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Transformative Travel: Following the Sheep

It is odd for someone who is city bred and lactose intolerant to be fascinated by a pastoral tradition that involves mountains, animals, milk, yogurt, and cheese, but there you have it: for decades I have been obsessed by what is called “transhumance.” It’s the seasonal movement of livestock from lowlands, where they’re fed in the winter, to high mountain areas, where they graze in the summer. When harvest time comes, shepherds in Europe, India, the Middle East, and Africa lead the animals down to their villages in the valleys again. The main by-product of transhumance is fresh, natural dairy products from cows, goats, and sheep, but equally significant is a nature-based, communal way of life that is now teetering on the edge of extinction.For decades, transhumance had been part of my dreams — richly textured reveries filled with mountain huts, rustic peasant clothes, robust animals, and joyous, wine-laced festivities when the animals came back to the villages. Last autumn, when I heard about a small transhumance event in the Covada Beira plains beneath the Gardunha and Serra da Estrela mountain ranges …

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