As the shipping container came to take our things to the other side of the world, a question kept popping into my head—Why am I moving to a country I’ve only visited for two weeks of my entire life? Am I crazy? Maybe. I have to be a little… right? So, there I stood, waving goodbye to our 40-foot container truck with a 5-month-old baby on my hip and a 2-year-old standing next to me.
This all came into play after the birth of my second son. Everything was in order—more like perfect order. We moved to a beautiful home in the nice neighbourhood with great schools, my husband and I both had jobs nearby, I had made ‘mom’ friends… I mean everything was good. Why would a sane person shake things up? We knew we wouldn’t be having any more children and I really wanted to soak all of it in. I desperately wanted to enjoy my baby and maternity leave was coming to an end. Amadeu, my Portuguese husband, made a random comment one day, “Why don’t we move to Portugal? My parents retired there and it is more affordable than the San Francisco Bay Area. We can live there for two years so you can be with the baby and then we can come back here.” I was really at a crossroads. I knew we could continue the rat race and chuck up the money to pay for two daycares or I could quit my job and be with my son for two years in a country where I don’t speak the language or even know anything about. Why would I pick the later? My son of course. It was an option I knew I could not take back… I also knew that I didn’t want to regret turning down this opportunity. So, I told him, “OK.” Surprised [and overjoyed, I’m sure] by my answer, my husband took it and ran. He made a plan for us to take off in the summer—he scheduled a container to move our things, put other things in storage and decided to rent out our home, to give us some extra income.
We boarded our flight from San Francisco and flew to the east coast for a layover. Flying with an infant can be challenging, and my poor baby, now six months old threw-up in the airplane… and all over me. So, our [very] short layover was spent running through Newark Liberty International Airport in search of clean clothes—new sweats and a tee for the flight to Lisbon. We spent the overnight flight holding our kids instead of sleeping and anticipating our arrival, where we would be reunited with Fadista, our dog. We landed at Humberto Delgado Airport and made our way over to cargo to pick him up, where we were held up for two hours. Turns out it was a holiday in Portugal and the vet who was needed to clear our dog was nowhere to be seen. Once that was all finalized we were off, almost. Packing our “big” yet small car proved to be another problem but nothing we couldn’t quickly resolve—the dog carrier stayed behind and we started our 3.5 hour drive north to a small village near Braga.
Now here we are in a small village nestled in northern Portugal and it is absolutely beautiful. Views of the lush green valleys, pastures of sheep and cows, and chickens roaming freely is the daily norm. At first, I was “worried” about how I would survive without my Amazon Prime but quickly realized that I could easily live without it. Our water comes from a spring and my mãezinha (mother-in-law) gives us dozens of eggs from her chickens every time we see her.
Having fresh food is a priority here, and it’s easy to find. Fresh meat from the talho, people selling fresh produce on the streets and the bakeries offering hot bread, which may not be good for my waistline but is oh so good. The hearty meals were [are] so delicious that I realized I was missing good home cooked food my entire life. Even the schools cook fresh food for the children every day, something I had never seen in the United States. When there is a family dinner, it’s long tables full of food and we sit there for hours. Wine is water and by midnight the concertinas come out and the singing begins.
I find the Portuguese people are very friendly and welcoming. Strangers pass by and say bom dia or boa tarde, older people will ask to hold your baby or the man at the store will give your children lollipops. Strangers will pat your children’s head and people may stare but in a curious way. It feels so safe walking on the cobblestone streets, day or night. Sometimes you can still find an elderly lady wearing the more traditional skirt and head covering, and carrying a basket on her head—it instantly transports me back to another life. A life where families were self-sufficient—growing their own food and raising animals… basically living off the land. It still exists here, but is sadly is dying out.
Walking in any village there are beautiful churches decorated with intricate paintings and gold all around. At times, you can stumble across and old castle and feel the history that once took place there. It is almost romantic getting lost in any city. We have traveled south to Algarve, midway to Lisbon, Sintra, Óbidos, and north to Monção. No one place in Portugal is the same and every area has their own local cuisine, Portuguese sound, and flavour. Not knowing what to expect always makes travel always fun!
When I’m asked about moving back to America, I think of the familiar faces in cars that pull over just to say hi; the friends who swing by our home uninvited for a café; the intoxicating long summer nights; the festas that take place every weekend; the sounds of crickets chirping in the background while we drink a cerveja and watch the children play with their cousins… and I realize that to me, this is what life is all about… so let’s just say, “I am not planning on it.”
WORDS & PHOTOS: ADRIENNE OLIVEIRA