August 2007, Freixo de Numão, my first voluntary camp. The location is pretty remote: Lisbon -> Vila Nova de Foz Coa -> Freixo de Numão -> Porto -> Lisbon -> Home…
The plane landed on Ana Airport of Lisbon (Lisboa) earlier than expected, but the precious time we gained was soon wasted with baggage claim. My connection to Freixo de Numao was a bit tricky and a long drive. After I retrieved my backpack, I sprinted for a taxi and made it just on time for the bus leaving for Vila Noa de Foz Coa. A 6h 30 drive followed and with no time between connections, I never got the chance to eat, so the sun was shining and I was starving.
After an exciting trip where nothing happened, I reached my destination. The place was very clean and neat–imagine that movie scene, where the girl is standing in the middle of nowhere, with the bus leaving her in a cloud of dust, with a backpack on her shoulders and without living soul around. Status check: I am in the middle of nowhere, starving and alone at 20:23 as dusk is falling, no pick up as agreed-> not walking 11km!
My first survival lesson followed. The provided contact was unreachable and after a few unsuccessful tries, I decided to start looking for accommodation. Still starving, thirsty and tired after a whole day of traveling with a heavy bag hanging on my back and one in the front. Before leaving home, very fortunately I looked up some places where I could stay in case nobody was waiting for me so I knew there was a youth hostel in Vila Nova de Foz Coa, however I did not write down the address.
What could I say it wasn’t that bad but I felt a bit … forgotten? The best part of this experience was that at about 9 pm when I gave up trying to make calls, two elder ladies came into my way and after some negotiation in a very broken French on both fronts, they were so gentle and offered to put me on the right track to the hostel, outside the city …well almost there. At 10:00 pm I got my first “real” meal for the day, a hamburger for 3 Euros and that was it: DELICIOUS!
Day Two +
I woke up early morning, all excited about the new challenges awaiting, an amazing sun welcomes me in a totally new world. The previous night I passed by some very beautiful sights and I just got to see them the next morning. It felt so good, a new beautiful sunny day, bright and warm and a lot of time to reach my final destination, even by foot. Had a decent breakfast, took my bags and I was on my way to the bus station. The only bus going to Freixo de Numao was at midday so I had enough time to work out a plan and try again contacting the organizers. I need to say thanks to my mom here, since she was the one who sorted out my pick up–she gave me promising news for the day: I wasn’t the only one left under ways! Victory! :) another participant, Ana from Slovenia was still in Guarda (80 km away from my location). She misunderstood the meeting place, but provided me with a contact that later on came and picked me up (last night’s unfinished business…).
While waiting for my ride, I went for some sightseeing and discovered how strikingly peaceful can life in Portugal be. No rush, no schedule to follow, if you want something you simply have to ask for it and not expect to naturally get it.
Finally there! only half a day late, and I am checking in. When I got there, the other who made it the day before, have already left for the archaeological site. Accommodation was ok. Separate dorms. And now chill!
After unpacking, I sat my camp on the terrace and had a nice warm-up chat with one of the French archaeologists around. He presented me in a nutshell how things work–in theory, what about the others and some words about sightseeing in the region. My arrival had a perfect timing: I skipped work for that day and arrived in time for lunch. The meals were amazing and always accompanied by a pint of wine–after all we were in the wine region of Portugal, not far from the river Duoro, where they cultivate all the exceptional Porto wines.
Soon, the team returned and I got to know the others. As I learn later, the party from the previous night got confirmed, so the French guy must have been in recovery mode~~.
The usual work schedule was early morning wake up, breakfast and then 3-4 h work on the site, until midday and then back for lunch, free in the afternoon. There were free time activities previewed for each day. Sobral, our Portuguese host from ACDR Freixo accompanied us on most of the trips. We visited castle ruins, went down to the river Duoro, had picknick and rain.
On the only weekend of the camp, we visited Conímbriga, one of the largest Roman settlements in Portugal, classified as a National Monument. It is situated not far (±16 km) from Coimbra. It is amazing how beautiful the roman baths must have been and how well they were conserved/reconstructed!
For the evening, we attended a local festival — what an experience! It takes place each weekend in a different village. This was an amazing insight into the local culture, a moment of joyful celebration, where age doesn’t matter and people just love tradition, music and dancing. Youth and teens having fun on the rhythm of the local folk music. Foreigner or not, we were part of it and it just felt so good!
One more outing worth mentioning was the one to Trancoso. It is a small village not too far from Freixo de Numao, built upon a hill, guardian of the pass. The village stroll was so pleasant, while architectural gems delighted the eye. Beautiful tile rooftops visible everywhere, from the castle.
More pics here.