Portugal, September 2023

That didn't work out quite as I planned it.

It was fun anyhow.

I have been trying to go on a beginners 'Via Ferrata' a few times.

When I was in Spain in 2017, I tried to go on the Via Ferrata at Priego, as that seemed to be a nice and easy one.

But they didn't offer that tour while I was there, so I ended up (unsuccessfully) to attempt trad climbing at El Yelmo. (It was a fun experience anyway. But it's not a good idea to have your first climbing experience on a windy and snowy day in December.)

I also had a short 'Via Ferrata experience' last September in Italy. I knew that I wasn't to go all the way up, but it gave me a basic idea of what I could and couldn't do (essentially everything up do difficulty "B/C", but not beyond). It made me want to do a "proper" tour on an (easy) Via Ferrata at some point in the future.

When I knew I would be having to spare days in the Porto area, I looked for "Via Ferrata Tours".

And while I didn't find one of those, I did find a "multi-adventure tour", which had a Via Ferrata climb followed by a canyoning tour. (As separate activities with a break between both - I wouldn't need to climb in a wetsuit...)

That sounded great.

It meant that the Via Ferrata bit would be short enough that I wasn't sold as a separate tour. And that meant that it was a quick and easy experience, suited for beginners (it was also combined with an easy canyoning trip). Ideal for someone who had never done that before and wanted to give it a try.

Also, there was a canyoning tour at the end, which was nice.

I had done canyoning tours before. I didn't specifically want to do another one. But they have always been fun, so I didn't mind going on another one either.

And, judging from pictures, the Via Ferrata had variety. There were the usual 'staples' steps in the rocks (like a long stepladder). They are the core of about any Via Ferrata, and seem hard work and tedious (but, of course, part of the experience). But there were also traverses, a 'wire bridge' across a waterfall and another hanging bridge.

A bit of everything.

And a total ascent of about 200 meters. Still a lot to climb up 'stepladders', but manageable.


Two days before the tour I got a mail stating "Due to the weather conditions forecast we will have to cancel your tour."

Not good.

Their suggestion was that I should join their "Advanced Canyoning Tour" instead.

I was a bit unsure about that (partly because the plan hadn't been to go canyoning, as that was simply an add-on to the thing I wanted to do, but mostly because I was worried about the 'advanced' in the tour name).

It's always a bit difficult to determine from tour descriptions what skills are required for anything "advanced". It might mean "stay away from this tour until you are really fit and regularly run at least two marathons a year". But sometimes it simply means "you should have done at least something roughly like that before".

For example, the "trad climbing" tour in Spain was presented as "Intermediate-High" and although they claimed "We can do this at beginner level.", I couldn't do it.

On the other hand, I went to an "Ultimate Xtreme Caving Trip" and didn't have any problems.

So I asked them about the skills needed for their "Advanced Canyoning Tour".

It turned out to be about the same skills as for their "Canyoning Tour".

There were some longer abseils from higher waterfalls as well as higher (optional) jumps, but the physical requirements were about the same - no scrambling along cliffsides or climbing over large boulders.

Getting to the starting point was already a (minor) adventure.

The starting point was about six kilometers from the meeting point. And, as one of the guides put it, that's about four kilometers where the road is ok and two kilometers where it isn't.

After arriving at the starting point, all the equipment was unloaded and then there was a bit of driving back and forth to get most of the cars close to the finishing point and people back up to the starting point.

When canyoning, you follow a river, so you (obviously) end up at a lower altitude than from where you started.

And it's a bit of a downer to be at the end of the canyoning tour and then have to do the long walk up to the starting point. (Especially as you are carrying the canyoning gear and wearing a full-body wetsuit.)

One option is to park close to the finishing point and do the uphill walk first (A bit nicer than doing it at the end of the trip. But you still have to do a lot of uphill walking with gear while wearing a wetsuit.)

Another option is (similar to some canoeing tours) to have someone else pick you up at the finishing point and drive you and the gear back to the start. (Works fine, but it requires an extra person for the driving.)

If it's a trip (like ours) that doesn't have a mini-van for all the clients, but everyone arrives with their own (or rented) cars, then all these cars can be parked close to the finishing point and the guides can drive everyone back up to the starting point. (This means that one car will end up at the starting point, but that is no issue, as there are two guide cars, so the guide can get a ride up to that car at the end of the trip.)

The starting point isn't really at the river. So there's a (short) scenic walk along some old water supply channels to the top of the first waterfall.

Walk to starting point

After a short safety instruction (in short: do what the guide says and don't let go of the rope when rappelling) we went down the first waterfall.

Or, roughly, rappelling about a third down the waterfall.

Abseil and zipline

The rest was done as a zipline.

So we were clipped with the 'abseil-eight' into the rappelling rope. And we were also clipped with a carabiner into a second rope crossing the pool below the waterfall.

Thus, we went down a couple of meters on a normal rappel, until we were pulled away from the rock by the other rope. Then we were told to let go of the main rope, grab the other connecting line and zip down the rest of the way,

End of zipline Zipline view from below Group picture after first waterfall

After this, we followed the river for a bit. Swimming some parts, waking in the river in other parts. And walking on rocks at the side of the river the rest of the way.

Following the river

Then there was the next waterfall, which was the tallest one on the trip (about 35 meters).

The rappelling here required a bit more concentration, as we were closer to (and partly in) the waterfall itself for some parts. The rocks were wet and mossy, so they were slippery.

Rappel in waterfall Rappel in waterfall

It was necessary to rappel 'properly', which means leaning back until you are almost horizontal.

If try to descent by leaning back a bit, but essentially 'walk down' the rockface backwards (which feels more 'natural'), there's a risk that you slip off and then bang into the wall (and, if you're really unlucky, you might instinctively use your hands to brace for impact and let go of the rope).

Hanging almost horizontal, your legs are (essentially) only on the rock to keep you from swivelling around, but don't create any real downwards force. So they are less likely to slip off.

Though, of course, there was a bit of a ledge to stand on for a photo opportunity...

Halfway down the waterfall

At the lower end, there was a small section that was almost level, before the water went down a (sort of) 'chute' for the last few meters. We didn't rappel that section, but used it as a water slide (secured by a rope attached to the back of the harness).

Down the water chute Down the water chute Down the water chute

Group picture at second waterfall

We followed the river for a while after that.

Following the river Walking the river

(I like the last picture, as it looks a bit as if I'm walking on top of the water...)

On this section of the tour were also a couple of jumps.

I am not fond of doing jumps while canyoning. And there's no need to do them. (Jumps on canyoning tours are generally optional. There's either an alternative path to walk down. And if there isn't, there's always some way to rappel down.)

On this tour, the first two jumps along the way were easy, however. I assume they were two or three meters at best, possibly even less.

And below was a deep pool to jump into.

(There has been a canyoning tour where I had intended to jump. But then the guide explained what I needed to do. And then I didn't jump. There was a protuding rock on the way down and rocks under the surface. So the instruction was along the lines of "When you jump, you need to get at least half a meter away from the edge, or you will hit a rock on your way down. But don't push too hard. If you go more than two meters, there's a big rock in the water, which will break your leg. And, by the way, try not to jump too far to the left either." A bit too many options to get hurt when you misjudge how far a jump takes you.)

Here it was straight forward. There was a deep pool below. It was possible to see it from the top. There weren't any tricky obstacles nearby. And the jumps weren't high anyway.

First jump:

Easiest jump on tour Me jumping into the river Me jumping into the river Me jumping into the river

Second jump:

Me at slightly higher jump into river Me at slightly higher jump into river Me at slightly higher jump into river Me at slightly higher jump into the river
Me at slightly higher jump into the river Slightly higher jump

So even I did those two jumps.

However, I skipped the next two.

I didn't even need to go an alternative route for that.

The other two jumps (eight and twelve meters, supposedly) were from the side of a deep pool.

You specifically needed to walk up on the side of the canyon to get to the jumping points. So I simply swam past and relaxed at the end of the pool while some of the others did the jumping.

Medium jump Medium jump High jump

We were already close to the end of the tour.

There was one more waterfall to go.

We descended that one quickly.

The guides set up a zipline. We clipped into that, jumped off the top of the waterfall and about three seconds later splashed into the water below.

Ziping down the waterfall

I have to admit that the moment of impact on the water was unexpected. I knew it would be coming, but as I was going backward, I didn't know the precise moment. My face seems to show a certain amount of surprise when I splashed down.

Hitting the water

A short lunch break on the rocks below. And a group picture.

End of tour group photo

Then it was time to walk up to the cars. (While they were parked near the final waterfall, the road doesn't go all the way down to the river, so we needed to walk a short bit to get to the cars.)

Obviously, I had to drive back along the 'not so good' road.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds.

Except for a few potholes, the road was, while being a dirt road, mostly level. It didn't have any 'washboarding', which is the thing that usually makes driving on sand, dirt or gravel roads unpleasant.

And the driving surface was dry and firm. Not much risk of getting stuck or the shoulder of the road breaking off.

As far as driving was concerned, the road was fine.

But when I got onto a section towards a curve, I noticed that the view was almost the same they try to achieve when they do yet another "the world most dangerous roads" feature somewhere in Bolivia or in India.

A street with a drop

Unpaved road, mountain on one side, sheer drop on the other side, limited visibility on corners... the works.

The real risk is very small here. It's quite unlikely that a truck will suddenly want to go the opposite direction. And as there's vegetation around, rockslides aren't likely either.

But (at least by TV standards), the road looks dangerous.

I made it back to civilization (well, Porto...) without any problems anyway.

Next day I did something (theoretically) a lot simpler than canyoning - I crossed a bridge.

I was much more nervous doing that than I had been at any point during canyoning, though.

The reason is that the bridge looks like this:

Ponte 516 Arouca Ponte 516 Arouca Ponte 516 Arouca

It's the Ponte 516 Arouca and it is, not surprisingly, considering the name, 516 meters long.

For a suspension bridge, they put in a lot of effort to make it a nice one.

Both sides of the walkway are attached by wires to both main cables, which reduces the amount the bridge can sway significantly, compared to, for example, the suspension bridge at the Rappbodetalsperre in Germany, where both sides of the walkway are only connected to the corresponding cable.

Walking along suspension bridge

And the inward facing railings reduce the effect of feeling like you're standing right next to a sheer drop. And the arches above give the impression of a (although somewhat airy) tunnel to walk in.

Suspension bridge walking area

Crossing the bridge is more like a 'guided tour' than simply walking across.

Access is only in fixed time slots (in summer, every 90 minutes) and a guide gives you some information about the bridge and safety instructions. And then walk across with the group. (Albeit loosely. You are not required to stay close, but can spread out. The purpose of the guide is more to take care of people having problems than keeping the group together.)

Then you have about 60 minutes to cross the bridge, stay on the bridge or walk back and forth.

After that, visitors are asked to leave the bridge and can only go back on the bridge when the next time slot begins.

Most people simply cross the bridge, turn around and walk back.

However, on the western side of the bridge, there are some wooden walkways along the banks of the Paiva River, which follow the river about eight kilometers.

Some people coming from the eastern end of the bridge cross the bridge only once and then follow the walkways. (And, obviously, people from the west side cross the bridge, cross again and then go to the walkways.) Almost everyone walks the walkways only one way (downhill) and takes a bus or taxi from the end back to the starting point at the bridge. Only very few people go back and forth, as there's a lot of uphill on the way back.

Me on Ponte 516 Arouca View from Ponte 516 Arouca

I only wanted to visit the bridge anyway, so after walking back and forth on the bridge, I went back to the car (already a bit of a walk, as there's no carpark at the eastern side of the bridge, so you need to walk to the next village).

There was some slightly interesting driving. To get to the bridge, I drove down from Porto parallel to the coast and then headed almost due East inland to Arouca. Which takes you on a long and winding road through a lot of small villages.

I didn't want to go back the same way, so I decided to drive the 'short bit' to Castro Daire instead. I could use the A24 and A4 highways from there to get back to Porto in a somewhat roundabout, but faster way.


One issue with that plan: The road to Castro Daire about 40 km, while the road to the A1, parallel to the coast is about 50 km. But then the way up to Porto is roughly 35 km along the highway. While the highway from Castro Daire via Vila Real to Porto is about 160 km. I was saving myself about 10 km on a country road,to drive an extra 110 km along a highway.

Not an efficient method to get back to Porto.

But then again, at least I would see a different route...

(Admittedly, part of the reason to go via Castro Daire was a small detour to Vila Nova de Paiva, where they have a neat kart track. If I had checked the opening times in advance, I would have know that they are closed on Mondays...)

Closed kart track

At least the street from Arouca (where the hanging bridge is) to Castro Daire is interesting...

There were some points where I wasn't quite sure whether I was on an official road.

Especially as the only signs along the way were for hikers.

Probably a mountain road Probably a mountain road Probably a mountain road

But the navigation system on the car insisted that this was the way to go (and, admittedly, I did end up in Castro Daire). And I definitely did see some places I wouldn't have seen if I had take the same road back that I took to Ponte 516 Arouca.

And the drive along the highways, back to Porto, was indeed an easy one.

So it all worked out well in the end...

(Even though I never got to see the Via Ferrata. But then, the suspension bridge might technically be considered a Via Ferrata as well.)

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