During my first full day in Lisbon, its archetype accompanied me around my unstructured agenda through the historical Alfama district, Lisbon’s oldest and a mostly residential neighborhood.

It started at the Fruteria de São Miguel.

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Travel surprises, delights, challenges. It is what keeps me obsessively monitoring for airfare deals and error fares. Eyes tearing through magazines and blogs and anything with Anthony Bourdain’s name to it, and why my ears perk up when I overhear mention of Destination X at the coffee shop, in barre class, waiting for the set to roll in.

It will give you only as much as you can handle, encouraging you to be present, to seize the moment and trust yourself.

During my first full day in Lisbon, its archetype accompanied me around my unstructured agenda through the historical Alfama district, Lisbon’s oldest and a mostly residential neighborhood.

It started at the Fruteria de São Miguel.

Bird poop

After several passes, I timidly crossed the threshold into the cozy cafe and soaked in the scene. Fresh produce piled in bins to my right, a few locals at even cozier tables enjoying a pastry or reading a newspaper and a female proprietor stirring up the soup of the day beneath the counter.

Managing to squeak out my desire to dine in for lunch, I chose a red and white checkered cloth table outside, in full view of the restaurant across the way. It seemed to be a designated tourist stop for Gihjinha, a liqueur made from sour cherries. Every other cafe in Lisbon advertised the Gihjinha on a chalkboard along with a menu of the day.

I wanted whatever was in that pot.

“Sopa do día?” I asked the lovely old man who served me my cafe con leite earlier. He responded in Portuguese. I stared back smiling and confused.

A young couple, passing through the narrow street stopped.

“I will help you translate,” said the young man. “He says the soup is not ready yet, but if you wait five minutes he will bring you the soup.”

Ah, ok. Bom! Even if the soup were to take twenty minutes, I could wait. I had zero plans for the afternoon and a ham and cheese sandwich also delivered with my cafe to tie me over. I thanked him for the translation and consulted my map while the soup finished.

Satisfied with the first several spoonfuls of mild broth and vegetables, I glanced up to watch a bird land atop the building’s edge and swivel its tail feather around. Is that f*!!er doing what I think it’s going to do?

In one smooth turn he relieved himself inches from my Teva-strapped left foot. The surprising gift seemed to float down in slow motion as I sat paralyzed and mid-spoonful.

Splat, a creamy contrast to the darker, stoned street.

Stunned, I swiveled my own head around, eyes bulging in disbelief and searching, searching for someone to connect with during this absurd scene that literally manifested itself out of the blue.

I locked eyes with a middle-aged Portuguese woman propped up against a building opposite the cafe. She took an even, slow drag from her cigarette. Puffed it out as she dropped her left hand, the smoke disappearing into the clear day. And burst out laughing with me.

Cigarette still in hand, she walked over to help me move my table out of the danger zone, smooth out my tablecloth and went on her way.

I don’t know much Portuguese, though a shared laugh is easily understood. There is just something universally funny about someone, anyone dodging bird poop.

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Paulo Mac

That same afternoon I stumbled upon a group of construction workers gathered around one of Alfama’s maze of stairways. Though that was after I learned that the music I followed my ears to on my way down from one of the city’s scenic viewpoints was not a bustling bar from where I could get my day drink on.

Too late to turn around. They saw me. The music is what brought me here, and rather than ask the bartender who the artist is, I’d just have to go through these guys. All five of them.

Instead of backing away, I moved in.

“Hello! What are you guys working on?”

The same, rainbow colored streamers strewn above the Fruteria de São Miguel were present here too. Something big was happening soon, and the whole city was in on it.

As I’d learn, they were preparing for Festas de Lisboa, a month-long celebration of various saints, like Saint Anthony the patron saint of lost or stolen things.

“Where you from?” asked the one with the best grasp of the English language. California; they seemed impressed. He spouted off a few lines from Hollywood.

“Where are you from originally?” he said next. Hmm, haven’t received that question before. Maybe because I’m not blonde and blue-eyed? I wasn’t offended, more mildly curious than anything.

Hawaii.

“Hawhy!! Ah, Bora Bora!!” They seemed even more impressed.

I laughed along with them, relaxed and took a seat on one of the steps to chat a few minutes longer.

“Don’t you want a man to show you around Lisbon?”

I considered this and took a risk, “Why? My own two feet work just fine.”

More laughter. Success!

“You are a very smart woman!” I was flattered. If they only knew about my brain lapses.

They offered me a beer. I flashed back to my week in Madrid and a failed attempt to keep a low profile during my first evening in Lisbon. Tip: If you’re trying to keep it chill in Lisbon, don’t book accommodations in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, and don’t make immediate friends in your hostel who will inform you that there is free wine and tapas in the common room.

Need a bit of a break, I explained. Now for my mission.

“Who sings this song?” pointing to the stereo. It was a big and bulky thing I haven’t seen in years in this age of streaming this and cloud-based that.

“I don’t know how you say in English, but I write in Portuguese.” No problem, I’ve got Google translate. I handed him a pen and my aqua colored notebook I’d been using to track my daily expenses.

From that afternoon forward, Paolo Mac’s reggaeton and R&B pop songs became the soundtrack for the remainder of my time in Europe.

He’d help me wind down as I rested my tired legs at the hostel after tackling the city’s hills. He provided background music in the lobby and common room while I worked on projects for my gals at Mix+Shine. He filled the spaces between surf sessions in Baleal and as I struggled to make the most of my time in the Azores where it rained most of the day and I was sick in bed.

Now, whenever I pull up his music on YouTube back home I travel instantly to a time where I was reminded that our days here are about the journey itself. There will be surprises and challenges along the way.

There will be near misses. There will be bouts of loneliness and misery (WHY WAS I BEDRIDDEN IN THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS OF EUROPE?!). Then there will be moments of serendipity, laughter and good fortune.

It is, and will be worth it.

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