Finding Love in Lisbon
Following a few blissful weeks of drinking more cheap spirit mixers than water and eating nothing but pastries from some of Europe’s finest bakeries and hostel breakfast tables, I’ve come down with an inevitable bout of sore throat and laziness. I’m sitting in the hostel common room playing Jenga while the sun beams onto Lisbon’s streets, when a soft-spoken voice tip-toes around the corner.
“I can play with you?”
Her hair is short and shaggy, the colour of coffee, and her skin a golden glow from hours beneath the Portuguese sun. Her name is Leena, and, after her asking her the only opener I know, she answers “Israel”.
I’ve never met anyone from Israel, so my eyes are glued to hers while she tells of her travels. She’s got that smell flowing from her arm-pits that marks a true global hobo, but I don’t mind. Her legs are hairy and her poncho drapes down to her kneecaps while she fidgets beneath it. She folds her feet up underneath herself, sitting on top of them to edge herself closer to the table.
I can’t help but be in complete awe of her. Her smile is infectious, and I can’t tell what she’s saying between giggles during her stories, but I know that she is full of love: the kind that children have when they don’t know how bad the world can be.
Leena tells us that she’s been in Portugal for a while, and that she saw most of the south coast on foot; the colours of her soles further proving the tales.
“I walked for about two…maybe three…weeks?”
My eyes are wide and my mouth taut. I can’t believe she just said weeks? But her huge brown eyes light up when she tells us more about her coastal walk: the beaches, the sun, the hippie communities, but most of all the people she met. She goes on to say that she also gets to and from places by hitchhiking. Standing on the side of the road with a 20-something kilo backpack, alone, waiting for a stranger to give her a ride to a new destination.
My heart skips a beat. Of course, the horror stories flood my mind. I think of the people back home in Australia that would shake her and tell her not to be so stupid. The countless newspaper headlines of solo women travellers being killed while hitchhiking and trusting strangers. But she doesn’t seem to flinch at my less than excitable reaction. Her eyes remain fixed on mine, with a smile pasted onto her face and her shoulders shrugged up comfortably.
I envy her. She seems to effortlessly ooze freedom. The reason I started travelling in the first place was to feel and experience what I couldn’t at home, to be able to think of myself as a woman who travels beyond fear, and in spite of it. But maybe I had forgotten how to do that.
I tell her that I forget sometimes, that people are loving and kind. That strangers usually just want to help you get by and are happy to open their homes and hearts to those that welcome it. She laughs, again.
“Of course. People always tend to forget this. When I am hitchhiking, I usually get picked up by people that used to do it themselves, so they understand, and they love to share stories. I even took a ride-share once, where at the end of the trip, the woman refused to take my money because we had such a great time chatting. If you open yourself to that kind of thing, if you are lovely to other people, this is what you bring into your own life.”
The words slip out of her lips with such ease that I don’t think she notices how transfixed I am to them. I have spent the majority of my life believing that if I let my guard down for one minute, I will be taken advantage of. I have forgotten that love enters your life when you let it, and that the kindness displayed by strangers when you travel can lead to some of the greatest memories of your life.
In a time when acts of terror, general atrocities and human rights violations are happening all over the world, it’s refreshing to be in the presence of someone like Leena. To be reminded that just because I’m a female traveller, who usually goes it alone, doesn’t mean the world is out to get me. Will I head out onto the highway in Portugal tomorrow with a cardboard sign and my thumb out? Probably not. But I’ve been reminded to take things as they come, and that maybe, a little trust in a stranger could prove me wrong.
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