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The wishing shell

A cold wind drifts from the sea, dry leaves through the streets of Faro. It is still dark when I leave my place for the night. The city is still asleep. Sparrows alone cavort in a bulbous green-leafed tree at the side of the road, chirping wildly and all at once falling silent as I push past beneath them with my backpack. Perhaps they have also spotted the black cat lurking in the shadow of a wall waiting for its chance. The sun is not yet visible as I leave the city behind and dive into the wild nature of the Algarve. A pale pink band of color illuminates the horizon, heralding a new day. Gradually, golden streaks cross the sky, which will turn into a blazing, heated crimson fire, preparing the way for the sun. Ahead of me lie many kilometers of a wandering, without a concrete destination, along the coast. Days marked by the creaking sound of the sandstone crunching under my soles. A day as uniform as any other, yet so varied in its experiences, smells, sounds, sensations. Eleven days lie ahead of me, propelled only by the strength of my legs, with little more on my body than it needs to live and an incomparably greater measure, of writhing, haltlessly circulating thoughts that stream out of the Monkeymind and that at the end of this journey, even if only for a short time, come to rest and make room for the sensations of my heart and the perceptions of my senses, let me arrive, in the here and now.

As I write these lines, I sit on day 9 of my journey, on a stone wall destroyed by the weather. The Monkey has long since gone to sleep and I feel the warming rays of the sun on my back, listening to the chirping of small songbirds, their colorful songs of love and life, interrupted only by the buzzing of busy insects. I smell the scent of dusty earth and yasmin, which is carried away by warm wind currents towards the sea. The pale green of old olive trees stands out against the azure of the sky. Not far away, an estuary whose gentle current gradually dries up in the salt of the sea tide. Flamingos dance a pas de deux and dash through the water with hesitant yet graceful steps. A few herons and ducks escort them, punctuating the deliberate dance with furious wing beats. In the distance, dogs bark their throats out. A scent of figs and vanilla fills the air.

I look back on days that, in their uniformity, offer a glimpse into the diversity of the moment. Decelerated, I set my steps, one by one, noticing every herb on the wayside, following with my gaze the ant trails into the jagged recesses of the yellow cliffs. This way of traveling allows to see the small things that often remain closed to me in the hectic everyday life and work. It allows a glimpse into a wonderful microcosm. It is the almost 100 km between the beginning and the end that I take part in and of which I become a part.


I pass a small box. Signed shells spill out over its edges. Words of eternal love, mutual affection, or even just the names of passers-by are drawn on the shells. Each one surrounds the aura of human longings and desires that may never be fulfilled. Insignia of a life as it should be, but often is not. How many loved ones are still in tact today, how many wishes have fallen victim to everyday life, to life, and yet these shells carry the weight of their burden with long-suffering serenity. The shell box calls us to immortalize ourselves, so that the beach does not forget us. I don't have a Sharpie and my ballpoint pen refuses to pour its ink over the shell limestone. Will the beach remember me? Will I remember this beach? My GPS doesn't work. It can't locate me. My travel tracker app succinctly says, Somewhere in the world. Somewhere in the world, I am without a recorder but with a whole package of wishes, desires, dreams. I walk on, taking with me an unforgettable moment, enjoying the wishes of others, gazing at the sea, watching the approaching waves rise into white foam as they bring in new shell material, for new wishes.

As beautiful as each step is, I also notice the changes in my surroundings, caused by mass tourism and coastal erosion due to the climate. I walk past sprawling hotel complexes whose vehemence and sheer size startle me.

Concrete blocks that do not want to blend in with nature, but overlay it and reveal a face of another Algarve. Hotel bunkers created to host and amuse legions of Portuguese, British, French, Germans during the summer months, but in February they tower over the cliffs like deserted ghost towns. They come to life on 3-4 months, blazing neon signs, of sports bars, Champions League: Liverpool vs Inter live here today. Pubs whose offer points a familiar anchor for tourists. What is it? An outpouring of decadent vacation exploitation, its subjects wafting like sweet porridge from the Grimm's cooking pot, stretching across the escapes and plains? Am I not also a part of the pulp, dragging its bubbling tentacles over the rock, the coast, the old town, trying to grab the beauty that seems to dwindle with our mere presence? I look at the sandstone that is gradually being eroded away by climate-induced coastal erosion. I look at a rock called the Yellow Submarine. A rock shaped like a submarine, surrounded by water. Broken off the cliff many decades ago, it now waits in the water for its steady erosion. I casually stare at the rock and say to myself that in a few years there will be nothing left of it and the generations after us will not get to see a submarine anymore. Harry, an acquaintance who accompanies me together with his wife for a few hours on this day, answers that there will be something new to look at for those who come after us. He is right about that, but is it really that simple? Can we really accept all this with such indifference? Everything is changing and change is part of us and our time, to an unprecedented degree. And yet there seems to me to be a difference between dealing flexibly with modern reality, which we are supposed to face agilely and without claiming control, so as not to get stuck in the folds of time, and apathetic indifference. But what is the key to the solution? A brief internet search reveals a frightening picture. In many places, mangroves are planted to serve as natural breakwaters, but these are not native to Portugal. Elsewhere, attempts are made to divert the waves, which only leads to increased erosion elsewhere. So there is nothing left for us to do but watch as the coastline begins its inexorable march inland, and every step I take over the cliffs contributes to that very erosion?

I raise questions for which I have no answer. But it forbids itself to me not to ask these questions therefore. Gradually, however, my questions are lost in the murmur of the sea and I think to myself that every attentive step, every true moment, nevertheless also makes a contribution. For he who perceives - feels - his environment, the inherent beauty of nature, cannot accept its destruction. Perhaps that attentive hiker is another link in the fight against the unstoppable destruction and perhaps the attachment that the hiker feels with himself and with nature leads to a "no" to the "carry on". At least that is what I would like to wish for and I label in my mind an imaginary shell, on that beach, "somewhere in the world".

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