Every time I leave Trás-Os-Montes (the region in the northeast of Portugal) I leave overwhelmed, with all the warmth and generosity I get from the people in that cold forgotten corner of the country. Sometimes I feel that’s where my roots could also be, along with my origins from Central Portugal. That’s one of the big reasons I keep returning there: a rough region with warm people and strong traditions. Winter is a really important time of the year there, as there are still large number of festivities around the winter solstice, festivities that often have religious names, like Festas de Santo Estevão, but that were snubbed by the clergy for its pagan origins, that go back to old Winter solstice celebrations.
This year was the second time I had to hurry my Christmas Day lunch to pack my stuff and hit the road to drive north (first time was two years ago), this time my partner in crime was João, a regular companion of mine in these trips to Trás-Os-Montes but on his first time in this time of the year. Upon arrival the team quickly grew with Hugo; Cláudia, the talented photographer that knows the area like the palm of the hand; and Yoko, the most popular Japanese in Trás-Os-Montes, a real rockstar in every place with winter festivities. For roughly a week we would wander the Northeast corner of Portugal.
Two years ago the focus was only in one place: the Festa dos Rapazes at Grijó de Parada, where me and Emanuele stayed for whole the two days it lasts. This time the he plan was to go a bit further, but the problem with these festivities is that it all happens on the same days, so you the calendar needs to be picked up carefully. The idea was to return to Grijó, after all I had such a good time, but also be able to spend some time at Ousilhão (another small village with amazing masked traditions), both are similar in some way: a group of masked men will go through the village gathering offerings, eating, drinking and doing mischiefs along the way.
After that a short break from the masks, onto a different part of the region for another winter celebration: Festa dos Moços, at the area around Miranda do Douro, where it’s the pauliteiros (a traditional dance where men do elaborate choreography while handling wood bars) that go from door to door. The plan this time was also to stay a bit longer, to capture all the festivities that happen in New Years day in Mogadouro area, another day where so much is happening at the same time. And since there was some free time in between we could further explore the region, in places like the western part of Montesinho Natural Park, or return to the amazing cliffs of the Douro river, something I haven’t done for years!
It were a busy and very rewarding few days, and now it’s time to get back home and put my hand into all this. As soon as I leave from my retreat at Beira Baixa, where I recovered not only from these days but also from the busy weeks since boarding to Hong Kong in November.