My Greenway Tours, run by Eduardo Mata together with a business associate, and which, on Tripadvisor, ranks #21 out of 133 tours to do in Porto (the other ones mainly being about food/wine, or tours of the town), invited BSqB to come with them on a one-day outdoor adventure tour while I was visiting Porto (Portugal) last week. My wife, who is writing this blog with me, only joined the following day, so I was accompanied by an old German friend of mine, who spent the whole week with me as my fellow blogger and as part of our customary boyz-only annual celebration of madness. I grew up in a small town at the doorstep of the Bavarian Alps and have done my fair share of outdoor adventures in the mountains, but this was an absolute blast!
Eduardo also grew up in the mountains, and clearly was more serious about the mountains than I ever managed to be. He is a certified mountain guide and was joined by one of the freelancers, My Greenway Tours works with, Filipe, also an experienced climber. The two of them picked us up from our hotel at 9:30am, and then our gang of four took off in Eduardo’s Land Rover Discovery. (The 4-wheel drive has a camera and an indoor screen fitted, which came in handy later that day while off-roading.)
While many tour operators in recent years have started to venture into outdoors activities in the mountains, Eduardo has been doing just that for the past twenty years. He lives and breathes the mountains and it is great to see a man with so much passion for his job!
ANCIENT ROMAN GOLD MINES
After about 40 minutes’ drive we arrived in Valongo and stopped at the local 1st Century AD Roman gold mines, that stretch over a vast area there, already half-way up the rocky hill range. We were immediately advised to stay on the trodden paths, because ventilation shafts, some over 50m deep, pierce the surface all over the place and are not always easy to spot. Won’t have to worry about the pension deficit if you stumble into one of those..
The entrance to the mine is still relatively comfortable, with stairs leading down about 100m to the bottom of a vertical cave that allows some sunlight into the darkness. This is also where we were shown a tiny fern that only exists in these mines and caves, nowhere else in Portugal. It covers many of the rocks and – with its tiny leaves – nearly looks like birds’ feathers. Larger ferns and other vegetation gave a similar impression to some of the tropical hotspots around the world, where you feel like you can see Darwin’s evolution happen real-time.
When we put on the bright lights on our hard hats and ventured further into the pitch-black labyrinth of tunnels, caves, and stairs, we thought we got lucky, when we saw what clearly looked like gold (and on other occasions silver) in the walls, only to be told that these were bacteria covering the walls and giving it that peculiar shine. Pity. The condition of the stairs and the floor gradually grew worse, meaning you would have to make more of an effort to make your way, but nothing to worry about.
When we left the mines again after half an hour, we were thinking about all those (mainly Spanish and Portuguese) slaves that worked in unbearable conditions here nearly two thousand years ago, and felt quite lucky to be visiting as tourists.
After a short bit of off-roading we stopped at our next destination, the top of a hill range, where we had a beautiful view of the valley far below us. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, until we realised that Filipe was attaching a rope on a hook just over the edge of the cliff, clearly indicating that he planned on making us climb up that cliff from below.
As some of you know, I am severely afraid of heights and – when emailing with Eduardo during the previous days – the climbing part of the experience very much sounded like a beginners’ class for 5-year olds, exactly my kind of thing. This had not been part of our deal, I thought, while we descended the roughly 15m on a hiking path to the bottom of the cliff.
In the end it was quite an exhilarating experience climbing up that rock face. Well, I know Eduardo will read this, so I should mention that I only made it around 8m of the way up, but it felt a lot higher!! My buddy made it all the way up and had to rub it under my nose for the rest of the day.. great dude..
After we got rid of the climbing gear and made our way back to the 4-wheel drive, we drove to a near-by shack in the valley called Adega Regional O Mineiro (in allusion to its past when it provided sustenance and more than a few cups of red-eye to hungry miners), where we clearly were the only patrons that lived more than 20 minutes’ walk away.
It took no more than five minutes until a ceramic dish with a giant half-meter tall flame and a sausage arrived as a starter and our four glasses were filled with a weird but very delicious mix of white vinho verde (local wine made from unripe green grapes; there is also red vinho verde, bit of a contradiction in terms), lemonade, beer, and some additional sugar. We waited for the flames to burn down (it gives the sausage a smoky taste and removes some of the fat from this hearty meal), then had just finished to cut the sausage into slices, when the main dish, called ‘woodpecker’ in Portuguese (because everyone just uses their own forks to pick bits of the pork, ham, cheese and slices of toast with spicy sauce) arrived. We loved the food. The restaurant’s owner came over to our table a few times, cracking jokes so physical and miner/minor-style crude and outrageous (in a good way), that it was easy to follow, even if you don’t speak a word of Portuguese, it was hilarious. We finished with a small shot each of local red-eye (Eduardo, who was driving, did not drink) and a coffee, then the proper off-roading experience kicked off.
We were feeling safe at all times, but hell, some of the moves Eduardo performed with his 4-wheel drive on these mud tracks next to the abyss did give us goose-pimples. Bit of a roller-coaster, except that there are no rails, it is a lot further up from the ground (across the edge to your left or right), and it isn’t over after five minutes. On one of the craziest bits of the track (you look through the front window and see just 25 meters of road ahead of you and a whole lot of sky – plus the valley very far below you), Eduardo mentioned that he had not tried this track before. Well, interesting to know, we thought, and tried to remind ourselves that he had been doing this type of thing for ages with lots of happy customers. It’s amazing what those vehicles can sustain in terms of shocks. A couple of times Eduardo got out of the car to remove some obstacles and check on the vehicle, but no major disasters. Phew.
We stopped at the top of a hill range just on the opposite side of the valley where we had done some rock-climbing earlier on, and enjoyed the views with a glass of portwine while watching some crazy-man paragliding around us, sometimes no more than 8 or 10 meters away from our heads, hovering over the cliff edge.
On the short way back to Porto we charged our by now nearly empty mobiles on the USB sockets inside the Land Rover and chatted about the awesome day. My wife has already made it abundantly clear that she insists on me taking her on this trip sometime soon. We’re likely to be back to Porto later this year.