The ride out of Chaves Saturday started with a stop at the SuperMercado where we picked up provisions for Saturday and Sunday – the week before, we found out the hard way that stores are mostly closed on Sundays. The line of ladies with arms the size of hams waiting at the meat and olive counter was too long and intimidating for me to request my small scoop of olives, so we left without them. We had decided on a route connecting the smallest roads on our Michelin map, and in tiny type, at the very edge of the tourist city map, we found the road to Valdante. Shortly outside of town, of course we find a small, country store and the shop owner gladly sells me a small scoop of green and then black olives, then teaches us the words, writing them down on a scrap of paper for me to practice; azeitoma verde, preta. Already country life was easier.
We left through the suburbs, where one small town blended with another with growing farm space in between. Few people were out on this clear skied beautiful Saturday. We passed a family packing into their car, and the kids stared while the father gave a whoop and hello and asked what sounded like “You aren’t really going that way are you!?” I answered “Boa tarde! And you bet I’m going there and beyond!” While we didn’t understand each others words, but I’m sure we understood each others meanings.
Around the bend we found the reason for their exuberant surprise… the cobblestone road shot up abruptly and climbed out of town past the village water fonte. This was a bare down for all it’s worth steep climb as locals watched and waited for our return.
But of course there is no turning back. Up we went and climbed the hard way out of the Chaves valley. Up to heathered grasslands littered with boulders. A rock cropping served as a welcome flattish area to have a little yogurt break. Undulating up and down, but more up than down. We climbed higher and in the distance could see large swaths of charred forests. We had heard about the plight of fires from a vineyard owner, and here it was if blackened “living color”. The road climbed higher, sometimes dipping to a river and climbing again. It was a day of vistas to distant mountain ranges, hairpin turns that looked down to the patchwork quilt of farmland and villages in the valleys below.
Towards the end of day, we found ourselves once again traveling through burned forests where rock walls remained. Water stops had been scarce, so when a sign appeared for a village not marked on our maps, we took the turn up the dirt road. In our primitive Portuguese we ask for water, and a woman indicates to follow her. We enter more of a compound than a village , and the keystone arch is engraved “1786”. A gentleman steering his cow in to it’s bed for the night shows us the source of a natural spring that is enclosed and gated under a cross. Pure deliciousness. Overhead grape vines created a cool retreat and marked the entrance to narrow stone paths worn and scarred by 200 years of rustic living in the high mountains.
While we filled our bottles the man and woman disappear, and we are left to gape in awe feeling we had stepped back in time. The heavy stone walls and narrow passageways held stores we could only imagine. This very experience was worth every drop of sweat
Night was approaching and since our hosts did not reappear, we finally turned and rolled slowly down to the paved road in search of place to hide away for a night. The small paved road carried only a few vehicles an hour, so we easily found a little used access path curved away from the pavement and into the pine forest. There a soft bed of pine needles and a perfect camp site waited for us.