This recent trip to Portugal with the driving force to visit Nazaré has been festering in my emotional adventure vault for many years. Similar to the Muslim faith which believes that each Muslim, male and female, who is physically and financially capable go to Mecca. It is compulsory to do once in their lifetime and that’s why Muslims visit to mecca for Hajj. This was my “trip to Mecca”.
I am not a big wave surfer and, actually, I suck at surfing. But, I love to shoot surfing, albeit it in all my travels any local swell seems to evade my captures. Big wave swells generally can show up in Nazaré from October through February, but historically, December is a good month to book a trip. Here is the States, Thanksgiving weekend is typically the biggest travel period for four days, so my goal was to pick dates soon afterwards.
Everyone travels differently, and I can safely say I do not travel like my friends. Many of them find that cruise ships are their medium (ugh) of choice, while others prefer all-inclusive destination resorts. Adventure travel is my medium and I rarely could/would travel with someone as the #1 priority for all my trips is optimum stock photography captures; which translates to early mornings and late evenings and walking in dark alleyways. I am also prospecting for clients. My primary business with multimedia marketing affords me to connect with customers all over the world, potentially seeking a more successful penetration of the retail-obsessed Amerikan demographic.
Nazaré has evolved from a traditional fishing village on the Atlantic ocean northwest 120km of the populated and popular city of Lisbon (Lisboa) to a renowned big wave surfing destination. Recently, as of 2011 thanks to a young government official corresponding with Garret McNamara, a big wave surfer based in Hawaii which began discussions about the possibility of big wave surfing in Nazaré. Trial and error and with a few serious injuries, the unique composition of the underwater Nazaré Canyon which can produce waves 20m (70+ feet) to where Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa broke the record by surfing a big wave of 24.4m (80ft) netted the result of Nazaré now considered the destination of choice for big wave surfing.
Much of this activity was barely getting noticed by the general public sans the occasional news channel blast of some huge wave. With a recent HBO special documentary titled 100 Foot Wave – Director Chris Smith , Executive Producer Joe Lewis and Garrett and Nicole McNamara tell a remarkable story unfiltered with any embellishments.
My inner drive to visit this wave “mecca” was not prompted from the documentary. I had heard commoners speak of the documentary with awe and amazement, but, it seemed too retail for my pure inspirations. FORTUNATELY, despite my arrogance, on the flight over I was able to watch the first episode on the plane and OMG. I had NO IDEA how Nazaré was still in its professional surfing infancy.
I pride myself in my trip planning. Rarely do my trips end up as I plan them, but, without a plan these trips never feel successful. For most destinations I use Google MyMaps as an easy reference on my phone when traveling. Here is my Portugal map I am willing to share with you.
Researching hotels is very important. I have learned the hard way by using any Expedia portal (Hotels.com, etc) they do not back up the customer. But, sometimes in these smaller, international destinations the hotels do not have robust booking mechanisms and rely on booking websites. Through some surf forums, I had noticed that the Zulla Nazaré’s Surf Village had a great reputation and I assumed traveling surfers used this hotel since it was close to the surfing beach. It turns out that in one part of the 100 Foot Wave documentary, they have a Safety Meeting which is held at Zulla’s. Anyway, the office manager was super friendly, helpful and patient as I hurried from my Lisbon arrival with a 90 minute drive in pouring rain to the hotel. I got checked into my room and was able to head out to town for dinner. In the morning, this was my view below.
Wave forecasts for Nazaré were not too exciting (until after I would leave), so I opted to bail a day early and head back to Lisbon. That Saturday was a rainy day, and so I left early and started on the 90-minute commute. Driving in Portugal is super easy and despite not really knowing the language and probably only understanding 10% of the signage, it was not a dramatic event. As I am driving along I see a pronounced, somewhat official sign alerting me to “MAFRA”. I have no idea what it means, but the sign looks important, and I have time, so I venture onward.
As I rolled into the small village of Mafra, with the fog, mist and rain, the Palace of Mafra (aka Palácio de Mafra) jumps out at you with all the pomp and circumstance that you can image. It is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction with doors opened in the year 1717 and was designated a national monument in 1907. A major restoration of the historical pipe organs began in 1998 and was finished in 2010 which resulted in the Europa Nostra 2012 award.
There are numerous castles throughout Portugal, but the Castle of Moors caught my eye mostly for its colors. Sort of a pre-Disney look. On the following day I decided to make the drive to the Castle of the Moors. Highly acclaimed in a tourism to-do list, but I was disappointed. There was some sort of European holiday that weekend and so on this particular Sunday besides the hour+ to find parking, there were four additional long lines you had to endure before you could actually enter the castle. With so many people, it is really hard to frame up any stock imaging, so I just resigned myself to tourist and tried to expedite this part of the trip as quickly as possible.
Did I mention I MESSED UP BIG TIME? When driving down from Nazaré, as I was just about to arrive at the Myriad Hotel when I had a passing thought that maybe I had forgotten my passport at the Zulla Surf Hotel. Sure enough, I received a text almost immediately as I had that thought from the hotel, alerting me to the fact I had forgotten it. Typically, hotels will not let you check in without your passport, but, I quickly ran in, explained my dilemma, and they officially secured my room. NOW, I had to drive back quickly to Nazaré, retrieve my passport and finally get back to my final base camp. That mistake probably cost me US$125 in gasoline and toll charges but many thanks to Zulla for finding my passport and alerting me!
This Myriad Hotel is amazing. Since the cost of the Zulla Surf hotel was nominal, I justified staying at this 5-star hotel for its photographic worthiness. I was still dressed as a surf bum and in stark contract to the other hotel guests checking with their Bentleys, Mercedes Benz and Beemers, I knew I needed to get a shower and update my wardrobe. Interestingly enough, this hotel has such strict Covid-19 protocols that since I did not have a Portugal vaccine card, I was required to so a Covid self-test in a private room before I was allowed to actually get into my room. The front desk manager was super helpful interpreting the Portuguese language instructions on the self test and with some nervousness, I passed!
After checking into my room and getting settled in, hunger and fatigue set in from the 300-mile day of driving back and forth from Nazaré. Throwing on a clean shirt and pants, I ventured down to the River Lounge Restaurant & Bar and connected with a friendly and cute waitress and expressed my needs for a quick meal mid-afternoon before a later dinner. She had beautiful green eyes and her recommendation was for a club sandwich. What a great idea and it was delicious!
With some subsistence, I was ready to explore the riverfront area and the Garden of the Sea Heroes’ Walk or in Portuguese -Jardim do Passeio dos Heróis do Mar. How best to do that, you might ask? My first attack was to do a round trip on the affordable Telecabine Lisboa for a quick overview of the waterfront park area as the sun was going down. That was fun, but I was still up for more exploration. I had asked the Conceirge about renting e-bikes, and he also recommended the e-scooters. I had never tried an e-scooter, but I fell in love with this mode of transportation in this riverfront area. Great to viewing the sights and also looking for restaurants and also great just to be out and about.
I consider this my first of many visits to Nazaré. Portuguese people are friendly, accommodating and even tho the $Euro is a little damaging with the US dollar, the return-on-investment was worthy. As I take more and more flights to Europe, I hope to acclimate to the long airport transit times, for now it sorta takes me about 3-4 days to get back up to speed.
“Wet or fine, the air of Portugal has a natural happiness in it, and the people of the country should be as happy and prosperous as any people in the world.” HG Wells