The first time I saw the ocean was thirty years ago, when a friend and I went to Portugal in the winter. We hitchhiked from Silesia and arrived in Lagos in the Algarve. We made this trip as part of “expanding the world.” During this period, I also traveled to the former Soviet Union and was somewhat familiar with the vast expanse, the “dry ocean,” so I expected something similar in the West. However, the real one strongly surprised me. I vividly remember the moment when we set off to snorkel and jump on the waves in places that I still consider some of the most beautiful in the world.

Atlantic off the coast of Portugal

The warm, rather well-beaten yellow sand and sandstone of the high rocks became a model for me, to which I compared other coasts. The temperature of the water, as well as the air, was about 16°C, but we felt it was much warmer. I was most surprised by the work of the ocean itself. A one-meter wave, which in the Baltic Sea would have slightly thrown me off balance, here knocked me over and spit me out 5 meters away. The movement of the water could also literally nail me to the bottom for a few seconds or even scrub my body on the rocks.

The stones themselves, weighing as much as 2-3 kilograms, picked up from the bottom, flowed together with the roadside. It took me a while to learn that in such a situation you should quickly pull your feet off the ground and dive into the approaching wave. Alternatively, you can simply hide under the water or, if the wave does not break, swim to its crest. It requires good swimming technique, but yes, it is possible to swim in the surf!

In the vast oceanic bays, it is also possible to navigate behind the surf, in calmer water, but you need to find out beforehand if there is any dangerous current. When the bay narrows at the outlet, there can periodically be considerable tidal suction at this point. Such places are dangerous for swimmers. The much higher kinetic energy of ocean waves than sea waves is due to the fact that they can originate thousands of kilometers away.

The wind rushes masses of water over a vast area devoid of natural obstacles. It happens that the wind itself does not reach the coast. We can see, hear, feel the action of a great pile-up of water with almost absolute silence in the air. It’s a bit of an unrealistic impression, as the feeling is born that this rapid arrival is some kind of information from the past, coming to us from the Azores, for example. That’s where the cataclysm occurred, and we hear only its echoes.

Being my first time in Portugal, I didn’t know much about fado, Cape Verdean music or samba. I was unfamiliar with Lusitanian culture, subject to strong West African influences and the influence of Brazilian culture. Lusitania included the area of present-day Portugal south of the Duero and the southwestern part of Spain. What seduced me was a certain calmness of the locals that I enjoyed, and the fact that when we arrived in Lagos, we met an unusual expatriate woman from Poland.

The old lady left in the 1960s from the city where we lived. From Siemianowice Slaskie. She took the opportunity to ask how Silesia and the townhouse she once left look now. She also recognized that we couldn’t starve to death here and gave us enough money to rent decent quarters in an old building, lunches during our stay and a glass of port for dessert. How could I not fall in love with Portugal?

Since I read Homer’ s The Odyssey in my school days, I consider it the most important book that was written in Europe (although many cultural scholars would put it on the Iliad). Being on the Atlantic coast, I realized that the events of the sea stories of the ancient Greeks take place in a relatively small space. Shipping for the Greeks and Romans was cabotage, along the coastline, from port to port. The Atlantic was a mythical land for them, although the Phoenicians had ventured here, and the Viking Leif Eriksson even sailed to America.

However, the era of European expansion did not begin until Henry the Sailor. He incorporated Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands into Portugal, and established the first modern ocean routes. Portugal, while being in the de facto embrace of Mediterranean culture, eschews it because it lies on the ocean, not the Mediterranean. Besides, its residents often refer to the ocean as the sea. Now we judge the era of discovery ambivalently, but precedence in the Atlantic, in terms of lasting change, goes to Portugal. The country’s explorers could be said to have created their Sea of Lusitania, from the Iberian Peninsula to Brazil.

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in a poem Ocean. Morning, compares the sea to a snake that coils and stretches. And I see that silver sheen of scales and have an association with a huge reptile. The poet Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão writes in her work Song of Creation about the waves that break continuously since the beginning of the world, so we can listen to the sounds of creation. And this kind of sensitivity is close to me. Our Stanislaw Lem also writes about the vastness of the ocean in his book Solaris. It depicts the great sea as a separate entity, incomprehensible, surpassing us in every way. The ocean is a cosmos on Earth. Or put another way: two skies. We swim in one while looking at the other.

Madeira – a wonderful island in the Atlantic

Let’s sail to Madeira! Maybe here I would settle down,” I thought for years. There’s the Atlantic, black volcanic sand, dramatic cliffs and eternal spring. The lack of a continental shelf means that the waves have nothing to brake on and attack the shore with all their might, giving a special spectacle. It’s a tad too cold to attract the mass tourist who likes the Canary Islands. From Madeira, it is possible to swim across to the island of Porto Santo. This is a 50-kilometer swim crossing, suitable only for the best long-distance swimmers. If we take up the challenge, “normal” yellow sand will be waiting for us at the finish line. Naturally, we can also reach Porto Santo by boat.

What discouraged me from living in Madeira was that I would probably have to change my profession as a pediatric physiotherapist and work in the tourism industry. I discuss many issues related to the island with my friends Joao Nóbrega and Renata, who is a friend of my wife’s from her childhood. She now works as a guide and leads the “Madeira with Us” project. I also associate the island with the trouble of getting out of the water. All it took was for the wind or tide to change a bit as I climbed ashore on the rocks, and there was a real risk of hitting a rock wall as a result of the surf. So I watched for a long time the places where I wanted to start swimming, preparing for it. The island is full of places that are completely safe for swimming.

Madeira began to change when European funds came to the island. People want to live comfortably, they want to be connected by modern roads and tunnels. Unfortunately, a seaside promenade or marina can irreversibly change the landscape. The village of Jardim do Mar, for example, was famous for its beautiful waves, which were prized by surfers from around the world. This is unfortunately a thing of the past. I would like to quote the writer William Finnegan, who in his book Barbarian Days writes thus:

In turn, between the half-completed road and the sea was the nastiest shore band I had ever seen: a chaotic, gray pile of concrete blocks. She was aggressively devoid of any characteristics, and at the same time it was painful to look at her. The concrete blocks resembled thousands of abandoned coffins. Here is the new coastline. Brown waves washed over the blocks.

Fortunately, I don’t know what it used to be like. Less grief. The island continues to be phenomenal in my eyes.

Rio de Janeiro – a dream swim off the coast of Brazil

Wonderful city. City in the Woods. God’s perfect work. It’s all true. I have always wanted to swim along Copacabana and Ipanema. The former is filled with people playing sports in the morning and late evening. The other, considered more snobbish, belongs to surfers and wealthier summer visitors. There are several swimming clubs on Copacabana and Red Beach that you can join during the morning. Also, children are taught to swim with instructors in the sea, behind the bycatch line, at the very end of Copacabana, near the Arpoador rock.

This is a practice unthinkable in Poland, especially since when I was there, at the beginning of November 2022, the water was about 20°C, and the children were swimming without neoprene clothes. During Carnival, due to the change in the ocean current, the water is even cooler. Rio de Janeiro is rather shunned by sharks. They can be found on the Brazilian coast, but closer to the equator. I was able to realize my completely fabulous swimming venture thanks to Adrian Ucinski, a lifeguard and paramedic from Sosnowiec. He went to Rio with me and provided organizational support.

The plan was to start at the height of Two Brothers Mountain, swim about 1 km along Ipanema, Copacabana, Sugar Head, then cross Guanabara Bay and continue along the coast or enter the bay if conditions would not allow the challenge to continue. There are variable currents, depending on the tides. We waited a long time for good weather. When we arrived in Rio it was stormy and windy. We only managed to take off in the weather window at the end of our stay in the city. We spent the night before the crossing on the yacht of Vicente Klonowski, a marine ecologist from the town of Macaé.

Vicente has traveled with his family by raft in Brazil’s coastal waters in the past, and is also fighting for land rights for indigenous peoples. We were also supported on the yacht by Nikola Schreier. In the morning I jumped into the water and swam perfectly, despite the slightly rough sea. Every once in a while, I would roll over onto my back and take off my glasses to see the city skyline. As I swam, I could see the statue of Christ the Savior towering over the city.

I was getting tired near Sugar Head, as the waves bounced off the rocks and came back, unpleasantly rocking the water. When we got to the heights of Guanabara Bay, we found that the weather, however, did not allow us to continue sailing on the open sea. So we turned towards the city center. Unfortunately, the tide started pulling me in the opposite direction at a speed of, I think, 1 to 1.5 km/h. I began to stress about not doing the minimum plan, that is, not sailing 15 kilometers away from Two Brothers and not reaching the beach at the sailing club.

So I realistically added another three kilometers to the planned distance and, swimming the last hour and a half really hard, I finally stood on the beach near the sailing club. The action in the water took me 5 hours and 45 minutes. I thought that a swimmer sometimes swims to prove to himself and the world how strong he is. But not in Rio. There, it swims as a reward. The most important thing for me was that I was able to be there at all and was able to experience those emotions. I would have found all this hard to believe a dozen years ago. There remains the issue of water quality off the Brazilian coast. Reservations are especially raised about the one in the bay near Rio’s center. It is suitable for swimming, but not the best. In 2023. Investments to improve this situation have begun.

Troubled Atlantic waters off the coast of Porto

Finally, I would like to return to the European continent. I was recently in Porto with my family, where I focused, ahem, on watching the ocean. I also wanted to go to the famous Nazaré and see the biggest waves in Europe, but the acutely gigantic ones were not expected, so I preferred to stay and feel exactly everything that happens on the spot. It was coming lower from the Azores, so I was excited. It turned out that in Porto there is a custom of driving up on stormy days to the parking lots by the ocean itself. People are sitting in cars and watching the elements. Sometimes this forms part of a date, but there are more loners staring into the distance.

Walking along the Douro River, from the center of the city to the mouth, we stand beside the long breakwaters and watch the tide push against the concrete. It’s a dramatic experience, and it seems that everyone is just waiting for the worst to happen: the breakwater will break under the pressure of the water. On a calm day, the beaches are a paradise for those who want to relax, and on a slightly windier day – for surfers. But not today. Today we have to hunker down so that we don’t get blown away and be careful that some sea urchin doesn’t seize us into its maw. The best vantage point is the parking lot located on the other side of the river mouth. Administratively, it is Vila Nova de Gaia. A lofty promontory is located there. On the right, at the mouth of the river, we can watch waterfowl hiding from the wind.

In the other direction stretch partially rocky beaches, which on such a low day are simply terrifying. The swirling motion, roll, and rumble of the surf can discourage the thought of sailing, traveling, and swimming. Sitting in the car and watching this spectacle would be a luxury, but we don’t have a car, so after half an hour the choppy rain chases us out of the sea’s line of fire. I flee with my family to the first inland cafe I come across, where coffee with a pastry costs twice as much as in Poland. We live in the pretty town of Wolin, but when I ask my wife if she would like to live in Portugal, she says yes. We’ll see what life brings. The Atlantic attracts, so maybe we could spend at least one season in the future in the Lusitanian world.

Używamy plików cookie, aby zapewnić najlepszą jakość korzystania z Internetu. Zgadzając się, zgadzasz się na użycie plików cookie zgodnie z naszą polityką plików cookie.

Close Popup
Privacy Settings saved!
Ustawienie prywatności

Kiedy odwiedzasz dowolną witrynę internetową, może ona przechowywać lub pobierać informacje w Twojej przeglądarce, głównie w formie plików cookie. Tutaj możesz kontrolować swoje osobiste usługi cookie.

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

Technical Cookies
In order to use this website we use the following technically required cookies
  • wordpress_test_cookie
  • wordpress_logged_in_
  • wordpress_sec

For perfomance reasons we use Cloudflare as a CDN network. This saves a cookie "__cfduid" to apply security settings on a per-client basis. This cookie is strictly necessary for Cloudflare's security features and cannot be turned off.
  • __cfduid