Backpacking in the Azores: The Return of Adam and Eve
Reconnecting to the Magic of Wild Nature and Synchronicity in the Azores
This is a travel story that reflects the many beautiful encounters and synchronicities that can happen when you set off into the unknown in foreign lands. It is a love story but not only of the romantic kind but of love for this planet and the sobering realities that we face as we further degrade the majesty of our own habitat.
After weeks of wild camping and a stint at a permaculture community, I explore what it means to live in alignment with the natural world and how far we have moved away from that in modern life. It’s also a testament to the mystical and cyclical nature of life- just like a boomerang, everything comes back around again in one way or another. This story is a great example of that!
During the cold, dark winter months, it’s been fun reminiscing about those two magical months spent exploring the wild and wonderous Azores.
It’s allowed me to reconnect with the feelings of magic, grace and synchronicity that seem to be so abundant when you are travelling but can so easily get lost under the day to day grind of everyday life. It’s the energy of dreams, that feeling where anything and everything seems possible and the sun shines on all future possibilities.
Such is the beauty of travel. When the world seems to open up and reveal itself to you in a multitude of different ways, previously unknown but there to be discovered by those who seek it.
Just as in parts 1 and 2 in this series about my trip to the Azores, all events, people and places are real.
It is my hope that sharing this story will renew your belief in magic and synchronicity, as well as serve as a testament to the organic nature of life that is the root of all flow and interconnectivity.
New Adventures and a New Companion
I had been at volunteering at different permaculture projects in the Azores for one month already when I decided to set out again into the unknown. After so many new experiences, it was time to throw caution to the wind and set off in search of adventure and discovery.
It had been an intense month, with all the people I had met and the things I had learnt. Little did I know that this was about to be turned up a notch or two because my trip to the Azores was really only just beginning!
This unexpected rush of intensity came in the form of a bearded Spaniard called Iván, an aspiring filmmaker that crossed my path whilst on one of the many ferry rides between distant islands.
He initially caught my eye initially due to the big straw hat that he always had on and his beaten-up backpack. He had a mysterious bohemian quality to him that I was curious about. He looked like he had interesting stories to tell and after passing each other a few times on the ferry, we finally started to chat.
Now, the whys and the hows are hazy, but somehow we ended up travelling together.
We got on like a house on fire, and I felt like I was on cloud nine in his company: laughing constantly and in that continual state of dizzy joy that as we all know, is the sign of an impending love affair.
Not that I realised that at the time, though. First of all, we were just travelling companions, platonically enjoying each others company and exploring together.
But several serendipitous coincidences were enough to change that.
Luck and the Sun Set
Our fate beckoned us on one such day, when, after a long day of travelling, late in the afternoon, we arrived at a campsite which was famed for having spectacular views of the sea. We were looking for a place to pitch our tents and were somewhat disappointed that the front row views were all taken.
Just as we were about to give up and take a back-row spot, low and behold, a man with one of the best spots, under the shade of the trees looking to the sea, told us that he was leaving and that we could take his spot.
“What great luck!”, I thought.
The three of us got chatting and, as so often happens when you are travelling, before we knew it, we were sharing deep reflections on the meaning of life. He was a full-time traveller and had a job that allowed him to work from anywhere in the world.
I wondered what had prompted him to lead such a different lifestyle, expecting him to respond that he had got bored at his office job or had had a mid-life crisis, or the like. However, I was wrong.
He told us how he’d had a good friend die from cancer, and this is what had pushed him to reassess his life and embark on this adventure. Whilst it was a sad story, he told it in such a way that it only carried the truth of what he was saying, rather than heaviness. It was obvious immediately that this wasn’t the average tourist wanting nothing but hedonistic consumption, but a deep soul who had realised what was important in life, and what’s more, had set off to find it.
Needless to say, I felt deeply moved and inspired by his story. It also confirmed to me what I already knew, which is that life doesn’t wait for you. You have to grab it by the horns whilst you are in possession of it, knowing that you will never be its true owner.
Life is too short to leave your dreams for another day, and this guy was the embodiment of that.
After a bit more chatting, we said our goodbyes, but not until he said: “Hey, I have half a bottle of wine and some olives leftover. Do you want them?”
And so we pitched our tents in front of the ocean, feeling incredibly grateful for our chance encounter and lucky to be alive and sharing this experience together.
Then we sat on the rocks and shared the wine and an improvised picnic as the sun went down.
And just like a scene from a romantic novel, our romance began.
Love is in the Air
Within the space of around three weeks, we had lived through all of the cycles of a relationship. It was like a relationship on speed; every part of the cycle was incredibly intense. What would take one year in a normal relationship, we went through in one day.
At one point I asked myself: “How could it be that I am so mad about this scruffy man who I have known for such a short amount of time; who sometimes steals cheese from supermarkets to make his travel budget stretch further; who dries his clothes with sticks hanging from on his backpack and who quite frankly doesn’t always smell so good?”
This was not the type of guy my mum would want her daughter gallivanting with!
But the magic was so intense; the joy, the hyper giddiness, the attraction, the vibrant aliveness. I felt like I was on cloud nine.
This was also mirrored in the outside world. We experienced synchronicity after synchronicity, with everything falling into place effortlessly whilst the sun shone and the birds sang.
Adam and Eve
We hitched hiked across the islands, hiked the coastal paths, explored villages, and camped in the wildest places.
On one occasion we camped off the beaten track close to a river. We stayed there for a night or two, washing in the river, foraging berries, picking wild mint and making tea on a fire.
It felt so primal and free like we had gone back to the Garden of Eden and it was just the two of us and the wilderness. It felt so pure and beautiful and natural.
I fantasised about what it would be like to live there forever. Me and him, like Adam and Eve, living close to the Earth and her bounty. It felt like we were starting a home together almost; I went out to collect the berries for breakfast whilst he made the fire for the tea.
It was reminiscent of my experience of wild camping at Lagoa do Fugo (as described in part 1).
I imagined how our ancient ancestors might have felt when we were still nomadic before the dawn of agriculture. Somehow I felt closer to those ancient ancestors and felt that I was able to understand them better.
I also imagined what life might be like for the modern-day hunter-gatherers who still maintain their traditions. Living this close to the Earth made me feel deeper respect and reverence for them.
Imagining an Industrial Reality
As I sat by the river one day and observed the running currents of the river, I imagined what it would feel like if, one day, the crystalline waters became tainted with the white frothy foam of pollution or the greasy blue shades of oil and chemicals.
I imagined the pain I would feel when suddenly, a life-giving river that I used for drinking, washing, and cooking becomes dirty, polluted, and contaminated by factories and industry further upstream.
In this imaginary daydream, I felt anger, sadness, rage and despair at the impotence of the meek in the face of the giant guzzling industrial monster of the rich and powerful.
Knowing that this was not just a daydream but a reality for all of us living on planet Earth was sobering. Iván and I were lucky enough to be on this beautiful stretch of unspoilt land, but how many others, past and present, had to endure the degradation of the land that they hold sacred?
Travelling doesn’t just reveal the beauty of the world to us, but also its pain.
Paradise Island Continues
After these few days by the river, we continued exploring, living on a diet of cheese tomatoes, and bread. We skinny-dipped and swam in the sea, chatted with locals, and got involved in local parties.
One day Iván bought some fresh fish from a local fisherman, and we went down to the beach to clean it. It was late afternoon and the sun was still warm. I remember being sat in the shallow water that came in from the sea, which created small canals that cut through the sand like a river.
I sat there, soaking up the rays and admiring the ocean, when suddenly, in the distance, a pod of dolphins were jumping and diving in the waves.
“Wow!”, I thought. “How amazing is that!”
The other people on the beach, engrossed in their sandcastle making and magazine reading, didn’t even seem to notice.
Then, I looked to my left, and swimming up one of the streams was another visitor: a big inky black eel.
I moved away from the water because I could see its sharp, protruding teeth and didn’t fancy my chances! But it must have been drawn by the smell of the fish that Iván was cleaning and came closer to where we were.
Wow, what an amazing place this was. These magical islands, this magical moment, this magical experience. These islands just seemed so abundant with life and wonder.
It’s hard to imagine that such beauty is possible when you are used to living in the concrete jungles or the industrial towns and villages. It was a far cry from the red-brick streets of Bolton where I grew up, or the busy streets of Madrid, where I live now. I felt like I was living in a David Attenborough documentary and I didn’t want it to end.
A Change of the Tide
However, little did I know that the tide was about to turn and with it, our magical bliss was in danger of being washed away.
The first sign that our luck was running out was a storm that rolled in the very same evening, making our romantic fish dinner into a blustery and wet affair, with Iván ending up cooking the fish on the barbecue in the rain.
Just as the joy of the first flush of romance had been reflected outwardly by sunshine and synchronicity, so too was this new stage of our holiday romance outwardly reflected, however this time with flashes of lightning, thunder, and things going wrong.
Camping and travelling in such a wild way can be tiring and I began to notice the first rumblings of irritation and grumpiness.
We were now leaving the honeymoon and entering the marriage and the storm was here to notify us of this transition. With this change of energies, the first tensions between us started to sprout.
However, it wasn’t all over yet. The next day when our clothes had dried, the sun came out again, we set off on what was to be our last adventure.
A Commune Experience
We had seen a small advert for a commune-style permaculture project that looked quite intriguing. With nothing to lose we rang the number and organised a visit.
It was the home of a couple: a girl from France and a guy from the island. Both artists, they had bought land and refurbished the main house, as well as built some hobbit-style houses for the tourists that came and visited. They had a big patch of woodland close to the house, where we camped, as well as a big permaculture garden.
We stayed with them for a few days and got involved in daily life there. They had a lot of people staying with them, but mainly friends and family who had been invited to stay for a month and live communally.
I remember that in the kitchen they had huge sacks full of grains and pulses. A far cry from the tiny bags of rice and pasta I was used to buying back in Madrid. I had never seen sacks of grains so big!
The most amazing thing for us was that they had real bathrooms! After so long washing in rivers it felt so good to have a hot shower! And to feel clean, look in a mirror and brush my hair and, low and behold, wear clean clothes!
Having come from the city, where generally everyone looks cool in their city-slicker clothes and having grown up in the UK where lots of makeup and dyed hair is the norm, it was curious that I could feel so beautiful just simply by washing my hair and wearing fresh clothes.
Here, among these people, makeup and dyed hair would have looked totally out of place. There was a French woman and her daughter who, shock horror, didn’t shave their underarm hair, nor plucked their eyebrows, nor were stick-thin gym-goers.
And to me, they looked so beautiful and bountiful. Here in the wildness of the surroundings, it only seemed right that the people too looked wild.
Wild to my city eyes of course; they were simply natural. Totally natural and untamed; sensual and sexy. Just like a flower or a tree doesn’t try to be something it is not, neither did these people.
Amongst the other people, there was a Mexican couple who were artists and musicians and they sang around the fire in the evening. They were also planning on doing a Mexican sweat lodge ceremony, which we were keen to go to.
But in the end, it kept being put back until we couldn’t really wait any longer and we decided to get back on the road.
At this point, mine and Iván’s good luck really ran out when an in-growing hair that I had mistakenly brushed off as being “nothing”, culminated with me having to go to the emergency ward to be treated for an abscess.
Now the magic and synchronicity that had characterised the first half of our trip, were replaced instead with stress, worry and medical wards.
Time was also running out for us, as I had a ticket booked to return to Lisbon within a few days. After such an incredible time together, our last few days felt chaotic and stressful and it made the sad goodbye even more painful.
One painful mini-surgical procedure later and I was heading back to Lisbon on the plane.
Where I was going to go and what I was going to do, I had no idea.
By this point, I was ready to go back home. The adventure was done; mission completed. I had fulfilled my dream of volunteering on permaculture projects and exploring alternatives paths. Now I wanted to go home for a rest and tend to the ache in my heart for the romance that I desperately wanted to be more than it was destined to be.
Plus, I had no desire to explore Lisbon, which seemed to have more tourists than locals. After so much wildness, it was a culture shock to be back in this man-made world, with its people pruned and preened with coiffured hair and painted nails.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I was travelling without a purpose. Just killing time.
What made matters worse was the fact that I had to be close to a medical facility to make sure there were no more problems, limiting my travel plans.
It is said that pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. After so much intense pleasure, I guess you have to get ready for its counterpart, with equal intensity.
Final Chapter: Camino de Santiago
However, life is simply too short to spend it feeling sorry for yourself.
In moments like this, I think keeping moving is the best course of action. So, after I had seen a doctor, and following my intuition, I made my way up to Oporto. In the hostel there I met a lovely woman and her daughter who were both preparing to walk the Portuguese part of the Camino de Santiago, which is an ancient Christian pilgrimage route that runs through Portugal, Spain and France.
I had already been thinking about walking a bit of it since I had no other plan and the idea of walking and reflecting on this rollercoaster of a trip appealed to me. However, I wasn’t really prepared and didn’t know how to go about it.
But a lovely woman and her daughter, Doris and Verena, invited me to walk with them, which was incredibly generous.
“Oh I would love to”, I said, “but I’m afraid I can’t. I have to be close to a doctor”, feeling disappointed that a great opportunity had come my way and I wasn’t able to take it.
Without hesitation her daughter, Verena, said:
“I am a doctor”.
“Oh my god, no way?!” I exclaimed.
I couldn’t believe my luck! It seemed like the Universe was watching my back and synchronicity was yet again abound.
And that is how the last leg of my trip came about: with the three of us walking along the coast, passing towns and fishing villages, and eating our fill of seafood. It was lovely to be in the company of women, and I really enjoyed chatting and sharing stories from our lives and our travels.
After four days of walking, I made it to Santiago de Compostela (not on foot, by bus!) and another coincidence had occurred- my good friend and housemate was also there, after also doing The Camino with a friend of his.
Not only that but someone else was there too: Iván.
We had been in contact a little bit since I had left the Azores, but I hadn’t told him about my plan of going to Santiago de Compostela until we exchanged a few texts whilst I was walking. He told me he would be passing through the city for a few days visiting a friend of his.
This seemed too good to be true; I thought we had said goodbye forever. It seemed like synchronicity was there again, willing us on.
It felt like a beautiful end to our tale, a chance to relive our romance and to say goodbye properly, without the stress and chaos that had plagued us when I left the Azores.
It was a little strange to see each other in this urban environment and without our backpacks and tents. We walked through some of the old courtyards and parks and visited some of the cities coffee shops and tapas bars.
It was just one day but it was enough to finally be able to say goodbye in a way that honoured the memories we had made together.
The next day, I finally got my flight back to Manchester and made my way home to Bolton.
With work in Madrid starting again in a month, I had a while to collect my thoughts and reflect on such an intense trip.
It’s true that Bolton doesn’t have the same charm as the Azores, but sometimes a bit of home comfort, a good cup of tea, and a chocolate biscuit is exactly what the soul needs.
After a month of enjoying the creature comforts of the familiar and homely, I returned to Madrid and continued to build a life there for myself. The adventures of the summer soon disappeared into the past and remained there, really, until I began to take the memories down from the shelf to write these blog posts.
Many more changes were to come once I returned to Madrid, as it was in that second year in the city that my Madrileño life really got started.
However, it is true that my romance with Iván left a mark upon me. Up until that point in my life, I had always remained footloose and fancy-free, always having love affairs involving long-distance travel and impossible romance. My experience with Iván had changed something within me, even though for a while I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Then one day it dawned on me: I was finally ready for a real relationship; one that wasn’t destined to end when the trip was over.
Whilst I wished for Iván to be that person, I knew it wasn’t meant to be. As much as I fantasised about romantic possibilities, I knew that I was just kidding myself.
But this new awareness must have created the inner space necessary to call in the next big initiation because not long after returning to Madrid, another bohemian Latino came into my life and this time he was here to stay.
Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know this to be Sergio, partner in crime and fellow explorer of off-grid projects, as written about in previous posts.
However, my time with Iván didn’t end there; little did I know that I was to meet Iván one last time.
Meetings in Dream Time
Strange and mystical as it sounds, not long after being with Sergio, I was reunited with Iván in a dream in which he came to me with a big smile on his face, still wearing his big travel hat. He was stood within a pattern of geometric shapes of many different colours.
Sergio was there too and we met Iván together. It was as if I was introducing them and that they both approved of each other and were happy to meet. Then, Sergio continued on and I stayed with Iván a bit longer, before moving on to join Sergio. Iván waved us off as if he was giving us his blessing. He had a big smile on his face, wearing the same red t-shirt he wore so much when we were travelling together and radiating contentment.
When I woke up the next day, I had that warm feeling of having been with a good friend. I could still strongly feel the energy of the dream and it remains very clear in my mind to this day.
Of course, from time to time we all have strange dreams. Once we awake, life continues and we get on with our day without too much thought or fuss. Yet, as much as my mind tried to brush it off as just a silly dream, deep down I understood the deeper meaning. My soul understood the message, even if my mind didn’t.
It signalled the start of a new chapter of life for me and an important initiation. I had no idea at the time what I would be doing six years down the line, but considering that Sergio is the person who is accompanying me on this journey of going back to the land, it seems like a beautiful sign from the Universe guiding me on my path.
Reflections for the Future
Often, we look to the past to imagine what is possible in the future. Whilst not every minute of my life has been as full of synchronicity and adventure as those two months in the Azores, I still ask myself: if so much synchronicity was available to me then, why not now?
During those two months, I was following pure intuition; I had a dream and I was following it, come what may.
Now, as I try to find my way out of the city and back to a life living close to the Earth, I wonder: what will happen if I follow the same strategy?
If synchronicity really exists – and in my own experience it absolutely does – who is to say that it won’t lend a hand, as I walk down this seemingly impossible path?
Maybe my dream isn’t so impossible after all.
Synchronicity is the unforeseeable, the unplannable, the uncontrollable.
Maybe it could happen sooner than I think.
In ways that I can’t even imagine.
Post Script Update
One of the greatest things that have come out of writing this series of posts about my trip to the Azores is that it has given me an excuse to get back in touch with some of the people that I met during my travels. It has been fun to reconnect and reminisce about our shared memories and find out what people are up to now.
Naturally, that also meant the obvious: I got back in touch with Iván. Using the purpose of asking permission to use pictures of him in this post as an excuse, I sent him an email, after many years of being out of touch.
I was curious to know how he was and what he was doing now. I ended the email saying how much I would love for our paths to cross again one day, not really thinking that they would.
To my surprise, his reply was waiting for me the next morning.
Whatever nerves I may have had about opening it disappeared when I read the first line:
“Geniaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal! No sabes la alegría que me da saber de ti!” Greeeeaaaat! You don’t know how happy it has made me to hear from you!”.
“How many years have gone by! And the magnificent and beautiful memories of our adventures in the Azores still remain”.
In true Iván fashion, about his photos appearing in the blog, he says:
“Encantado de que publiques cosas de tu experiencia, e incluso si aparezco con el culo al aire en alguna foto me parecerá bien!!!” I´m more than happy for you share your experience, even if I have my arse in the air in one photo, it’s fine by me!
And saving the best bit ’till last, he writes:
“Many things have happened since we last met. Small and big adventures; this life never stops surprising me. I would love to tell you about it; in person, in a café, in a bar, in a garden! The best thing is, and what I find incredible, is that since we are neighbours in the same city, it’s possible”
“¿Cuando tomamos un café?” When are we going for a coffee?
“No way! You are in Madrid?!”, I immediately responded.
After all this time writing about our adventure together and here he is, living in the same city as me. I couldn’t believe it!
And so the next day, the day of the Spring Equinox, we met up by the river Manzanares, the green belt that runs through the city, and basking in the afternoon sun, we caught up on the past 6 years. It felt just as easy as it did all those years ago like I was in the company of an old friend.
“It has been so good to see you”, I said to him as we were parting ways.
“You too” he said, “I still don’t know many people in the city so it’s great to see a familiar face”.
“Well, you have a friend in me”, I told him, “You will have to come over for lunch to meet Sergio! I think you two will get on well”.
“I’d love to!”, he said.
And with that, he got back on his bike and I went in the direction of my house, feeling happy and content to have an old friend return to my life.
The fact that this new encounter happened on the Spring Equinox, the first day of Spring, is not lost on me.
Maybe dreams can come true after all, ey?
A big thank you to everyone who was part of this epic adventure. In particular, I would like to thank Doris and Verena for being so generous as to include me in their Camino plan. And of course, I thank Iván for bringing me so many blessings as he came in and out of my life (and back in again!)
Also thank you, dear reader, for joining me on this journey and allowing me to share this story with you. May your life also be an epic adventure of untold magic and synchronicity!
Edited by Deborah Blye
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