View Sidebar
Driving Through Douro

Driving Through Douro

March 6, 2019 6:14 pmComments are Disabled

We rented a car today in Porto and embarked on a small, but significant, 60-km trek through the Douro valley to get to our next “port” of call, Peso da RĂ©gua.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being transported back in time without leaving the comfort of your Jeep Escalade. As we drove into the countryside and the roads got narrower and narrower and the turns got sharper and steeper, we could imagine we were no different than wine merchants and grape vendors who traveled these mountain roads before us. We overlooked the vineyards in the valley with their stepped acreage, glistening in the sun from intermittent showers, and we were immersed in hundreds of years of tradition.

The river snaking through the verdant valley traces a course not unlike it has traced for thousands of years. The yeoman farmers of this steppe were cultivating grapes long before the Romans and, in 800 years of Portuguese national history, have sold their wares to kings, princes, sultanates, conquistadors, tavern keepers, sailors, villagers, and of course, tourists.

Driving through the valley you notice how old, and poor, much of the countryside is. Homes with peeling paint and sun-bleached roofs that have seen far better days; villagers sitting on their stoops watching traffic go by as they take long drags on their cigarettes; the omnipresence of the old and the notable absence of children playing in the streets. Restaurants with plastic outdoor furniture and few guests. It is a sleepy region, perhaps in a low season, but even at its most active it reminds me of many areas of the developing world I have explored.

It is in this enchanting, rural and oftentimes disquieting countryside that the fado style of music we were listening to yesterday makes sense: a soulful, proud longing for national recognition, a need to be connected with the provincial ways of life left behind by modernity. It is not a coincidence that fado’s history starts at the height of the industrial revolution; something that was hard not to think about as our phones dropped in and out of service the higher and closer to mountaintop cathedrals we reached.

We are but tourists in this expansive country region, mere voyeurs of a quieter, harder, less connected form of life, yet one more deeply rooted in national tradition and pride than the cosmopolitan, outward-facing cities we have just left. As tourists, we can only observe and strive to learn about it, but never really understand it.

Tomorrow, we strive to learn more.

Comments are closed