We left the mountain and went back to the normal world. Back to electricity and phone signals and running water. Back to the sea.
We strode down like heroes. Forged of iron, unwashed, streaked with warpaint of river mud, shins scabbed up and parasitic trophies lodged deep in our livers. We had been put to the test up there in the rocky scrublands, far away from civilisation. We had confronted our demons and reevaluated our guiding principles; a lonely company bound together, hiking upwards through rocky scrubland, sticks in hand, using stars and the lichen on treetrunks to find our true north. We had seen snail tracks meandering on river rocks and we had read something there of our own true nature. Our children had changed. Arthur could now slip silently into a muddy pool and emerge several minutes later with a crayfish squirming between his teeth. Matilda was a little less scared of spiders.
We missed the ocean and its breezes though and also, dare I say it, the convenience of modern digital life. It seemed as though driving back into Baleal was a kind of celebratory homecoming, even though we had only ever spent three days there. It was the first time on this trip that we had returned somewhere and this time we were going to stay put for a longer period. Throughout July and August we had spent no more than a week in any single location. It was time to halt the never ending packing and moving, arriving and departing, loading and unloading the bloody car. Perhaps the kids could even meet someone their own age. In a moment of zeal we tried to enroll them into a local Portuguese primary school but the bureaucracy was prohibitive.
So that is what we did throughout September. We stayed in a nice apartment full of gadgets that seemed like the height of luxury (a gas barbecue, hot showers, a dishwasher!). We walked through bamboo plantations to get to the sea. We met locals and surfed every day. Menna signed up to a yoga class and then pilates too. The September term started and brought with it an unwelcome new routine of homeschooling – the twin evils of discipline and structure. Matilda got a new bodyboard, I got a new surfboard. We skated up and down the empty road outside our front door. We visited the walled castle town of Óbidos and the misty island of Berlenga. Arthur learned to drop in on the quarterpipe skate ramp down at the nearby hostel. We did long walks across the cliffs northwards, or over the dunes to Peniche. We marked sunsets out of ten from our roof terrace.
In short we lived a fairly normal lifestyle, and of course we got bored. Before long Menna and I were right back in the realm of anguished late-night conversations about the purpose of this trip, the definition of adventure, the meaning of life, the pursuit of happiness. Dangerous destinations started to get thrown into the mix: Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, Morocco. Our dreams were of deserts and reef breaks and scarlet macaws.
It was time to head south.