Most of my travels concentrate on wilderness or the natural world, where, in a very brief time, I am immersed in my environment, touching its reality. How different the experience as a tourist in a foreign culture. A ten-day tour of Portugal provides little opportunity to interact with the Portuguese, especially since, with the exception of the owners of the quintas, almost everyone we meet is employed to serve us.
Each day we have to drive to our put-in point, since the quintas are always located on high ground.
It’s a blistering hot day and we are happy to stop at a sandy beach for lunch in the shade of a eucalyptus tree and a swim in the cool water.
The peaceful water allows us to hug the banks looking for fruit to pick.
The occasional large boat produces a gentle wake that sends us bobbing up and down. Who’s having more fun: the few passengers on the boat or our hardy band of paddlers?
Our plan this day was to visit a newly opened museum of regional pictographic art but we arrived too late. Still, the drive to this ultra-modern building high above the river was rewarded with a spectacular view.
Portugal has had devastating wildfires this summer, and the museum site gave a clear view of one of them.
Our quinta for the night is an organic farm and vineyard. The owner, family and staff are incredibly welcoming, treating us to the usual pre-dinner port and the best roasted lamb I have ever eaten. For once, our talkative group is silenced as we gnaw bones and lick fingers, table manners which we are assured are more than pleasing to the cook.
Early next morning the owner takes us on a tour of his property, accompanied by a trained bird dog and a bouncing puppy that already knows instinctively how to point. We see cork trees and sheep, almond and olive trees, cabins for hunters who come for the quail and wild boar, and more wildfire.
The lower part of the cork, which is apparently the bark, has been harvested. In seven years the cork will have regrown enough to be harvested again.
The owner’s love for his land and animals translates into joy as he explains how he irrigates, tends and harvests.
All too soon it’s time to return to our kayaks. I wish we could stay another night here to see more of the quinta, enjoy the cuisine and visit the museum, but a busy day awaits.