So last June I tried something new (to me). I know what you’re all thinking but no… nothing to do with sexy cheese!
Being there in Gerês, surrounded by mountain and trees, bugs and springs around almost every corner, I was sitting down with a coffee and thinking to myself: I don’t want to do this… I want to be a hiker!
The truth is, if you’re surrounded by nature it’s only logical to want to explore it – preferably without a car. So we went to the tourist office to choose one of the official hiking trails. Some were too easy, others too difficult, so we opted for something in between: 9 km with a little bit of urban landscape, lots of green and nothing too steep. The girl at the tourism office assured us that the trail was well signaled. Our choice: trilho da águia do Sarilhão. You can find the bilingual leaflet here and here.
Before I go on to the pretty pictures I’d just like to bring to your attention some basic things you should know about hiking (unless you’re an experienced hiker, of course).
A few things to remember before you go hiking:
– check with the local tourism office for leaflets and to know if there’s any trail that has been altered for some reason (like heavy rain, etc.);
– take note of the local/national emergency numbers and any other data that might be useful should you get lost or find yourself in any other emergency situation. The national emergency number in Portugal is 112;
– look up the expected weather conditions for the day and place that you’ll be going to;
– unless it’s an easy peasy trail with lots of urban landscape you might want to go hiking with a guide;
– remember to take water and maybe a few basic snacks to munch on if you’re feeling hungry and/or with low blood pressure;
– take a small first-aid kit with you;
– you don’t need to have top quality equipment but there’s a little thing called “common sense” when choosing adequate shoes and clothes for hiking (or maybe it’s your mother’s voice echoing inside your head). A hiking pole can be your best friend when hiking, making it easier to walk in rocky terrain.
Some specific aspects to bear in mind when hiking in Gerês:
– some people underestimate Gerês and have just a liiiitle bit too much confidence in their hiking skills – once or twice every year helicopters have to go and find those same guys in the mountain;
– although Gerês is in the North it can be very hot in the Summer months, especially around midday – bear that in mind when planning your hike. Fog can also set in very quickly, which can be an obvious problem if you don’t have many hours of sunlight left;
– wild animals usually avoid humans (smart, aren’t they?). However, there are a few snakes in the area (including poisonous ones) and wolves. It’s highly unlikely you’ll cross paths with a wolf or that it will want to eat you (lambs are tastier than tourists).
All this being said we went hiking without a guide – but we had the food, the water, the small first-aid kit and a basic hiking pole. It was a fairly cloudy day in June, not too hot… perfect for a walk!
The trail starts off here, next to the museum dedicated to Vilarinho das Furnas, the submerged village I’ve mentioned before:
After a bit of more or less “urban” landscape you pass under a bridge (which actually belongs to a camping park, although you’re outside).
And then the real fun begins. You start going up…
There’s a small stream that runs side by side with the trail at this point.
And then you notice someone avoiding pictures.
The landscape gets a little different.
At the top you get a resting spot. Standing here I noticed how silent it was. The only thing I could “hear” was a gentle breeze rushing through the bushes. It was almost spooky how quiet everything was.
Then you start going down – careful!
This was actually the most dangerous part of the trail for me: because it had rained the night before all those big rocks and boulders were really slippery. For a while (a big while) you’re in a sort of green corridor, always going down.
After the bit that was, in fact, the hardest and longest of this hike, we were glad we saw the way out of this “corridor”. Needless to say, the hiking poles were very useful in this part. Looking back… Ouch!
Also looking back, but from a wider perspective, you realise you were, in fact, in the middle of all those trees, unseen from anyone at either end of this green corridor. Made me feel like a ninja hiker. 😀
In front of you stands the dam of Vilarinho das Furnas, which I’ve mentioned before. You go further down, passing by some of the Roman millenarium markers.
Although I understand that for a serious hiker this would be like a walk in the park (see what I did there?) to me it was the first serious hiking experience I ever had. We didn’t have any problems whatsoever but the security issue became a serious concern to me when we came across a French couple coming in the opposite way, asking us for directions and with a map that was vague, to say the least. Our leaflet looked like a military map compared to what they had. So yes, preparation is important!
In the end, I really appreciated this experience and am totally looking forward to more of this! Hiking is a combo of exercise and sightseeing, with the advantage that, depending on the trail, you get to see things you wouldn’t otherwise see while in a car.