Nearing the end of our walk to the very top of Monsanto's hill, and past the ruins of its old fort and a church, we suddenly heard bells tinkling. Over the next boulder and there was a herd of goats munching away with the best view in the house! They seemed quite curious since it was not long before they drifted over toward us for a closer look. The leader of the herd had his feet hobbled so he could not wander too far or too fast. Because of the clouds that had intermittantly engulfed the top of the mountain, both the granite rocks and the grassy bits between them were very slippery in places, especially since we were wearing only sandels. As a result, we never did quite make it to the very peak, but we still had a great view of the surrounding countryside anyway!
As we drove around Portugal I was fascinated by the cork oak trees that we occasionaly came across. These trees are native to the Mediterranean where they occur in open woodlands and on small hills. They have a thick dead outer bark that can be harvested roughly every 10 years, leaving the inner bark healthy and able to regenerate several other layers of the cork bark over the typical 150-year lifespan of the tree. Used mainly in the production of corks for wine bottles, but also for engine gaskets and home insulation, cork oaks are grown commercially in a number of places, but nowhere nearly as successful as in Portugal - the world's largest producer of cork products. During our earlier travels, I had seen a few groves where the outer bark had been stripped, leaving a very dark inner bark on the trunk. However, just as we were starting the climb to Monsanto, in the tiny hamlet of Relva, we came across this scene of obviously very freshly harvested trees. On our first day's drive out from Lisbon we had met, on a back road part way to the Algarve, a truck loaded down with strange curved sections of something. It was only later that we realized that these were chunks of the spongy cork bark that had been cut off the trees.
During our morning drive, we passed some herds of cattle grazing in the fields alongside the highway near Alcafozes. Most of the cattle that we saw had very long horns and some were also shaggy. Very different from the old Holsteins that I am used to at home. However that should come as no surprise because various breeds of longhorn cattle have made the Iberian Peninsula their home ever since they were introduced by the Moors during their conquests over 1200 years ago. Now that I think of it, that lush vegetation does look almost edible!
Because cars are not allowed on, or cannot navigate, many of the narrow and steep streets of this little village, Monsanto is awash with animals. They seem to blend into the fabric of the village, whether they are chickens, goats, dogs, cats or donkeys! In this case, we came across this donkey standing outside a low granite building. Just before we took this photo, the old lady who had led it up the hill grabbed a large sack off its carrying rack and took it inside the building. A slow but sure way of delivering the goods - whatever they were!
Please respect the local people and their way of life. They are simple folks and still enjoy their life the way they want to.
You will see people using donkeys for transport and women carring large loads on their backs. This has always been the way and I do not see it changing soon.
As we enter the village, there's a fountain that is seems to be used regularly. Well, standing so low, it should be hard to carry water uphill...