A Travellerspoint blog

The beginning of a spiritual uprise

Two years ago today I landed in Porto back from my 50 day trip across United States. It was also the first day of a new period in my life, the one I'm still living nowadays.

I guess that everyone's lives are made of landmarks and milestones. We all have different goals and we all follow some kind of path to accomplish them. My roadtrip in the USA is both a landmark and a milestone. These words have very similar meanings and might even be synonyms. I'm no linguist though, so I'm gonna use them at my complete discretion.

My trip was a landmark because out of all the events in my life, past, present or future, it will always stand graciously and resplendent, like a beautiful monument, an ode to my own existence. It's something that will remain, will always be there to be admired and looked at. But that trip became also a milestone in my life as it represents a shift in direction. I don't mean shifting in a physical or material way, I'm talking about something transcendent, spiritual.

According to this line of thought life has to be perceived as a journey, a road to enlightment and built on constant discovery. While driving across such a vast and beautiful country like the USA, I had the perfect opportunity to discover me in me. I didn't realize that up until recently. I guess you can imagine how overwhelmed I was in that time and how there was so much to process. But I can see now that all those thoughts and emotions that have been secretely maturing inside me in the previous years found the perfect meadow to flourish and become undestroyable pillars in my ethos.

Such trip allowed me to finally embrace and wear as mine the thoughts of authors like Kerouac, Thoreau or Camus. I had read them before but I wasn't ready to fully understand them. I was drawn to them, to their ideals and lifestyle, but there was some pieces of the puzzle missing. I found all those pieces there. There's no greater joy in life than to live your dreams and the life you've always imagined for yourself.

Although I think it's not visible on the surface, I returned from the USA inexorably transformed. I feel that no longer I will be able to conform to society or adhere to the ideas of others about my own life. I feel like nothing or no one will ever determine me besides my own conscience. I also realize that my physical existence means less and less when compared with the spiritual existence. But I also realized that it's a one way road and there's no turning back.

Once you go past some things, you have to be prepared to stand alone in many aspects of life. If you want to exist in the society, side by side with its ordinarity, you have to be prepared for feeling misunderstood and accept that as some immutable fact.

We live in a world where everything seems possible, everything is available to everyone, at least in theory. We live in a world of comfort and excess. The technology is abundant and it seems like there are no limits. On the other hand, everyone seems somehow forced to be happy or look happy. However this constitutes an ironic paradox: the same society that tells you that everything is possible is the same one that prevents you from being "all you can be". I guess we can describe the present times according to this: "be all you can be as long as you conform with the norm, otherwise we'll kick your butt out of our group".

I had the opportunity to read a book recently that caused another turmoil in my brain, because I felt I was reading my own ideas, although explained in a much more erudite and philosophical way. At some point the author says that "every life is the struggle, the effort to be itself". He adds that the all the obstacles that we face in life are what uncover and stimulate our capacities, as opposed to a world where everything is easy and possible which will cause serious deformations in the human existence. These kind of thoughts go hand in hand with Thoreau's quote: "Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind".

In a world where people are numb with all the comfort around them, they also feel lost and empty. They search for some meaning for their somehow standard existence. But there's no meaning for our own existence other than to live fully and make our life all that we want it to be. There should be no resignation, no acquiescence but an unbearable desire for more. We have to elevate our life, to pursue higher goals, to live for a greater cause. We have to make the best of it. We have to fill it with all forms of culture, not with food or clothes or empty days.

Going back to my trip and to the point of this post, I guess that I'm in the period of affirming the invidivual project for my own life. I'm aware that it won't be easy to do so while trying to cohabit with today's society and (lost) values. But my life belongs to me and I'm going all in, almost recklessly. And if I happen to fall or stumble, I will do so gracefully and filled with dignity, because more and more I'm becoming indifferent to fear.

There's no shame in trying to live the life we think it's best for us. As Thoreau recommends, I'm going to live in the present, launch myself on every wave (literally) and find my eternity in each moment.

And "just" that will be enough.

Posted by ZackFontang 03:02 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

A scenic daily commute

I commute everyday between Porto, where I live and Santa Maria da Feira, where I work. I have to use my car and I am fortunate enough to have a work schedule which allows me to avoid all traffic jams in and out of Porto. Therefore, my 30 minute commute is a peaceful and relaxing time of my day, especially while driving back home. For the most part of the year, I drive back home around the time the sun is setting down right at my left side, disappearing behind the endless Atlantic Ocean, a regular companion along the way.

Like countless other days in the past two years, yesterday the sky was amazing again. So I started taking pictures with my phone while driving (hope no cop is reading this) and am sharing it here to let the beauty of nature speak for itself. I like how the colour of the sky changes throughout the journey.

This is a very introspective time of the day for me. All the vastness around me drives my mind to distant places, to visions of adventure, travels and happiness. I feel blessed to have such moments in my life.

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Posted by ZackFontang 07:40 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

A little village called Cortegaça

It's been a bit over 7 months since my last post. There's not one single day where I don't think of writing here about tons of things, both personal and professional. But the immediate thought after is: "do I actually have something worth writing about and sharing with the world?". And the conclusion is always no.

But I decided that I want and should write more. Whether it's relevant to anyone else, that's irrelevant to me. So this is my attempt of getting back on track. A simple reminder that I want to keep track of my live throughout my own words on this blog.

Here's what I want to share today. A moment. As simple as it was it carried all the beauty in the world. I've been thinking a lot in the past few months about so many different things without reaching actual conclusions but there's one persistent thought in the back of my mind. That my own happiness emanates for an ability to seize the moment and feel it to the fullest above anything else.

Sometimes I feel like I'm living many of those fucking cliché sentences that everyone post on Facebook nowadays. But I wonder if people actually can follow those sentences and what they imagine they want or need to achieve happiness. It takes a lot of giving, a lot of struggle to live the life we want and feel happy with it. And most of people are not able to sacrifice their comfort zone for some wild yearning of happiness. And given the fact that our society doesn't really want us to be all we can be, the price to pay is to live a kind of loner lifestyle, where the only rules we follow are the ones dictated by our own head and feelings. That's the price for true freedom. And it's a bittersweet feeling sometimes.

So I leave you with this picture taken a few hours ago in Cortegaça, a small fishermen village that I love. Everything there creates a kind of mystic vibe in me. Peaceful and often free of people, it has a first row seat to the endless ocean ahead. That's what I like to contemplate. The vast horizon of possibilities that my life offers. And then I feel happy.

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Posted by ZackFontang 15:37 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

PORTO. "The Unvanquished City".

The first years (2001-2008)

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(picture taken from the internet)

The first time I moved do Porto was 12 years ago. In late September 2001, as an 18 year old Law School freshman I rented a small place near Lapa's church. It was an attic in an old house and I was sharing it with a fellow law student from my hometown. I remember it was so small that I called it a "dollhouse". I lived there for one semester, my first months ever away from my family. Then I moved to another incredibly tiny room with no windows where I lived for 1,5 years in Boavista. Only in my third year I managed to find a proper flat and live in decent conditions (actually on the same building). I still recall those first university years as very intense, full of new experiences, great new friendships and lots of parties and alcohol. Like me, Porto was a very different city back then. My own life was very different back then.

Then my Erasmus year came (2005/2006). As the first defining moment of my life, that year in Budapest changed me irreversibly and coming back to Porto was a big shock to me. Suddenly I realized how so many things were lacking in this city and I was feeling the need to fly away, that my future would be abroad. In between dreams of going to NYC for 6 months and work in a bar just to pay my bills or working in some oil platform just to earn good money and have some crazy experiences, I found myself graduating and starting to work in a law firm in Porto, on September 2007. Moving to NYC ate the age of 24 vs promising career as a lawyer in Porto. The latter sounded (and still sounds) terribly boring to me, but I went with the easy option, the one which would be seen as the "normal choice" by society (oh, society!!!). As most of you know, I couldn't stick to my choice and I quit my job (second defining moment in my life) only six months later. During the months that preceeded my liberation scream, I was deeply bored in Porto . The only thing that would amuse me was to hang out with my friends on the weekend and go to this rock bar "Tendinha" (oh, the good ol' early days in Tendinha!!!) and get wasted. To me, Tendinha was a sacred refuge, where I would heal my soul while listening to great music and was the place where dreams felt like they could become true. And of course, every time they would play "Killing in the name" from Rage Against the Machine, I would stick my middle finger in the air and express all my rage singing along the chorus (F*ck you, I won't do what you tell me!). Oh, and everytime they would play Smashing Pumpkins, pure bliss! As one of my friends once said, during their songs was easy find me as I would stand still with my arms wide open pointing at the sky (the ceiling, I mean), smilling and with my eyes closed while people would go insane around me. Those nights were certainly magical and represent a golden period in my early adulthood which will never happen again, sadly.

However, Porto was not filling my needs as a city. Not many things were going on here. The city wasn't cosmopolitan, you couldn't find affordable international food, culture was extremely elitist and the concert scene was barely existent. We were still far away from what I call the urban european lifestyle. Now I can see that in late 2007, early 2008, the first seeds of what Porto became today were being slowly planted. But in that time it was cleary not enough. We'll go back to that.

February 2008 ended with me quitting my job. I already wrote about that day. I did manage to leave Porto as well. Destination?? New York? No. London? No. Some caribbean island? No. I quit my job and my next city was Santarém!!! Yep, probably you never heard of it if you are not portuguese! Back then I didn't know I'd became a tennis coach so I applied for jobs all over the world and also used my tennis coach degree, cause I needed to find a job to pay my bills. And my first offer was in Santarém, a smallish city north of Lisbon, where I spent 3 months as a tennis coach. The only good thing about Santarém was the amazing meat they have there. Truly delicious. Oh, and nearby there's a beautiful castle on a tiny island (Castelo de Almourol, picture taken from the internet).

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When I left Santarém, I was jobless (meaning free) again. So where did I go? Berlin? No. Melbourne? No. Chicago? No. I went back to my old town, the infamous city of Santa Maria da Feira, where I started my own tennis project and where I still work today. I never thought I'd go back there actually. But make no mistake, although I don't have much connection with the city or the people there besides my family, my job there is being some of the best thing that could ever happened to me. I lived in my hometown for 4 years (with a 3 month break when I lived in Berlin). On the first 3 years, it made sense to live there. But one day, for many reasons, it stopped making sense to live in a small town. That's when I decided to move to Porto after returning from my roadtrip across the USA, which was another defining moment in my life.

You might ask why on earth someone was desperately trying to leave Porto in 2008 only to be eager to return to that same city 4 years later. That is, dear reader, one of the biggest ironies in my life. But that's also a sign of how much Porto changed in less than 5 years. What Porto was, what Porto is nowadays and what Porto might become are three different realities that I want to analyze independently. With this post, I briefly covered my past in this city.

Soon I'll write about this last year.

Posted by ZackFontang 14:07 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Going South by Southwest in Portugal

Roadtrip along the portuguese coast and a little bit of Andalusian magic!

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Summer 2013 was supposed to be a quiet one for me. After spending all the year following my impulses and traveling like a madman around Europe, my travel budget was practically non existent. I was happy to peacefully enjoy my summer in Porto and commit to my eternal love for Maceda beach and all its simple pleasures. However, being temperate it's clearly not in my nature. So I used my tiny 2014 south american trip savings, went "all-in" and followed my vision: grabbing a car, driving south along the portuguese coast, exploring new beaches, meeting old friends and discover a bit of Andalusia in Spain. I was joined in this adventure by a russian friend of mine.

For those who don't know, the coast of Portugal is incredibly beautiful and diverse. It has around 900km and the only common thing is the presence of the endless Atlantic Ocean. The more southwest we go, the more beautiful becomes the landscape. Peniche and its surroundings are just breathtaking. Alentejo's coastline (and the west coast of Algarve), a well kept secret from all the turists that flood Algarve yearly, is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. The cliffs in Lagos and its green quiet waters are like paradise, albeit the city has become some kind of british/german colony. More east, close to the border with Spain, lies Tavira, a peaceful haven where a long stretch of white sand stands in between a river (Ria Formosa) and the ocean.

Peniche
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The drive to Praia de Odeceixe
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Praia de Odeceixe at dusk
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Praia da Bordeira
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Sunset in Sagres
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Green waters in Lagos
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Tavira
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Going back to mainland in Tavira
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Now that I indulged the readers with some pictures, it's time to introspect about several moments of the trip. Pictures of Granada will follow, so stay tuned! :)

One of the best things that happened to me during the trip was that I ended up meeting 3 good old friends that I haven't seen in ages, one by one and in different moments. And it felt so good to revisit the past with them, to see them as they are today and more importantly, to feel like real friendships remain untouchable over time. The passage of time and growing up has this incredible side where we can sit, reminisce about distant memories and still feel some kind of proximity to them. And at least to me, that's such an amazing sensation. To look back and feel like I've lived already so much, makes me want to look forward and live even more, but keeping the important ties (people) that will connect my entire life through a chain of love, true friendship and honesty.

I love these guys!

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I also realized that the last time I was in southern Algarve was in 2003 with some friends and the first time I remember being there was in 1993, with my family. As I was driving along the N125, the two lane road that crosses the entire region, passing in familiar places and towns, a turmoil of images and memories was invading my mind. Suddenly I was transported to my childhood, to visions of my young parents and my syblings as kids. As if by magic, driving through that road made be closer to a reality that was somehow forgotten in some " mental drawer" and will never exist again, creating a bittersweet feeling in me. Going back to the 90's, to another era, to another life, all the lost innocence. For a while, 20 years of my life unfolded in front of my eyes as I was driving. 20 years is a f*cking long time indeed. But looking back, it seems like it passed in a blink of an eye.

These moments I have in my normal life or during travels make me think of "Aparição", the book from the portuguese existencialist author, Vergílio Ferreira. The book is about the notion of "aparição", which is that precise instant when we reveal us to ourselves and all seems clear and right. I really fascinate about this concept and these moments of epiphany. Like that day when I was riding a bike in the desert fields of Tavira, glowing with that end of the afternoon colour and feeling the breeze in my face. The peace and relaxation I felt in that moment was a true moment of "aparição".

Going back to the trip itself, next destination was Granada, in Spain. Everyone told me great things about the city and it clearly didn't disappoint me. The Alhambra is indeed fascinating, the andalusian lifestyle is vibrant, the narrow streets are a delight. It seemed like a perfect city for a romantic getaway. Or for random encounters of strangers. I surely want to go there again. However, as it's so famous and touristy, there's no need to talk much about my impressions of it. These are two pictures of things I found special: the view of the city from the Alhambra and the night atmosphere.

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Back to moments of epiphany and if you are still reading this, here comes the moment that I will never forget. Saturday, August 31, dusk. After a long drive back from Granada, we stopped in Estremoz, Alentejo. While looking at the map, that name echoed in my head and it went back almost 20 years to a time where i was reading those book collections for kids. And one of those books was passed in Évoramonte, a small village which belongs to Estremoz. I didn't know anything about it, besides some memory from the book and I knew I had to see it. So after finding a nice place to sleep in Estremoz, I drove alone to that village. I shiver just to remember the moments that anticipated my arrival. The typical Alentejo plain scenery around me, the end of another warm day and suddenly, the first visions of a castle on a hill. Évoramonte on the horizon, getting closer and closer. I was really getting excited as I drove up the hill. When I got up and left the car the first thing that hit me was the singularity of the castle and the absolute silence all around. From there, I had a 360º view of endless plains and tiny houses. Plus, I had the sun right in front of me, descending on the horizon and painting the castle with an orangy tone. I was running around like a little kid, wanting to explore every angle, every hidden spot. The castle was closed and there was no one around, it was all mine. Somewhere in this world, there I was once again, filled with joy and appreciation for my life. After many days with revolving thoughts in my head about many things, I truly found peace there. I found all the answers I was somehow seeking. I felt complete and thankful. There I didn't fear anything. Amongst all the uncertainty in my life, there I worried not. I lived and relived a thousand lives, a thousand dreams.

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As the sun vanished behind one distant hill in the horizon, I went to the only restaurant in town and had a feast of great food and talked with the few people that was there. it felt so special. That's what I like, simple and special. Real. Yes, real things that I can touch or understand. That's what I need.
When I finally left the restaurant, the night had invaded the landscape. Driving back with rolled down windows under a sky filled with millions of stars, feeling the smell of the trees and the fields on a warm summer night and listening to "Rembihnútur" from Sigur Ros and "Catastrophe and the Cure" from Explosions in the Sky (love when my ipod's shuffle mode guesses exactly what I need) was the perfect end for my trip.

Posted by ZackFontang 05:47 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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