Off Shoulder: Fishermen’s Trail

Kelsey Breseman
3 min readJan 20, 2024

We were early risers in South Africa, allowing the summer sun to wake us at six or seven. Now in Portugal, it's winter and two hours further along the sun's path. It's the first day of our two-week trek of the Fishermen's Trail, so we haven't established rhythms yet.

Rick is up with the kettle on while I'm still pretending to sleep. I give up and spend an hour on classwork. Rick's friend Howard has joined us as well, and he and Eileen filter through the kitchen for the yogurt and granola we bought last night.

Although it rained the whole four-hour bus ride from Lisbon, it's clear and warm this morning. We're taking a chance, hiking this route in January. It's not even shoulder season yet; many of the shops and hotels aren't open this time of year. The public bathrooms are locked closed.

But we're not the only ones taking advantage of the beautiful weather. I hear American and British accents from other hikers on the trail. And we're still early for a beach town: the restaurants start to show signs of life around 11am.

A little boy chases soap bubbles, toddling heedlessly across the mosaic promenade. A young man pushes his bike arduously up a rocky slope, then stands astride it, grinning irrepressibly at the view.

It's winter, but it feels like spring. Butterflies light on the early yellow flowers, prolific on jutting cliffs. Their little roots cling in mud that oscillates wildly from sand to clay and back again. Overhanging orange cliffs hang poised to fall hundreds of feet to the turquoise sea.

Shadows are strangely long for one in the afternoon. I packed against cold but didn't put on sun screen- an oversight, I see now. Cool breeze from the sea confuses goosebumps from my skin even as it begins to burn. I should've brought a hat. I'm carrying my rain gear instead.

Signs warning of the cliffs' danger stand permanently twisted in the wind. There are puddles, but they're drying. Along the route, a green stripe above a blue one reassures us that we're still on the path.

We spread out, making space for solitude. Unknowingly, I pass all the members of my party as they make a wrong turn in Bugau. It's peaceful and quiet walking the cliffs, the beaches, the hills.

By the time I reach Salema, I suspect my party must be somewhere behind me. But we all have the address for tonight; I’m unconcerned. The warm wax of my Babybel cheese is soft against my fingers as I descend the last hill into town.

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