One of the luxuries of living in a safe place is that you can walk at any hour without worrying about being attacked. That is no small thing for a woman who grew up most anywhere in the US.
I walk home after my Portuguese classes. It’s not very late—around 7:30—and the walk takes about half an hour. There are people out walking and jogging. Usually on my walk, I’ll pass some teenagers who participate in a program at one of the other schools, or at least that’s what I’ve made up in my head. I’ll usually pass a few people walking the opposite of my route, from Santa Luzia to Tavira. I am passed by bicycles going in both directions (There’s a special bike trail through The Algarve, Ecovia do Litoral, that stretches from the east to the west coast.)
I like the walk because it helps to clear my head after two and a half hours of Portuguese. I always have a headache after class (during class, too!) and my back is stiff from sitting in the hard chairs. I usually pop an ibuprofen at the break and stretch a bit. But the walk is what really works out the kinks, in my back and in my brain.
The air is cool but not cold. I know this won’t last long and I am hunting for a scooter so I won’t have to depend on taxis and the fast-disappearing Ubers. (Or maybe I should call them the never-appearing Ubers.) One of my classmates said a scooter would be cold in the winter, which is true. But, I pointed out to her, the scooter ride will be cold for five minutes as opposed to a cold thirty minute walk home. Eventually the weather will force me to make a decision on a scooter—electric or gas, 50cc or 125. Between now and then I have to figure out things like registration and licensing (my driver’s license is somewhere in Faro, lost in a paperwork shuffle) and insurance. But not tonight.
Tonight I can walk and let the clear, cold air fill my lungs and chase all those Portuguese conjugations out of my head. It rained over the weekend and the soil smells damp and pure. I pass dark groves of olive and orange trees and I can smell the leaves, the smell of green. One field was fertilized a couple of weeks ago; the smell still lingers. I do not breathe quite as deeply as I walk by.
There are new houses and old farmhouses and more than a couple of ruins that are sometimes lighter, sometimes darker spaces in the night. There are street lights along the way, but some of the areas are darker than others, the sidewalk shadowed by overhanging trees. My biggest worry is not being able to see if there is dog poop in my path. I walk in faith in those spots.
Eventually I pass the anchor that serves as a welcome to the village of Santa Luzia. Not a whole lot of lights, but enough. There are several restaurants on the way in that are usually busy. I pass the van of the woman who runs the computer repair shop. I turn the corner to the main road and see the cat who hangs out at the fish store. I wonder if it’s the luckiest cat in town or the smartest. Maybe both. The main street is well lit, with people sitting at outdoor tables, but my favorite little restaurant has already closed for the night. The restaurant below my apartment is open, but empty. The two waitresses sit at a table, playing with their phones. I greet them with a “boa noite” and head upstairs.
I take a few minutes to sit on my balcony in the dark, breathing in the night air. I can just make out the women talking below, but the sound of the Atlantic, hitting the beach carries from the other side of the Ria Formosa, a stronger force than a mere human voice. An occasional car passes. The thrum of a fishing boat’s diesels grows fainter as it heads out for the night. I reluctantly get up from my chair and head into the light of my apartment, restored.