THE UPHILL CLIMB
Guiltily opening up my laptop at breakfast, I was waiting for the disapproving stares of my fellow breakfast buffet goers. Breakfast included in my hotel stay is usually a cringeworthy addition to any vacation, but for this trip it was somewhat forced upon me by the odd travel agent from Fall River, Mass who “specializes” in Azore vacations. I used his agency, another something I usually don’t do when I go on vacation, but because my friend I was surprising used them, I thought it would be easier. It kind of was, but now that I am here, I would have planned my life for this first run completely different. Ahh the wisdom of retrospect. Anyway, in the case of the breakfast buffet though, it is a convenient morning yesterday as I woke up at six am bright and bushy tailed after already four glorious nights in this beauty of a place called Sao Miguel I have placed myself in. I have learned how to order a good cup of coffee and the meats, cheeses, breads, Azorean butters and fruits are a perfect early morning rise for this eager hiker ready to move and shake at nine am.
We had big plans for the day ahead to do a 4.5 km hike in Faial da Terra village. We started on Sanguinho to see the waterfall called Salto Do Prego which I looked up in my new handy Portuguese translator app and could only find salto= jump, prego= nail, hobnail. I emailed my fearless tour guide this morning and she translated it to iron stick jump. No idea what this even means, but the hike was like standing at the bottom of the hill called President Avenue in Fall River, Massachusetts and looking up at the top knowing you are going to have to walk up, straight up. Not to sound purposefully like a world traveler, I am not, but I have done a walking tour in Tuscany. The hill we needed to climb to get to the village of Montepulciano was the hill that made me realize how out of shape I was when I was newly forty as I watched my friend Kathy, blast by me and I was thinking I may have to call an Italian ambulance to save me. I didn’t and I made it which was one of the best hills I have ever walked. Thirteen years later and endless fitness routines and workouts, turns out I love walking hills. The feeling in my heart, my legs especially, my quads, wakes up every single muscle and organ contained in this one hundred and sixtyish pound female (because the Sao Jorge cheese and the waterfall flow of bolos and breads has surely tipped the scale and not in the downward motion I am always hoping for). There is a strength that happens in my soul that creates a nothing can stop me, I am a bad ass and do not fuck with me ever attitude that only a hill can bring out. Especially knowing that the top, the one with the view and the peace and quiet, the one that has no noise from traffic sounds and no internet (hopefully), the one that makes you want to take photo after photo but no photo is ever going to replace the moment between you and the earth and the world you get the privilege to be standing in because you said, No, I will not be a twenty minute tourist, I will use my phone only to research where to hike or how to speak Portuguese to a group of people who are only too happy to speak English.
Hiking sounds like I have a backpack (I kind of do, but it is more of a two strapped navy blue and white checked cotton purse worn from endless travels that I have slung on my back). Hiking sounds like I have on a pair of hiking shoes (I usually do, but since I did zero research on this trip, I neglected to bring them so instead am wearing my workout sneakers). Hiking sounds like a scary notion to people who do not hike. I am not a “hiker” like the kind that your brain is likely conjuring up. I have no plans to climb Mt. Everest or Kilimanjaro, but when I travel, hiking has been a linker for me and the outside. There are just so many towns and shops and museums one can go to. The outside is my museum and frankly there is nothing more that makes me feel like I have had a full vacation then being outdoors in the sunlight or the rain with the clouds, the random surprising and surprised chickens along the route, the birds singing to me and a waterfall as the main attraction.
As I traipsed up the hill, my heart pounding, the pace of my breath quickening, my muscles telling me that yes, alayne, you are alive in more ways than a heartbeat, we marched forth. Knowing that two or three hours from that moment would be a rush of physical and mental satisfaction yes, but more so the spiritual experience would be the shining best part at the end. When our tour guide Christina was coaxed into singing a Portuguese Folk song at the top of her lungs in the open air of the forest and tears welled up in my eyes for no apparent reason other than the moving of my heart, I knew I was lost and then I was found. Right there in the middle of the trees and the earth. No tour in a van could ever match that. My life is good.
Sim a vida é boa. Indeed.