I am in Alvarenga, Portugal, a small town of just over 1000 people, about an hour and a half outside of Porto. It’s in the hilly countryside, filled with vineyards and orange and almond trees. I am with 5 other women, traveling on holidays.
There’s a big, award-winning tourist attraction nearby in the town of Arouca, which was developed in 2020. After traversing the world’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge (516 metres), there’s a hikeout out on the Paiva Walkways. It’s about 8 kilometres, almost entirely downhill, on a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks that follow rocky faults on the left bank of a rushing river.
We are 6 relatively healthy middle-age women, wearing multiple merino layers and carrying full water bottles. We are traveling with 40 litre backpacks rather than suitcases. The day we went to Arouca, it was overcast but warm for an average February day in Portugal—perfect for a vigorous hike.
We crossed the bridge just after 11:00am and started out on the downward hike, enjoying the green and rocky scenery. Used to day hikes of greater distance, many of us expected to refresh briefly at the end, then walk back up. As long as we arrived in time the final bridge tours that day, at 2:00 or 3:30pm, once back at the top we were free to recross the bridge at no extra charge. What a fun challenge!
We took our time on the way down, stopping to take photos and to watch rafters and kayakers navigate the white waters below. We nodded at the hikers who passed us going back up the walkway: that would soon be us! Then, suddenly, we were within a kilometre of the hike out exit, and noticed it was nearly 1:45pm.
Would we reverse course and start back up the hilly hike, returning to our start point? Would we shift gears from our leisurely pace and “hoof it” to make sure we would arrive on time to re-cross during the last bridge tour?
We did not, because we knew that we have nothing to prove—to the trail or to each other. Instead of turning around to ascend, we continued downhill at our enjoyable pace, then had a celebratory beverage at the end. Rather than hiking back up, which we probably *could* have done, we took a cab back to our residence to celebrate our achievement—a beautiful day out walking in the Portuguese countryside.
Some days, you can hike downhill all the way and still have a great day.