Friday, 20 January 2012

Deep Blue – Chronicles of an Atlantic crossing

I crossed the Atlantic. An old dream, a recent craving, now a lived reality which I already remember with profound nostalgia, the nostalgia of that deep blue that took me pitching and rolling from a Lisboa’s sunny autumn day to the torrid and humid heat of the tropical lands of Ecuador. Many were the emotions, the moments, the surprises that my old friend the sea had me live from the first to the last of the 21 days passed on board the 'BBC Ganges', the cargo ship with a presageful name with which I made the crossing to a new world of emotions and discoveries. Having stepped firm land once more, it is now time to share some of the emotions lived on board, the most vivid, the most striking,  those which give me the biggest pleasure in sharing. The strongest of them all, however, I will not be able to share, as it is impossible to describe the tone of blue of the ocean I sailed, that deep blue which I will always remember as the most vivid memory of the days I spent crossing the Atlantic.

Departure: until the other end of the sea

At 6pm of the 13th October 2011 departed from Lisboa, more specifically from the Beato docks, the cargo ship 'BBC Ganges'. Within the varied cargo carried, as is its purpose and duty, the 'BBC Ganges' carried one of the least usual items in its many trips across the globe: me. If any doubt subsisted that a passenger was a rare thing around here, the facial expression of the cadet that was guarding the ship when I arrived cleared them all, lost between the awe of seeing two backpacks with a man attached wanting to board the ship and the need to advise his superiors of the arrival of the passenger who was going to cross the Atlantic. In a short while, however, the Chief Mate arrived to welcome me on board and guide me to what was about to become my cabin. My impression when first walking the ship’s corridors was that of having receded in time, arriving suddenly to the 70s or 80s, or maybe of having entered an old Chinese restaurant with walls covered with pine boards and paintings of rice field landscapes. When entering my cabin, however, that first impression was lost, as I felt strangely at home, maybe welcomed by the presence of a comfortable bed and sofa and by the existence of two windows to look at the sea during my days on board. Soon after the Captain came down from the bridge to get to know who I was, giving me permission to dive back in the Portuguese capital for a few more hours, time used to say goodbye to a hefty duck rice plate, to the nice Portuguese bica espresso coffee, to the pastel de nata (Portuguese custard pie), and finally to my family, nostalgias I left behind until de day of my return.  Still slightly dazed by the novelty of it all and the few hours slept in the short week I had to prepare my trip, I boarded the ship once more, now for good, now until the other end of the sea. At 5pm, and with the duck still floating around my stomach, I ran through dinner, engulfing in one go whatever I was given so I could climb up to the bridge on time for departure, the last contact with firm land before reaching the other shore of the Ocean. The clock marked the 6pm of the 13th October 2011 when departed from Lisboa, more specifically from the Beato docks, the cargo ship 'BBC Ganges', leaving behind the wharf to slide languidly along the hills of Lisboa, absorbing from its houses the ochre tainted light the sun emanated from afar, from the west to which I’m indefinitely bound. Balancing us on favor of its current, the Tejo River showed me Lisboa’s Castle, its Alfama neighborhood suspended above the river, its  cathedral peaking over the Terreiro do Paço square so it could watch the orange cacilheiro boats stroll to the other bank of the river, the Bairro Alto neighborhood toasting from above to my swift return, Lisboa’s waterfront accompanying me until the bridge, until the Crist Redeemer gave me a last hug to wish me a good trip. Little by little I felt Lisboa letting me go, while the Intanfe D. Henrique took the honor of waiving me a last goodbye from the forecastle of his caravel, wishful of his own departure and nostalgic of the days when the seas were his to discover. I saw also myself, near the tower of Belem, looking at the ships that sailed away and thinking of when it would be my turn to go. While the Bugio and Cascais' Guia lighthouses were throwing me a last farewell with the first swing of the waves, I saw Sintra from afar and the intense light that blinks from the Roca cape, where the sea begins according to the poet Luis de Camões, sights which accompanied my first hours at sea. Nostalgic of my presence, Portugal stared at me for long hours, like a parent who looks at his son departing while wishing for a swift return. I stared at him as well, petrified, watching my country become smaller until a huge red moon broke the horizon to crown Lisboa’s sky with the nostalgia I will carry along my path, a moment made eternal in that picture I could take only with my own eyes. Finally I left Lisboa, invaded by the contradictory sensation that while setting sail to foreign lands I found in the place where I come from the beauty I expect to discover along my way, but embraced by the certainty I belong here even if I depart once and again. At 6pm of the 13th October 2011 departed from Lisboa, more specifically from the Beato docks, the cargo ship 'BBC Ganges', headed to the other end of the sea, and I departed with him.

Atlantic Ocean, October 2011

Sunday, 6 November 2011


I followed my destiny. The road was inviting me for long, craving for my return. Silently she told me she missed my feet running over her, my sweat dripping on her under the scorching sun and the weight of my backpack, my curious stare resting on the horizon she draws afar, indifferent, randomly. I missed her as well, the crackling sound of gravel and sand pressed under my feet,  the warm tar melting gently at my passage, the countless kilometers going by while inebriating my nose with unknown scents and smells, the joyful dance of chance and destiny unfolding my path, slowly, languidly. The sea, however, was the one who took me. The road was left for later, overcome by the magnetic vastness of the ocean, who will rock me lazily across the  expanse of water that took the Portuguese of elder days to unknown destinations, as my own, which I will discover little by little, westbound. I’m going, departing from Lisboa, taken by the sea, traveling once more, fulfilling my destiny, each day.

Lisboa, Portugal, October 2011

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Yet again the north

I started my journey back home, which yet again takes me north, as if this was always and in the end my final destination. Drawn by the polar magnetism, I trail more kilometers or black tar which I consume as an unconditional addict, a devourer of diverse paths and directions which I insist in making my own in a constant and endless journey. Heading towards Portugal I end up finding it too soon, in a ‘Portuguese city’ which is no more than a lost nostalgia I discover without any sorrow or regret. I wander its ancient streets but only for a short while, leaving rapidly the walls that contain them in search of what brought me here after all, those who live here, who welcome me while wondering what brought me to this place. Less used to tourists, I find them maybe friendlier than elsewhere, being maybe more curious of who I am rather than of what I bring with me, as the occasional traveler is not essential to their survival, being a mere stranger. Eventually I leave El Jadida behind, letting my voracious appetite for moving forward take control, after all I have a sort of set date to return and the time to wander around is a scarce asset. Maybe because of that I touch only lightly the enormous Casablanca, a city that repels me while attracting me in its cosmopolitanism, a trait I didn't run into lately. Wandering around, however, I find nothing but the will to move on, of getting closer to the strait that separates my own land from this one, the strait which will eventually bring me back to ‘my world’. But before reaching it I stop one last time, finding retreat in the suspended blue of the mountainous Chefchaouen, which makes me start travelling again, slowly, invaded by the laziness of strolling up and down its streets, of meeting new brothers of destiny, of just resting from the racing-around I’ve been doing in the last few days. But soon the calendar points the way and makes me move my feet, this time towards the strait’s margin, that frontier limiting the illusion of many, the canal of so many wars, so many journeys, so many centuries-old dreams which I observe from a distance, contemplative, questioning so many things, so many uncertain certainties, so much water, too much border, too many people surrounding me in the bubbly Tangier which tries to sell me everything I don’t need, because what I need cannot be sold, only lived, because what I live cannot be sold, only savored. The bitter-sweet taste of this journey coming to an end makes me nostalgic, of here and home, lost in a limbo that does not exist, as this canal, an illusion transformed in difference, a division made of water and stupidity, imaginary line where so many try to balance themselves and where I now wander while waiting for my ride to my side of the world. Taking only a step I cross the canal, even though he tries to prevent my crossing, in an attempt to chain me to this primordial continent, land where I meet my own self, where I reinvigorate myself, where I at the same time feel disgusted with so many differences, so many errors from the past, with so many mistakes from the present, all heritage of a history that keeps haunting me. The huge waves seem to sink me in the canal, showing it is not an easy task to cross it. As so many others I must pay my toll, even if only in the price of a light seasickness, even if only in the price of a lost thought, lucky in any case not to have to pay with my own life as many others who are simply fighting for their right to dream, as I do, dreaming a life that does not exist and making it real step by step. Unlike many others I luckily am to able to dream, taste this freedom I live in, and that’s all I wanted everyone to experience, without any exception, but my power is so limited, I feel barely capable of unrolling my own road, that same road which is now rocking me to sleep already on my side of the strait, the original trail where everything started and which eventually brings me to a path I use to walk home, feeling my backpack go weightless as my bed is so near and that warm homely embrace is only a smile away to remember me that returning home is after all part of the journey. Deep inside, however, I know this is not my home anymore, that I belong to nowhere, that the road is my address, even when I’m not wandering it, even if some day I lose my strengths and can only travel the roads of my memories and of those of others. I belong to nowhere, but the whole world is mine and I will not stop discovering it while there is a span of road to overcome, a new stage to run, an unknown path to unravel, a new dream to be turned into reality. Despite knowing I will stop for a while now, I do it conscious that resting is just the beginning, the dawn of a new day which at some point will make me travel again, whatever direction I may take, whatever destination I may be bound for.

Somewhere between the Strait of Gibraltar and Loulé, December 2010

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Found a window through where the wind blows poems

I found a window through where the wind blows poems, brought from the sea by a gentle breeze which wraps them in a salty spray that splashes my face with words. Ignoring where they come from, I know only they came in herds, blown from the remote yet confining sea, the same sea which once brought us, Portuguese, to raise here this window through where poems rush today at the pace of ancient dreams of today and before. Simple poems, traveling dreams of long journeys walked and rocked by the waves that pushed us, that push us still, that push me and over and over bring me to unknown destinations, enchanted by the sweat chant of a mermaid called wander, the very same chant which some day had us sail around aimlessly. As a fisherman siting in the fort’s window, I only have to let the wind blow my pages to catch the poems in my web of paper and words, scribbled rapidly to uselessly try to catch them all. But it is impossible, there are too many poems, blown over my head to collide against the windows of the white houses that populate this place, against the blue of the boats that once and yet again leave the port only to be able to return, against the chant of the seagulls, immense cloud that populates the skies of this land once lost here only to be found again, one and many times, so that it can be lost again in the hope of finding it forever. A window, through where the wind blows dreams of an endless journey, promise of a world full of new dreams, strange nectar that inebriates me and makes me addict to this place from where I can’t escape, chained to the streets that slowly start to know me, to the people with whom I start to be mistaken, to the rocks where the sea arrives roughly, to the bay where the sea becomes tranquil, to the sun that sets every day, here as elsewhere, but which here unlike anywhere else suspends me in a never ending original sunset, fallen in love with the gentle caress of the sun touching in the water, suspended in this obvious and repetitive common-place called sunset but which here becomes unique every day, passionate, tormentingly beautiful. I found a window through where the wind blows poems, which origin I ignore, which destination is unknown, but I don’t really care, I just open my pages, my eyes, my nostrils, breathing in, breathing very much, filling my lungs with a new air that renews each day I spend here, languidly, forgotten here as this old window, hanging over the sea while waiting carelessly for it to bring me back home, someday.

A friend

I’m going to craft you with works, my friend, fill with letters every wrinkle of your face, while you gaze at the vague horizon as an old sailor counting the tides, waiting indefinitely for the boat that will never arrive to take you from here. I’m going to craft you with works, my friend, fill with dialogues these endless silences of ours, countless chats where our words where never lost in a translation that never existed, where I understood you better than many who mumble purposeless gibberish, lost in the illusion that by filling the world with words they will fill the void they carry inside. No, we didn’t need elaborate dictionaries, literate translators, or any strange magic enabling us to understand the unintelligible and learn in a second what many take a lifetime to learn. No, we didn’t need anything, just a simple and hidden smile, that smile you bring inside you, my friend, that smile you show to only a few but which you offer with you heart, that very same heart you touch countless times with your hard-worked hand, crafted by time and the harshness of your life. Yet you keep on, you survive the harshness with by offering your smile, expecting only the hug from a friend, like you, whom I’ll carry with me in the memory of this land, your land, in the memory of this strange country which will entrench in my soul more deeply than I can think of, and which I know I will remember as home when I’m lost somewhere, my friend, a home I’ll have here also because I found you. I’m going to craft you with works, my friend, even though they were not necessary for me to call today as a friend.

(in honor of Ahmed, restless doorman of Hostel El Pacha, simple person, best cook of Essaouira and, above all, a friend)

Essaouira, Morocco, November/December 2010