As the red sun sets behind the earth, we arrive at Logan Airport with hefty over-packed bags strapped to our soon to be aching backs–Each of us swimming in a cocktail of anxiety and excitement. We follow the tedious, yet necessary process that comes when traveling internationally. Our 6 hour flight is set to take off at 10:40 PM. This being said, we know it’s imperative to get as restful sleep as possible on a musky ‘1980’s scifi movie’ plane. That’s what the 4 whisky nips are for…4 for each of us. Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp. (mom n’ dad, you’re LOVING this so far.) Portugal being 5 hours ahead of Massachusetts, the jet lag is going to be brutal as it is. I, in particular have an extremely difficult time sleeping in general, so I also throw a Benadryl and an Ativan down the ol’ gullet. Each of us in and out of unrestful sleep, the next 6 hours are a surreal dream-like haze.
The young lady a few seats to my left opens up the window cover allowing a disruptive bright light to shine through. Squinting through sleep-deprived eyes, I realize it’s 10 AM and we are descending into Portugal…the farthest from home I’ve ever been. Gathering up our belongings, I realize my $150 Ray-Ban shades are missing. Perfect. Too tired to care, I cut my losses and exit the plane. Things got kind of weird. Any time I’ve traveled, the plane exit is connected to the airport. Not this time. We exited the plane straight onto Portugal pavement– feeling the ferocious Lisbon sun beat down on us. Not a passenger is speaking…my comrades and I shrug our shoulders and hop on a bus 50 feet from the plane that we assume takes us to the airport. All of us too wiped to express excitement; we eventually get there.. With the exception of Mike, Taylor, Josiah, and myself, not a souls speaks English.
Airports are a dreary place as it is… it’s a lot harsher in a foreign airport where you’re the odd duck(s). I’ve never felt more invisible. First destination: water. MUST DRINK WATER. Mike being the only one of us with the forward thinking enough to have euros, he purchases a few bottles for the crew. Taylor summons an Uber and it’s off to our reservations at the Star Hostel 20 minutes away. As we drove, it becomes apparent we aren’t in Kansas…err Massachusetts anymore. Most buildings have character and color, the cars are small with thin roads to match &… the cobblestone stretches for miles and miles.
After we checked in, it was naptime. 5 PM rolls around or should I say 17:00? I should. 17:00. Noon back home. We arise and now it’s time to eat. We meandered around our little corner of Lisbon for an embarrassing amount of time, until finally finding a place to eat. We enter a fairly cozy and almost entirely empty room. The proud elderly owner greets us warmly, thus beginning the inevitable difficulty of communication. He speaks no English. Using our hands to gesture that we are hungry, he brings us a limited menu written entirely in Portuguese. His lovely wife full of smiles is behind the counter dialing a number on her cell. She passes the phone to her husband. On the other line is their son who speaks a fair amount of English. He helps us interpret the menu. Still more difficult than one would imagine. Finally, I hear the words “chicken”. I point to a line on the menu…”chicken?” “Yes, chicken.” He replies with an extremely thick accent. “I’ll have THAT!” Mike exclaims. “Yeah, me too!” I agree. There will be plenty of opportunity to be adventurous with my cuisine, but right now I’m ravenous and I want some chicken, damn it. Josiah and Taylor choose pork. While we wait for the food to be prepared, the owner brings over olives and bread and beer. It was perfect. The restaurant owners son walks in with his wife and young son. He greets us warmly and apologizes for his English being “not very good.” Compared to what we’ve been experiencing, it was pretty damn good enough for us. Sure, he may not say words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but that’s not really what we need right now.
When the food is brought to our table, it becomes clear that Taylor and Josiah didn’t order simple pork, but pork liver. The two look at one another with unease. I try a bite of the liver…it was…potent. Not something any of us are really digging. The owners then presented us with 2 large sardines to sample. Delicious…and rather bony.
The priority of the owners is to give us an awesome experience. They have succeeded. Such kind, generous, and warm people. So grateful.
After the wildly affordable and generous meal, we head back to the hostel. We noticed our room door is closed. I knock and open the door to find a lovely young Dutch gal laying on one of the six beds. The four of us cracked open a bottle of red wine and became better acquainted with this young lass from the Netherlands. We learn she adores travel and has been exploring Portugal on her own for weeks. She takes us to explore the center of the city night life. We walk for a couple miles through hills of cobblestone and beautiful architecture. The city is poppin’ with life. We find ourselves in small hole in the wall bar where we meet an eccentric owner known as “Jess”. His true name is impossible to pronounce for a guy like me, let alone spell. He turns on his dance lights and blasts some Sumblime in honor of his new American friends. “Hey, what’s Ginja?” I ask. He grabs six small shot glasses and pours a red drink. “Hey, unless it’s on the house, I can’t partake.” I say. As he pours, he confidently retorts, “If you don’t ask for something an it’s offered, it’s on the house.” We all laugh and knock back our shot of Ginja. “Hey, it’s not a shot! You sip it.” I look to the left to see a German gentleman educating me on the ways of drinking Ginja. After a couple Super Bock beers…one of only two beer brands in Portugal, we head back to the hostel to sleep.
The night is filled with laughter and giggles until it becomes time to shut the lights out. To my right Mike sleeps on the top bunk and Taylor sleeps on the bottom. Josiah lays above me. The bed at my feet is Giny. She and I can’t sleep (SOMEHOW), so we spend until 4 AM talking and laughing & annoying the absolute piss out of my comrades. “Hey, I want you guys to have fun, but I also kind of want to throw you out the window”- Mike Palumbo.
At 4:15 AM I go outside to have a surreal moment alone. Soaking in my environment, I take time to feel where I am…and what it all means to me.
I am happy.
Stay tuned for Day 2.
-Taylor Mason Thibodeau