Week 179 September 2, 2017

When Loren and I left Rio Caldo, Portugal, we drove on a gorgeous, long, windy road up a mountain to Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres, which is a border park to Spain’s Baixa Limia Serra do Xures Parque Natural. We are uncertain if our four hour hike across seven bridges – and one natural bridge that I found – took us over the border, but for certain we drove through the park in Espana afterwards, for a shorter route to reach our AirBnB, Casa do Preto – House of Black, in Portugal. There was no need to show our passaportas anyway, as both countries are within the European Union.

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Contrary to what our friends Marisa and Vieira advised about Pitões das Junias: “There is nothing there!” – we enjoyed visiting a growing community. We understand from new hiking friends there that in the past few years it has been named among the top 10 villages of Portugal. On our first day in Pitões (said p-tosh) we took a long day hike – down one mountain and up another, to see an igreja – church and back. On the way there, we stopped at a swimming hole where Loren dove in for a refreshing respite.

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The next day, a group of more than thirty members of the nearby Vila Real city hiking club showed up en masse at the restaurant at our overnight accommodation.

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Loren befriended them and we had the fortune to join in their day hike to an abandoned mosteiro – monastery, a cascata – waterfall, and then a little bit more walking with them around Pitões. I counted 217 stairs on the way back up from one of the viewpoints of the cascata.

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Afterwards, they bestowed us gifts from their club and a pair of hand made hiking poles, saying this represents a connection between America and Portugal. Very special!

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Loren and I took another, shorter walk before leaving Pitões, then drove on to the Douro region. It was like driving to Napa in California, except that the vineyards are planted on extremely steep, terraced mountainsides, offering dramatic views into canyons with each turn of the winding road. We drove through Alijo, stopped in Favaios for a tour and tasting at Cooperativa Adega winery, then, drove on to our AirBnB in Pinhão (peen-yow).

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Our studio apartment here was in a home high on a steep incline from the main street where we had parked our car. I counted 69 stairs back down. We were greeted with the news that “This week will be tropical,” and learned how lucky we are in that their recent heat wave of 50 degrees celsius, which is 122 degrees Fahrenheit, had just passed with the day’s thunderstorm. We were grateful for the abundance of ripe, flavorful figs and several green bell peppers offered to us from the rear yard. The tomatoes sadly were scorched in the heat, and the pears and peaches not quite ready to enjoy. One day we hiked way up a mountain behind our house to Quinta do Jalloto, (Jalloto Winery), after enjoying a cup of Galone (coffee light) at our hosts’ cafe.

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On our hike, Loren picked ripe grapes that were growing alongside the road, then he found sweet peaches for us to taste! We also collected some ripe almonds that were popping out of their skins to take back to crack open later. Olives, apricots, and citrus trees were plentiful too, though the olives and fruits were not yet ready other than some of the oranges. All these varieties are familiar to us from the San Francisco Bay Area. At Jalloto, we tasted more wine varieties. My question is: How does one taste wines, find a flavor one likes, and not buy oneself a bottle? Even with the hiking here, and the Bikram yoga and hiking that we did in New England and New York, I am still carrying too many excess pounds… no wonder.

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On our last full day in Portugal, we were slow to leave the apartment, which turned out to be a good thing… There came a knock at our door from one of our hosts who asked if we were ready to leave. Leave? She then told us that we had agreed to move to a different apartment for the last night, and she needed us to move within the hour as new guests were arriving! Loren vaguely remembered that he had agreed to this some time ago, but I was totally surprised. I had completely settled in… Fortunately with traveling light we were moved in an hour, and, to our pleasure the second accommodation seemed a bit nicer. We had only 49 stairs to the main street front this one.

Even with our delayed departure for the day, we still had time to drive a lovely windy road from Pinhão to the town of Regua, then on to the city of Lamego where we had a delightful afternoon observing and participating in some activities for Festa Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. We parked our car, hiked down to the city center, then up the few hundred steps at the far end of town to the Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remédios cathedral.

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We had been told that there are nearly 700 steps up to the cathedral, but, they seemed way too easy – I was sure it was maybe 200 or so. However, later I confirmed it online to be almost 700. Inside the church was beautiful. We took a peaceful dirt path back down to the city center, bought some delectable cheese, olives, beans and pastries, then hiked back up to our car for the delightful return drive.

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On our way to return the rental car, we took another exquisite scenic drive on roads so full of curves that I could barely take my eyes off the road or even shift out of 2nd gear – I would no sooner put the car in 3rd then have to immediately downshift for the next curve. I am leaving Portugal with – as is true of almost every place that we have traveled – a hope and desire to return. For now, what I take with me is the memory of how friendly, kind, honest and helpful the people are. I also have the new knowledge that Portugal is the largest exporter of cork in the world from the bark of their cork trees. And, that Portuguese is among the top 10 spoken world languages, per lists topped by Mandarin, Spanish and English.

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A quick afternoon bus ride has brought us to Spain – I say quick because it arrived in Tui or Tuy – it appears that you can choose either of these as your preferred spelling, same as with Porto or Oporto in Portugal – more than an hour earlier than scheduled, and no, the driver was not exceeding the speed limit. We hiked a quarter of a mile uphill from the gas station where we were dropped off, with all our belongings strapped on us or carried in our hands.

We have two nights at Arturo’s AirBnB; from here we will begin our weeklong sojourn on a part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the Walk to Santiago of the Field of Stars, also known as Saint James Way. We spotted our first scallop shell image in Lamego, Portugal, being one of the yellow directional pointers which we will be seeking many more of during this coming week. It is said that the lines represent the different routes that people travel from all over the world, to arrive at the end point: the believed tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Spain.

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