Friday, January 6, 2012

A Week in Portugal / Day Five

Sorraia stallion on the range at Herdade do Font'Alva

Note: All photos taken by the author

I daresay I make a rather poor travel journalist!

It was back late last September when I made the long and stressful journey to Portugal to see the "homeland" of the Sorraia horses. I returned to Manitoulin Island on the fifth of October -- three months have gone by, Ravenseyrie is in the thick of winter and I am just now typing up my entry for "Day Five" which took place on Saturdayy, October the 1st. Such procrastination, eegaads! It was not my intention to drag out the telling of my trip and perhaps I can finish the last three days in a more timely manner.

Readers will recall that Day Four began with a visit to Herdade do Font'Alva and the hopeful anticipation of meeting Jose Luis d'Andrade. With his time that day already spoken for, it was suggested we come the following day and if Jose Luis was still not able to personally show us his horses, he granted us permission to walk the various ranges where the Sorraia stallions and mares were living.

Before trying our luck again at Font'Alva, my generous guide, Hardy Oelke, wanted to take me to a place he knew where there was a Neolithic dolmen nearby one of his favourite, "out of the way" spots with a grand view of the surrounding countryside in a remote area of the Alentejo region. Portugal is world renown for its megalithic monuments erected by prehistoric pagans. The many dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs would have made for an exciting week's worth of touring the countryside on their own, but having only a short seven days available for my sojourn to Portugal and many Sorraian "hotspots" to visit, I had to content myself with this modest, topless dolmen. For an closer look at some of the hundreds of megaliths in Portugal, you'll find nice photos and interesting information on the "Ancient Wisdom" website.

The surrounding area was lovely, with inviting shadows tumbling down the rocks into the greenery of the valley. The high view would have been very pretty indeed, except (like everyday during my week in Portugal) the intense heat was accompanied by stale, humid air which limited the clarity and distance such viewing areas could present.

After enjoying this bit of wilderness, Hardy, his wife Rose and I walked back to the Opel and resumed our drive to Font'Alva.

We were once again met with disappointment when we arrived at the d'Andrade estate. Jose Luis was not on the property, but quite an assortment of hunting parties were. Thankfully, as we went off to the range where Hardy knew the Sorraia stallions were kept, we were heading in the opposite direction of the different groups of men toting their rifles accompanied by expectant dogs at their sides. Nevertheless, when Hardy parked on the side of the service road and we got out to begin our hike we heard a gunshot which caused me to spontaneously jump and I began hoping that we were not going to be walking into an area where these hunters were aiming their deadly shots--no doubt the Oelkes were hoping the same.

We found a section of the barbed wire fence that allowed for a human body to slip through--though this was perhaps a bit easier for Hardy and Rose as they didn't have to hike a skirt up and expose their tender inner thighs to a potential bite from the barbs! More than once on our many outings I received a concerned look from Hardy regarding my habit of hiking out in a skirt and soft suede boots. Well, I just don't wear trousers of any sort anymore--its been almost two decades since I quit tight blue jeans and other such attire. Typically around our own farm, I wear split skirts (custom made by my very talented mother!) which are much less binding, afford great freedom of movement and allow me to climb fences or sit astride a horse with graceful ease. I wear them bare-legged in the summer (they are MUCH cooler than blue jeans) and layer wool leggings under them in the winter. But in the spirit of wanting to pack lightly for this journey, I left the voluminous split skirts at home and wore instead a traditional skirt in lightweight denim. As hot as it was in Portugal during my visit, this skirt was the better choice, being even cooler than the sturdier workman's denim and heavy cotton duct fabric of the split skirts. And, I am pleased to say, I became quite adept at crossing fences without exposing too much of myself to whomever might be nearby and never once did I snag any tender flesh! No one was slowed down by this hiker in a skirt! And anyhow...just think of those burly Scots from days gone by and all the hiking in kilts that took place through a landscape of gorse and thistles--no one would question their choice of attire, but rather marvel at their dexterity to avoid prickly foliage!

As we began to take in the stallion range, we pretty early on saw what appeared to be a beautiful black Percheron excited by our presence. Hardy relayed that he had heard Jose Luis kept a draft horse. This fellow was certainly a beauty and looked to be in great condition.

Soon a small, somewhat chunky, thick-necked dun horse wandered on the scene. He didn't look like a pure Sorraia, with very short legs, bunching type musculature rather than the longer, leaner muscling typical for Sorraias and seemed to be a companion of the draft horse. He also looked like he had been getting roughed up by other horses, judging by the numerous bite marks on his tawny coat. [After I posted this, I had an exchange with Hardy regarding this dun stud and was told he is not a crossbred, but represents an off-type, one that neither he or I would recommend in a Sorraia preservation breeding program.]

We continued on and I photographed just a few of the many enchanting rock forms we passed, some of which may have been Neolithic dolmens similar to the one we had visited earlier in the morning.

In fact after my return from Portugal, subsequent research on the internet turned up a research paper titled: Antigüedades de Fontalva / Neo-eneolítico e época romana What a man Dr. Ruy d'Andrade was! In addition to all that he is renowned for (including his former mayorship of the town of Elvas!) we can add to his many great foresighted, social-minded, preserving-for-posterity undertakings, the willingness he and his family possessed to allow the appropriate researchers to study and document the archaeological prehistory of their estate. The article says that the d'Andrades faithfully donated to the Museu Geológico numerous artifacts they would find on the estate ranging from the Paleolithic to Visgothic time periods.

But I digress again from our subject...the Sorraia horses at Font'Alva...

How spectacular it was! - as we continued our hiking in the stallion range - to have a beautiful dun Sorraia crest the ridge as you see here:

Soon two handsome grullos also could be discerned from the shadows of the Cork Oak trees, with a string of bulls in the back:

Off farther to the left was a threesome of two duns and a black grullo:

Some young Iberian bulls were also on this range and they were much more disturbed by our presence than were the horses, taking to flight at first sight of us:

I don't know whether we saw all the Sorraia stallions living in this particular range, but after a bit more hiking, Hardy determined it was time for us to begin searching for the mares which he last recalled being turned out several ranges beyond the one were presently were. Through the barbed wire fence once again and off we went, with me becoming completely disoriented in no time at all, but fully trusting that Hardy had his bearings and when all was said and done we would see some Sorraia mares and find our way back to the Opel on this very hot autumn day in Portugal.

What a spectacular landscape to be hiking in! I loved it--even though I was dusty, sweaty and beginning to get slightly weary--there was simply too much to see and wonder about to feel anything but happy to be where I was, even though it was obvious my chance to spend any time with Jose Luis d'Andrade himself was non-existent.

As Rose, Hardy and I hiked in the heat, we each were scanning the ground for good hoof impressions and fresh manure--mostly we saw only dried up traces of horses having been pastured in these ranges. How many did we pass through in search of the mares? I lost track...five, maybe six different ranges (Jose Luis told Hardy that Font'Alva comprises 2,000 hectares!) Sometimes we saw mirages of Sorraia in the shadows, sometimes we only spotted bulls in retreat. There was one exception in a particular sector we were hiking. While the group of bulls were in retreat, one massive fellow - handsome as he was fearsome - turned and began walking toward us! I don't know about Hardy and Rose, but right then and there I began looking around the landscape to see if there were nearby trees or rocks to clamber up lest Mr. Bull decided we two-legged invaders out to be charged. After stopping and giving us three puny humans a long slow appraisal, Senhor Touro turned and with a stately bearing trotted off to catch up with his range mates.

In one range, I found a most interesting spot where one of those "cattlebeasts" (as Canadians often refer to members of the bovine species) left behind his corporeal body and let his spirit mingle with the twinkling stars. The area where I found these bones almost seemed like it was a "holy" spot, being the top of a small rise with large rocks at the edge of the uppermost section. Not a bad place to lay down and take one's final breath, at least to my way of thinking.

Several feet off from the internment area I found the bull's cranium. Since this lovely treasure would not fit into my carry-on luggage to take back as a souvenir, I did what any romantic artist would do...I found a tree in which to hang it and took a picture instead:

Several hours had gone by and we were beginning to think that the mares were not where Hardy had last viewed them and we may not come across them at all. It was decided we should begin heading back. Honestly, I would not quite know which direction "back" was, especially since we were not retracing our steps exactly, but I knew Hardy was familiar enough with the property that he would find a landmark that would give him all he needed to put us on a trajectory back to the parked car. One such landmark I was happy to see again was the Castelo de Font'Alva. Imagine an estate with its own medieval castle! What a terrific thing it would have been to see this part of Font'Alva, too!

If we had known we were going to have such a difficult time locating where the Sorraia mares were, I would have suggested we should pack a lunch and some liquids and what a terrific picnic break we could have had on the many inviting shaded cool, table-like rocks! But we were a weary group at that point with quite a walk ahead of us and much of the excitement and anticipation had melted away in the heat. When we finally reached the rented Opel, it didn't matter that it was now sitting in full sun and our water was not the least bit cold--it revived us just the same.

Soon we were back on the road headed for a small café that sold the type of ice cream treats Hardy and Rose favour. (There are several of these places Rose and Hardy stop regularly for ice cream on their annual visits to Portugal--a sweet tradition in more ways than one!) For myself, I was hoping to find a dark beer. I knew that I probably wouldn't come across anything as delicious as my Kevin's own brew of Ravenseyrie Stout, but it was worth a try to at least find something heavier than a lager. The proprietor did not speak English and of course, I had forgotten my little Berlitz Portuguese phrase book and I had not taken the trouble to memorize the word for "beer" (cerveja) let alone request a dark beer or a bona fide stout, if such a thing could be had in Portugal. "Do you sell dark beer?" meant nothing to the kind gentleman and I felt ashamed to not have prepped myself a little better. His son was summoned, a handsome brown-eyed young man with a friendly, warm smile like so many Portuguese males. He immediately understood that I wanted a beer and set a bottle of lager on the counter. I said "Sim" [yes]...but, dark, por favor...or, hmmm, brown...?" He indicated he didn't know what I meant. I began to pantomime a bit. I pointed to my eyes and then touched a blue bowl on the counter - then I pointed to his eyes and the put my finger on the bottle of beer. Yes! Instantly the young man knew what I wanted and pulled from a refrigerator under the counter a bottle of dark beer and fetched me a glass. With big smiles on both our faces I paid for my prize and carried it outside to join Hardy and Rose at a shaded patio table. Knowing how much Kevin would appreciate this little beer story, I got my camera out and took a photo for him.

After we felt suitably recovered from our hours of hiking at Font'Alva, Hardy drove us off to Elvas to see the views from up where the castle looks over the landscape. First, though we drove by the amazing Aqueduto da Amoreira, built in the 15th century on top of the foundation of the earlier aqueduct constructed by the Romans. Very impressive!

The Castelo de Elvas was closed to the public on that day, so we contented ourselves with walking the surrounding walls and getting some photos of the terrific view.

I love this photo of feels like it would make a great reference for a painting.

There were intriguing narrow roads winding away from the castle and I was thinking it would be nice to get some photos of the architecture for Kevin. I wandered a bit and captured some images of doors (I have a door fetish) some very humble, others opulent and grand.

Hardy assured me that I would find even better scenes to photograph the next day when we were scheduled to spend some time at a 14th century fortress city, Castelo de Vide (the name of the city as well as the castle).

After leaving Elvas, along the way Hardy and Rose spotted a resort hotel they had been meaning to check out and see what the amenities and rates were like. While they were in the lobby obtaining information, I wandered around the premises taking photographs.

There were sections that were in derelict condition and, as is so frequent in Portugal, one finds horses or burros in the most unlikely places!

What vibrancy this donkey has in his just a moment of communion with him, I feel he knows everything about me!

On our drive back to Alter do Chao, we decided to stop at an interesting looking "mom and pop" restaurant in the village of Viamonte, another place that Hardy and Rose traditionally like to dine at. It was sometime after 4pm I would guess and the restaurant was closed, but the madre invited us to dine there just the same and seated us in the cool shadows of the far back seating area. The kind senhora asked her son, Bruno (who remembered Hardy from a previous visit) to come help decipher our English and bungled Portuguese requests and soon we had laid before us a true feast of foods--just what our tired and hot bodies longed for. I made out very well with salad, potatoes, cabbage, bread, broccoli and a hearty red wine. How appreciative we were at the happy hospitality these people showed us, even during a time of day when their restaurant is closed!

We drove back to the hotel (which I will tell about in the next journal entry--it was such an impressive place!) and went to our rooms earlier than usual. I had time to hand wash some of my clothes and type a long email to Kevin, before meeting the Oelkes in the hotel restaurant for a little dessert before turning in for some sleep.

We didn't see as many Sorraia horses as we had hoped to on Day Five, nor did it seem fate allowed for a dedicated Sorraia preservationist from Canada to connect with the president of the Portuguese Sorraia association...but I felt very pleased to have spent as much time as we did hiking out over the Font'Alva landscape as well as putting in a little sight-seeing that was not horse related. And--still suffering a bit from homesickness--I was now one day closer to returning to my own wonderful life at Ravenseyrie!

Turret on the surrounding wall of the Castelo de Elvas


June said...

What an adventure you had! The photos are beautiful - I want to go too!

Annemiek said...

Dear Lynne,

Doesn’t it feel strange, writing about your trip to Portugal during which the temperatures were so high, while at Ravenseyrie winter is well on its way? It is so easy to imagine the heat in Portugal while reading your story and looking at your photos. I don’t mind the pauses in between your Portugal posts, the winter here is long and boring (lots of wind and rain) and on a rainy day like this it is wonderful to read about your adventures in a hot and sunny Portugal.


Don'Qui said...

you're sure Kevin is not belgian ?
belgium, land of a million beers (different ones )....


Anonymous said...

Haven't been to visit your blog for a long time, due to holiday-making (quaint phrase but descriptive!)

Must commend you all -- troopers all -- for the cross-country searches by foot and Opel.

We have some large boulders in south-central Missouri known as The Elephant Rocks. I believe they were deposited there by glaciers.

The one photo -- with the smaller stones carefully nestled in -- looks a lot like a handmade stone wall. Might the departed cattlebeast have fallen prey to a poacher? Or perhaps a lightning strike? What critters of Portugal might have cleaned his bones? Did you see any such critters? Would large cats inhabit this region or maybe vultures?

That Percheron stallion sure looked amazing -- now I have a new concept of the Percheron.

These 'beings' inhabiting this warm dusty preserve, have no idea that we look at their photos and judge and name them, whether 'off type' or not! They have their place there (even as companion to one another) and their collective consciousness we could never know -- all the hours of being part of that landscape, their daily walks and visits, the wind, moon and stars -- the hunters' loud shots -- . "Not horses die, but worlds die in them.... (to warp a line from a poem by Yevtushenko) called "People."

These horses are of another world, another time, yet here they are here before us -- thanks to The Oelkes and Ravenseyrie!

Janet Ferguson

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the Poem, "People."

Janet Ferguson

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Very few breeders are as committed to the preservation of the Sorraia Mustang as Lynne Gerard and Kevin Droski are, and so far, no other have set up a preserve like Ravenseyrie.

---"Hardy Oelke"

Lynne Gerard said...

June, I am glad you enjoyed the photos and your vicarious trip to Portugal.

Miek, though I wish I were writing entries for my days in Portugal in a more timely manner, like you I am finding looking at the very warm photos in the midst of wintertime provides a nice mental escape when I am feeling that bitter wind down to the bone.

Peter, Kevin is mostly Polish (paternal, Droski) and Irish (maternal, Reynolds) with some Anglo minlings in there somewhere too. I am sure he would love to sample some of those many beers produced in your country!

Lynne Gerard said...

I am sorry I do not know the answers to your questions on what type of predators (whether furred or by human firearms) might have accounted for the clean bull skeleton. I'm guessing whatever wild creatures feasted upon the deceased cattlebeast were likely opportunitstic omnivores and buzzards, etc.

I am not sure I agree that in the world of horses the off-type doesn't get noticed or judged, but no doubt such things are carried out a bit differently than the way humans do things. There is human selection and natural selection and the appraisal of every living thing is carried out by all sensate beings, who are much more sensitive to nuances we cannot even detect. I suspect that in many of the instances where we humans make our selections and judgments we are not as holistic as natural selection is and are likely coloured by personal preferences based on what we believe something ought to be.

Lynne Gerard said...

Janet, thank you for the link to the poem. There is a beauty to what he is expressing, though I find Yevtushenko's assumption that worlds die when humans die (or as you suggested horses die) to be maybe coming from someone who hasn't yet "pierced the veil" and experienced that sensation that nothing is born and nothing dies, but energy moves in a dance of perpetual transformation...and when fully "in the now" it is ALL perceptible and yet all meaningless in light of eternity.

I'm attempting to appreciate all that I perceive as a human, but no longer clinging to it, or overly mourning that which no longer appears to my perception any longer. To my human self, the loss of biodiversity (and the policies of the U.S. regarding their free range mustangs) are mournful...but if I also recognize that this human perception, this world we participate in is not the ultimate reality, I am then reminded to agonize about it is not the best use of my energy. If I do what I do for the Sorraia, with an emphasis on love and beauty, that is enough...even if they one day no longer gallop over the cannot be mournful, not in light of "all that is".