The Story of a new beginning.
I needed to get away. My routines first offered me stability, but then they just routined my imagination. I was uninspired. I lost connection with the excitement that made me read and write in the first place - the adventure on the other side of the page, the thrill of not knowing what comes next.
So I turned the page. Well, actually I opened a new browser window and typed “What is next?”.
The results that came up were mostly grammar and dictionary websites. I rolled my eyes, took a deep breath and inserted a new search: “Where is next?”. I was trying to confuse the algorithm. I wanted to be surprised. “Madeira”, that was the internet’s answer. In the impulse of the moment I booked a flight. With no plans or expectations, I made my suitcase and my destiny.
On the flight I opened my laptop. The new blank page remained blank for a couple of hours. I fell asleep and woke up with some turbulence to an undisturbed and still blank page. My fingers touched the keyboard and I started to write something. Not really thinking, just writing. What came up on the screen was one of the most useful pieces of text I have ever produced - a list. A five points to-do list while in Madeira.
1. Stop. Do nothing and focus on you.
2. Look. Go around the Island and find something you have never seen or experienced before.
3. Try. No fussing, no preconceptions, no excuses. Just try something you have never done before.
4. Listen. Hear a story without projecting yourself finto it. It is not about you.
5. Write. After all, just write.
I landed in Madeira where the warmth and the Atlantic breeze welcomed me. From the top of the stairs of the airplane I could see all around me. I was completely surrounded by a luscious green and then, the sea. Me in the middle of an island, in the middle of the ocean. It was surprisingly liberating. I hailed a car and drove into town. Tunnels. Sea. Tunnels. Sea. Tunnels and again the sea, pacing my arrival and introducing me to a whole new rhythm, a pulse that I would experience in Madeira and nowhere else after that. The car parked in front of the hotel. In the façade its name gave me the first reassurance that this trip was a good decision. NEXT Hotel, that's what was next for me.
All I wanted was to lay down, clear my mind and tick the first point off my list. For that, the Self Check-In was just perfect. Seamless autonomy and everything done in my phone with which I even opened the door of my room. I dropped my suitcase and connected to the wi-fi, only to immediately put my phone on airplane mode. I wanted to be connected but on my own terms. I laid in bed and slept. A lot. Later on I woke up feeling hungry. Felt like a snack but not a chat. So I went down to the self service bar and grabbed a bolo do caco tuna sandwich and a fresh pressed juice. Bolo do caco is a typical local bread that is better than pita or a bun, but somehow relates to both. It was perfect. This hotel, this convenience and independence, it was just what I needed.
The morning after I got a very nice message from the front desk through the chat on the hotel application. I answered back and asked for some tips about the island. The reply was very friendly without being intrusive, asking if we could seat down for a coffee and make a plan. I liked that. At the bar we had a chinesa (the local word for latte) and she shared some locations and adventures around the island. But she said that before anything, I needed to go over the hotel’s private crossing to the sea and take a dive. I took her suggestion and it was the ideal beginning of my day. The deep blue water felt like I pushed the refresh button. I came out ready to start over, thirsty and hungry for something new.
I hired a car through the hotel’s app and went straight to the top of the island, to the Pico do Areeiro. There, over the clouds, I felt the same feeling I experienced when I came out of the airplane. Me, the island and the ocean, connected. Breathtaking and beautiful. Slowly, I drove to the north side of the island, direction Santana. Following the directions I got from my friend at the hotel, I pre-booked something in a kind of a “don’t overthink it” leap of faith. I was fully committed to my list and canyoning seemed like the adventure I would never have went on otherwise. So I met the canyoning crew close to the beginning of the trail. We geared up and after the safety brief, we started our way down Ribeiro Bonito. I love the simplicity of the names of places. Ribeiro Bonito means literally Beautiful Creek. And it was beautiful alright, but It was also scary and testing. I jumped from several waterfalls, did rapel down huge mossy slabs of volcanic stone, walked through profoundly green vegetation, until I arrived.
And by arrived I mean, completed almost 2 kms of a canyoning trail in a wet suit and a helmet to completely change my perception of what I was able to do against all myself image of a stoic, cautious and hard to impress person. Because I took a leap of faith I met a diferent side of me. I was happy, still quite excited and quite starving.
I said goodbye to my new friends and drove back to the hotel. After a quick shower I went down to the restaurant.The hunger and the adrenaline I still had in me, were working together to heighten my senses. I was in full hunting mode and I wanted food. I saw some tiny pans with some kind of shells flying out of the kitchen. Lapas. These creatures are a barnacle type of seafood that sticks stubbornly to the rocks, facing daily the insistence of the waves. I oddly related to them. For lack of better description they look like organic bottle caps. Inspired by the recent reward of taking a risk, I decided to order some lapas. They were surprisingly delicious, specially with the bolo do caco toasts with garlic butter. I had two portions of each. To drink I also wanted to try something new and ordered the same vibrant and colourful drink that was on every other table - poncha. A Madeiran rum and fruit juice cocktail that has been at the beginning of every great story that I, from then on, lived in this island. Point 2 and 3 were remarkably fulfilled. I went back to my room with a big smile on my face and not a single worry in my mind. Not once did I think about my deadline.
The next day, I felt a stir in the hotel. Musicians were loading in, people were gathering in the lobby, there was an energy in the air that I recognised - the creative electricity of people sharing stories and ideas. I found my hotel friend and asked her what was going on. Her answer was delightfully disarming - “It’s Friday. Everything is happening.” Throughout the day I saw people working on their laptops, having meetings, conference calls. Guests and locals, sharing the pool and the bar. And music, a lot of music. By the rooftop pool, I saw one of the most amazing blues band. The guitar player, that I later met at the rooftop bar, ended up becoming my friend after he told me the story of the inspiring and exciting tradition of hotel musicians that populated Madeira. Stories of sailors and sugar cane plantations, unique characters that came in cargo boats and never left, crazy Carnival nights and a kid that became the best football player in the world. I just listened to the music and the stories, one poncha after the other.
The morning after I went over the hotel’s ocean connection again. I dove in the ocean once again. In the water, looking over the horizon, I remembered my blank page. In my mind that page started to be filled with words, sentences, ideas, characters, and then a story. I ran back to my room and wrote. I finished my text. Emailed my editor and then I called him, to quit my job. “I’m staying here. I feel connected now”.
My editor published my story but didn’t take my drama. So I still have my job, but every year I go back to Madeira, to Funchal, to the Next Hotel, and I work a couple months from there. The reason is simple – life is like a wifi router, sometimes you have to disconnect to connect back on to have a stronger signal.