Published: September 29th 2008September 29th 2008
Today was our second full day in Portugal. Our last morning in Salamanca I had a final serving of churros and chocolate (they really are as good as I had imagined!) and then found our way out of the city - thanks to Sam’s careful planning which involved a walk-through from the parking garage back to the hotel.
The drive out of Salamanca led us through changing landscapes and crops. We passed lots of cows of various breeds - there were brown cows and white cows and black cows and charcoal colored cows. After an hour of driving we stopped in Ciudad Rodrigo, a frontier town near the border with Portugal. This town, on the top of a hill, is an ancient walled city that looks out over the plains. We walked the wall and stopped for coffee and pastries. (Within two hours I had churros and chocolate and a cream filled croissant -bleh!) There is so much that we miss on the highway and we enjoyed this unplanned detour. As we began to climb into the hills we were back in wine and olive country and then in pine trees, finally dropping down to the Rio Dao, along which
Cafe solo in the plaza
we are staying for 4 nights.
We are in another agri-turisimo, but here we have our own small house with a porch where we are spending lots of time drinking wine and reading. The farm has 3 dogs and 5 puppies. The dogs are well behaved, but smart. We just took a short walk and returned to discover that the well-behaved dogs had jumped on the porch table and helped themselves to the last of our graham crackers! The mother dog looks like she is starving and I gave in and let her have some of the fat from the $32 per pound Jamon Iberico that I was enjoying. (We only bought a few precious shavings of the ham at that price!)
Yesterday we went to Praia de Mira a small resort town about an hour from where we are staying. The drive took us across a small mountain range on narrow winding roads with amazing views. We passed lots of cyclists but not so many cars, which was great! We did pass several prostitutes. I don’t know if I mentioned this from our first few days, but just as we had seen in Catalonia, on seemingly quiet
country roads, periodically there will be a scantily clad woman sitting beside the road on a folding chair. When we saw them at the beginning of the trip we thought that surely they were waiting for a bus, but there is a pattern of dress and behavior that seems to suggest otherwise.
The beach was wonderful. It was sunny and hot and this usually windy section of coast was calm yesterday. There were very few people on the beach which stretches for miles in both directions. There were many fishermen to watch - they fish with huge nets. The nets are taken miles off shore by boats and then later pulled in by a winch on a tractor. There were tractors up and down the beach pulling in nets. We watched one pulling in rope for nearly two hours before the net arrived, loaded with thousands of fish. Once the net was onshore a group of about 20 men gathered to sort the fish into numerous plastic flats. The main catch was sardines but there were larger fish that were tossed into other flats while others were just tossed into the sand where they flopped around for a few
minutes until they suffocated. I wanted to rescue each one, but the area was roped off preventing my involvement. Many people gathered to watch and to buy sardines as they were being sorted. Plastic shopping bags appeared from pockets and the fisherman would dump in as many fish as the bag (or the person carrying it) could hold. There were also hundreds of sea gulls circling above waiting for the discarded fish.
We had lunch at a restaurant on the sand and enjoyed grilled rock fish and olives and bread and salad and wine. It was a really good meal in a perfect setting.
Today we drove in the opposite direction to the edge of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, a range of rugged granite peaks within a park that is Portugal’s largest protected area and has Portugal’s highest peak. We had wanted to hike, but to get to any trail heads we would need to drive on roads that the guide book describes as “hairy,” or “tortuous,” or “a near vertical downhill with switchbacks.” So, we decided to visit a town I had read about that only involved a 10% grade with more gentle switchbacks.
We drove down the mountainside on what appeared to be an unused road and suddenly arrived in Sandomil and I foolishly followed the sign to the center of town which meant that within a few meters we were wedged between old stone buildings on a path of cobblestones that was only identified as a street by the fact that it had road signs! We parked the car and wandered around a bit - it is Sunday so not much was open, but we found a small café where we had a cup of coffee, and enjoyed a picnic of bread and cheese and fruit in a park by the river with a view of the Roman Pont that is still used by cars.
This evening we took one of the canoes out on the river in front of the farm. The water level is low so we had to muck through the mud for the last few feet, but it was worth it. The river here is more of a reservoir and so the water was nearly still and we paddled up stream for awhile past old foundations made visible now by the diminished water level of late summer,
Praia de Mira
Fisherman sorting sardines from nets
and then turned and came back downstream towards the setting sun. When we neared the shore where we put in there was a herd of sheep grazing on the tender plants that have sprung up on the exposed riverbank. It was lovely.
We have one more day here and then will head to the southern most point of Portugal before returning to Spain.
There are more photos below