Natural Habitat Expeditions CEO Olaf Malver recently returned from an epic adventure in the hills of Portugal. Read about one crazy night in this dispatch from the field!

It was a mystery for all our guests recently as they packed their bags for our Portugal kayaking trip in September: The list said to bring a “good head lamp.”

Wait a second, they thought…Wasn’t this trip advertised as an easy paddle down a lazy river during daytime, with evenings spent wining and dining in dinner jackets and chiffon dresses, under the soft light of crystal chandeliers at old wine farms and historic manor houses? Surely this was not going to be a backwoods cookout spent hunching over a campfire! Very puzzling…Portugal_river-300x132

Well, midway through our paddling route down the Douro River, we arrived at Nossa Senora Ribeira and had a lovely 2 o’clock red-wine-soaked lunch and the obligatory afternoon Portuguese siesta. I asked if anyone was game for a surprise and, if so, to be ready riverside at sunset with paddle in hand and headlamp working – and with an open attitude for adventure. Almost all showed up, no questions asked (love it!) and off we pushed into the magenta glare on the languid river. Our destination was the old and stunningly beautiful Quinta de Vesuvio, on the opposite banks. Here, we were met by the charming and welcoming Jackie, who was rightly proud to show us this landmark estate of the Douro Valley. She then led us up the dark path to the lagares (wine storage houses) – and what a surprise!

Portugal_StompingGrapes3-300x199Here, in huge granite vats, 30 barefoot Portuguese wine workers were stomping the port wine grapes, which had just been picked that day. Happy, red-cheeked, arm-in-arm, and thigh-deep in red mush, they invited us to take off our Tevas and join them in crushing the 2009 vintage. It was too tempting to resist and we soon found ourselves dancing in the deep scarlet fermenting slush, singing and laughing to the tunes of traditional accordion-infused wine songs late into the night. This truly was “deep” Portugal!

Giggling, we left our wine-stomping friends and music behind, switched on the headlamps and paddled home quietly under the magnificent, star-filled arching sky…with big grins all over our faces! The headlamps were certainly worth it.