Felipe Jervis, Madeira. Photo: Ricardo Bravo
It was a Sunday afternoon in January in the early naughties when I saw the ticket on Teletext. £99 return to Madeira from Gatwick, a veritable bargain. I had a quiet week at work, easy to get 7 days off. I ripped the four pages on Madeira from the Stormrider Guide. My only trouble was that the fight left early the next morning from Gatwick, 4 hours drive away, and no train could get me there on time, it being dinner on Sunday. After a couple of calls a buddy stepped in who said he’d drive if he could borrow his brother’s car, locate a quarter of hash for the journey on short notice, and I paid the petrol. I agreed on all three counts.
You know those trips you do when you’re young and too innocent to see the odds stacked against you? That’s kind of how it went. No surf forecast, no info on where to stay, no mates. At airport arrivals I walked up to the first hire car stand and got a little vehicle at a bargain rate. Worst comes to the worst, I’ll sleep in that I reasoned. I drove straight around the west coast to Jardim do Mar, and found a place to stay at Ceclia’s. There were only a handful of crew there. (Two Spanish bodyboarders, three Americans, one Brazilian, an English couple. The Spanish boogs got into a squabble with the Seppos and it was alleged they cut one of their leashes on the night before their departure, board died on rocks. But that’s beside the point). Waves were firing almost every day of the week, but I’ll spare you boasts and smug personal memoirs. I won’t mention trying to finger the local girl against the seawall in dawn light on my last night of the trip, mainly because ‘finger’ should never be used as a verb. Suffice to say I’ve done a lot of trips to a lot of places and that week stands out as my ‘road to Damascus’ moment.
The thing about going on your own isn’t so much that it’s better, so much as it amplifies the tone of the experience. If it’s good it’s really good and if it’s crap, it’s really crap. Good or bad, you do tend to take a bit more in. Fortunately, in those days there were no social networks so you couldn’t lose yourself in your own digital ‘social’ media cul-de-sac. Read your book, surf, eat, talk to people you just met, how perfectly cliché. One thing’s for sure, when you rock up on your own, the folk already there are much less likely to groan inwardly. It might have been Plato, possibly Socrates, who decreed, “One cunt is always preferable to a pack of cunts…”
Amen to that.
Words by Gary Browningstone