Hiking and backpacking remain my favourite activities, but unhappy knees and feet keep urging me to find alternate forms of adventure. Horse treks (one broken arm), dog sledding (one concussion, one badly bruised back), rafting Arctic rivers (no injuries) and a camel ride (never again!) have now been joined by kayaking. Never stop trying!
From Oporto we travel up river by train, then drive to our first quinta, where we stay two nights and are introduced to our kayaks. What a mixed bunch we are: three couples with kayaking experience and two Canadian women of a certain age (one sporting a newly healed broken arm), both eager but lacking basic skills. “Not to worry,” says Nancy, our head guide, “This isn’t a race.”
The Douro is about as tame as a large river can be. Cutting through a deep valley, it ranges from glassy smooth to mildly choppy, the main excitement being the wake of an occasional large boat passing by. From the shores rise granite hills covered by a thin layer of soil in which grapes and trees of citrus, almonds, olives and countless other fruits take root and thrive. The river offers a window into the lives of people who have lived in harmony with the land for centuries.
How quiet and peaceful it is! No sound of motors or traffic, no other people, just scenery. Our first day is in a national park, where the steep slopes are covered with brush.
Gradually we enter the realm of vineyards, where no patch of arable ground is wasted. Planted on slopes so steep that they are often terraced, served by dirt paths too narrow for machines, the vines require the skills and robust energy of a people long used to hard labour.
Our quinta is a masterful combination of ancient and modern. Originally a two-storey structure of stone, with animals below, people above, the house has been restored without disturbing what remained of the earlier building. Slanted floors, walls that are not squared, doorways of unequal height – all add to the charm.
Our accommodations were not without modern comforts, however.
We start each day wondering what new vistas and experiences it will offer, wanting to delve deeper into this beautiful land and its culture.