You know that feeling of relaxation you experience while on vacation? Where your mind is at ease and all worries and stresses in life start to disappear? That’s what I’m feeling right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m here to work hard and perform at the highest level I can, but being on an island as beautiful as this one to do it hardly seems fair. For example, right now I’m sitting outside in the sun (22°C, 72°F to you Americans) on the balcony of my gym, which overlooks the city of Funchal and brilliant blue of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s insane. I still can’t wrap my head around it. After spending last season in snow and darkness, this is a nice change. I loved my time in Scandinavia and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but spending the next 6 months on an island in the sun – well lets just say you won’t hear me complaining anytime soon.
Prior to landing in Madeira I had never heard of it; I didn’t know it existed. Now I find myself planning future trips for an actual vacation, or helping friends decide when to visit during the season. Since being here, the temperature has been in the mid to low 20s (70s), with locals complaining that it’s “really cold.” If this is cold, then I’ve been living in the wrong part of the world for too long. People here have no idea what cold is. I’ve lived in cold and this isn’t it. While inhabitants wander about in long-sleeved shirts, you’ll see me rocking a tank top and shorts every chance I get. I could get used to this…
My trip getting to Portugal however, is another story. After arriving at the airport 2 hours early (why? Because that’s what YVR suggested) and heading to my gate, I spot Jasmine, one of my high school friends working at Milestones. With nothing but time to kill I decide to grab a table and order a drink. Of course my flight to Frankfurt was delayed further and 1 drink turned into 2. We chatted for over an hour catching up on what has happened in each other’s lives since high school and make a promise to get together over Christmas break. After 2 drinks on an empty stomach, I'm starting to feel pretty good about myself. The plane finally boards and I’m immediately offered complimentary drinks for the duration of the flight since my exit row seat would not be honored. The thought of continuous drinking on a 9-hour flight doesn’t sound appealing to me; I decline and am instead given a chocolate bar. Sweet deal.
Not sleeping a wink on the plane and full from eating 3 meals (yes, despite my distaste of airplane food, I consumed all 3) I head to my connecting flight. Of course once I get there I find the gate has been changed to the other side of the airport. Wonderful. I finally arrive at the new one and realize the flight has been delayed further due to fog. Awesome. Half asleep and looking like I just rolled out of a ditch, I’m unsure of what to do. I wander around the airport for a bit, buy a Portuguese phrase book and just as I’m headed back to my gate see Swin Cash. Caught off guard, and unsure of what to do I just play it cool and walk right by her, knowing she won’t recognize me. Not that she should, but I used to conduct weekly post-game interviews with her and the Storm in the locker room when I worked for KJR. Awkward. I didn’t notice any other basketball players wandering around so I assumed she, like I, was waiting for her connecting flight to whatever country she was headed. After finally finding my way back to my gate, (the Frankfurt airport is maze. Seriously. Whoever designed it is an idiot.) I sit down near a group of elderly couples with bags and bags of booze. I joke that I’m headed where they’re headed and we start chatting about the adventures we’re about to embark on. The 3 couples from Tsawwassen (20 minutes from my hometown of Richmond) were flying to Lisbon to catch a 34 day cruise, porting in places like Madeira, the Azores, the Falkland Islands, Rio, Buenos Aries and Antarctica! Wow, not everyone can say they’ve been to Antarctica. With nothing but time they invite me to have a beer with them at the bar. It’s only 12pm, but when in Germany…We spend the better part of an hour talking about my career, (yes, I know it’s crazy. I play basketball, get to live and experience different countries expense free and they pay me to do it) university and how they met their respective partners. I truly enjoyed their company and hope they have a wonderful trip.
Upon arrival in Lisbon, I rush out of the plane like my life depends on it – as I have 15 minutes to catch my connecting flight to Madeira. Of course once I jump on the shuttle to take me to Terminal 2, the bus driver refuses to depart until the shuttle is full. I explain to him in Portu-English (a new language I invented while randomly flipping through my newly acquired phrase book) that I’m going to miss my flight if he doesn’t step on it. He ignores me and I’m regulated to tapping my foot loudly and looking at my watch every 10 seconds. I finally arrive at my gate at the scheduled departure time, but the plane didn’t wait for me. Helvete! (That’s for you Madde.) The attendants explain that I’ll have to catch the next flight out, which is in about 1.5 hours. With that, they direct me to the TAP Portugal info desk so I can get my ticket reissued. The day gets better as the lady at the TAP desk tells me I have to pay a 100 Euro fine. Excuse me? It wasn’t my fault I missed the flight, it was the fog in Frankfurt that caused this mess. She says I have no choice and have to take it up with Lufthansa for a refund. I grudgingly pay up while giving her my best evil eye. It’s no use as she barely spares me a glance. With new ticket in hand I get back on the shuttle to Terminal 1, preparing to unleash my evil eye on an unsuspecting Lufthansa agent. However, as my luck would have it, I find the desk closed for the day as it is past 6pm. Splendid. Defeated, it’s back to Terminal 2, minus 100 Euros.
My trip only gets better upon arrival in Madeira as I find TAP has lost my luggage. Of course they have! (It must have been that evil eye I gave the ticket lady…) The airport promises my bags will be delivered to the club in the AM. With nothing but the clothes I’ve been wearing for the past 24 hours and my backpack filled with little more than my laptop and basketball shoes, I have nothing. And please believe, my clothes do not smell as good as they did when I left Vancouver…
The President of CAB Madeira is there to meet me where he immediately hands me an envelope with 100 Euros. Nice, I like the way this club works already. He apologizes for the inconveniences of my trip, but of course it is not his fault, as he had nothing to do with my string of bad luck. Nevertheless, it was nice to hear after experiencing the trip from hell. I finally arrive at my new apartment around 9:30pm. I share it with the American on our team, Danielle Hood. I’ve only known her a couple of days but can tell we’re going to get along great - which always makes everything that much easier. I’ve been very lucky with the teammates I’ve had over the years. Danielle offers me a change of clothes to sleep in which I’m grateful for. I change and immediately hit the hay. First practice tomorrow!
Awake at 10am, I head up to the gym (I say up, because it is literally up – a 3 minute straight hike up a steep hill, actually, I’m going to call it a mountain) to catch the guy’s game at 11. Arriving at the gym, panting, covered in sweat and still wearing my stale clothes, I search for the President. Apparently my luggage now won’t be here until 2pm – after practice. Great. I call Dani, and she graciously offers me spandex, a sports bra and socks. (We have practice gear.) I hate having to borrow her clothes, especially to sweat in them, but I really have no choice. I thank her and promise to return them clean. Practice goes as well as can be hoped. I’m forced to learn 6 new plays at 2 different positions with a foggy mind. Grasping as much as I can, it will have to be enough – we have a game tomorrow against one of the best teams in the league. (Sidenote: I finally got my luggage around 5pm that night. Whoo hoo!) Coach tells me he is unsure if I’ll play tomorrow so to be prepared. The next day we end up losing by 10. It was a tough transition. I was subbed in with about 3 minutes left in the 1st quarter. Trying to remember a play as it is called is tough if you’re not familiar with it. (Especially when it is called in Portuguese and I learned it in its English form.) Normally upon hearing a play call, a player reacts immediately and transitions smoothly into it. For me, I was taking too long to process the calls, therefore ended up running around like a crazy person. I did all right, probably 10 points and 6 rebounds in about 20 minutes. I’m in really good physical shape, but there is nothing like being in game shape. Playing is the only way to get the kind of stamina that is required for 40 minutes of competitive basketball.
My first impression of Portuguese people is that they are really nice. They seem very welcoming and their smiles are contagious. For example, after the game on Sunday I walked a couple blocks to the Supermercado to get groceries. With the luck I have, I should not have been surprised that it was closed. Looking defeated once again, a car pulled beside me, with a man inside saying “get in, I’ll take you to the grande Supermercado.” I’m a woman in a foreign country where I know a grand total of 2 people well at this point. You’d think I’d politely decline and run home. However, the man was nice and I generally got a good feel for him. (I read his aura, it was yellow.) He was much smaller than me (so I felt I could take him if need be) and he knew who I was. No one really knows me here yet. I quickly weighed the pros and cons and got in. (Don’t kill me dad!☺) Turns out it was fine. The guy used to be the President of the club and retired a couple years ago. He watched our game and his young daughter’s team was playing right after us. He was on his way home to pick something up before the game. As we pulled up to the Supermercado, I told him I would catch a cab home and that I appreciated his kindness. Not to be deterred, he refused and said he would wait for me. Deciding to be quick, I ran around the store grabbing only the necessities hoping not to take up too much of his time. He even helped carry my groceries to the car and took me straight home. What a nice man. However, I promise I will never again get into cars with strangers anymore, but I was tired, hungry and smelly. I feel these 3 excuses validate the one time I made an exception and I promise not to do it again.
That being said, I better cut off here. I have so much more to write about, but this is becoming a long post and I don’t want to bore you with details. More to come soon!