I arrived to Faro, Portugal from Dublin and immediately felt like I stepped into some Disneyland type vacation resort. The sun was setting, palm trees galore, and the airport boasted wide, open spaces and white walls.
After taking a bus downtown to my hostel and checking in, I was lured to the center of the small town where two Brazilian boys were playing live music. I sat on the grass, enjoying the music while around me, Portuguese women were setting up for a folk dancing event and to my delight, I found out that tonight it was going to be Russian folk dancing. Since I’m half-Russian I love getting any chance I can to be exposed further to the culture.
After waiting for what seemed like hours (I was exhausted from traveling and events in Europe don’t seem to start until well after 9 pm) but after pushing through my exhaustion (which meant strolling through the plaza and getting a gelato), I was able to catch a few Russian folk dancing performances. After about an hour, the performances were still going strong, but I knew I had to hit the hay.
I had a strange nostalgic feeling as I wandered Faro at night and was brought back such strong memories from my summer in Italy just 3 years prior. it was the first time I had been back in Europe since then and my senses were flooded with memories from that time. Just something interesting about what time and place can do to you.
The next morning, I woke up bright and early to be able to catch a boat ride to the beach! Faro has 3 little islands not far from the mainland that you can get to by boat (or by bus, connected by a bridge) I took the boat to Ilha de Faro. As soon as I arrived, I got a tuna sandwich which was made on the most delicious and gourmet fluffy bread and only cost me 4 euro.
I stayed at the beach for 10 hours that day in a sleepy constant state of sun bathing, swimming in the crystal blue waters, napping, reading, and writing. The sand quality there was a golden tanned brown and felt heavier than sand I’ve experienced before – almost as if the rocks hadn’t been crushed yet in a fine material. The shells too were sturdy and heavy – almost a combination between shell and rock.
For dinner, I decided to “eat” like the locals and ordered the fish. To my surprise, it was more fresh than anything I’ve experienced before. The eyes and teeth were still intact! (Sorry to any vegetarians for the gruesome picture). After discovering the face of my dinner, I suddenly lost my appetite.
At the end of the day, I relaxed at a nearby restaurant to my hostel and enjoyed the sunset and a glass of wine while writing poetry, and had come to the decision that while Faro was beautiful, it was a bit quiet and there didn’t seem to be much going on, and I was hungry to explore more of the Algarve instead of just staying in Faro like I had originally planned.
I really wanted to make it up to Lagos, but I was supposed to take a train to Lisbon at some point the next day because I had a hostel reservation in Lisbon and the trains from Lagos to Lisbon were long, few and far between. i decided to play it safer, make a compromise, and instead took a train to Albufeira which was about halfway in between Lagos and Faro.
I got off the train in Albufeira in a town that at first glance did NOT look like a beach was ANYWHERE nearby. Luckily, there was a bus stop right outside the station and I could see the words “praia” (which means beach in Portuguese) at the end of the line, so I hopped on.
The bus dropped us off in a part of the city, that again, didn’t look like there was a beach anywhere close, so I asked around “Praia?” everyone nodded and pointed me in the right direction.
I ended up wandering the same little area for over an hour because the streets were entirely confusing and I had no idea which way the beach was. I couldn’t see, smell, or hear it.
I felt like this was such a great metaphor for life. Here I was, wandering aimlessly trying to find something that was probably right in front of my eyes the entire time, if only I had a map to see it! It made me think of life like that, that what we want is literally just around the corner, but because we can’t see the bigger picture, we may end up wandering, stuck in our own ways.
With the help of a few more strangers and muttering, praia? to them over and over, I finally found the right way and came across the most delicious sight of the beach.
After riding down 3 escalators to get to the bottom, I immediately was bombarded with touristy shops and tour excursions. One caught my eye – a dolphin and cave watching tour. Dolphins are my spirit animal so I definitely wanted to sign up. The lady told me that it was 35 euro and the 12 pm tour was sold out which meant that the next tour I could get on was at 2 pm, which meant I would miss the train I was planning to take to get to Lisbon, which meant I was going to get to the city after dark and pretty late, which really scared me. I had this irrational fear that I was going to be alone in a new city at nighttime, unable to find my hostel. After going back and forth with this idea, I told myself Leya, you are literally in the algarve for just a few more hours, why not say YES to life and go on this freaking tour and live your best life and you’ll still get to Lisbon tonight and be completely fine!
Leading with trust in the universe, I signed up. While waiting for the tour, I played in the ocean and did more sunbathing. The waves were huge and so much fun to swim in. I had a great time.
When it came time for the tour, I followed a man whose skin was so tanned it looked like leather, up the 3 escalators with a group of young french people and a family from somewhere in the UK. We took a mini van and he drove us to a different beach where the boat was leaving from.
I was the only person in the tour who was solo, but I didn’t mind because I was so excited to see some dolphins!
The boat ride was so much fun, we went super fast and kept hitting the waves and flying for a split second. It felt like I was on a roller coaster. I was surrounded by blue/green ocean water and the sun beat down on my now tanned skin and I closed my eyes and started calling the dolphins.
The tour guide had of course warned us that it was not guaranteed we would find dolphins since they were wild animals after all, but he would do his best.
For over an hour we rode through the Atlantic Ocean occasionally stopping by boats to see if dolphins were nearby, but alas after over an hour went by, we didn’t come across a single dolphin.
I was disappointed, but also felt like it was a lesson from the universe of releasing control and trusting that I didn’t have to do any work. I kept thinking I had to manifest harder, or call them stronger from my soul, but in reality, I had to let go and give up what was completely outside of my control. Even though I didn’t see dolphins in Portugal, I felt like I had because I had a vision of me riding one during that boat ride and somehow the vision felt stronger than reality.
We then set off to explore some caves, which immediately made all of us forget that we hadn’t run into dolphins, because the caves were magnificent. We went all along the coast and I saw so many gorgeous beaches that I would never have seen otherwise. A lot of those beaches were only accessible by boat.
The green water and sand rock formations were magnificent and I was in awe of such natural beauty.
The pictures below barely do it justice.
We even passed by Lagos and because of this tour, I really felt like I got a taste of the Algarve, much more savory and delicious than if I had chose to stay in Faro or stayed on the Praia de Albufeira instead of trusting and leaping onto a boat to explore. It was a magical and beautiful place and I definitely want to come back to do more beach/cave exploring.
I made it to the train on time (after a delayed bus made me worried I wouldn’t) and settled in for the 3 hour train ride to Lisbon, which I will also do a lil travel recap for!
Have any of you ever been to the Algarve? What towns/beaches did you go to?
…and of course, I can’t forget all the delicious gelato 🙂