When A Lost Guatemalan Taught Me To Walk On Water
It has been three years since I last saw Loch. We parted on a train somewhere under London, thousands of miles away from the town in Guatemala where we had first met. As the tube doors slid shut on an era, I did not imagine that it would be near Sagres, Portugal’s most Southwesterly tip, that we would meet again.
Yet here I am, in the small village of Raposeira in the Algarve, pushing open a salt-encrusted wooden gate to the Good Feeling Hostel where, according to a hurried e-mail exchange, I am to be reunited with my old friend who has taken up residence as a stand-up paddle instructor.
I barely recognize him. After months of surfing and sun, he has been transformed into a bronzed and hulking man of the sea.
Inevitably, he is on his way to take a couple of Spanish girls to check out the sunset from a suitably romantic cliff-top location. Yes, despite the passage of time and the consolidation his pectoral muscles, it was clearly the same old Loch.
The battered Peugeot retreats into a cloud of dust, bearing with it the two unsuspecting lovelies and one Central American lothario. I am left standing bemused and backpacked to watch the sun dip over a backdrop of whitewashed houses.
Shit. This was not the welcome I had anticipated.
It was not long, however, before I was greeted by resident chef, surf and jujitsu instructor, Carlos, and the sunshine vibes started to get the better of me. Handing me a beer, he explains a bit more about the way things roll at Good Feeling. Namely, in a relaxed fashion.
I cut some veggies for the communal dinner, before settling myself in a hammock to ponder the week ahead. I did not yet realize that, in my quest for a long-long friend, I had stumbled upon a jewel in the Algarve: a haven of breathtaking scenery, outdoor adventuring and toned body mass.
The Perfect Natural Setting
This area of the Algarve is dotted with national parks, leaving the coastline to exist in its natural and rugged state, unfettered by tacky holiday homes or ugly resorts. A number of the best beaches still remain relatively inaccessible, especially at high tide, which lends plenty of opportunity to explore.
A few of the area’s most noteworthy bathing spots include Beliche, Figueira and Barranco. Barranco, otherwise known as the “hippie” beach, is a stunning little bay, glistening emerald green — albeit freezing cold — water. And naked people.
Apart from a high saturation of exposed genitalia, one of the main attractions of this bay is as the starting point for stand up paddle tours.
Stand Up Paddle
Stand up paddling, or SUP as the kids are calling it, is actually a lot more fun than I had given it credit for, at least in this part of the world. Dramatic cliffs and submerged caves make for an active paddling experience, providing plenty of opportunities to jump off things and swim under things. Especially when your paddle instructor goes by the name of Loch.
We began with a brief introduction to the basics. These seemed, indeed, fairly basic but were accompanied with a warning: according to Loch, we would forget everything we had been taught when things “got real.”
Undaunted, we set off on our boards, kneeling against the wind resistance and heading towards a corner point which would allow us to escape the gentle swell generated by an offshore breeze. As predicted, however, instead of steering gently to the shelter at the opening of the bay as instructed during our basic training, one girl set out merrily into the open ocean. And, it seemed, to her doom.
But fear not dear reader, of course she came to no harm. This diversion merely presented our very own Loch the opportunity slip into his role as The Alpha Male, a part to which he seems to have grown quite enamored.
He single-handedly dragged her to shore, before providing the rest of the group — including the newly infatuated damsel — with a master-class in rock scaling, cave swimming and yogic posing.
The guy was clearly in his element, and who could blame him? This was a far cry for the long dusty commute from an office in Guatemala City every evening. I was beginning to see where his love for the paddle board was coming from.
I too was starting to feel at home in a wet suit and was keen to take my burgeoning relationship with water sports to the next level. It was time to get my surf on – she says, trying to be cool but sounding like a geriatric.
I Use the Term “Surf” Loosely
Despite a few brief periods in my life dedicated to the cultivation of a beach-chic image, I had never actually surfed before. Furthermore, my beginner’s board could have doubled up as the wall of a sturdy garden shed, hindering any projection of myself as an accomplished beach bum.
Nevertheless, I was soon wielding surf terminology with liberal abandon. This did little to nurture my credibility, considering the generic usage of “gnarly” was accompanied an unspectacular 10seconds of standing prior to a rather more spectacular face plant.
Kelly Slater probably probably doesn’t need to be watching his back just yet, but what I lacked in skill, I made up for in enthusiasm, trying out a number of beaches in my quest for aquatic glory. For those who know their hang heels from a goofy foot, the locals suggest Ponta Ruiva, Amado, Boudeira and Arrifana.
I have been an avid horse rider since I was a kid and I attribute it with some of my happiest memories, and my experience of hacking in Sagres was no disappointment.
Nidia runs Equivicentinos, a low-key operation just near Vila do Bispo. Only working with small groups, she offers a bespoke experience catering to the ability and confidence of each rider. It is clear that this is a woman who is doing something she loves, and just so happens to be making a living out of it. At a couple of points during our two-hour trek she actually seemed rather surprised to see me — herself absorbed by the dramatic vistas afforded by carefully scouted lookout points.
Unlike so often with riding schools, we were not limited to simply trailing along behind one another, but galloped through forest paths blanketed in pine needles and along cliff-top ridges, the sound of the waves breaking below echoing along the rocky coastline.
We even took the horses to paddle in the sea, letting them snort and splash in the water to the delight of holiday makers and, of course, the omnipresent community of naked people.
As I leaned my head back to enjoy the evening rays on my face, I realized why it was that my friend had chosen to give up the city life and head for the horizon on a paddle board.
Surely this is how humans should live, outside, at one with the elements, shedding their pudgy computer-addled bodies in favor of the sun-kissed, of the contentedness of aching muscles that have worked hard or the radiance you exude after a day of physical exertion.
Sleep with one eye open Loch, it might not be long before I return to crash this Casanova’s beach party.
A restless Brit with big dreams and limited cash flow, Hannah is a freelance journalist and student. She is currently being sponsored by the European Union to take a Masters in Journalism and International Politics at the University of Amsterdam/University of Santiago, Chile, and the Danish School of Journalism. Check out her site DontDoNothing.com.