A quite spontaneous idea of paddling some rivers flowing into the Atlantic ocean in the low water period for the most accessible regions finally turned out into a well-planned and thought-through trip.
So, when the locals asked us in Portuguese: “Where are you from?”, we told them in German, Dutch, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, French and English: “We are from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Russia and Israel”.
We were lucky – it had been raining hard just before our coming. We were unlucky – there wasn’t a single rain drop during the whole trip. It was hot and sunny all the time, so we didn’t have to put anything on under our dry suits except for some light thermal underwear. The sky was clear and cloudless all these days. But hundrends of small creeks were feeding the riviers, all the grass and bushes were wet and even roads were sometimes wet. The water in some rivers went away for only a couple of centimeters a day. The reason for all that was the dew or extreme air humidity even in the hottest days and the respective dew point. I have never seen so much dew in my life – in the mornings all surfaces were covered with 5 millimeters of water.
We started with the nearest river to the Porto airport – the Louredo river. The water in it was below average, and that very first day tuned us on for the rest of the trip. Every day went according to the same plan – we hurriedly looked for put in’s and take out’s on the map and then slowly went up and down the serpentines. We usually started our trips with low water sections where the river flows with considerable rapids between some big rocks. Then the drops became bigger, the river bed more narrow and the number of rocks smaller. The main part of all sections were steep granite slides and drops. They were mainly very nice and clear, which makes your way through them really fun in both high and low water. Then these slides and drops finished abruptly, rocks and bushes started and one hour before the sunset we came to the finishing sector. Then we had to cycle back to the car for about 1 hour. The road almost never followed the river, but went high up into the mountains or even in the next valley and then gradually went down leading us to a put in.After the dark we usually set out to the next river and somewhere on the way we stopped to have dinner and to sleep. This was our daily routine for 6 days and the following rivers: Louredo, Cavado, 2 sections of Castro Laboreiro and the Spanish Tea and Oitaven.
Oitaven turned out to be the richest in obstacles and the most technically demanding. The same river also keeps the level of water at its highest.
Tea turned out to be the “dirtiest”,but still much fun and possible at low water
Castro Laboreiro got the title of the most epic and the farthest from civilization and roads. It also has plenty of waterfalls, it is very clean and deserves a couple of dozens of other epithets.
I have absolutely no idea how we could have done this without my camper van. The option with a rented cottage in one of the places could also have been possible if we had known all our rivers with their put in’s and take out’s beforehand, had kayaked every other day only, had had a driver to shuttle around and had refused from some of the rivers (Paiva in Portugal, for instance).
After 6 days the rivers drained almost completely. So we stayed overnight in a romantic place called Patos near the ocean, rented some surfboards and had a nice go on surfing.
When we got bored with surfing, we found a climbimg guidebook for Galicia and spent 2 days in the picturesque, but a bit strange from a climber’s viewpoint rocks. Rock-climbimg is very popular with the Spanish people, that’s why on Sunday we got in a real traffic jam in the climbing sector.
My notes about the region
- The people in Galicia are very friendly despite the fact that their average income is quite low. The people here love being outdoor and doing sports like mountain biking, surfing, rock-climbing, etc. There are some kayakers as well.
- When you cross the border from Portugal to Spain, the road sign says “Galicia”, but not “Espana”.
- The people of Portugal are even friendlier than those of Spain.
- People in Portugal speak English well, even in the most rural places. They watch non-dubed movies. Most Portuguese people unlike Spanish speak and understand at least some English. Older generations speak French well. And most people are good at Spanish because it is just very similar to Portuguese. So you don’t have to speak Portuguese in Portugal!
- There are many good roads in Portugal. In villages they are usually steep and narrow, but in the countryside they’ve got perfect surface, road marking and signs. Traditional toll roads (with special ladies taking the money) are fairly cheap, but the modern ones with the electronic system of number plates’ reading are too expensive for vans.
- Spain has got perfect roads. It is difficult to believe but the poorest regions of this poor country with cows and goats in the streets and instant siesta have perfect wide roads with mirror-like asphalt even in the farthest nooks. Sometimes the quality of the roads makes you think of inappropriate expenditures as far as road-building in the EU is concerned. One of these perfect roads leads from a tiny village to a total dead end where there is the only hiking route which has hardly ever seen any tourists at all.
- The mountain regions of Portugal are unbelievably picturesque, and the nature there is still untouched by the agriculture. Wild camping is possible almost everywhere and is not banned or forbidden in any way. Many places have some special facilities for camping like drinking fountains or tables and benches.
- In the mountains of Portugal the camper van consumes 20 liters of diesel for every 100 km.
- Restaurants in villages of both Portugal and Spain are not very interesting. They cook food mainly at night only and it isn’t exciting in any way – just ordinary food usually with a big slice of meat.
- On Friday nights big Spanish cities go crazy with discos, bars and other parties! Be careful!
I want to thank my new friends Bas and Seppi for everything in general, and for the fact that you didn’t break my camper van in particular!
All photos by Seppi Strohmeier