By Cédric Gygax
"Brazil was love at first sight" my grandfather told me. Belo Horizonte, Brasilia and Rio left a big impression. During a boat trip through the many military-owned islands on the coast of Bahia, they came in contact with a land owner of a small island. “Meeting next day at 8.30 sharp” “Can we make it 9.30?” Finally at 11.30 the person came with a brand new boat that he didn’t know how to ride to go visit the island. Luckily my grandfather is a boat pilot too, so they arrived safely at their destination to visit the place. It was about 1km long and 300m wide, just enough to put a small aircraft landing zone and a big house where they could invite 5 guests at a time flying in to enjoy the fine gold coloured sand and the freshly captured fish who would have stayed in nets under the decreasing water tide.
On the way back, the tank which had never been fuelled, got completely drained and the boat could not reach its destination. The owner went for help on another island leaving my grandparents alone in the boat. My grandmother opened the “boîte à gants” and was horrified to discover a gun in there. They immediately pictured the worst and when the guy came happily back with a one litre of fuel, they were not at ease. It turned out that he was the director of a female prison in Bahia and he needed to keep his service weapon at all times.
I remember my grandma telling me many stories about robberies in Brazil in her hotel room with people sneaking in through the terrace window so maybe that’s why they were looking for an island...
When my grandfather asked proof of ownership in return for a money advance, it got quiet on the line. Or actually “yes yes you will get it, don’t worry” was closer to the response. But the document was never shown. Luckily the money was never transferred because this man was not the effective owner. The property owner was the ex-husband of this man's wife.
So when my grandparents got that information, they dropped the Brazil plan and returned on a quest to find the perfect place in Europe instead.
Now that I’ve visited the country by myself I have to tell you not much changed!
So looking back it’s easy to choose Portugal as the European version of Brazil, although when they came back it was not where they went straight away. They first did the tour of the Mediterranean sea towing their speed boat behind their car. Greece, Italy, France, Spain didn’t match their expectations. My grandfather brings up savage stories of murdered cats on the beach, terrorist bombings, mafia, and attitudes which didn’t match their lifestyle. France was nice but not exotic enough, you don’t feel really away when you live in Brussels or Paris. And I can understand that the language, culture and atmosphere bring a lot to the travel destination choice. It’s a part of the travel experience to eat differently, talk with people you don’t completely understand and get to know new points of view. I was surprised that the comment about Spain was that they talked very fast and didn’t do much effort to communicate with foreigners. Speaking Spanish myself, I am not aware of this but I can agree that not many Spanish people speak English well for example. They are very happy at the other side if you speak the local language, which is true everywhere by the way! So it is extremely important to know the language where you want to settle. As they had been in Brazil and knew some Portuguese already, they left this as the last resort maybe. Sometimes it’s nice to go and see the alternatives before you choose what you most likely will end up doing anyway, I do it too...
So there they are, on a quiet Portuguese beach, my grandmother picking up floating wood brought by the sea to make artistic sculptures. They found Portuguese wood pieces with stories. And there it was, the place where they would stay.
They met a French lady on that beach with whom they kept a strong friendship and who introduced them to a land-owner in Pinheiro... And that’s where Somewhere-Special got born.
They have never been to another destination for relaxing holidays and started to create local business by doing what they had always done before: buying old houses – sometimes ruins, renovating and renting them. It has more charm than building from scratch and all the properties have an interesting story. It also generates new ideas as you need to be more creative to start from or work around existing parts keeping an eye on the budget. Don’t be surprised to see a rock integrated into a wall for example.
Cédric is the grandson of the founders of SWS with whom he had a strong connection. He decided to pause his engineering career to dedicate time to the tourism industry and give new energy to SWS.
Why this radical career change?
I have always loved to travel, meet new people, practice outside sport, discover nature and create adventures. I want to promote ecological and alternative traveling and be a change actor to make a difference in the mentalities starting by the moment you are in holiday, when you have time and are open to trying something different.
Where does it come from?
“I have been traveling by myself from a really young age. Being sent alone from Belgium to Portugal on the plane at six years old to visit my grandparents was not typical in the 90's.
My family has been all over the world since I was born, so I see the world as one big family.
During my engineering studies I got to know BEST, the Board of European Students of Technology. What was speaking to me was the fact that you could join events alone if your friends were not available and meet your future BEST friends ;-) This has probably changed my life. I experienced connecting easily with students from every country in Europe while traveling cheap, sleeping, eating and discovering places with "strangers". The only thing which you would trust is the students association to bring together similar minds and interests. You bond together when you are far away from everything you know. I got in touch with extreme kindness, open, warm and welcoming people and saw the best side of humanity: sharing is caring. I started to enjoy getting lost in new cities, staying at hostels to meet new people.
Later I got introduced to Couchsurfing, which is similar but on a worldwide level and with all kinds of people. When I got my own flat in Brussels I had couchsurfers over from all around the world.
It's not always easy to convince people to try Couchsurfing so I wanted to find a way to have an Airbnb type of accomodation with the Couchsurfing spirit. This is what we call a HOSTEL.
In 2017 the idea of having a hostel started to make sense, being the ultimate combination of everything I like to do, and Nature Point X was born. X for all the experiences, localized around an accommodation point in or close to nature.
When i had the opportunity to join SWS I couldn’t refuse to bring in my own little piece to the family business”
What are your ideas for the future SWS?
I would like to organize thematic holiday weeks around sport, culture, art, nature, cooking, music, environmental cleaning actions, recycling, eco construction, reducing your ecological footprint,... together with local people and their skills. I think exchange is a good thing and we should learn from each other’s expertise and experiences. Making the world a better place, spread by one tourist at a time ;-)