On my second day in Europe I decided to take a quick day trip to Sintra, a small town just a 20 minute train ride west from Lisbon. Half the reason I wanted to go to this place was because of the town’s name – I wanted to listen to Flume’s Sintra while in Sintra (I did and it was excellent) but the other half was to see the main attractions of these huge Moorish castles and Romanticist palaces on top of mountains – the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio Nacional da Pena. It was a hefty climb up, but boy was it beautiful. Castelo dos Mouros is this ruined Moorish fortress running along the top of one mountain and the Palace de Pena is this stunning pastel coloured palace with immaculately detailed rooms on the top of another, both surrounded by stunning panoramic views of the countryside. But I spent just a little too long at these places.
There’s one last place I wanted to go to called Cabo da Roca, which is the westernmost point of mainland Europe. I wanted to go see the sunset from there, but after getting back to the main transportation hub of Sintra I missed the last bus to Cabo da Roca by 6 minutes. Bummer. I almost thought I missed my chance, but after spending a little more time examining the timetables I found one bus that travels on this ring road through a small town called Azoía, which is just 2km away from Cabo da Roca. My new plan is began to take shape. I continued deliberating a little more.
After a couple minutes I worked out my game plan. If I wanted to go to Cabo da Roca at sunset – which I do – I have to catch this bus to a village called Azoía, run as fast as I can to the end of the continent, spend 15 minutes there, run back as fast as I can and catch the last bus out. Otherwise I have to walk for 5 hours through darkness in the middle of nowhere, Portugal, to the nearest train station. That’s a huge risk to take. But Lashan, you might get lost out there, starve and die! Yeah but… I really want to go. I figured that I’d probably never be here again, so taking this risk is now or never.
And thus began one of the most incredible and utterly surreal experiences of my entire life.
I hop off the bus at Azoía. It’s this small village full of gated, yellow walled houses and I’m on a street with apparently no name. I started running as fast I could in one direction – hopefully the right direction – that will take me all the way to Cabo da Roca. As soon as I started running these two black dogs came out of nowhere and started chasing me. Oh dear. Thankfully they’re friendly dogs, but I sure as hell didn’t know that. I started running even faster. The entire street then erupted with the barks of dogs emanating from every front yard of these houses.
As I made my way through the town I slowed down and gently patted one of the dogs, and it took a liking to me. They continued to escort me down the road, stopping periodically to inspect flowers and bark back at the other dogs in their yards. I continued down the road and we quickly left the village, yet they were still with me. These dogs have owners. They have collars! I tried testing their faith by sprinting down this hilly road as fast as I could. They followed suit. My god, they’re going to follow me all the way to Cabo da Roca.
I’ll just set the scene for you. I’m 20 years old, running as fast as I can down a winding road through the rolling green hills of Sintra in Portugal, with the setting sun painting every blade of grass in shades of gold and I’ve been joined by these two canine companions as I make this ridiculous journey to the end of the continent. This my second day in Europe. Man, this place is great.
As surreal enough as this is, things go to a whole other level when the rolling green hills in front of me suddenly dropped… to reveal this thin layer of clouds, just sitting on the surface of the ocean. Combine this with the golden rays of the sunset and it was honestly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my entire life. I couldn’t believe what I’m seeing… I had to stop not because I was exhausted, but because this surreal, near unbelievable sight literally took my breath away. Have you ever had one of those moments where your life feels like a movie? This was one of those moments. It felt like I was at the end of the world. It just didn’t seem real.
As I arrived at Cabo da Roca my two canine companions split off to smell the roses. They were a grand escort, I thanked them for their service. Cabo da Roca was this area of steep seaside cliffs and hills with a tall red and white lighthouse standing guard. I managed to get there 10 minutes earlier than expected, so I had more than enough time to take it all in. It was absolutely surreal. The thin layers of clouds just ebbing and flowing on the surface of the Atlantic, like a sea upon a sea, were truly dreamlike as they glowed, held at bay by the tall stunning cliffs bathing in the orange light from an intense sunset. For the westernmost point of mainland Europe this place made a grand impression. This was next level.
After walking around the cliffs and taking a slew of photos I decided that I wanted a photo with me in it. I spent about 2 minutes manually adjusting the exposure and framing a shot, and then spotted a nearby man with a Nikon DSLR around his neck. You’ll do. I asked him to take my photo and told him exactly where to stand and how to frame the shot. Right there, and point it in this direction, thank you.
I walked towards a small patch of dirt on the edge of the cliff looking out over the sunset. I sat down, and as soon as I did the two black dogs from before came up and sat down beside me. I patted them. Snap. And that’s the photo. Of all the special moments of my trip this ranks up near the top. It honestly couldn’t have been any more perfect.
I continued taking in the scenery for a short while longer until I took a quick glance at my watch. 8:30pm. Time to go. I turned away from the surreal landscape to the west and started sprinting back as fast as I could. Gotta make this bus! But I’m getting exhausted much faster than expected. What didn’t occur to me on the way to the coast and what I was fast realising now was that it’s uphill. All the way. I’m not going to make it.
My 5 hour journey in darkness in the middle of Portugal started to become a real possibility when out of nowhere this young Portuguese couple suddenly pulled over and offered to give me a lift back to Sintra. My luck knows no bounds today. I accepted immediately.
My first time unintentionally hitchhiking turned out to be really fun. Bernardo and his girlfriend were lovely – we raved about that amazing sunset, talked about travelling, ourselves, anime and I even learned a fair amount of Portuguese. His girlfriend started laughing when I tried doing my best Portuguese accent. I made it back to Sintra and eventually arrived back home to my hostel in Lisbon.
And there’s the story. In summary: I desperately wanted to go somewhere and was willing to do anything to make it happen. I took a massive risk to do it and everything worked out perfectly beyond my wildest dreams. Like the first person I met on my travels told me: “No matter how hard or impossible things may seem, there’s always a way.” This experience cemented that into my psyche. It was the best start to my trip that I could’ve asked for, and this success pushed me to embark on all the crazy adventures and risks I took throughout the rest of my travels and is a defining moment in my life. I’ll never forget it. It also gave me a solid travel story to tell everyone I met from that point onwards.
I’ve told it well over 100 times, I felt like it was due time I shared this story with the world. Hope you enjoyed.
Until next time,