Exploring the Peneda-Gerês National Park – Leo Domingos

We all have the place that is forever in our hearts. A place where you found both peace and excitement, that place that you visited once and felt like you belong there.

That place for me has to be Gerês National Park. Named the only national park in Portugal, right alongside the border with Spain, has an incredible diversity, from calm lakes to great waterfalls, from plan fields to astonishing mountains peaks.

Two years ago I went on 3 weeks hitchhiking where my goal was Vila do Gerês, a small little town smacked between mountains tops and lakes. Was the best trip of my life so far and open my heart and soul to what nature and especially, Portuguese nature has to offer. Since then, I’ve been travelling a bit around protected areas, and about a year ago I had an idea, wich is starting to be shaped into a project. I want to document every park/protected area in Portugal, showing the beauty of our countryside to all of the world. In this way, as well, getting attention from government officials to enforce laws against human occupation in Nature Preservation areas, giving Portuguese people means to be proud of their “backyard”, valour more and more an outdoor and adventure way of living.

The time to come back to this paradise had arrived and there I went with a minimal plan to do. My goal was to document most of the park in this 4 days trip, right away had my mind stuck in this picturesque lake and skateboarding alongside it was something special.

Arrived a bit late to town, even the help of a ride I got, went to the first camping park. The following morning I was blown away by the beauty of it, that camping was surrounded by waterfalls, something I didn’t expect, at all. Woke up really early and by 8:00 AM a friend of mine was calling and ask me if I wanted to hike to Rocalva peak, wich is one of the highest peaks in the park and later I found out, one of the hardest treks to do.

That day started to seem like a really hard challenge, we drove by really hard terrain without any proper off-road vehicles. After parking the cars we started our journey through the real Gerês National Park, as the miles passed by and we started to enjoy each other’s companies, knowing everyone was something special. I found myself surrounded by people that shared the same love for nature and the equal respect towards our planet, found that really important, since my goal is to show the real view of every area I go to and spread the idea that we need to protect our environment and not use to profit out of it.

We started to ascend the valley, water was already running short in such an early stage and some of my friends seemed a bit tired but as unexpected as it was, we found a clean stream and rest for a bit, has we enjoy the company of a 2 000 years old oak, stuck between rocks.

We continue our journey down the valley and heard some distant noise and sooner we spot the much acclaimed, Blue Hole.

This spot has become very popular and the last years due to its location and a beautiful blue color. The natural lagoon was made secret for years and someone shared its GPS locations and since them, dozens of the tourists hike this trek seeking it, wich is good but in the other hand, it provokes the effects of human occupation as seem sometimes. We eventually stood here for a couple of hours, drinking wine and eating local enchidos, (Portuguese sausages)

The most difficult part of the hike I was more focused in actually doing it than documenting it since was a completely vertical face and took us 5 hours to do it. We didn’t end up climbing Rocalva peak, even if we manage to do 2/3 of the hike, would take us another 5 to 6 hours to accomplish the other 1/3 due to its difficulty and challenging terrain. With those conditions, none of us was prepared to hike or camp during night time.

The following day I decided to explore more the lake itself and after getting a kayak and also with the company of a friend we went exploring. Hours of paddling around this large lake, the landscape was amazing and you could feel the sense of tranquility in the air.

As my stay in this paradise was about to end, stood there watching over, speechless, coming to my mind how can a place like that makes such a strong connection with my heart and soul. Wish I could stay there for more time, exploring the deepest parts of Gerês.

Im set return this following year so I can experience the beauty of winter, until then, cya Gerês!

Photos and words by Leo Dominigos with Black Eye Lenses