A gen­tle leap for­ward


My wife and I re­cently went on a cruise on the Douro River from Porto in north­west Por­tu­gal with Madrid as our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

Hav­ing read the itin­er­ary in de­tail, I was rather ap­pre­hen­sive be­cause of the ap­par­ent amount of walk­ing in­volved on shore ex­cur­sions. I have a new knee and arthritis in sev­eral of my lower joints.

My fears were quickly al­layed when at the first meet­ing on the ship our tour leader an­nounced that there would be three walk­ing groups — “green”, “red” and “gen­tle”, for those who feared too great a pace.

About 12 of us met as “gen­tle walk­ers” on the first morning.

We were a mot­ley crew, in­clud­ing a re­tired pro­fes­sor of medicine with bad legs (which he cov­ered with more braces and ban­dages than a pro­fes­sional foot­baller), a re­tired mu­sic teacher with screws in her back, two or three pas­sen­gers with knee and hip problems and a few other crocks.

Are you get­ting the pic­ture? Most of us needed walk­ing sticks.

Af­ter we alighted from the bus on the ex­cur­sion, our guide asked what we would like to see and do first. “Cof­fee!” was the cho­rus. And that set the pat­tern. While the other groups toiled up moun­tain­ous steps and along tor­tu­ous cob­bled-stoned path­ways to see yet an­other Madonna or baby Je­sus, the “gen­tle walk­ers” would am­ble along while the guide spoke of the his­tory, art, pol­i­tics and so­cial problems of Por­tu­gal, all this punc­tu­ated by stops for snacks and cof­fee. But, fear not, we did see the odd church and his­toric mon­u­ment.

At one stage I stopped at a shop and had a view of our group from be­hind. With their limp­ing, sham­bling and side­ways gaits they re­minded me of a gag­gle of geese on their way down to the pond. Good­ness knows what the other tourists thought.

But we en­joyed our­selves im­mensely and learned a lot about Por­tu­gal, its peo­ple, each other and our­selves. We even man­aged to sleep well at night.

So here’s to the “gen­tle walk­ers” of Por­tu­gal and to the tour di­rec­tor who cre­ated us. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive a light­weight lap­top com­pen­dium from Cather­ine Manuell De­sign with mul­ti­ple pock­ets, pen holder and an A4 notepad in­cluded; avail­able in a range of vi­brant prints in­clud­ing red viper, $89.95. More: cather­ine­manuellde­sign.com.

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