While writing this story in the Lisbon Aeroporto, I have truly come to realize how lucky I am to be in this country representing the community of San Diego, and what being Portuguese means to the youth of San Diego because honestly and truly, that is who keeps the traditions alive. With that being said, our young group would not be here without the help of our community, inspiring us to travel throughout the Azores, and Madeira.
Our tour of Portugal started in Sao Miguel, the largest Azorean island and the prime spot for Queijadas. From their wild hydrangeas to their waterfalls and volcanic hot springs, I could not think of a more scenic and peaceful destination.
Although we made numerous stops around the island, the fan favorite of our group was the “Lagoa das Sete Cidades,” which means “Lake of the Seven Cities.” This lake looked as though it was a framed “Van Gogh” painting, with blue and green waters meeting under a cobblestone bridge. In Sao Miguel we danced at the local Ginetes Festa and at Ponta Delgada’s City Nights, where the locals jumped out of their chairs to dance alongside us.
The second island was Terceira, where we stayed steps away from the beach and minutes from Angra, performing at their festa and for the local RTP Television show. This island was filled with laughter, Portuguese hot dogs, and nights under the Angra Festa lights with colorful decorations.
I would say my favorite memory from this island was dancing in the driveway of the family, who so kindly hosted our group and drove us near and far. Dancing the Chamarita with family was the type of thing we all heard stories about and I have never felt so welcomed in my whole life. Another fun gem about our stay in Terceira is that some of our dancers stayed in the home of the women who embroidered and sewed our minho costumes. It truly is such a small world.
The next island we hopped to aboard Sata Airlines was Pico, and for me, this was the absolute finest. For multiple reasons, I had the best times here, jumping 25 feet into Furna Bay while snorkeling in the breathtaking Atlantic. In addition to meeting family members, the people here truly wanted us to feel at home. The Santa Cruz natural pools were a fun experience for our group and a great escape from our San Diegan sand.
From Pico, we headed to Madeira, where we stayed in Paul Do Mar, dancing at the famous, Festa Da Lapa and Festa Da Banana in Madalena. One of those memories was the private dance we held for the vice president of Madeira at his residence and we were so honored. It was an incredible feeling to watch, as his eyes filled with tears, knowing the Portuguese youth in America appreciated their culture and brought it into his home, without even speaking the language.
I truly had a fun and relaxing time in Madeira and created memories that will last a lifetime. Like normal Pauleiros, our group headed for the Cais every day to soak up the sun and enjoy a mojito or two. My favorite memory was dancing in front of the church and handing my Balhinho doll to a lady who I'm sure will treasure it for the rest of her life. Watching her smile as she played along to our performance of the Balhinho made my heart so full, and I truly realized how much the dancers mean to the Portuguese.
This trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I know personally, I wouldn't have experienced four Portuguese islands; where I met a multitude of family members, and performed at a number of festas, without the grand efforts of Therese Garces and Evelyn Barandiaran.
It took many spaghetti dinners to get us across the globe and I'm so proud to say I have toured and danced in the country my family is from while discovering my roots. Although people asked many times throughout our trip if “that blonde was actually Portuguese," after this experience I now have a deeper respect for what that means and what our culture consists of, even if I don't look it.
My 12 years as a Portuguese dancer have been nothing but amazing, and even though next year I will be miles away at the University of Missouri, I know whenever I come home, there will always be Monday night dance practice.