Our lives were just beginning, our favourite moment was right now, our favourite songs were unwritten.
– Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mix Tape
Young, wild and free: life was full of promises… At 18, Kerstin and I flew to Portugal. It was our first journey together. And the summer was long…
We were hosted by her family’s friends. They lived in a tiny village, which name I can’t remember. There were about 15 houses and a little grocery selling everything the locals needed. We spent most of our time sunbathing, reading and talking on the balcony. Occasionally, we took a ride to the river, where we plunged in the water and rolled on the pebbled beach.
One day, we caught a train along the Douro River. For hours, we gazed at panoramas of vineyards, precipitous rocks and curvy mountain slopes. It was the time when you were still allowed to open the train windows wide enough to stuck your face outside and enjoy the wind’s embrace. We closed our eyes and listened to the train – its rumbling and rattling had become our breathing, our heartbeat. Behind us was a group of old men. They spoke Portuguese, but it sounded like the train’s mumble too.
At a certain point, the train slowed down and came to a standstill. Was the journey already over? No station or platform could be seen. Nobody seemed to be puzzled. They all kept talking as if nothing had happened. The train had stopped, so what?
Back then, our king-size Nokia was only used for emergency calls. No Facebook, no Google Map, no Wi-Fi, no camera. We had not even thought about checking our cell phone, nor did we ask about the time or how long the trip was going to take. We were somewhere along the Douro River, in the middle of nowhere, and it was fine. The scenery was perfect, nothing else really mattered.
After a while, the doors opened, and some male passengers stepped outside to smoke. The women all stayed inside, chitchatting, and agitating their fan. About half an hour later, we all caught the smell of grilled fish. A few men outside the train were grilling bogas! They were fishermen who on their way back from the river had seen the halted train and recognized the opportunity to sell their catch of the day. We climbed out of the train, and for a few escudos devoured the delicious fishes within minutes.
Eventually the train inhaled, puffed, howled. Everyone applauded and we all hopped on board. Minutes later, we were on the road again.
At the end station, friends of our hosting family welcomed us. They didn’t ask about our delay, nor did they seem to be annoyed. We drove for an hour or two, further into the mountains. The curvy roads took us to a tavern, entirely isolated, surrounded by nothing but grassy and stony hills, and a dozen of hens strutting around the patio.
The hosting family put out a long table with a white linen cloth. And the ballet of food started. They brought out one dish after another. There was smoked pork, marinated chicken, goat cheese, grilled lamb, baked rice, black beans and bacalhau, potatoes out of the oven, vanilla pudding and so much more. They all chatted and laughed loudly, though we didn’t understand a single word.
Every now and then, Kerstin and I would leave the table to spend time kissing in a toilet with a sliding door that wouldn’t close properly. We were young, happy and in love. We didn’t care much about what others would think. We didn’t care about the future, nor the past.
It was our first time together abroad. We left as best friends, and returned home as a couple. Exploring the world together was our dream. And it was a dream coming true. Since then, we haven’t stopped roaming the world together…. because, as Pico Iyer puts it :
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.