Saturday, June 24, 2017

Day 7 - Peneda-Gerês

We said our goodbyes in the village last night and this morning, and set off for Portugal's remote north.  We hadn't really planned much of this part of the trip - we only knew we were spending the next two nights in Porto, but wanted to explore some of the northern region first.

We had a list of various historical places that were options, but as we drove along and discussed them, we kept being drawn back to the idea of driving through the mountainous Peneda-Gerês.  The photos and descriptions in our guidebook were too good to resist, so the decision was made.
As soon as we entered the mountains, I fell instantly in love.  The land was strewn with boulders, as if a giant had scattered handfuls of giant marbles everywhere.  Here and there, the landscape was crossed with stone walls covered in moss, that seemed to have simply grown out of the landscape on their own.

The road wound through the mountains but it was manageable, and we meandered up high into the mountains, fascinated by the giant smooth rocky cliffs that soon appeared all around us. The viewpoints were incredible, and we couldn't stop ourselves from parking the car at every viewpoint and hopping out just to take a look. 

Our initial goal was to attempt to hike to a waterfall we had seen in our guidebook.  We drove to Peneda and asked someone there about it - she indicated that there were two close by.  The one accessed from Peneda itself involved a 40 minute hike, so we decided to skip it and try and find the other one that was accessed through Tibo.

We snaked back through the mountains until we saw the sign for Tibo.  Even though this is a National Park (Portugal's only one), there are still people living in small villages in these mountains.  The villages haven't changed much since medieval times, and that became quite clear to us as we slowly descended the very narrow and very inclined road into the village of Tibo.  The little stone houses were fascinating as we made turns left and right, precariously trying not to scrape the sides of the car or end up stuck at the end of a road where there was nowhere to turn around.
Stone houses of Tibo

After a few minutes of this, we realized we had no idea where we were going as the directions we'd been given were quite vague, and this tiny, frozen-in-time place certainly did not appear to have any signs indicating where to find a waterfall.  I had J stop the car briefly while I walked on ahead to see if there was a place she could turn around.  Thankfully, I found one, so we used it to turn the car around and drive back up the steep narrow roads to reach the main road - but not before I glimpsed, at the side of one of the stone homes, a pair of medieval granaries.

I gasped, stunned that something so ancient could be just sitting right here, beside someone's home (which was probably equally as ancient), rather than in a museum or a protected area (like the granaries we saw at the Moorish Castle in Sintra).

What must it be like to live literally side by side with such ancient history? 

The people of Peneda-Gerês have been doing it for centuries, so I suppose it is just a part of the way things are for them.  We read that other villages in these mountains also have stone granaries in them, so this just wasn't a one-off.  The whole region is a fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern, the wild and the human, co-existing with precarious balance since before recorded time.
On our way back, we decided to stop at one of the viewpoints we had loved on the way in.  We parked the car, grabbed some fruit and went to sit on a large boulder amidst the mountains, looking down at the Douro valley and river, and sharing the mountain air and sunshine with a handful of wild horses and their colts.

Yes, wild horses.  The garrano horse is an endangered breed of horse that freely roams the mountains of Gerês.  As of 2010, the population of these animals was estimated at around 2000, so catching a glimpse of one is considered special.  We were lucky enough to see five adults, as well as four colts.  I couldn't have been more entranced - it's certainly one of the highlights of this trip so far.

There's something about just sitting and experiencing a place, rather than rushing around to "see" as many "things" as possible, so that's what we did - just sat on the rock, ate plums, and looked out at the mountains and the wild horses feeding on the grass.  We didn't talk much, for we were too entranced with the impossible beauty in front of us. 
Close-up of wild horses

The Douro river appeared still and pale blue in the distance, cutting through the bottom of the ravine with barely visible pale green vinneyards surrounding it.  The rocky, jagged mountains surrounded us completely, simultaneously sheltering and imposing.  The skinny legs of the light brown colts as they walked around unsteadily after their mothers was too endearing to take my eyes off of, and the calm of their chestnut brown parents completed the pastoral scene.

Something of this place will stay with me always.

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