19July09

We have made friends with João who works in Regacentro where we buy our irrigation parts. That’s him in the red t-shirt. One day he mentioned that he has eight Lusitano horses on his quinta. I told him I used to ride every week during my late teens, and he wants us to go and ride together sometime. Well, in early July we were buying more watery bits and he invited us to a meeting he organised for 19th July, “A Ride through the Watermelon Fields”.

We arose at 6.15 that Sunday morning and drove to Idanha a Nova for the appointed hour to find that as usual in Portugal, registration at 7.30a.m. was only a guideline. Nothing really happened until 9am. Forty or so horses had been brought from quintas in Guimarães, Northern Portugal and were assembled in a large walled field near the old town centre. Most of the owners had brought their modern carriages the like of which I had never seen – grey pneumatic tyres on alloy wheels, disc brakes all round, lightweight tube frames with ball race bearings for the shaft to couple the horses, all beautifully polished.

The horses were groomed, pedicured, and then harnessed to the carriages ready for the parade through the old town scheduled for 9am. João arranged for us to ride in a friend’s carriage. It was great, riding in procession through the old cobbled streets, clattering hooves, jingling bells on the tack of some proud horses, people waving and taking pictures. Less fun for the horses was the occasional steep cobbled hill, where the passengers had to dismount and the driver cracked his whip to “encourage” the teams to canter up – sparks from their horseshoes and the smell of singed hooves upon stone.

Then a leisurely trot into the sun-baked granite countryside; it seemed just like being in a scene from a western. The guys riding horses alone were dressed for the part, with boots, full leather chaps and cowboy hats. One even galloped into a field and rounded up two frightened calves with their bemused and unenthusiastic bovine mums. Were we all impressed?  Erm . . .

Shortly before noon we halted for breakfast at a large disused quinta. The support wagons (sadly unlike those from the westerns, covered and drawn by four big steeds, more like a council water lorry and a 4×4) arrived and laid up two big tables with tablecloths, thick chunks of bread, cheese and chourição (big version of chouriço), water and cold lager, sponge cake and fruit but NO WATERMELON! But hey, it did taste good.

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The horses and the passengers were hot, it was now nearly 40°C (100°F in old money) as we moved on through parched fields; we felt like  pioneers in our thirty-carriage long wagon train.

Eventually we arrived in Ladoeiro at the height of the watermelon festival. It was a little less exciting than you would imagine. Really. But the good bit was there were fifteen producers all selling watermelons. Just melons. The first ones we had seen all day, on our trek through the melon fields. Janet and I munched and slurped a four kilo (that is big!) specimen between us – we were hungry and very thirsty.

We decided to take home another smaller watermelon. The stallholder’s electronic scales didn’t work, so she weighed it on a balance just like the one we use for olives – 150kilos in 1kg divisions. Well, no surprise, the scales didn’t register one melon so she added a second one. Aha! They weigh a kilo now, so here you are, 25cents (20p the two)!! At home we weighed them, just under 5kg (5lb each one). Isn’t modern technology a blessing?

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