Disconnect to Reconnect: my weekend at the Offline House (part 1/2)

Europe, Portugal, travel, TRAVEL

Do you remember the times where you were out on a trip and had to ask for directions because you were clearly lost? When you sat in a café during your break and glanced to an actual newspaper, with actual pages to switch your mind off from work related stuff a little? Or,  when was the last time you sat on a bench in being fully aware of every detail of your surroundings? Do you remember a full day spent without your phone in your hand / in your pocket / in your purse? Me neither.

Google is your friend, Google Maps your bro and Instagram turned into our own little reality show. It all started small. And now it all seems to be getting a wee out of hand I would say.

I belong probably to the last generation that did NOT grow up with a smartphone, let alone a tablet in the household. My first cell phone when I was 15 years old was a massive Siemens, you know, those five kilos heavy bricks, where pretty much the only purpose of them was to call somebody or send a 130 caracter text message. And of course my parents would meticolously go over the monthly bill because, there were no flatrates back then. Now you have 3 years old editing videos on Ipads, since it’s one of the easiest way to keep them kids quiet on the corner of the couch.

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When the Iphone blew everybody’s mind, I was against it. I did not get the point. I was happily living with an uncool slide up Samsung until 2010, checking Facebook once a day from my computer at my desk, and if I wanted to upload a picture on there, it took me ages: it was the literal camera transfer via USB. Most of you reading are probably a bunch of mid 90s childs and have no idea of that struggle, no offense. During my travels this involved a couple of hours in a shady internet cafe in lovely ‘Merica just to post the latest photo album in order to let people know I am doing good. Hours. And when I was done I felt like at the end of a tiring marathon. There was no one tap or one swipe solution.

At some point I got one of those things. And yes, it was a revolution. It made life hella easy. Everything was possible on one single device, and they got better by the year. But with blessing comes curse. With technology constantly evolving, with new apps and social media being thrown at us almost on the daily, we are sitting 24/7 in front of those screens with real life swirling around us, real people seeking less and less interaction, sometimes almost all togheter in robotic motion, myself included by observation. And a little shame on the inside. Because of texting, reading a newspaper, checking Instagram, paying your bills, dating online – but what if my smartphone disappeared? Do I even remember how that feels?

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At some point this year, I had a few episodes where I was quite sick of this thing. So I build in times of the day where I completely ignore it. I started ditching my phone when I got up in the morning – the first hour of my day should rather be spent contemplating a coffee mug in silence, but not by bombarding myself with a ton of information while I am still half asleep. Then on a Sunday at home, I would leave it on my desk for a whole afternoon without checking it at all. It wasn’t that bad. I did not miss any life changing event by doing so. It was the contrary.  But I never, since 2010, had a whole 24h without being deviceless or offline. This made me think. And research.

I know. The blogger ranting about the online life – the irony is real. Big time.

This end of summer I made a little dream of mine happen: I roadtripped in Portugal from the Algarve up to Porto, mainly by myself. And somewhere halfway up the road, there is an offline house. You read it right. A house with no internet connection. No electronics allowed. I was intrigued, so I booked myself a weekend there, as a challenge to myself, and to be honest, to my own sanity. As a content creator I love to share visuals and thoughts online, but I catched myself more often to want my presence to be actually where it should be: present. So after a few mini detoxes here and there, I wanted to go full in.

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I got prepared like a pro, by buying two books, bringing my journal and a camera to shoot occasional pictures, the oldschool way. I got prepared for reads by the pool, yoga classes, finding a corner to meditate, figure out a life with no GPS and really enjoy my own company in case my housemates would turn out to be all antisocial weirdos. You never know. As I said, I was ready.

I got picked up at the bus station in Aljezur, a cute town in the middle of a huge nature reserve. Life is slow here and all the grandpas on the benches look more fashion than any streetstyle editorial put together with their hats, sunglasses and wooden walking sticks, while staring at life pass by – and sometimes at weirdos with huge backpacks and ripped pants like me. I was tempted to ask for a picture, but my lack of Portuguese and my already semi offline mind made me ditch the idea quickly.

The house was nestled into a residential area, with the next beach in an approximate 45 min walk distance – one way. A few local restaurants and a mini market in the area. That’s it. I got warmly greeted by Barbara, one of the owners. Check in was easy, hand out electronics, choosing to NOT keep the keys and getting set into my room. The first thing I noticed when I gave my phone away, was a huge sense of relief. It’s gone, and now go out and play. I decided to tune in to the whole experience by grabbing my book and join some of the people at the pool alreading having a chill there. Not even 5 minutes with my bum on the grass, I got greeted by Wifi (yes, Wifi), the house dog. A cute little one year old pup who ripped apart my beach towel – and with whom I still fell in love hard.

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Well guess what happened – I read my book for an hour. And that would be me touching the thing for the last time that weekend. “Hi. I made some curry, do you want some?” – “Hi, I’d love to. I am hungry. Are you one of my roommates?”. This happened shortly after I was thinking about on which street I should stand the best in order to hitchhike to the beach and save myself a deadly 50 min walk under the boiling sun the next day.

My roommates were great people, who took me around on trips with their car. On my first night we went to the beach, bought a bottle of vino verde and sat on a cliff until the sun disappeared and everything was pitchblack. So dark that I will never forget the shining sky full of stars, which was jaw dropping. Talks were easy. Open and honest, no masks involved. We went to social gatherings watching skaters doing what they do best while a band was playing live, explored another beautiful beach the next day, having a very mediocre, overpriced lunch but with a very stunning view, in the end almost being late for the 6 pm yoga class back at the house. I had the guts to try my very first Ashtanga class and had to realise that I am even not that bad in keeping up at yoga anymore. We all stood together in the kitchen, cooked and shared the final results with each other. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a weekend going by so slowly and yet being over so fast. I grew up with no phone, tucked away in the Italian countryside, playing outside and chilling it with my 7 dogs sitting on the ground – I got my feet dirty, I joined my grandma in the garden, if I wanted to see my friends I went and knocked at their door. So I know how offline works. I spent life like that to my teenage years. Yet, I had a few aha-moments,  some of them hit me so hard on my guts I wished those things never got invented, or at least, that people realise how enslaved we can get to a device as big as the palm of a hand. It’s all about a sane amount of balance, and especially, about the trial of enjoying moments off screen…

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to be continued…

[ my learnings, and the full infos about the offline house will be disclosed in part 2 – this should be a blogpost, not my life memoir]

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