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In Search of Secrets. Portugal

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Life, that dark mountain on the horizon, and its series of commitments and responsibilities demanded that I return home on a specific day, at a certain time. It insisted. And I obliged. My mistake. The ramifications were an AM flight departure and excruciatingly early checkout time.

As the soft morning light crept over the terraced hillsides of the Alto Douro, and as the car winded its way along the verdant banks and bridges of the river of the same name, a thought, dare I say philosophical, danced in my drowsy thoughts. Much as a photograph cannot grasp the depth and extense of its subject, travel often cannot capture the profound layers of the spirit of any particular place.

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We travelers are little more than passing clouds gazing downward at the rivers, cities and mountains we float over. Regardless, we photograph, to remind us later, and yet, we travel, to (fill in your reason here). I asked myself, to what end and at what sacrifice?

I felt myself torn between the race against time that was our 90 minute dash to the Porto airport and the contrary impulse to stop anywhere along the road to slowly embrace the northern Portuguese landscapes that were soon to disappear into memory. Maybe, for that reason, I erred and chose the curvaceous road that hugged the river and passed through sleepy pastoral villages, rather than the more direct, less poetic route. A decision that defied the time allotted us, and due to the attention required by the ondulating old road, the opportunity to steal final glances at my companion, who, like the passing countryside, I wondered if I would ever see again after that day. Between assurances that she would not miss her flight, I pleaded with her to enjoy what I could not as driver — everything except the road itself. And to recite it to me as best she could, like reading to me a story. An interpretation of the awakening earth.

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The story of the Douro as it flows towards the Atlantic decorated by the vineyards like necklaces among the hills that produce its famous wines.

Time was always short. But, conscious of that fact, we remained as best we could in the moment, and enjoyed our hours at Aquapura with the pure fervor that this realization offered us. Several glasses of Port were interspersed among a few hours in the sauna, steam room and swimming pool of the hotel's world-class spa, a picturesque walk at dusk into the humid woods that led to the silent river, and a lovely dinner with the hotel's guest relations representative at Almapura, its restaurant. A feast of classic and contemporary Portuguese cuisine.

At the end of the evening, before we slipped into our dreams that the few of hours of sleep would allow us – what does one dream of when in some kind of personal paradise (?) – we breathed in the fabulous nocturnal view of the flickering lights reflected on the river of the town beyond, and cursed and celebrated our luck. A fleeting glimpse of happiness. An unbearable lightness of being. Eventually, our minds and bodies relented, and we slept. Only to awaken to a sight more beautiful – the serenade of the Douro dawn. Not much later, we were off.

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During that final drive, I realized, somewhere along bends of the road that curved into asphalt grins, why. Why we go to places whose beauty will tenderly torture us far longer than our eyes had the chance to appreciate. Why we love the things we cannot have. Why we continue to search for new experiences. Why go so far for such an teasingly short amount of time. For secrets. For secrets all our own or sometimes lived with another. Impossible to articulate secrets that fail like a photograph, and burn inside us forever, reappearing in quiet moments of tranquility or pain like a melody. Transforming us. Secrets that inspire us towards the renewed potential promised by the road ahead, to that mythical place we call home.But, of course, the Douro Valley is no secret, and neither is Aquapura. Both are currently enjoying deserved attention as hotspots of hospitality and enotourism, as is Portugal. So, in truth, the secret is out, if there was one to begin with. But, I prefer to think, somewhat romantically, otherwise, and perhaps, you will too. AER

Images courtesy of Aquapura

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