We left our homes in Wellington on a nice and sunny day. Not a breath of wind in the capital, very unusual. Our families came with us to the airport, and helped us take our 80kg of luggage to check-in. We were only allowed 74kg, so managed to stuff our carry-on with what seemed like an impossible amount of shoes, jackets, laptop and accessories. It worked. Just. And then we were off, expecting the 3 days travel to Porto, Portugal to be as easy, relaxing and comfortable as could be. Well, we were quite wrong. Very wrong indeed.
We ended up arriving at our destination host's apartment a day and a half later than expected. Our first delay came just minutes after our firstcheck-in, and they kept coming, leading us to miss our connecting flight from Auckand to Dubai. We struggled with Emirates and Jetstar to get us a hotel and re-book our own flights. We were angered because we had to walk (with all our 80kg of luggage) between the domestic and international airports 3-4 times at midnight and on top of that, had a 24 hour wait with nothing to do - except irritate the Emirates staff trying to deal with our situation.
The only positive experience was the opportunity we had to make a tonne of new friends in the same situation as ourselves.
So, Portugal! Wow, what an amazing place. We were both eager to learn basic Portuguese and try all the local cuisine. With the help of our "Warm Showers" host Jose, we had an amazing experience in Porto.
Porto and its surrounding towns are full of incredible food markets, restaurants and tiled buildings. The disrepair of so many structures and chaotic nature of the place is what made us fall in love with it. We ate a lot of cheap fresh food, spent time at the beach and got lost cycling the tiny and narrow roads that connect every part of Porto. What we learned by this is that in Porto, a dead end doesn't exist. This idea stuck with us and encouraged us to explore as much as possible.
We started cycling in earnest on Tuesday, five days after our arrival. The unusual spring heat got to us immediately but that was soon forgotten as we were more drawn to the incredibly scenic World Heritage Site of the Douro Valley. I personally couldn't resist the many thousands of wild oranges growing within reach whilst cycling the roads. They were juicy, sweet and ten times better than back home in NZ.
Inka developed some very predicable mood swings for a rookie cycle tourer associated with the terrain, it changed from uphill to downhill quickly and was often an hourly experience. Grumbling in granny gear, Inka and I worked our way up 600m to a small town called Ervedosa do Douro.
We decided to call it a day at the top, and as usual, started to hunt for a place to pitch our tent. We cycled around and around, when a truck pulled up. Getting a bit desperate, I asked the farmer Luis, if we could pitch our tent, and wow, how our night turned out. Luis and his fellow Wine/cheese/olive oil makers were having a "party" with lots of amazing food. We were invited, of course, and chatted to Ana, Luis' fourteen year old daughter throughout the festive night.
Port (wine) was plentiful, as was Portugese chit chat and everyone was in a good mood. Invitations for us to visit our new friends "Quintas" or Farms, were coming in left right and centre. Unfortunately, only one farm was in our route. We were also invited on a tour around a local factory. Pickup was at nine, so our farmer friend Manuel came at 8:30 to drive us up the hill and showed off his new factory for a vineyard which has been passed down the generations.
Similar experiences dazzled us throughout Portugal. Some of the best highlights were of course the "winemakers party", our stay at couch surfer host Joao's house in Baiao, along with Jose from Matasinhos, Porto, and finally crossing the border in Barca d'Alva.
The Douro valley was tough and over every hill the scenery was different, often more scenic than before. Along the way we spotted many wind turbines lining the hilltops. More often than not, we noticed large solar panels being used in businesses and also private properties.
We counted three hydro-power projects along the Douro River and compared to New Zealand, we were very impressed how even the most remote parts of Portugal have modern and sustainable means of electricity generation.
Our journey continues in Spain, and after Spain comes France, Germany, Netherlands and plenty more countries over the next eight months. Crossing Portugal only took two weeks, yet it seems like two months has already passed. Every day was a new learning opportunity for us and we are sure that the excitement will continue throughout our journey.