Thursday, March 26, 2015

Roasting Chestnuts

Happy as... well... Mike! He loves his food!                              .
We’re sitting in front of a wood fire. A roaring wood fire in Portugal, roasting chestnuts while we warm our frozen bones. A bit of an unusual situation as Portugal, being in the southern half of Europe, is known for its mild climate. Not the last couple of days though. It was freezing cold. We had been riding over the Spanish highlands towards the Portuguese border battling a strong headwind. The night before we had a full blown storm and near freezing temperatures. A storm that wasn’t forecasted.

All the forecast had said was ‘mild wind’… The bikes didn’t think so as we all had to drop back to 4th gear. Black clouds threatened to dump their goodies on us as well, but we were lucky to escape most of it. Just 50 km in today’s ride we had to stop at a petrol station, not just to fill up the bikes but more so to fill ourselves with hot chocolate! Barely 30 km further we had to stop again as fingers were getting numb and our feet had become sore from cold. The wind was howling, there is no other description for it, and being this high up in the notoriously cold Spanish highlands didn't help.

The day before, riding from Toledo towards Salamanca, had been cold too. Until Avila all had been reasonably fine. We stopped to take photos of the old and huge stone wall and enjoyed the sunshine. We had left early so the morning ride had been cold but nothing we couldn’t handle. In the afternoon though a storm picked up out of nowhere, a full blown storm. About 180 km later we had sore arms, a sore neck and cold fingers. We found a reasonably sheltered spot and pitched the tents. All seemed good until the wind changed direction and buffeted the tent all night…

Freshly roasted chestnuts, straight from the wood fire
The next morning all seemed much better. It was freezing but the sun was out again and all seemed set for a nice day… so I wouldn’t need the thermal liner, I thought. Wrong! It was colder than the day before and boy did we notice it! The road towards the Portuguese border didn’t do anything to warm us up either. It's basically a strip of bitumen over the highlands. A non-inspiring landscape where the winds have free reign.

Our host at Cepo Verde, cooking steak in traditional Portuguese style!

The border into Portugal is a natural border, carved over centuries by the Maças river, which is Portuguese for ‘Apple river’. We made a few photos next to the sign. Mike tried to do his by now traditional jump but was struggling as he was simply too cold. Shortly after the border we found ourselves in a very different country. A country that seemed very friendly, sensible even. We liked Portugal right from the start.

Turning off the main road we found our path blocked by sheep. Natural sheep, as the old shepherd guiding the mob called them. Aren’t all sheep natural I wondered, but he disagreed. He doesn’t keep his sheep in a meadow but guides his herd through the mountains with invaluable help from his dogs, and that makes his sheep ‘natural’. We stopped to take some photos and enjoyed the sight of an old guy herding his sheep, a way of life that has been around here for hundreds of years.

Later in the afternoon we stopped at the Cepo Verde campground, operated by the very friendly Cavadez family, who invited us to come in from the cold and into their restaurant (which wasn’t even open yet) to warm up next to the wood fire I described in the intro. When we asked about the chestnut tradition… we were shown how to roast them and of course how they taste! Chestnuts used to be eaten regularly in Portugal for centuries, until the introduction of the potato. The potato introduction saw the demand for chestnuts reduced to virtually nil. Luckily the chestnut is making a sort of comeback now. Having tasted them we fully agree. They taste much better than potatoes. They are even better from an environmental point of view as unlike potatoes that have to be planted every year and require  heaps of pesticides, the chestnut trees can grow for 400 years and produce chestnuts every year. Later in the evening we were treated to a traditional Portuguese meal as well! A great way to end our first day in Portugal. Cepo Verde can be found at GPS coordinates: 41.845735,-6.860543