Your eyes meet over the box of brie cheese and discarded baguette crust between you. The slowly descending sun creates a rough mirror upon the powerful water below, throwing golden reflections bouncing across the surface. Two sets of footprints mark a path up the rippling sands of the dune where you have spent the last few hours eating good food and butchering both the Greek and the German languages. To your direct left up the beach, you can see a lighthouse. Tall, red, white, and proud, it marks the head of the windswept coastline beyond which you can see a haze which is the mainland of Portugal, a solemn reminder of the ticking clock.
As he leans in to hear you better above the wind, you see a line of silver in his hair and remember the differences between you. Culture, age, and language, even your basic interests do not align. If you were at home, this guy would be a no-go. Beautiful, yet not the kind of guy you touch if you don’t want to get hurt. Then you catch yourself breathing in, staring, and you have a decision to make.
You look around the deserted island and feel a sharp pang of envy for the solitary fisherman who remains. What a simple life that must be. You notice your hand moving towards the wine bottle half buried in the sand as he asks you what you’re doing for that dinner that night. At some point, you realise he’s not asking you personally what you’re planning on eating but expects that this day would carry on until it was time to part ways with a whispered goodnight. He sees it as a team plan and you realise that despite travelling alone to avoid that, you don’t mind at all.
Do you let yourself fall whilst still trying so hard to get over someone else? Do you open up to this dark haired beauty who’s side you had not left for three days? Or maybe you end it now, before it’s too late. Maybe you go back to Faro on the last evening boat, and watch the sun’s vibrant colours until it descends too far and you are left to stumble in the darkness hand in hand to your hostel.
That night as you are cooking, he’ll try to help but in the end, will just make sure your wine glass filled at all times and talk with the other guests. When the couple from America ask if you are together, don’t laugh awkwardly. If a kindly elderly gentleman from France asks if you are in love as you carry out more glasses onto the terrace, just smile. Enjoy it. You know it’s not real. It was never going to be real, but it can still be beautiful. In bed, you’ll promise yourself that you’ll forget him when you leave and that you know it’s nothing. You can’t even hold real conversations because of the language barrier, you have nothing in common, what are you doing?
When he leaves, you walk him to the coach station. He promises to message you and you promise not to reply. You didn’t exchange numbers, and he doesn’t have internet. It will be easy to forget. You kiss him on the cheek and turn around to walk away just as you see his coach pull in. You walk without looking back and congratulate yourself for that on the way back to the hostel.
It surprises you somewhat the next morning when you find yourself back in the same place, ticket in hand. It surprises you more when he’s there walking towards you, knowing as he did that you’d be on the first bus in the morning.
In the end, it doesn’t work. He tries to buy you flights to see him and you’re too proud. You message him for a coffee when you pass through his home-town later that month but he’s too busy. You meet someone else, and he meets someone else. However, that doesn’t matter, none of that matters. That was never the point. Is it not just enough to share a beautiful experience in a foreign land? Why do we have to hold on to these insignificant relationships? When you travel you are able to be whoever you want to be. You are probably not the same person as that girl who stuck her tongue out at the show that night, and he is probably not the same person as the care-free and relaxed kid you hung out with that week. You are both playing a part, and whatever part that is it’s important to remember who you are and what’s important to you.
My biggest piece of advice in terms of love on the road is this. Let it be beautiful, let it have no boundaries and let it open your heart and mind to new people and experiences. Be spontaneous, go on adventures and have moonlit walks on the beach. Have as much fun as you want, but do not let it be real. Learn and grow from it, but never make yourself have to get on a flight home two days before Christmas with an aching chest.
Written and edited by Beth Naylor