November 19, 2010
We pedal our bicycles, heavily laden with gear, out of the town of Covilhã, Portugal. The road is so steep we wish the engineers had put in some more switchbacks, instead of heading straight up into the mountains.
The air is cold and scented with pine.
We summit, breathing, no wheezing heavily … our hearts thumping in your chests.
The view is extraordinary. We look down at the perfectly formed U-shaped glacial valley along the Zêzere River. Geology teachers would be giddy here.
We push off and never once pedal for the next 15 kilometers. On our left, far below is the Zêzere River. Small cottages and flocks of sheep dot the countryside. On our right is a wall of rocks, held in place by a gigantic steel curtain of fencing.
Our faces are numb from the cold of the descent.
Toward the bottom of the hill we see a shepherd and his flock. He is moving close to 300 sheep down the narrow road with only the help of an incredibly mellow sheep dog. He doesn't just yell and call out. He whistles. He creates all sorts of sounds that mimic the sheep or a hawk. Sounds we're sure he learned from his father and his grandfather.
He moves back and forth, from one side of the small road to the other -- up one embankment and down the other, coaxing his flock forward. The sheep reluctantly move on, their bells tinkling like a thousand distant ice cream trucks.
The tapestry of sounds will live in our memories, as vivid as the blue sky above the Zêzere Valley.
Photos by Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road, and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com.