It’s Sunday afternoon of spring break which means Greg and I are nearing the end of our staycation in Lagos. What have we been up to the past nine days? While I’d like to regale with tales of exploration through the twists and turns of an exotic marketplace, or hours passed in the practical pursuit of household organization with a tidying of this and a throwing out of that, or perhaps a steady stream of social bookings as we catch up on the promised lunches, brunches and dinners we just don’t seem to fit into a regular work week, the reality is very different. We’ve spent our time doing very little of anything that could be considered constructive, and that lack of direction and dare I say motivation, is just what we both needed. So what have we been up to this break? A few private yoga lessons to work out a lifetime of kinks, a couples massage at the 4-star hotel down the street, movies on Netflix, afternoon naps and browsing the internet for property (we’re always looking) and design ideas for our home-home that we’ll probably never actually do. A lunch out yesterday had us promptly running into parents, students, staff and friends; our stomping grounds are small, but the lunch was lovely and everyone is a bit more relaxed from the time off.
But while we still have two full days of vacation remaining, those days will be more or less regular work days to deal with the crush of looming deadlines. So, while not exciting or adventurous, spring break has traditionally been our designated downtime, a time to bolster our reserves for the last nine-week push until school lets out in June, and I’m okay with this. Besides, we’ve had some fun adventures this year, so the scale remains somewhat balanced. A few highlights worth mentioning…
We spent our Christmas break in Portugal and it was everything I had imagined and more. The food, the wine, the quaint streets, the friendly locals, the cheap and efficient trains; Portugal is a place I could call home.
We had lots of “where to stay, how to spend our time” options to seriously consider for this trip. These included 1) taking a train north to Porto for four days or so, then down to the coast. 2) we also talked about renting a car and driving down the coast from Porto to Albufeira, essentially the entire length of Portugal. 3) a final consideration was renting a car in Lisbon and heading a bit East into the interior for a meandering drive up to Porto, then drive down the coast. In the end, time, the need to relax, and the desire to avoid a new pillow every night got the better of us. Porto in the North, is rainier and colder than Lisbon, and after a rainy week in Amsterdam last year, we were reluctant to spend our vacation shleping through in the rain. We were also reluctant to relocate too many times; we did three cities when we went to Italy two years ago and it was worth the hassle, but we had more time that year. After much back and forth, we finally settled on flying into Lisbon, spending about eight nights at an Air BnB, then taking the train down to Albufeira, a coastal town on the Atlantic, for an additional six night stay.
We took our typical approach when exploring Lisbon; sleep in late, wander around in search of coffee and a pastry, poke our nose into curio shops and chat up the locals. Each day featured a revolving cast of flavors; Portuguese sausages, fresh cheese straight from the (sheep, cow, goat) and a hearty bottle of wine. I expected to return to Lagos ten pounds heavy, but I maintained my pre- Garden of Eating weight. We took a day trip via train to Sintra to explore a medieval fortification and castle, bolstered by a pre-expedition coffee and sandwich in the town below. But while the sites are interesting, it’s the memory of food that endures.
My favorite Lisbon eatery was a local place we literally stumbled upon when I could hear muted talking as we walked down a street on our way to a grocery store. We found the nondescript door and walked in to a completely full restaurant. The waiter I approached spoke no English but made it clear that lunch wasn’t happening for us that day. Undeterred, we returned the next day promptly at 12:00 and the place was completely full by 12:15. Housed in a large square room with high ceilings and long rows of family-style seating with occasional table for two, it was crammed full of Portuguese representing blue and white collar workers from the surrounding neighborhood. Construction workers were seated next to three-piece suited businessman, and they all talked and laughed, passing the butter and carafes of wine like old friends. I was the only woman in the place, and we were the only foreigners, but we were welcomed all the same. I don’t recall the minute details of our meal, but for about 18 euros, we shared a traditional Portuguese meal of starter, followed by a lovely soup and a meaty main, all washed down with a carafe of local wine; simple, affordable, fabulous. We were primed for our next destination on the coast, ready to sample the famed local seafood.
The train down to Albufeira was everything I hope for in travel by train; it was on time, affordable, comfortable and with a window seat that encourages hours of reflective contemplation as the passing scenery slowly unfolds. Our home for a week was on a hill overlooking the small fishing port below and an expanse of the Atlantic as far as the eye could see. And while our apartment wasn’t luxurious, it was conveniently located and featured a large balcony perfect for watching the small fishing fleet come in and out with the catch of the day. My second favorite restaurant of our vacation was located at the docks. Featuring the catch of the day, our selection was prepared expertly with minimal intrusion by the chef; a generous pat of butter and whole cloves of fragrant garlic adorned items pan sautéed, while other specials were simply grilled, then expertly deboned table side. We tried Cuttlefish roe for the first time; it was like cutting into an alien spore pod…perhaps not to be repeated elsewhere, but an experience all the same.
We enjoyed walking through old town Albufeira which was picturesquely perched atop a white cliff and a large crescent sandy beach overlooking the ocean. Our timing was perfect to witness the annual firefighter “bombardiers” benefit, an event that the whole town participates in and is featured on local news channels across Portugal. We donated 5 Euros for a piece of the longest traditional Christmas fruitcake on record; the tables stretched along cobbled streets and arched passageways culminating in the old town square. It was festive and loud and everything one could hope for when traveling without an itinerary, and of course, it all ended much too soon. By January 3, Greg was on his way to work the Bangkok job fair, and I was on my way home to prep for back-to-school PD with an incoming consultant. January came and went in a blur of work.
My next trip out of Lagos was to attend the annual AAIE conference. This year, the conference was held at a hotel on Times Square, and the opening welcome address and reception was held at the UN Assembly Hall. This is one of my favorite conferences, both for the content, but also because it attracts Heads of Schools and other leaders from international school around the world. It’s like a week-long family reunion; we ran into Maria from Bolivia, and Tuul from Mongolia. We attended the much coveted Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) luncheon where the highlight of the hour is the passing of the microphone to tell stories from the bush, tales of adventure that can only be had in Africa. The conference is incredibly busy and exhausting, but we did manage to squeeze in a showing of The Book of Mormon with our friends from Kaoshung, Tom and Debbie. I had high hopes for a hot pastrami sandwich but time and jet lag got the better of me. The only day I really had time to track the perfect sandwich down was the day I landed, and after nearly 48 hours without sleep, I was simply too exhausted.
Our next trip out was just a few weeks later to our regional association’s annual Leadership Conference, held this year in Kenya. Just like the New York conference, this one passed in a blur of workshops, meetings and networking events. I did manage to find two hours between the pre conference event I was in charge of organizing and the start of the regular conference to visit the giraffe sanctuary with some colleagues. About a thirty-minute drive from our hotel, the sanctuary is a popular destination with local schools and tourists alike. But despite the crowds, we did have a chance to feed the giraffes and get some kisses from the enormous male. We were warned that giraffes like to head butt, especially when feeding, but this gentle guy plucked feed pellets from our lips like an experienced lover. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong to visit the baby elephant orphanage also in the vicinity. After spending a week in Nairobi, and the promise of a baby elephant sanctuary, we’re thinking that Christmas 2018 will be spent on safari followed by some downtime at a beach bungalow.
Back to Lagos we flew, and the few weeks until spring break flew by, too.
Which brings us back to spring break. I returned from my Sunday run a few hours ago, and along with the usual salutations of “good morning” and “good job” and “welcome“, there were greetings of “happy Easter” added into the mix as I trotted by. There are a variety of Sunday services on offer in various venues across the island; my two personal favorites are the trio dressed all in white that sing and dance alongside a busy road, and the small congregation a bit further down that gathers under a 10’x10′ tent with a sign advertising free coffee and tea. Though I switch up my routes, timing and direction, this particular route is one of my favorites, not only for the ingenuity of worship I observe, but because I have a chance to check in with some of my favorite little street kiddos. This particular group of boys and girls range from about four or five to early adolescence, and frequent a prime piece of real estate where motorists must stop to make a turn. The amazing thing about this group versus the children I’ve seen begging in every other country I’ve lived, is their attitude towards foreigners. Their sweet faces erupt in utter joy when they see my sweaty, red faced self running down the street in a feels like temp of 97 degrees with 84% humidity. They run across the street to catch me, all smiles and hellos. I return their enthusiastic greeting with sweaty hugs and hellos. They ask for nothing more than acknowledgement, and once we’ve connected, off we go on our separate ways. These kids may not spend their Sunday in church, but I suspect they know more about good and evil, and what it means to live a decent life than most.
Nearing the end
In two more days, spring break will be over, and we’ll be left with nine weeks to finish all that we must before the school year ends. It’s been a good year, but busy, and we’re ready for some serious downtime at home-home and on Journey. We’re working on putting together a two-week sail that we hope will include a week-long refresher with an instructor on some of the basic skills and navigation we learned (but have forgotten) from our sailing class eight years ago. But whether it’s just the two of us or with an instructor in tow, time on Journey is time well spent. And though home-home may not offer Broadway plays or giraffes or Medieval castles, it does reconnect us with family, friends, our passions and each other.