Travel Log: São João d’Arga

Hello, painters! Today, we are going deep into the Portuguese country and looking at some of the most beautiful natural landscapes you can encounter. They’re in Caminha, one of Portugal’s border cities, in the district of Viana de Castelo. These beautiful lands are mostly in locations called Arga, which include several northern parishes. I specifically went to the Mosteiro (monastery) de São João d’Arga.

How did I end up in such a beautiful place? Well, my youth group has a mind for nature, that’s how. We used to have summer camps in the monastery, and I’ve had some of the most peaceful moments of my life there. These lands feature enormous mountains and hills, actual cattle and horses running about, amazing natural lagoons and plenty of hiking tracks. Like the package?

So let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

Just imagine a big group of teenagers spending a week in an old monastery, I think you can imagine the fun! Of course, my favorite parts were always different from everyone else’s – what I loved the most were the prayers we would have twice a day and the night time activities. Once, we just laid outside, on the grass, and stared at the stars. It’s not the night sky you see from cities, not at all. It’s an entirely different sky, filled with stars you’ve never seen before. They shine everywhere and you can’t bring yourself to try to count them, there are so many! And we just laid there, dazzled by their shine.

One of the parts I had the hardest time with (being my oh-so-not-athletic self) were the hikes. We would hike and climb through mountains, jump into natural lagoons and even slide down huge rocks sometimes! That was everyone else’s favorite part, usually not mine. I’d be anxious about falling, most of the time. But I have to admit, after some years, I realized I loved the sights and that inexplicable feeling of being on top of the world far more than I feared the climbing part. I still get a little anxious about it, but being so into the wild makes you feel connect to nature and to the world in a completely different way. There’s something about nature that really brings out the spirituality in you!

Of course one of the best parts was, after all, the human contact and the feeling of fellowship you get from hanging out with each other with no possible distractions. There was no wi-fi and we wouldn’t even have our phones for most of the day. That made us feel free – being teenagers, we weren’t exactly self-discipline masters with the whole texting thing. Not having that option entirely taught us to think outside the box and to connect with each other. We’d also have group activities and games, as well as teams to do cleaning and maintenance tasks with. We’d talk to every single person there, and made a point of not leaving anyone out.

All in all, what I remember from São João d’Arga are some of the most challenging, as well as relaxing times I’ve ever had. Escaping this modern life style and reconnecting with yourself, others, and even nature allows you to grow in ways cities don’t. I’ve done so much soul searching while staring at these landscapes, that I consider these trips part of my life and my spiritual journey. They’ve taught me faith and tranquility like no other experience in my life has.

If you have an opportunity to do something similar, my advice would be: go for it, fearlessly! And take some bug spray with you 😉

Stay awesome,

Sofia

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