Pass the “Covide” Sign, then Arrive at Your Destination
I am biased, but it’s okay. I love my home country. I particularly love it as a travel destination. It is always new, and there is always a hidden oasis to find.
Portugal may be a small country, but it is embraced by a huge coastline. Somehow the vastness of the ocean makes us feel less small. And somewhere in that endless horizon, no place ever looks the same, but always feels like home.
Needless to say, it’s been a long year. With restrictions and fear drawing lines of confinement around us, it was hard to travel abroad. But maybe this was a good thing. With businesses small and large closing down because of the economic toll of the pandemic, supporting local tourism never made more sense. Particularly in Portugal where 10% of the country’s GDP relies on tourism.
So we decided to head North, to the great National Park of Gerês. This protected region is the perfect refuge to reconnect with nature, in its purest sense. Life is slow and integrated with the land.
Although a dream-like tourist destination, the natural sites have not been contaminated by attractions and artificial artifacts. Instead, you will find the old villages and communities as they have been for years. Traditional, quiet, and very Portuguese.
The drive from Lisbon to Gerês is around 4 hours. An easy morning drive. Upon arrival in the region, you will drive through the endless winding roads that take you around the Park. Caution: drive slowly.
You will be spending quite some time on the road, getting to the different waterfalls and natural lakes, or hiking trails. In my opinion, this is part of the beauty of the trip. Open your windows, float in the greenery, trace the lines of the rivers and all that jazz. You will feel healthier from smelling the fresh air alone.
One of the best features of this region is the natural water sources. While driving through the roads, you can spot them easily, embedded into the stone walls, flowing continuously. Stop your car on the curb and fill up your bottle. You will be intensely refreshed by the ice-cold, natural water. It is safe to drink, always cold, and you will not need to buy any plastic bottles the whole trip. Save the trees!
As you cruise around, you will also notice the different village names that come and go. For native speakers, this can be quite a laugh, but on this particular trip, we came across a village name that can resonate with anyone familiar with 2020: Covide.
We were on our way to the Vilarinho Dam and didn’t expect the irony of this sign. So we stopped the car and took some pictures of the sign, and with the sign. At the heart of the pandemic, we felt free here. The sign seemed funny to us here, as opposed to alarming. So we laughed, got back into the car, and continued to our destination.
Looking back now, I see the sign as more than what I made of it at the time. For many people, Covid has been an ending; a final destination on their journey. But for many others — myself included — it has merely been a passing stop. An opportunity to take stock on your way to another destination. A challenge to make the arrival feel even more gratifying. Like a narrow road that opens into the vastness of a river bed.
Nature is the perfect reminder of gratitude. Especially in the midst of chaos and fear. The landscape is its beautiful self, and all you have to do is surrender to it. Arrive.
So if it doesn’t look good yet, maybe you just haven’t arrived yet. Keep driving.
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