Portuguese trail kilometers

Back in the western US, we had a joke about how there were miles, and then there were Forest Service miles. If you were hiking a trail in a national forest, and the Forest Service sign said the trail was 6 miles long, you could be sure the route was actually 8 miles or so.

In Portugal we have walking trails which are pieced together through dirt paths, old gravel roads, tarmac roads, and easements between agricultural fields (and sometimes through those agricultural fields). They’re signed with a system of painted directional arrows, or straight lines. Sometimes, on a really nicely signed route, those directional symbols are actually burned into wooden posts designed just for that purpose. But mostly they’re spray painted onto sides of buildings, power poles, rock walls, etc. Often they’re faded so badly that they’re hard to see. And in many cases when you’re faced with an intersection and don’t know which way to turn, the symbol will be painted not at the intersection itself, but 20 or 30 meters down the correct path. That’s if there are any symbols at all — sometimes you don’t see a symbol for quite some time, so if you take a wrong turn and there aren’t any symbols for 500 meters, that’s not necessarily an indicator that you’re going the wrong way.

Needless to say, walking a Portuguese route that you aren’t familiar with involves many wrong turns and lots of extra distance. Today we explored a lovely route that was billed as being 9 kilometers. But those were Portuguese trail kilometers. Like our Forest Service miles, a Portuguese trail kilometer (I am now convinced) equals 1.3 normal kilometers. So we really hiked 11.7 km.

Which is why we are all salivating over the steaks currently on the grill.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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3 Responses to Portuguese trail kilometers

  1. Inge says:

    I think every trail has this problem.. i think they don’t want to discourage people beforehand.. afterwards you have done it anyway.. lol

    As to the signs.. here roads can be from the city, private or the flemish governement. Now if you want to hang signs, you need agreement from whoever owns that one.Needless to say that not all cities want to hang signs when it benefits another village and not their own.. The flemish governement doesn’t want too much signs and the private.. while the law says that pathways need to remain open due to tradition, they don’t have to hang signs.. Lovely ain’t it? So it’s kind of natural to find signs not where you expect them. At least here it is.

  2. oregon expat says:

    Interesting! Here we have approved and non-yet-approved routes, which I think has less to do with regional governments and more to do with bureaucratic delay. Not-yet-approved routes are signed, but not necessarily with any expertise/practicality/forethought.

    I suppose the proper response, both in Belgium and Portugal, is simply to consider the pathfinding as part of the charm…

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