The only place I felt home was with a backpack across my shoulders exploring a new land.

I recently relocated back to the East Coast after an adrenaline-filled tenure out in Vail, Colorado. It quickly became apparent that my life back east was not going to be a carbon copy of the life I had just left behind. Everything new takes some getting adjusted to. So when a group of my yogi friends from @wildvibesfest decided to host a yoga retreat on the amazing coastline of Portugal, I couldn’t resist. As most people know, the long, icy winters on the East Coast can harden even the warmest soul. New place, new friends, so much newness. The only place I felt home was with a backpack across my shoulders exploring a new land. I headed to Lisbon about a week before I would become a zen goddess. I had some preconceived notions about Portugal. I find that I often poison my travels by over-researching, leaving nothing to chance or happenstance. So, while I prepared for Portugal in all of the practical senses I still left many things open-ended. Long gone are the days of me landing in a foreign country without a place to stay.

Watch out for the pickpocketers

I booked a red-eye flight with whimsical ideas of landing refreshed and ready to take on the day. This has never been the case in the past, but for some reason, I fooled myself into thinking this would be different. After about a bottle of white wine and two rom-coms on the flight over; I landed mildly drunk/hungover and most certainly exhausted. My friend Kristina and I headed over to the Alfama section of Lisbon to check into our Airbnb. Now I LOVE Airbnb, but it has its moments of being misleading. I fancied visions of us throwing the balcony doors open, beckoned by the romantic sounds of Fado music playing below while twirling in long skirts drinking Vinho Verde. What we arrived to wasn’t completely different, but varied enough to change the vibe. The “balcony” was just a fence from the main street, blocking us from a man living in a tent who moaned for various hours throughout the day. And blessed is the person who invented the fisheye lens. Making small spaces look big is quite the skill.

Touring around

I could bore you with the classics of any euro-trip. Statues, Castles, foreign language; oh my! I went to a tile museum which I found fascinating but my hungover friend did not (lack of air-conditioning and dehydration do not go well together). We did our best to dip our toes into authentic cuisine. I ordered Portuguese stew, which seemed approachable enough. It proved to be more of a tasting tour through a pig than I was expecting; Ie: tongue, hoof (calluses and all) and blood sausage. Putting on a brave face while struggling through my first piece of tongue; I asked the waiter “is this your favorite dish?”, to which he replied, “oh, no, I don’t eat that.” With a chuckle, he disappeared back into the kitchen.

Classic castle
p: @monicajustesen

What I truly took away from Lisbon, however, was the hospitable energy that abounded everywhere you went. People offering up directions, suggestions, and things to do. There was no shortage of local insight, which ended up leading us to some of our most memorable moments. We strolled through the TimeOut Market, formerly the Mercado de Ribiero, tasting the best cuisine of Portugal, all in one location. Had a nightcap at the Club de Fado, serenaded by incredible vocalists while enjoying a lovely glass of wine. One of our Uber drivers suggested we check out the street art from Bordalo II, which blew me away. All of the installations are made from recycled and found materials. This was a more genuine way to explore the city, going off of local recommendations, rather than relying on the ever popular Lonely Planet or Frommers.

The Time Out Market

Feeling full and grateful from 5 days in Lisbon, we ventured to the magical town of Sintra for the duration of our yoga retreat. Our days were filled with energizing yoga practice and centering meditation. We enjoyed early morning journaling, then various workshops throughout the week. Breaking down asanas (poses) that regularly get overlooked and lead to injury. Alignment-based vinyasa provided all of us the ability to reset, no matter how dedicated our individual practices were, back to the beginning. On one of our last days as a tribe we hiked to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe. We traipsed along cresting and plunging up and over the sandy paths that were featured along the rocky coastline. The cool sea breeze combatted the heat of the blazing sun. About nine miles later we came to a turn in the road. We turned right, slowly the vision of two distinct rock formations in the water came into view. I have hiked in various places, Colorado, Peru, France. I have always been exhaustive in my research of a new hike. So rarely have I let the beauty of nature take my breath away, there’s something different about having no inkling as to what is coming over the next hill. And how liberating that was! To truly have the magnificence of these formidable rock formations be the best surprise of my trip.

Lively artistry

So, what’s the moral? Travel more, research less? I don’t necessarily think so, but surprises are so rare these days, find time to make them a reality.

Featured image by @monicajustesen

Jacquelyn Alvarez has a soul for travel and adventure. She has called a lot of different locations ‘home’ in her life but has found her roots again back on the East Coast of the United States.

When she isn’t booking flights and packing up her passport, Jacquelyn can be found exploring the various mountain ranges that surround her. Whether she is on her splitboard shredding the snowy backcountry or lacing up her hiking boots to summit some peaks, she is truly living her life outside.