoyed it and managed to get to camp just as the sun was starting to get too hot. On the way I saw a shepherd herding about 100 sheep, each with a bell on its neck. They produced the most beautiful music.
I made extra sure to keep well hydrated today after yesterday’s difficulties. And how do we know when Nadia is properly hydrated? She stops to pee by the side of the road every 10km, that’s how.
I was recognized today. A motorcyclist pulled up next to me at a stoplight in Merida and spoke to me in Spanish. I understood after some hand signals and using common sense that he was telling me that he saw me cycling in Portugal. I thought that was pretty darned cool.
Legs are doing all right, my spirits are high, and I’m enjoying this journey so far despite the difficulties.
And tomorrow is another day. We’ll see what it brings!