When Plans Fail

The best plans are those that start off seemingly failed only to lead to incredible experiences that would otherwise have been lost. I drew this conclusion from the weekend I had organized to participate in an activity in a remote village somewhere in Serra da Estrela, a place I really wanted to go. I didn’t reach Serra da Estrela, nor did I participate in the activity, but I was welcomed by a very unlikely place that offered me the one thing I, unknowingly, really needed: peace of mind.

The week began with an invitation from the Parish Council of a small village in Serra da Estrela to participate in and write about the re-enactment of an ancestral activity, a way to preserve the knowledge of yesteryear and pass it on to the younger generation. This is the kind of work I love, where I anticipate talking to the elders and having the opportunity to gather countless stories and knowledge from the past. However, in the middle of the week, I received a message informing me that the activity would be postponed. My visit on that date no longer made sense.

In the meantime, I had already mapped out – and started – a two-day route to get there, with stops at other places I also wanted to visit. I usually take advantage of my work trips to organize small road trips and discover little secrets from my “wish to visit” list in the interior of Portugal.

Instead of feeling discouraged or thinking about giving up, I embraced the unexpected as an invitation to slow down, reduce the number of kilometers, and spend more time in the places I had only planned to pass through. I now had the best ingredients to let myself be dazzled: time and unpredictability.

I arrived at my first stop earlier than expected and, instead of settling in and preparing for a restful evening, I left the car, the backpack, the external demands, the shoes, and, barefoot, I started walking along the path, beginning right in front of the door of the little house that would be my shelter for the night.

Pracana Cimeira, in the municipality of Mação, in the heart of Beira Baixa, has a population of seven inhabitants. The paved road ends at the last house in the village, and all you can hear are the birds, the rustling of tree branches when the wind passes, and the water flowing abundantly from the village’s two fountains and the stream that invites us for a swim.

In places like this, when external noise quiets down, the internal volume of what inhabits the mind tends to increase. The previous week had been one of much anxiety and worry. Of course that all of it came to the surface as I walked alone, surrounded by silence. At first, I was angry with myself for being in such a privileged place and, instead of enjoying it, letting myself be overwhelmed by a succession of stories and worries. Then, forcing myself to take a few deeper breaths, I decided that, instead of following the flood of drama my head tends to create, I would take the opportunity to do an internal purge and leave behind all those mental habits that weren’t helping me move forward.

As I moved further into the mountains, I practiced the exercise of, instead of following my mind into catastrophic future imaginations, choosing to feel my feet touching the ground with each step, becoming aware of my body’s weight sinking into the earth, and listening carefully to the sound of each of the dozens of birds that passed by me. I recalled one of the many lessons from my meditation practice: we can always choose where to place our best attention.

By giving it time and allowing myself space, nature always has the power to calm me down. The natural and wild world, where everything is present, everything is now, and nothing exists beyond the current moment, reminds me that the future I create in my imagination is just that: imagination! And that I have the great gift of being able to imagine (and, consequently, create) different scenarios much more aligned with what I dream for my future. The good news is that this is a gift common to all human beings.

The next day I woke up early as usual, and, breathing in that earthy, green scent, the last thing I wanted to do was leave. Before departing, I promised myself to return later this summer. Then I headed to another magical stop where, thanks to the cancellation that offered me more time to slow down, I encountered an elderly lady with a wonderful life story, I had the privilege to hear.

I’ll leave it for the next post!

I love you, so farewell for now

Lisboa. Contemplar o Tejo

Despite choosing a semi-nomadic lifestyle, living constantly between travels in recent years, the intervals when I returned to Lisbon were filled with the joy. Joy of being close to my roots, in a beautiful city with its unique light and coziness, and home to some of the people I love the most in the world. I particularly remember the years I worked in the UK and the good feeling growing inside me whenever the time to travel back to Portugal for holidays or a long weekend was approaching.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, during one of these returns, when I realized it would not be possible to go back to England, I thought that this unexpected stay in Lisbon could be used to honor my city and enjoy it leisurely, calmly, giving me the space to figure out what I was going to do with my life from then on. Little did I know that, during my walks through its streets, Lisbon would reveal more to me than just a confirmation of the passion I have for it.

I spent a couple of months wandering around Lisbon, on unhurried and plan-free days, just enjoying. In my leisurely pace through a city that had known me in a rush for so many years, I chose to observe its streets as if I had never seen them before. One day at Rossio, I stopped right in front of the National Theater D. Maria II. How many times had I been there? Countless. Yet, I am sure that, on that day, it was the first time I truly looked at its facade. It has been there since 1846, but only at that moment did the pillars, windows, and beautiful statues guarding the main entrance start to exist for my eyes.

I also realized that, unlike London, a huge and impersonal city where I felt the weight of loneliness, it was not hard to find old friends in Lisbon. It happened more than once, during these aimless walks, to encounter a familiar face that sat, by chance, in the empty chair next to me on the subway. Taking advantage of the coincidence, we decided to get off at the same station to walk to one of the terraces on Rua Cor de Rosa in Cais do Sodré and talk about life, arrivals, departures, and plans for the future. On the way, we stopped suddenly, amazed by street artists playing on Rua Augusta, becoming aware of where we were: one of the most beautiful streets in the world, connecting the city center to the Tagus River, ending in an impressive Triumphal Arch, opening to Terreiro do Paço, where the city surrenders to the river.

These were very good months, during which I confirmed, in my slow rhythm, my love for Lisbon also in familiar places like Chiado, which welcomed me during my academic years, where hipster shops and gourmet restaurants bloom wherever there is a small space. Or the old Bairro Alto, guardian of some of the unspoken secrets of my adolescence and, alongside Fado houses and typical restaurants, hosts art galleries, second-hand bookshops, artists’ studios, tattoo shops, bars, and nightclubs.

Lisbon is the place where I was born, where I grew up, and where I began to be the person I am today. It has been the witness of the best and worst life has offered me. It was so good to feel welcomed by it during those months, giving me time for it to reveal to me that my future, at least the immediate future, would not be here. During my walks, Lisbon showed me that it was succumbing to gentrification, unrestrained haste, mass tourism, and loss of character. Lisbon was in a hurry to enjoy the prominence that international eyes had suddenly given it, and a part of it got carried away, enchanted, without thinking about the consequences. And I, who was on the exact opposite movement, in search of a life lived leisurely, more authentically and close to nature, I realized that in order to keep my love for my city, I had to step away.

Deciding that it was not in Lisbon that I would live, made it an even more beautiful and sunny city, confirming my unconditional love for it. Sitting quietly by the Tagus River, eating an artisanal ice cream near the Cais das Colunas, I bid farewell on the eve of moving to Alentejo, where I currently live and from where I depart and return from my travels and adventures around the world. This decision reinforced the fascination and pride I have for my hometown, in which I still trust that someday it may tell me that the time has come to welcome me back entirely.

Serra da Lousã: 6 insights of a challenging hike

Last summer, I set out for a hike in the Lousã mountain range. I’m usually comfortable hitting the trails alone. I have some experience in mountaineering, and this route seemed easy enough. Something that would take about two hours.

At the start, the trail offered a wide, well-defined path, with shade and coolness. It was ten minutes in this setting until I reached the river. From here, the ascent began. Nothing special. Then a bit steeper. Manageable. Even steeper. An hour later, I had to use three points of contact (two feet and a hand) to climb. There were high rocks and imposing boulders. “If the route is classified as medium difficulty, this climb must end soon,” I thought. And it did. An hour and a half later, it gave way to a steep descent on gravel that made me slip with every step. Half an hour sliding down the slope. It came to an end. Another ascent. This time on beaten earth but quite steep. Another hour. I was already two hours in, and another half when I finally reached the schist village. Beautiful. Magical. In ruins.

I stopped for a moment to drink water then continued while nibbling on a cookie. Maybe I got distracted with the cookie, with the village, or with my thoughts. When I recovered my awareness, there were no signs of the trail anymore. I wasn’t inattentive for long, but given my nonexistent sense of direction, it was enough to get lost.

I had three options:

  1. Venture onto another path nearby, risking getting even more lost in the mountains.
  2. Follow the asphalt road, knowing I had 18 kilometers of walking towards where I had left the car.
  3. Go back on the trail I had taken, knowing the difficulties I had already encountered on the way there.

A journey that would end in half an hour now seemed much longer.

In the paths I’ve traveled through the mountains of the world, I’ve always had difficulty dealing with the ascents. I look at them and think I’m not capable, my legs will give out, I’ll run out of breath. I suffer in anticipation. It’s a kind of vertigo but in the opposite direction.

What made me choose to go back the same way was the fact that I had spent so much time climbing. Now it would be almost all downhill, it would be faster. The ascents that would turn into descents shouldn’t be that complicated. After all, I had managed to do them.

Three challenges: Some fatigue, scorching sun, and lack of water.

I moved forward. Standing there certainly wouldn’t take me back to the start.

In these steps back, I realized that the climb I had undertaken was indeed difficult and time-consuming. This made the descent itself a challenge. I was amazed that I had managed to do it and almost rejoiced in the way destiny had found to show me the real extent of my physical capabilities.

Facing the adversity of the mountain is like realizing a dream or pursuing a passion. If not, let’s see:

1. For better or worse we are on our chosen path

Our dreams, just like paths, happen because we decided to take the first step. Whether it’s to connect with nature and landscapes that are only accessible through footpaths or to chase a purpose, it’s necessary to decide that we want to do it. And then, we act accordingly.

2. Even with the inherent adversities, the result is rewarding

The realization of a dream can fail. But the greatest frustration comes when it was never attempted. Just like a hike. There are places and landscapes that I would never have known if I had never penetrated the heart of some mountains through paths where only my hiking boots fit, one at a time. The villages, the streams, and the trees I saw, the sounds and smells of the mountain, I would hardly have experienced them if I had chosen not to leave the comfort of the car on the asphalt road.

3. Small goals add up to big results

When we start our journey, whether it’s the pursuit of a dream or winding trails in a mountain, it’s essential to set small goals that we celebrate as great victories. Sometimes the distance we need to travel to reach our destination can be long. That fact can be quite demotivating. On my way back, tired, without water, and with the sun burning, I kept thinking: just get to the top of that hill and rest, if I can get past that curve, then the path to the ruins is easier, or at the end of this descent, there’s the river, I can refresh myself.

4. Focus on the present moment.

On my journey back, there was a moment when I found myself slipping and losing balance. I slowed down and thought that risking twisting an ankle couldn’t be an option. So I paid more attention to my step, slowing down the pace and making sure I placed my feet on firm ground. I abandoned the anxiety and urgency to arrive. Sometimes, when we decide to follow the path of a dream, we let our minds dwell on a future where the path has already been traveled. The future is something that doesn’t exist yet. If we divert our attention from what we’re living in the present, we run the risk that it will never come to exist.

5. Silence the treacherous voices.

It’s important to recognize when our internal voices are just trying to sabotage us. Often these voices are only our unfounded fears. At one point on my journey, at the beginning of a steep, shadeless ascent, voices in my head kept repeating: “You’re not fit for this. You’re exhausted. You have no water. The sun that’s out will accelerate dehydration. Stop!” These voices are ourselves. As such, we have the power to control them. We have authority over them. That’s how I decided to put an end and tell them to shut up.

6. Celebrate each victory, big or small.

We become aware of our real value. Risking leaving our comfort zone to pursue a dream is a great achievement. Excessive modesty, undervaluing our true abilities, betray us as much as exaggerated presumption. We must enjoy the moment to the fullest, be honest with ourselves. In this experience, I had the opportunity to realize that my physical abilities and determination were much stronger than I thought. Furthermore, by making the return journey, destiny showed me that I have much more potential to tackle steep ascents than I had ever thought. Looking back now, it seems to me that it wasn’t even as much of an effort as I almost convinced myself it was at the time.

Traveling the world consciously and sustainably and sharing my experience, either through writing or with anyone who wishes to travel with me, is what I do and what makes me happy. The path I have taken to get where I am is very similar to my experience in the Lousã mountains last summer. The methods learned through experience in hiking, mindfulness, and writing have been good tools in this epic journey. After all, everything in life is connected.

Domitília Carvalho: Paving the Way

At the beginning of January, I was in Coimbra, a city I had yet to explore. A visit to the University of Coimbra was inevitable, despite my somewhat tumultuous relationship with higher education. I’m glad I did because during that visit, I became acquainted with Domitília Miranda de Carvalho, a woman whose journey profoundly impacted me and made me reflect on my own rebelliousness towards academic learning.

Domitília’s story began in the 19th century when she embarked on an unprecedented adventure and, against all social norms of the time, decided she wanted to attend the University of Coimbra. Of course, it wasn’t easy when access to knowledge and higher education was exclusively a male privilege.

After completing secondary school with distinction, Domitília wrote a letter to the university rector, a man with very conservative values. In the letter, the young woman invoked the reasons why she should be allowed to take her place alongside her male peers. She did so persuasively that, with no arguments to counter, the rector was forced to accept Domitília. However, there were some strict rules she had to abide by. Among them, she always had to dress soberly in black, wear a discreet hat, and under no circumstances was she allowed to behave in a way that would make her stand out among her male classmates. Knowing that sometimes compromises must be made to pursue a dream, Domitília agreed. She enrolled at the University of Coimbra in October 1891 and, for five years, she was the only female student in Portuguese higher education. Furthermore, knowing that she would have to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to prove her merit, Domitília didn’t just enroll in one course but in two: Mathematics and Philosophy. Moreover, after completing both degrees, she enrolled again, this time in Medicine, which she also completed with distinction.

Upon arriving in Lisbon to work as a doctor at the National Tuberculosis Assistance, she realized that her true calling was in education. Honoring her rebellious side, she became a teacher at D. Maria Pia High School (now Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho High School), the first secondary education institution established in Portugal for women. She held the position of Mathematics teacher. Once again, she became the first Portuguese woman to teach that subject.

Domitília was a rebellious woman but never lost her conservative side. She was a monarchist and followed the political-ideological principles of the Estado Novo, supporting Salazarism from its inception. I want to believe that this was one of the choices she made, aware that it would be a way to help women gain space in a world where, until then, only men could access. In this capacity, she accepted to be one of the three women invited by the National Union to join the single list of candidates for deputies in the I Legislature of the newly created National Assembly of the Estado Novo.

Nevertheless, Domitília’s conservative views did not prevent her from promoting and signing a petition in favor of the legalization of divorce in 1909. It is this versatility that leads me to believe that, despite being a supporter of a dictatorship, perhaps that was the means that allowed her to leave to all of us, Portuguese women who came after her, the legacy of equal access to opportunities in all areas of society.

I am far from being an advocate of the principle that the end justifies the means. In Domitília’s case, the concessions she made – even the seemingly more extreme ones – allowed her to set precedents and break senseless rules regarding women’s rights in Portugal. I have two higher degrees and a postgraduate degree because, in the late 19th century, Domitília didn’t accept a no as an answer to access the University of Coimbra. So, I am grateful to her. Just as I am to all the women who came before me and paved the way for the possibility of me having access to what I have today. Aware that the world is still not equal for everyone, I hope without any modesty that, in my capacity as a female entrepreneur who travels alone to any part of the world, I too leave marked trails that allow for improving the condition of those who come after me.

Accommodation Suggestions:

Hotel Astória: I stayed here about 5 years ago when I had to attend a work meeting in Coimbra. I loved the location, but above all, the charm of this historic hotel. Passing through the door is like stepping directly into the early 20th century, a time period for which I am fascinated. It has one of the most beautiful elevators I’ve ever seen.

JR Studios & Suites: This is where I stayed in January, right next to the Convent of São Francisco and in front of the Convent of Santa Clara a Velha. The rooms are spacious, with modern, elegant decor in minimalist style. The balconies offer stunning views of the city.

5 Prehistoric Lessons Learned in Serra de S. Mamede

A Journey through the Megalithic Heritage of Northern Alentejo

Northern Alentejo stands as one of Portugal’s most remote regions, a land of extremes ranging from scorching 40ºC in the shade to negative temperatures within 24 hours. This less-traveled area, inhabited by wise locals, knows that time, like nature, cannot be controlled or measured in numbers. Those who linger here learn that time, measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or days, doesn’t truly exist. Everything is eternal, or rather, timeless.

Not by chance, it’s in Northern Alentejo, specifically in the Natural Park of Serra de São Mamede, that one can find one of Europe’s richest megalithic heritages. A generous collection of constructions erected between the V and II millennia B.C. by distant ancestors.

On a scorching summer afternoon, we set out in search of these ancient stones, guardians of the secret of longevity, hoping to discover what made them so. We didn’t return immortal, but each stone taught us something that, if desired, could well be eternal.

1. Sobral Dolmen: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Surrounded by a herd of cows, we approach, as if asking for permission. Never losing sight of us, the cows move away slowly. In this silent peace treaty, we reach the circle of stones supporting a slab that serves as a roof. Inside, it’s cool. We take a moment to enjoy the convenient break from the heat. The cows and their slowness join the calmness of the dolmen to teach us that haste can be our worst enemy. It diverts our attention from what can be truly threatening and consumes the precious energy needed to function under extreme temperatures like today.

2. Melriça Dolmen: Stillness Isn’t Laziness

Leaning against one side, we imagine what it has witnessed: practically all of human history. While we rush through life—inventing, desiring, doing, buying, traveling, discovering, consuming, and living in the unbridled hurry to reach a goal that only exists in our minds—we slowly disappear in the frenzy of human existence. In contrast, Melriça, aware of the secret in its place of stillness, where time doesn’t matter, will survive all of this. It will outlive us if we insist on not learning from it. “Be still!” it advises us in silence.

3. Lancheiras Cairn: If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

There’s little consistency among experts about the real function of these constructions. Graves, shepherd shelters, small houses, or pens—what’s certain is that it’s rare to find a cairn without its door facing east. There’s little to explore in this one. The brambles took advantage of complete acceptance of their presence and invaded it. They grow determinedly around it, preventing the approach of the curious. What we learned: surrendering to what we can’t control isn’t necessarily bad. It can even serve to keep unwanted intruders at bay.

4. Currais das Galhordas Dolmen: United We Stand

Certainly, the two oak trees flanking this dolmen are young compared to it, in their modest hundreds of years. Apprentices and master maintain the same attitude. Quiet, seemingly indifferent to their surroundings, they absorb everything that happens: they face the sun, welcome raindrops, endure a community of bees that establishes its hive there, and offer shade to a hurried rabbit escaping the persistent gaze of a bird of prey flying high above. Here, we take two lessons: Don’t live alone; join others, and you’ll be stronger. And don’t forget to listen to the old ones. They know more than you do. Not because they studied more, but because they’ve lived longer.

5. Meada Menhir: Size Does Matter After All

It’s assumed that menhirs were built by our ancestors to ensure the fertility of not only tribes but also nature, guaranteeing them food. The Meada menhir proudly stands as the largest in the Iberian Peninsula. Between its four meters in height and 15 tons in weight, it undoubtedly fulfills its purpose. Confirming the efficiency with which it carries out its function, a herd of wild deer approaches with a mix of fear and curiosity. The click of the camera makes them disappear quickly. But the menhir, it remains in its haughty position without any sign of fear or threat. Yes, size matters, even when it’s just a matter of attitude.

We return guided by the light of the stars appearing in the sky. The day’s heat begins to leave our bodies in the same hurry with which all this reality exists. We continue with the feeling that eternity doesn’t exist in our lives. Each one’s perpetuation lies in the ability to honor their passion. Ours is to leave home and discover the world. The memories of journeys and adventures we collect are our best source of eternity.

For more information about this and other tours in Northern Alentejo, please contact us here.