The Truth About Nazaré (Everyone Else is Lying)

Like any other middle schooler, I found myself watching a movie that was undoubtedly too old for me. The movie in question was The Impossible, chronicling the story of a family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

As a child, I already had a great disdain for water. Although being a “joy in class” for all my schoolhouse teachers, my swimming instructors saw a different side of me. I panicked anytime water got on my face. So after watching the movie circulating around a family being stuck in a giant wave, it’s inevitable I was a bit messed up.

I had soccer practices late at night outside of the city, so the soccer park was surrounded by cornfields. Almost every night I would get reprimanded by my coach for distractedly staring off into the abyss of cornfields. He thought I was daydreaming about boys when in reality I was just watching for the tsunami wave to come hurdling through the Midwest, USA.

All of this is why it was a bit comical when I decided I wanted to visit the city with the largest waves in the world, during its peak winter season. I like to think that I’m not as irrational anymore, and I wanted to photograph surfers, so I boarded the bus from Lisbon to Nazare despite my 6th-grade self tossing and turning inside of me.

Upon arriving in Nazare, I very quickly realized there was nothing to worry about. Still enough to pass as a lake to the untrained eye, the sea sat, unmoving. If I threw a flat rock out, it’s possible the rock might have continued to skip across the smooth surface until it hit the east coast of North America.

Nazare was the place I built my Portugal trip around. I didn’t know when else in my life I would be able to get on a bus at my apartment and have it spit me out in a world-renowned surfing town. The pictures I anticipated taking would be monumental in my portfolio. Something to show real skill against the small-waved San Diego surfing pictures I currently have.

I sat on a bench at the beach, looking out onto the unmoving water, yearning for some little piece of white on the horizon. I looked up the bus schedule to Porto, the next city on my itinerary, to see if there were any buses soon. If there weren’t going to be any surfers, what’s the point of staying in Nazare?

I decided to at least eat first, and then figure out what I was going to do. I sat in the multipurpose room of a restaurant so I could see through to glass to the dark clouds threatening to make this an even worse experience.

When I was almost finished eating, the waiter came over to see how I enjoyed my food. He sat down at the table with me, catching me a bit off guard, it’s not exactly what I wanted to happen when I was in a bad mood. He asked me where I was from, and he said he had never been to the United States before but had visited Toronto and really liked it. When I told him I went to school in Madrid, he said he loves the city, but it’s far too busy for his taste.

He continued to tell me about other cities he had lived in for short periods. Never having gone to college, he instead traveled from city to city. He would stay in each place for a few months, get a job as a waiter to get by, and then leave for the next city when he got bored with the one he was in.

It seemed like such a simplistic life. Making only enough money for what you need. Truly seeing the cities of the world from the most authentic perspective. In the countries where he could not speak the language, he would just wash dishes. He was fine with the mundane task because it meant he could continue exploring.

He settled down, married his wife, and raised his children in Nazare. He owns the restaurant we’re sitting in right now, but he’ll never stop being a waiter even when he runs the establishment. The only difference is that he always got tired of the other restaurants and cities – he said he’ll never get sick of Nazare.

If this man who was a natural-born globetrotter could find bliss every day in this small town, then I should be able to do the same for one day. I didn’t book the train ticket.

The entire town is centered around Mother Nature. The restaurants and stores are predominately along a singular row right across the street from the beach. Half of the town is below a cliff while the other half is on top of it. Instead of trying to work around the natural features established on the land, they worked with them. A tram, that appeared to be going nearly vertically, was built into the side of the mountain to take people from one part of town to the other.

Standing on the top, you could walk out onto the cliff and see both beaches. The one on the left is tamer and closer to town. The one on the left, where one might see the greatest waves in the world. Every year a surf competition is held in Nazare during the winter months. They give the surfers a period between November – March for the competition. Sometime within those months, the surf officials will determine a major swell is coming in, and all the registered surfers must get to Nazare within two days to compete. Since it could happen any day now, they keep the signs up on the cliff, a popular spot for locals to watch the competition.

It wasn’t but one block farther back from the beach that you began to enter local neighborhoods. Nazare is a popular place for Portuguese to retire to because of the weather and natural beauty. There is also a somberness to the town that is comforting and makes you feel okay about eating strawberry cheesecake in bed and going to sleep at 8pm. However, the town might have a different ambiance when it’s sunny outside and 50-foot waves are coming crashing toward you.

I came to Nazare for a grand reason, to see the biggest waves in the world. A feat so incredible by Mother Nature I was genuinely feeling anxious as the bus crept farther from Lisbon and closer to Nazare. Waves so big that most surfers are prohibited from surfing there unless they can present the correct credentials to enter the powerful ocean.

I came for one of the biggest experiences in the world, but I stayed because of one little moment. The small moments that traveling is oftentimes all about.

Yours truly,

Calihan

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