Where the river Douro leaves Spain and enters Portugal on its way to the sea there's a protected area called Natural Park of International Douro (Parque Natural do Douro Internacional). My maternal grandmother and grandfather are from two tiny villages inside this area, and I've spend most of my childhood summers here. It's a legendary land of smugglers where the borders between Portugal and Spain have always been made of water, the river Douro and its affluent Águeda. This somehow makes the separation between the two countries less arbitrary, because it's made of a natural and visible geography, while on the other hand it makes the crisscrossing between sides more appealing since the rivers themselves don't appear to belong to anyone. You just need a few strokes to swim to the other side, and realise that you really don't feel in a different country. During the dictatorship years the local smugglers would get payed to help political dissidents cross the borders through the hidden paths of the river valleys.
The Summers are very hot and dry here, and since the roman settlements the main struggle has been to find and transport water. There's a multitude of fountains and wells hidden in the landscape, refuges to the scorching sun that can make you feel like you're walking in a desert.
The Evasões magazine is dedicated to travel destinations inside Portugal and they called me to see if I was interested in doing something for them, a sketch series on a specific subject that I could choose. They mentioned that the theme for the September issue would be "Water", and that they were looking to get away from the traditional depictions of it. So I remembered my grandfather's village of Escalhão and its dry surroundings, the old abandoned bridge between Spain and Portugal of a train that has stopped coming decades ago, the river beaches in which I swim now every year, with a group of friends and family that drive the 470 km from Lisbon for the privilege of feeling time that has stood still.
Here is where water is most precious, where you can only find it if you are willing to go through some of the hardships that it has endured to get this far.
Many thanks to Teresa Escalda Sena, Vitor Sá Machado, Paulo Brás, Monica Pires and Luís Ferra for suggesting places to visit and draw.