Day 21 – Tiring but beautiful

Our wild camping spot last night was gorgeous and I was looking forward to waking up to the amazing view again.  But I woke up at 5am to the sound of RAIN!  Why?!  We were supposed to have two days of nice weather before the rain returned!  I was so disappointed that I stayed awake in a rage until the alarm went off, when it was still raining.  But we lay there for another 20 minutes and… it stopped!  I poked my head out of the tent and saw the full moon in a gap between the clouds, the sky brightening.  Hmm… looks like it might be safe.

Camping spot in the morning light

Camping spot in the morning light

We packed up the wet tent but the weather was decent again, beautiful cloud formations over colourful hills and valleys, the sound of the rivers bubbling in the background and the sun starting to shine on the hilltop above us.  At least the clouds meant that we were warm in the morning for a change!  We breakfasted at the picnic table just below where we’d camped and started up the pass towards the Portuguese border.

The ride warmed us up pretty quickly and it was humid but luckily we were in the shady side of the valley, the sun not high enough to reach us over the mountain yet.  We only saw a handful of cars all morning as we made our way up towards the border past purple, yellow and green hills with rounded rock formations sticking up here and there.

After we crossed into Portugal at the abandoned border post, the quality of the road surface deteriorated.  We bumped downhill for a bit, then came back up again, all the while in a tunnel of sunshine dappled by gnarled oaks, proud pines and perfectly delicate beeches.  The beech trees with their rows of thin bright leaves soaking up the light, leaving the ground below them covered only in coppery crinkled leaves from years gone by.  We crossed over rocky rivers of perfectly clear water and filled our bottles from the mountain streams.  The forest was fresh and fragrant and we think we’ve established that the tall trees with the peeling bark and thick narrow leaves smell the best!  Yet to find out what they are.

Tunnel of trees

Tunnel of trees

Lovely scenery in the national park

Lovely scenery in the national park

Once we’d reached the last of the uphill for the morning, we saw the first of the crazy switchbacks – down we go!  Amazing views, scary corners but hardly any traffic, huzzah!

After dozens of switchbacks on the lovely quiet roads, we came past some picnic sites and there were a few people around.  Then there were three switchbacks that weren’t paved like the rest of the road, they were cobbled!!  So we took those slowly and arrived in the town of Geres where we resupplied at the hidden bakery and grocer, ogled the fancy hotel spas, had second lunch and got free wifi with a coffee.  It was all pretty touristy and built up and it wasn’t as nice as the reserve we’d just come from, but we did need its handy facilities.

View leaving Geres

View leaving Geres

Out of Geres, we had a bit more downhill to do (zoom!) where we exited the national park before reaching the part of the Rio Caldo that is so wide it looks like a big lake.  Then we crossed over and headed up out of the valley, more switchbacks surrounded by houses with big vegetable gardens, orange trees and vineyards.  We sweated up in the afternoon sun and were sorry for the lack of hard shoulder given the (relatively) heavy traffic.  But we made good progress, the views of the valley got better all the way up and it was a beautiful day to be out.

Rio Caldo looking lake-like

Rio Caldo looking lake-like

Views on the way up

Views on the way back up

Every town and village here has a stone church and rectangular graveyard and, in this part of Portugal, quite often a few shrines too.  The churches almost all have benches and water fountains near them and are usually in the middle of town, near a few shops, so they’re really useful for us and we often stop for one of our lunches by a church and wave at the curious locals.  Today, after our big uphill out of town in the heat, we stopped at a church as the 3pm bells were chiming.  We stepped off our bikes with shaky legs and ate bread and cheese and Portuguese egg custard tarts to recover.

Then we continued through rural landscapes, gently up and down hill in the partial sunshine.  The clouds were coming in and taking the edge off the late afternoon heat.  At one point we took a lovely quiet road through some forest used by an adventure centre as a quad bike and paint-ball playground, all quiet in the spring.  We thought about camping there but it was still relatively early and we didn’t really want to stop.

Still going up

Still going up

So on we went, the ups becoming steadily harder on the achy legs and the downs giving us a chance to get our bums out of the saddles for a minute.  The area was quite built up and the camping options didn’t look great.  I also knew the forecast was for a rainy night and a very rainy morning.  So we headed towards the town of Fafe, sort of hoping it had a hostel but also still hoping to camp because it was so lovely right then.

I saw a sign for a rest area / picnic site and we headed down the side road to look for it, down an insanely steep hill to a river with no camping options and with another big up on the other side!  How far is this rest area?  We decided to ditch the idea and go back towards town but had to get back up the crazy steep hill!  Dave pedalled up in granny gear, committed once he’d started because he was clipped in with his cleats!  I walked.  Not the best diversion ever.

Stupidly steep hill

Stupidly steep hill

The last few kilometres towards the centre of town, the hills were ridiculously steep and the cars were overtaking quite close.  We were passing shops and houses but there were still a few fields with vines and veggies – and even a sheep tethered up by the side of the road!  We could see the ugly buildings in the valley and dreaded what Fafe might have in store for us.  As it turned out, it was a closed visitor centre, some ice lollies to pay for wifi and subsequently finding out that the only place to stay in the whole town was the Comfort Inn.

There was no way we were riding any further, we’d already done a hilly 65km and it was two hours before dark, so we begrudgingly checked in.  The room is actually nice and the rain started hammering down just after we’d had deliciously warm showers, so it seems like it’s worth it so far.  And breakfast is included – yay!  Dinner isn’t though, so Dave is making chorizo tomato pasta on the stove at the desk.  Smells good!

– Anna

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