My lack of natural athleticism plus my clumsy nature doesn’t exactly make me a great candidate to become a surfer. However, as you know, I am spending my time traveling with an open mind and trying new things, so I signed myself up for a week of surf camp an hour and a half north of Lisbon, Portugal. Baleal Surf Camp was the stand-out choice with rave reviews, a good price, a social atmosphere, and a convenient set-up.
I arrived on a Saturday evening and dropped my stuff on the top bunk of a four-bed hostel dorm room. The day I arrived in Baleal was the most catastrophic and dramatic day of travel I’ve had so far. It had taken me a 30-minute downhill walk with my huge bag, to a train, to a walk, to a taxi, to a wander trying to find a “secret” hostel, to a canceled hostel room, to no other hostels in Lisbon being available, to a walk, to a train, to a bus, to a car, to Baleal a day ahead of schedule. (The funny thing is: I wasn’t stressed about it. I am getting used to this kind of thing and it doesn’t feel like such a big deal anymore. Progress!)
I walked downstairs to connect to the wireless and realized that I was absolutely starving and that the grocery store across the street had closed. I wasn’t sure what I’d do – I was exhausted, in a strange place, knew no one, and was getting hangry (angry-hungry). I walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water and met a beautiful tall blonde from the Czech Republic and a beautiful short brunette from Germany. Before even asking my name, one of them said, “Are you hungry? We’re making pasta and there’s plenty for you.” Yes.
This moment perfectly represents my time at Baleal Surf Camp. The people there were some of the best I’ve ever met – a totally diverse crowd in age, nationality, and background, but with the universal attitude of inclusive fun. Or I guess you could just say that everyone is “stoked” to be there. (First time I’ve ever said stoked.)
One of the best parts about Baleal was its simplicity. All accommodations (hostels and apartments) are located across the street from the beach. Next to them you have a grocery store and a few shops. The owner of the surf school also set up Bruno’s Bar right on the beach and it is where everyone meets up for lunch or a post-surf beer. Attached to the side of the bar is all the rental equipment – surfboards, wet suits, rash guards, and storage. The one bar everyone goes to later at night, Bar da Praia, is five minutes further down the beach and starts to fill up around 11:30pm, dancing on the tables generally begins around 1am. You can hear music blaring until 3am from wherever you’re staying. (I finally used those ear plugs I brought with me.)
There’s no fuss at Baleal – everything is in walking distance and everyone is in a good mood. The surfing school (which I’ll cover in my next post) is top-notch and because of its location on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic, you get access to beaches facing all directions, therefore a whole range of different types of waves. This is why you see people coming back for years and years. It’s also the reason why, after one day of classes, I extended my stay for a second week. It was the best decision I’ve made on this trip so far.
Staying in the hostel in Baleal was a bit of a test – I wanted to see how I did in a longer term stay with the bare essentials. Things that mattered to me over the previous month no longer seemed relevant once I got to Baleal. Instead, my brain started working a little bit like this: “Oh I have no clean clothes? Ehh who cares, everything is going to get covered in sand anyways.” Or “All I’ve eaten this week are Bruno’s burgers. What do vegetables taste like?” Or “I guess I’ll just walk around with white lips because this clinical strength sunscreen is all that will stop them from bleeding and blistering further.” It’s kind of hilarious how little things mattered once entering the camp. I’ve heard of “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem” but what if you add pants (trousers) to that list? Ordering a beer in a wet bikini, covered in salt and sand after four hours of surfing became the norm and it felt fantastic.
Don’t get me wrong – there were plenty of problems that occurred over these two weeks. Constant noise, lack of privacy, and dealing with the antics of absolutely insane people were all factors that had me exhausted enough to hunker down in an Airbnb for four days to recover after leaving. I tried staying in one Saturday night and was still woken up at 5:30am by people screaming outside my room trying to check if someone made it home safe, then again at 8am by a girl coming home from the hospital after an extreme dancing injury. There was truly never a dull moment. However, this experience made me realize how much I’ve been missing during my travels.
I finally did some real partying and it felt great to dance to the same terrible playlist three nights a week. (It had been awhile since I had heard the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”.) I met some people who I truly believe could be friends for life and I will likely meet up with on future legs of my trip. I didn’t have time to think because everyone was loud and everyday was busy (this is a good thing). I met a guy who stopped me in my tracks on a daily basis to remind me “This is your life. This moment. How amazing is that?” whenever we watched the color of the water change as it hit the cliffs or cuddled up on the beach, waiting for shooting stars.
My main takeaway, though, was that, before Baleal, I’d spent my time with people who were either on holiday or were not traveling. These people were in a completely different mindset than someone staying at a hostel is in. Meeting other round-the-world travelers was such a relief. This is why after my recovery days, I’m heading right back into a surf hostel in Spain. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked about it.