I am a windswept soul on the craggy cliffs of southern Portugal. My hair is a tangled and soon-salty plaything for the wind as I stand on a sheer-faced cliff, facing west. The sun is so bright that it washes out the immediate colors, and soon, I begin to understand the undulating landscape before me in black and white. Farther out, the Atlantic is a crisp blue I can taste on my tongue already.
I am in Sagres, a very small town in the Algarve region of Portugal. I hear it’s typically packed in the summer, which is a bit hard to believe, even for all its beauty. The only real sites in this town of sub-2000 are the harbor and the fortress, both offering views of the water and cliffs, respectively. Other than that, the town is like any small town—small windy streets, flapping laundry decorating sunlit walls, and the occasional bar or restaurant hoping to attract business. A student gets off the bus with me and walks in the direction that I assume is home. An old woman shoos her dog to come inside the front gate of her whitewashed house. Old men donning caps sit on benches, their legs dangling below, and flowers appear behind white fence gates. This is Sagres.
My guide book writes that this town has an “end-of-the-world feel” to it. I am inclined to agree. One step off the cliff and you wouldn’t fall—instead, you’d be hovering in the space between here and there, the space carved out by eons of oceans and wind. The ocean owns and rules here, says yes, shakes its head no, and accepts and rejects what makes its way into the rough waves. Past the cliffs, there is just water and more water. It’s almost impossible to imagine that so far west there is my home—many peoples’ home—and the black-and-white water confirms that there is only this plane, this place.
It’s almost like God scooped out this place, the wind and water his workers, the way a baker swerves her hand in a bread bowl, making sure to reach every last piece of leavened dough. Special attention was paid to this place, but the human attention has not been reciprocated. At least not today, and I am satisfied.
I wend my way along the paths that trickle across the desert-like landscape. I climb up a rock that drops off to the water below. I climb back down. The wind bellows and billows, and my ears hum. There is nothing.
I cross the street and there are more cliffs. I suppose I’m standing on a peninsula, or a panoramic viewpoint, as Europe likes to call them. The wind isn’t so strong here, and I can begin to hear myself again. The white wind noise dies down, and I realize that the water isn’t so harsh as it looks below.
I look once more, turn on my heel, and run back to the bus stop. I have plenty of time till the next bus comes, but I also have plenty of salt-heavy sea air to fill my lungs and tire my chest. I want to feel my feet pound against the minutely white-paved streets. I want the white white white houses to be a blur, and I want to swing wide open my chest and know my heart is working.
So I do. I run, and everything is as it seems. I am at the end of the world, I am a 17th-century explorer and I have discovered the last possible discoverable place on the map. Vasco de Gama would be proud. My feet pound the street, my lungs work, and I know my heart is working.
The bus comes, and I am gone.