Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal – May 17, 2017
Daya and I find a good wall to sit on and tuck ourselves in the shade of a tree to look at the map.
“You want to go along this little trail, then the beach,” I ask, “or stick to the road?”
The road isn’t bad. It’s a safe choice. A bike trail follows it and there are far more shade trees than cars. It’s easy walking if you don’t mind a bit of boredom.
I can just see the beach in the distance. The long curve of sand stretches for miles, all the way to the Spanish border, glowing white in the sun.
People romanticize walks on the beach. They imagine postcards that say “wish you were here.” They picture commercials with smiling models twirling around in bathing suits. I doubt many have walked a mile across soft sand with a pack on and the sun blazing down. Each step feels like wet cement. But maybe the tide is out and the sand is packed tight enough to hold our weight. Maybe not.
We sit in our bit of shade and can’t decide. The known, probably boring road or head to the beach and risk it. I take out a coin.
“Flip it good,” Daya says.
We flipped a coin once before, deciding between sticking to the trail or detouring half a mile to a grocery store for ice cream. The coin said trail. We ignored it, went for ice cream, and found ourselves walking in the parking lot of a closed grocery store a half mile from where we wanted to be.
“Should have listened to the coin,” I said then.
I flick my thumb and the coin soars skyward, spinning in the air. Beach or road, beach or road, beach or road. It falls to the pavementa and bounces to a stop.
“Tails,” it says. “Take the road.”
We look at each other. I wanted it to land heads even though I didn’t know until I saw it flipping in the air. I think Daya did too.
“So you want to go to the beach?” I ask.
Daya laughs at me.
“Of course,” she says.
She slips on her backpack and starts walking toward the ocean, knowing that sometimes you have to manufacture luck yourself.
We find a bit of water in a small village along the shore. We skirt along the edge of an old fort built as a refuge against pirates. A thousand crabs watch us drop down into a river flat as they scuttles away in the mud. We hop across a line of rocks in the water to find a dirt trail through the dunes. It emerges on a shore widened by low tide.
The hard-packed sand gives just a touch with each step as we fly across the last miles of Portugal’s coast. It’s like walking on a springy foam pad. I spend the coin on a box of ice cream in the next town.