My roommate and I set our alarms for 3 a.m. to board a bus going to Portugal leaving by 5 a.m. The night before, our host mom cooked us chicken. The chicken was greasy, but good. I started eating it but then stopped when I felt the rumbles in my stomach. I excused myself to the bathroom but I didn’t get sick. I was feeling crappier than I usually would at 3 a.m. (although I should have been feeling crappy anyway because it was 3 a.m.). As my friend and I started walking to the bus stop, I could feel it coming on. I knew I couldn’t stop and I puked on the side of the building. “Ok, I’m good,” I said as I accepted the piece of gum my roommate offered me. That was the picturesque start to my Portugal trip.
The trip was honestly a hot mess, but a vacation full of memories. The towns we saw in Portugal were beautiful and unique but the trip was a glorified booze-cruise, equipped with everyone’s most common drunken fantasy: boarding a pirate ship on the Atlantic while a professional photographer took pictures of you. A friend called the professional photographer a penguin due to the fact that he had all the grace of a hopping penguin.
The majority of our study abroad group decided to join this three day Portugal getaway last minute. We were not the only ones on this tour. Another group from another study abroad company joined us. They were the typical young Americans you would envision signing up for a weekend trip that included vouchers to local clubs in the price. They started drinking in the a.m. and did not stop, even when faced with sobbing group members and rocking boats.
Our hotel in Portugal was not the best. There was only one bed with a second pull out bed coming from inside the couch. We had small kitchen with a dining room table. There was also a small living room and a balcony that had a view of the street below. The first time we walked into the door, we opened it with more force than it needed and the sconce on the wall fell off from the vibrations. The jagged edge of the sconce dragged against the floor every time we opened the door. There were tiny ants trailing out of an outlet. Our room was suspiciously without any pillows. We all set our luggage down and walked to the nearest grocery store.
The water wasn’t potable in Albufeira, so we mainly stocked up on water. While we were there, we made sure to peruse the Portuguese snacks and stovetop meals. A guy from our group walked up to us in the grocery store and asked us “do you think they have breakfast at the hotel?” Without a beat, my friend answered “they don’t even have pillows, you think they are going to have breakfast?!” I was cracking up but there was absolutely no response from this guy. In one swift turn, he walked away.
Our tour guide… well I can’t say many nice things about her. She was a beautiful eastern European girl who leaned Spanish and her English was broken. She was as old as most of us. She did exactly what the tour company hired her to do: befriend the people on the tour, drink, and party with them. She was particularly invested in one guy in our group, but he had a girlfriend. I overheard her saying to one person on the tour “yeah, I made out with him but I have a boyfriend. Now he keeps on following me.” I didn’t know if she was also paid to make out with the students on the tour.
There were many things that bothered me about this tour guide. She clearly wasn’t interested in allowing anyone on the tour to have a good time at her expense. After going on a speedboat in the Atlantic and seeing the Algarve caves, we boarded a gaudy pirate ship. We were encouraged to put on pirate costumes that were provided and pose for the camera. I had no real interest in this. The human penguin jumped from spot to spot making sure he had the best photos with his fish eye lens. A few people in our group jumped off the side of the ship and swam in the water for a little when we were anchored. I was about to do the same. I stripped down to my bikini and mentally prepared myself to “walk the plank”. Before I reached the plank, the tour guide beat me there. She kept on saying “oh my gosh, I don’t know if I want to jump! Should I jump?!” while faking scared and excited faces for the camera. Soon I was standing behind a full blown photo shoot of her posing in her bikini in front of the plank. Then the captain said that we need to go and the girls that were already swimming in the Atlantic had to board. I may or may not still be bitter about this a year later.
After enjoying a day on the beach in Albufeira, most of us stayed in and relaxed for the night. I tried out my Portuguese ramen in the kitchen with no luck. We didn’t meet down in the lobby with the drunken tour members as the tour guides handed out club vouchers. Instead, we talked to the front desk about the ant problem that we had in our room. What crazy young adults.
The next day we jumped on our bus to visit Cape St. Vincent or “the edge of the world” and then Lagos. The trip was off to a bad start. A girl on our tour was missing from the bus and we weren’t leaving on time. We asked the tour guide what was going on and she replied with an expressionless face “your friend is injured”. She wouldn’t give us more details than that and didn’t seem particularly concerned. We could see the girl on the sidewalk bleeding with the bus driver who had a first aid kit. That’s when I knew the tour guide clearly wasn’t paid enough to care for our well-being. Eventually, our friend made it onto the bus with a bandaged toe. She tripped on the sidewalk and cut up her toe. It sounds something like I would do.
The Cape St. Vincent was a beautiful sight. It was called the “edge of the world” by the Portuguese because at one point, the rest of the world was not explored by the Portuguese. The bus stopped for an hour and a half as we explored. Everyone was ready for a photo-opt with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. My friend pointed out two girls doing yoga and flips on uneven stones near a cliff as someone took pictures. Clearly those pictures were meant to be posted on their Instagrams later.
A guy we didn’t know walked onto our bus as we were waiting to leave for the second destination. He turned to his girlfriend and said, “this doesn’t feel like our bus.” His girlfriend asked, “what does our bus feel like?” I answered for him by saying, “a warm hug.” Unfortunately, they didn’t hear my joke as they slinked off our bus.
Lagos was breath-taking. I wish our hotel was in Lagos, not Albufeira. We explored the city and ate a cute café. Our group didn’t spend much time on the beach. Some of us were kind of beached out for the time being. Arriving back at our hotel in Albufeira seemed like a letdown. As we ushered into the elevator, a guy on our tour who we didn’t know too well offered us brownies. I know what you are thinking. This guy had such a kind face it seemed impossible that it would be “those kind of brownies.” We accepted, realizing that he was pulling them out of store bought packaging. My friend immediately developed a crush on him when he asked us where we were from with a warm smile. The guy who joined us in the elevator was studying in Spain like us, but he was from Mexico. In our friend group, sharing food with a member of the opposite sex was practically an engagement. We took food very seriously. Later, I shared my cookies with a guy on our tour. My friend shot me a knowing glance and another friend said, “Kelsey, I heard you shared your cookies.” I responded back quickly, “Yeah, I shared my cookies with him and now I’m pregnant.”
The second and last night we were in Albufeira, my friend group decided to use our club vouchers. After all, they were included in the price we paid for the tour. Albufeira at night is a strange land. Imagine a smaller scale Las Vegas, crawling with young, well-dressed Europeans. There was a strip, just like Vegas, where both sides of the street contained bars and clubs with neon signs. Guys dressed as sperm followed behind a guy dressed as a phallus. Apparently, this is how Albufeira does bachelor parties. Drunk men slurred their words at passersby.
The first club we were ushered into greeted us with a shot at the door. The nondescript building was equipped with a large dancefloor and a raised DJ booth. My friends and I were ready to have fun and the main way we did that is by making fools of ourselves. We traded in the crowded dance floor for a sturdy table. As we danced, we performed every cheesy dance move in the book. A stranger joined us on the table. She grabbed our hips and tried to teach us how to dance to no avail. The next territory to conquer was the DJ booth. The three of us slyly slipped behind the DJ who was wearing a pastel colored, cable knit sweater around his neck. He laughed with us as we swayed behind the booth. My friend stole his headphones and held them up to her one ear while scratching the record. The guy my friend had a crush on danced near us when we made it back to the dancefloor. I was rooting for them to dance together but he seemed to be too shy. What happens in Albufeira stays in Albufeira, but I don’t think we can really use that phrase if nothing too crazy happened in Albufeira.
Our group was rounded up and we moved onto the next club. This one was shaped like an alien spaceship and swarming with sweaty people. We danced as the human penguin shoved his fish eye lens in our faces. In the crowd that moved in waves and I thought I saw someone I knew. I was spooked by the sight I didn’t see. Suddenly, I wasn’t in the partying mood anymore. A few girls from our group were also no longer charmed by the Albufeira nightlife. We walked home and called it a night. The people in the streets turned from playful to sinister. Several guys laid their hands on us and a few screamed racial slurs at my friends. A girl from our tour group was almost robbed two minutes before we arrived in that part of Albufeira. They targeted the wrong girl. She was tall and athletic and ripped her purse out of the hands of the burglar.
The next morning, everyone woke early despite some being out until 6 in the morning. The group checked out another pristine beach of Albufeira then packed the bus to return to Spain. Although our tour of Portugal was less educational than I preferred, I had fun. It was comical how bad the trip was on paper. There is nothing more you can do in those situations except laugh. And it’s much easier when you have great friends by your side.