Kidnapped to a Portuguese praia

Postcard – Beach Near Lisbon, Portugal
Postcard: Beach near Lisbon, Portugal | Art by Todd Berman

Just before Todd hangs up the cell phone he speaks into it, “Um, ok. Sure. See ya soon.” He then turns to me and explains, “So, um, Manuela‘s gonna pick us up from the bus station and take us to the beach.”

This is the last thing I want to hear after our seven hour bus ride from Seville, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal, a ride which started rolling before 7 a.m. I’m hungry, tired, and in need of a shower and coffee. Now. Not later after being dragged to some beach. Grrr.

Manuela is our couchsurfing host for our brief two-night, two-day stop in Lisbon. Instead of sleeping in a hostel or hotel, Todd and I will bunk at the home of a stranger who has offered a place to sleep to people in the couchsurfing online community. You just need to be willing to get to know a local, sacrifice some privacy, and be flexible about when you can come and go – or be spontaneous enough to go along to the beach when invited.

So off to the beach we go. Manuela, who’s Italian, and her friendly boyfriend Andy, who’s half Dutch and half Portuguese, along with their dog Luna, drive us and our backpacks a half-hour outside Lisbon’s city limits. Andy points out the city’s two bridges that resemble San Francisco’s pair. They tell Todd and me about Portugal’s notorious terrible drivers, which they claim are the worst in the world, or at least in Europe.

We park on a dusty, unpaved road. Todd and I change into our thus far underused bathing suits. We hike for ten minutes through pine trees that slowly give way to dune grass, wild flowers, and succulents. We stop at the edge of a cliff. Seventy feet below us is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, which we never would have found if not for couchsurfing and our host Manuela.