A Quiet Early Night

At least in terms of my travels, I think this all began in Sydney back in 2014. I’d made a few mistakes and a few people had let me down when out of the ashes of my trajectory, a ginger girl arose and beckoned me to Tasmania. I flew out of Sydney, and a few friends of mine happened to be in the area, and so we decided to go out for a quiet drink because it would have been rude not to. I told them that I had to have “a quiet early night” as my plane left at about 6.00 am, and I had to wake up at 3.30 am or so just to get to the airport on time.

Here’s the thing. The phrase “a quiet early night” is cursed. The second that combination of words leaves your lips a switch is flicked and the universe conspires against you. Other similar cursed phrases and words are “sambuca?”, “I think we have time” and “don’t poke that sea lion”, but I have found the phrase with the worst repercussions is “a quiet early night”.

I made it into my bed at about 1.00 am. Granted it could have been a lot worse, but I still wasn’t a happy boy when my alarm blared into my ear (much to the disgust of the others in the dorm room). I don’t know if you’ve ever tried navigating a large airport when you are so sleep deprived you can hear your eyeballs, but it’s not fun.

IMG_1365.jpgIncident number 2; Auckland. A Canadian friend of a friend may as well have forced what is referred to as an “Irish car bomb” down my throat. For those of you who are civilised enough to not know what the hell I’m on about, this is when one mixes a shot of Bailey’s with some Guinness, and, dear readers, this curdles. As you watch the cheese forming on the surface and begin to crack under the pressure of chemistry, you immediately know you’re in trouble. What didn’t curdle and solidify on the surface of the monstrosity of my drink, definitely solidified in my stomach, and I was done. I stumbled back to my uncles, clinging to a metal fence.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried navigating a large airport at 5am when you are not just so sleep deprived, but still drunk from the night before, but it’s not fun. All you can see is security guards with their judgemental glares and all you can focus on is trying to walk in a straight line to ensure that nobody thinks you’re too drunk to be allowed passage on the plane. Let me assure you, the harder you try, the more obvious it is.

For a while, things became quite docile (minus the night I had to meet my dad at 5.00am in Frankfurt Airport, which, to be honest, was relatively tame, just late). It was either that, or I became good at not booking early connections that would require me to behave the night before. When I left Iceland at 3.00 am, I was sober and actually hadn’t gone to sleep at all. When I left England, it wasn’t until 7.00 am and I had to work until almost midnight the night before, so I wasn’t granted the opportunity. I felt like I was becoming an adult.

Until Portugal.

My first night in Portugal was just a layover in Lisboa which happened to be overnight. I booked into a hostel, knowing full well I had to catch a flight in the morning. I ended up drinking shots with some Dutchies on Pink Street until about 2.00 am. I was feeling a little fuzzy in the morning as I meandered my way to the airport.

My second night in Portugal, I stupidly agreed to do a bar crawl (note to self; add “a bar crawl seem like a good idea” to that list of cursed phrases). I don’t often get drunk, but I definitely took advantage of the free drinks and went too far. I woke up 20 minutes before I was due to go on a walking tour. I’m still proud I made that one, albeit it still drunk and hiding behind my sunglasses as I attempted a somewhat normal conversation with the guys from my hostel in multiple languages.

My fourth night, I told everybody very early on “this time I mean it. This time, I really must be in bed by 2.00 am, if not earlier”. The problem was that I had a ride-share leaving at 9.00 am and I couldn’t be late for that, and all of the previous nights of drinking had accumulated and left my body feeling destroyed and somewhere between tired and dead, and I wanted a relaxed morning with a shower and breakfast and a lovely cup of coffee. At around 2.00 am, things started getting interesting. Bets were placed, and I never shy away from a challenge. I made it into my bed just before 5.00 am, telling myself I could sleep in the car.

My alarm never went off. And I woke up at 8.45. It was a half hour walk to the meeting place for the ride-share. Never before have I packed so fast. I sprinted across Porto in record time, covering around 4km in 15 minutes, backpack swinging everywhere. I made it only 5 minutes late, just at the sacrifice of my guitar capo, a travel towel, and my dignity. It wasn’t even a heavy night of drinking, but I was falling forwards into my lap the second I took my seat. I never fell asleep in the car either, as much as I wanted to. I felt that it would have been impolite to the other backpackers who were trying to talk to me in Spanish and German, all in my zombified state. Sperman is not a language people.

The next few nights consisted of promising myself an early start for whatever particular activity and getting into bed around 2.00 or 3.00 am. It’s not so bad really, but over time, it takes a toll. When I was 19, we used to go out and party all night, get two hours of sleep, wake up while ignoring all the people slumped around the flat in their underwear and waddle into work without a problem. On some level, my brain says yes, but my body screams “WHY?”

So I’d learned my lesson by my last night. I had a goodbye drink with a couple of friends and made it into bed at 10.30 pm, only half an hour behind my schedule. I was going to wake up feeling fresh and new and to make my flight on time without any problems. Never before have I been more wrong.

I retained a rather unique souvenir from my time in Portugal, in the form of a fucking virus. What started as a gentle cough and a scratchy throat had descended into hell. That night was the worst, as I felt a fever sweep through my body and my lungs explode. The bed squeaked as my body shook, my coughing echoed off the four walls, and I’m sure that I was a hated man by the time I left.

But still, I woke up on time. I went to reception to organise a cab to the airport. Somehow, this didn’t work, and instead of waiting 10 minutes for somebody to show up, I had to sprint through the streets of Lisboa to find a vacant cab. I made it to the airport only 30 minutes before my gate closed, and while I didn’t have to check in or to drop off a bag, the queue for security was long. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to navigate an airport when you’re not only sleep deprived but high on pharmaceutical drugs and incredibly sick, but it’s not fun. All you can see is your diminishing time on multiple clock faces and obstacles between you and the nearest toilet.

I made it and immediately fell asleep on the plane, feeling completely and utterly sick. I wrote most of this lying in my bed after spending all day drifting in and out of consciousness on various planes, trains and airport chairs feeling very sorry for myself. My first night back was well and truly a quiet early night spent praying somebody would come and shoot me and put me out of my misery.

So before this post goes on too long, let’s look at the big question; why would I put myself in this position? I am a disciplined person, I can control my drink and in all circumstances (but two), managed to do so, and I know that I will be compromising my health and enjoyment of the following morning. The thing is, and I know it’s cliche, but it’s always the people. Especially in the case of Portugal, why would I purposely end a night early when I am happy and with a bunch of equally happy people? I mean sure, I may be stealing happiness from tomorrow, but there is no guarantee that tomorrow has happiness to steal anyway. Sometimes you have to seize the moment and to go with the flow, and if that leaves you running across Porto in a mad rush, pushing school kids to the street and scattering traffic left, right and center to ensure you don’t get stranded, so be it. It makes a good story after all.

And for all the awesome people I encountered in Portugal; thank you. I meet a lot of people on my world travels, but it isn’t so often that all the stars just fall into place and everybody just gets on so well, and you have really contributed something very substantial to my trip. My spare bed really is all yours, and if you want to visit me, I hope you do. Bring cookies.

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– Tom @ indieroad

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