What better way to stray from the tourist trail than to take a local bus to a town you can’t pronounce? After a few days in Lagos, I felt this was the best way to discover a more authentic side of Portugal.

An hour and a half later, I hopped off the bus at this random town called Odeceixe. I walked into the center of town with the hopes that I’d find a place to stay that night. Channeling my inner American friendliness, I walked into the reception room of a small family run hotel and asked if I could stay there for the night. A kind man and woman replied to me in French that they had a free room. The couple’s home was downstairs, and there were about 9 or 10 rooms on the three floors above. The man gave me three old, rustic keys that looked as if they’d unlock a treasure chest, and explained the breakfast and check out times to me.

Once I got to my room, I unpacked my backpack and sat down on my bed in deep gratitude since this was the first night in a couple of weeks that I haven’t had to share a room with at least four or five other travelers. At around 5 p.m., I went on a search for food, which can usually be an interesting adventure when in a different country. When I walked out of the hotel, it was a ghost town. I felt like I was in an old movie set. I found the main and only town square and sat down at the most promising of the three restaurants in the square. The waiter at the bar shook his head at me, indicating that he wouldn’t be serving me. I gave him a look of utter confusion and slight desperation, and he came outside to tell me the restaurants here are closed from 3 to 7 p.m.

Quietly distraught, I left the restaurant and wandered around until I discovered the only pastry shop in town. I spoke to the waitress in English and was met with undisguised irritation. I switched to ordering in Spanish, which seemed to have gone better than my attempts in English. I stocked up on enough pastries to last me through the evening.

I spent the rest of the evening roaming around aimlessly in this sleepy town, feeling a bit sick with a cold and sorry for myself. I feared that my enthusiasm for travel might be slipping away. After some time, I retreated back into my cozy hotel room and took some medicine, reminding myself that tomorrow is a new day.

As I woke up the next morning, I pushed open the window to be greeted with birds chirping and a view of the town’s white buildings and orange tile roofs. I went downstairs and the hotel owner directed me to the room where breakfast was being served. He spoke with obvious enthusiasm as he described the array of food offered. Homemade honey, yogurt, strawberry and fig and lemon jam. It was a delightful way to start the day.

After breakfast, I headed out towards the only possible reason for someone to visit Odeceixe, Praia Odeceixe. This beach is rated one of the top 10 beaches in Portugal. To get to there from the village, you have to walk about 3 km alongside the Seixe River that then leads up to the Odeceixe beach. Shortly after I left the hotel, the owner called my name. I turned around only to find him running towards me with a bright yellow folded up beach umbrella. He offered it to me for the day. I was touched by the thoughtfulness. I continued on my journey with some pep in my step, seeing everything as amusing and wonderful. I loved this little town. The strange inhabitants who seemed to be giving me the death stare the night before were now smiling and waving at me as they watered their brightly colored plants. With this new and improved way of looking at life, I contemplated the phrase “when you smile at the world, the world smiles back”.

It’s funny how many different circumstances come into play when traveling that can shape your experience. If you happen to go to Paris just after you get your heart broken, forget about it. It would be an absolutely frustrating and dreadful experience. It’s all about perception and your mindset in that exact time and place. And with that being said, I was relieved to have shaken that my lack of enthusiasm encountered the night before.

The 3 kilometer walk turned out to be more like 5, but it was wonderful nonetheless. I passed by a field of cows, and naturally, I had a short conversation with one of them because I had been traveling alone for far too long. The cows stared back at me unamused, chewing the same pieces of grass they’d probably been chewing for three days straight. I wasn’t sure why I was let down when none of them replied to my jolly greeting. I walked on, looking around at the surrounding nature. There were olive trees, a small garden, and an open road ahead of me where cars would zoom by me without the slightest concern that they came within inches of running me over. That didn’t hinder my enthusiasm, though.

I walked on until I finally reached the beach. Praia Odeceixe. A sign boasted that it had won the Prize of 7 Wonders – Beaches of Portugal. The Atlantic water was shockingly cold. Surfers were making their way in and out of the choppy waters. I set up my bright yellow umbrella next to a group of French girls who were the only brave ones to go topless on the beach. Unlike Spain, I guess people here were more modest about showing off their goods at the beach. In anonymous bliss, I sunbathed topless along with the French girls. To my right, a group of American girls felt daring enough to do the same.

A few hours of people watching later, and I was ready to head back to the homefront. Only the idea of walking an hour back to the village seemed terrible and highly unnecessary. I packed up and raised my thumb in the air with a smile that said “I swear I’m not a psycho killer please just help a sister out”. About ten minutes of this and a lady pulled over not too far up the road from where I was walking. I booked it over to her car.

Thanks so much!!! Are you driving to the village? I asked just out of politeness. The road was passing through the village no matter what.

“I am…but I don’t want to take you with me”, she said as if I to take me along with her on a cross-country road trip. Her turned up nose made me feel like a scrub, so I just replied with an “oh…thanks anyway…” and walked away as quickly as possible to save my embarrassment.

I was about five minutes down the road when I heard a voice behind me, “Okay, come on, hop in!” she yelled out the window. Yes!!! She felt guilty! Great! I jumped in and listened appreciatively as she gave me a list of things to do and see while in Portugal. She dropped me off right in the city center, and I went back to the same pastry shop as the night before. This time, the grouchy waitress smiled back at me as I walked through the front door. I opted for pointing at the menu instead of trying to speak to her in a different language. It seemed as if things came to a full circle there in the small village of Odeceixe.

Next up, I’ll be traveling up north to Lisbon. Until then!