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.

With hand-drawn logo and title, September issue dedicated to "Water".

For the magazine cover, the art director just asked me to do a depiction of water that I thought would be appropriate and draw the title and logo by hand ("água" is portuguese for "water"). The only thing I had to follow was the layout and positioning of the logo. The blue elements were drawn separately and composed in Photoshop. This is what I first sent and it was approved as is.

In the "vau" ("ford") area of the Águeda river, in a hidden place, there is this "açude", a small natural weir of stone where the water turns course and finds a way out of the higher pool on the right. This is one of the locally known places where the smugglers would cross the border between Spain and Portugal, illegally bringing goods and getting political dissidents out. My own father tried to cross here running from the portuguese secret police one dark night in June 1973, only to end up losing his boots and having to go back. But that's another story.
I decided to draw it for the cover, for its significance. This small bunch of stones and water, lost and hidden in a landscape of a much larger scale, for a very long time meant so much to so many.

The "Vau" From Above

Águeda river, Beira-Alta, Portugal.

In this place, called by the locals the "vau" ("ford"), smugglers could find places to cross to the other side, Spain.

Águeda River

Beira-Alta, Portugal.

Down at the "Vau". It's the first river beach I remember knowing about, and were I used to come when I was a kid. Lots of tales of drownings and smuggling are associated with it.

View From Alto da Sapinha

Beira Alta, Portugal. On the way down to Barca d'Alva, where the river Douro meets the river Águeda, leaving Spain for good and entering Portugal toward the sea, the terrain is crisscrossed and dotted with different geometric patterns. These depend on the geography and the crops: olive trees, vines, almond trees... The human hand may scratch their surface, but one suspects that these mountains will still be here long after we are gone, more resilient than those who claim to be their owners.

Barca d'Alva

Dry Landscape

Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal.

Medieval fountain

Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal.

Aguiar River

Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal.

Roman Bridge

Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal.

Abandoned Railway Bridge

Barca d'Alva, Portugal

Congida River Beach

Douro River, Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Portugal

Santa Maria de Aguira Dam

Beira Alta, Portugal.

Through a hidden dirt road starting near the village of Almofala we managed to get to a secluded place near the water where only the locals seem to go. It was ideal for swimming.

Côa River

Beach near Almeida, Beira-Alta, Portugal.

This river beach is one of the few that has plenty of sand and less bugs and wasps. The water is a little stagnated though, and can turn a really deep opaque green during the dry season.

Candedo Road

With view of the Alminhas bridge and Mosteiro creek, Beira-Alta, Portugal.

Alminhas (Little Souls) Bridge

Near Candedo road, Mosteiro creek, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal.

If you leave the Candedo road and decide to explore a few of the available trekking paths, you'll easily find this charming bridge. Built in the 1940's, it crosses a small creek in a peaceful quiet area ideal for a picnic, away from everything.

Abandoned well and water collection canal

Near Candedo road, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal.

Near the Alminhas bridge we could see some abandoned houses up the hill and decided to explore. There was a curious channel made of stone that seemed to pick waters from the rain or some other source and serve a deep well or reservoir, also made of stone. The reason for this construction became obvious to me after drawing it in the sun for a few minutes. The heat was almost unbearable.

Côa River

Access from Cinco Vilas village, Beira-Alta, Portugal.

Côa River

Access from Cinco Vilas village, Beira-Alta, Portugal.

This was a place I heard about while asking around for cool places to draw for the Water assignment. You can't really swim here, the water is kind of stagnated and there are too many rocks. But you can hop from one rock to another for a long time, pretending to walk on water while looking for the best place to sit in a shadow and draw the landscape. Probably one of the most secluded and beautiful places in the region.

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