Walking East Journal

Jan 2010 27

Adios Portugal

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One month after beginning our pilgrimage walk in Portugal we sit in Valencia ready to walk our of Portugal and into Spain. We left Lisbon on 27 December after resting ten days there.
Portugal has not been totally friendly. It has often been a test of our wills to continue. Rain, mud, water, cold hotel rooms, mildew permeated our passage north. Only in the past week has the sun forced its way through the clouds to give us a warmer welcome. We suffered various minor sicknesses and I thought of quitting after our first day of walking when the rain was so heavy and our hotel room was frigid and its ceramic walls were wet from condensation. So many hotel and pension rooms were unheated before we arrived and only heated with a space heater as we occupied them; they never really warmed up.
The cold and dampness taught us to go slowly and choose our steps well, to take our time, to rest, to take a bus or train now and then, to observe and walk with the weather. We have done so and now sit on the Spanish border. Like Missouri last June, Portugal has tested our wills to continue. We have passed the test and are moving forward. We feel great.
Even more than before, we walk in the Now. We appreciate Now. We celebrate each step and breath as if it were our firs–or last. Life is what we have No–not tomorrow, not yesterday.
Santiago is only a week to the north. Tomorrow we take our first steps that way. Here we come Spain.

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Jan 2010 25

A delightful mistake

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Our alberge director last night advised us not to try the low-lying portions of the Camino today because they likely would have too much water for us to navigate with our cart. He told us about an alternate road path. We took it but decided to try the Camino early on only to get bogged down. Back to the road.
On N308, a lazy country road, we wound our way up into the mountains. When the path for switching back to the Camino came, we skipped it thinking it was too soon. After a while we realized our mistake but had come a couple kilometers beyond the branch. We opted to continue up our path. In the end we walked over a 400 or 500-meter (1200-1650 foot) pass with some wonderful views in the process. We ate lunch in a small restaurant with a broad panorama just below the pass.
The sun was bright and the wind cool and delightful. Water ran in the ditches everywhere.
Close to the end of the day we passed a goose chasing a pig across the field. For whatever reason he herded him into his home!
Today was indeed a delightful mistake.

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Jan 2010 24

Ponte do Lima

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We are six days out of Porto. They have been short days of 15 and less kilometers (9 mi). Until today most days have included a little rain here and there. But today was a gem. The sun was bright, the sky deep blue, and the wind light out of the north. And the forecast called for eight more like it this morning (haven’t checked yet tonight–it could be a lot different now).
The first two days out of Porto to Matosinhos and Vila do Conde we waked along the Atlantic Coast with its huge Pacific-like waves. Each night we returned by Metro to the Pensao Grande Hotel Paris, our hotel in Porto. It was a good place to stay and it relieved us of looking for a place to stay those nights. We just returned to the new starting point by Metro the next morning.
The next night we stayed in Sao Pedro de Rates at our first alberge (pilgrim’s hostel) here in Portugal. We met four other pilgrims, also our first on this walk in Portugal. Two were a couple from Brazil bicycling from Porto to Santiago. The other two were Koreans walking. The latter walked all the way from Porto when they couldn’t find the alberge in the last town. They arrived late in the middle of a downpour with neither umbrella nor rain cloths. They desperately banged on the door to be let in. They are 18 and 23, youngsters out for an adventure to find out what to do with their lives. They even had no map.
We went shopping at the store across the street Petra made a large pot of pasta in the kitchen. When the Brazilians arrived we shared it with them. They shared their wine and other food they bought at the store. As we finished the Koreans yelled at the door. We were out of food. But they went to the store also. We all had a fine evening talking before settling into our sleeping bags on beds in rooms with more than a little mildew created by the cold and damp Portuguese winter. A lot of other places suffer from the same problem including some hotels and pensions.
Last night we stayed in a private alberge, Casa Fernanda in Lugar do Cargo. Fernanda and her husband Jocanito were wonderful hosts. He cooked a fine chicken stew for dinner and served breakfast this morning. We really enjoyed our stay.
Today’s walk was a real joy even though we had to forgo walking a couple sections of the Camino due to mud and deteriorated surface (read: rocky, washout ruts). The weather was so clear we could see far in the distance and the road we ended up walking on was not overly heavy with traffic. And now we are in the alberge in Ponte de Lima, a wonderful little town on the Lima river. It was full of people walking around and enjoying the plazas and walking on the medieval and roman bridges over the river. And this is a wonderful, clean, new alberge–no heat but otherwise a delight to be in.

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Jan 2010 18

O Porto

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We arrived here in the late afternoon of 15 January by way of a curious route. We started out early enough. It was raining lightly with its consequent heavy overcast. We followed our yellow arrows faithfully for around an hour and then they disappeared. Well, we didn’t see them any more for a while. We missed one on some unknown corner. We asked a couple women for directions. “You have to go this way up to the National then turn left.”
the “National” (like a US highway: ex. US 30) is a highway with much traffic. We went that way but refused before getting there. We don’t like the traffic when there is an alternative. Deciding we could find our own way back to the arrows, we took a road to Sta. Maria do Feira, a town according to the guide, on the path.
After another hour we found ourselves at a bar (café) just outside Sta. Maria. By then we realized that the path was three kilometers (2 mi.) from Sta. Maria. The waiter spoke good English and gave us directions to get to Malaposta which was clearly on our path. I should have known from the name (“Malaposta”=”bad place”) it wasn’t going to be easy.
We lost ourselves in a coup-de-sac before 15 minutes. So we crossed a ditch and walked along the National for another kilometer or so—it does have a wide shoulder making the traffic somewhat tolerable. Finally we stopped an another bar and then a hotel to get more directions. In the hotel I realized we had walked the last kilometer southwest, the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. It is almost impossible to tell directions when the sun is not out and the roads are constantly turning. As you can guess by now we had no detailed map.
As we talked, I spotted the clock. It was 12:54. We had been walking for more than four hours and we were less than 4 kilometers along our way to our destination in Grijo, 20 kilometers from our start, still 14 km (8 mi) from Porto. We had been walking in circles.
As we came out of the hotel, Petra spotted a woman at a bus stop across the National, the opposite direction from where we were to go. She lead me over and asked her where a bus is going. “To Porto, express.” She says. The labyrinth we had been walking lead us here just in time for the next bus when the chances of making the original destination without a lot of effort were few. The rain and wind were once again heavy. We decided to celebrate my birthday and the first birthday of this pilgrimage in Porto instead of on the way walking there.
The bus came. We tied the cart in the baggage room under the seats. On the way to the autostrada we passed a sign, “O Porto 30 [kilometers – 19 mi, a long walking day.]” In an hour we were checked into the Quality Inn in Porto. We didn’t arrive walking, but in the way of our pilgrimage on this particular rainy day.

It never happened this way in all our walk across North America, but then we were not following yellow arrows there. We had to make our own route from the start.
We have been here since then resting, enjoying the city, and waiting for a break in the rain. Maybe tomorrow – or the next day. This is a great city to rest and wait in. As we arrived the music on the bus was “Let it be, let it be….” So we try to do as we continue eastward with this pilgrimage

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Jan 2010 14

Comments not working

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It seems that the last post was so big that it doesn’t allow comments. Thanks, Cork and Helga, for your emailed comments and for letting me know about the problem Anyone who wants to leave a comment for the last post can leave it here. Thanks for your patience. After working more than 30 years with computers I know there is always some way around their shortcomings.

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Jan 2010 12

An evening in Portugal

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[We are in Oliveira de Azemeis today as we wait out rain and get our cart fixed: it broke an axle. I have often told of things in broad generalizations. Today I want to give you a verbal snapshot of the evening two nights along our walk through Portugal.]

The day has been short, only 21 kilometers after getting lost a few times. We walk down a steep road dug out of the mountain side into the edge of Albergaria a Velha. High rock and dirt walls flank both sides as the road heads strait into the village below. Once down we follow a very old road between what looks like equally old houses. They touch forming a canyon-like path a little smaller than the one we came through off the mountain. The faint smell of sewer irritates our noses as the cobble stones make themselves felt through our shoe soles.
Entering a traffic circle, we come on a man parking on the sidewalk. “Do you know where the hotel is?” Petra asks.
“It’s up this hill. Follow the road strait. Cross the railroad tracks. Go some more and it is on the left.” Then he repeats the directions twice again as the Portuguese often do to make sure you understand.
We start walking. It’s getting dark. The rain that held off all day begins to drizzle. We get out our umbrellas and keep walking. The rain gets heavier. We take refuge in a bus stop. A train passes.
When we begin walking again, a car passes. It’s the guy from the circle. We walk several blocks more looking for the Casa de Alameda based on the picture in the guidebook. Suddenly, it’s the circle guy again. He speaks from behind parked cars from a doorway on a tiny sidewalk. “You are here.” Wet and in the dark, the hotel doesn’t look like it’s picture. We might have walked by.
He unlocks the second half of the tall two-door entrance and opens it so we can bring our cart in. We enter an old room. A bar sits to our right. The ceilings disappear into the dark above. Sounds echo. Our helper tells the bartender we want a room and then makes his departure.
The steps squeak as the bartender climbs and disappears into a dark corner. Soon he returns followed by another who proves to be the hotel owner. We repeat that we are looking for a room with two beds and heat. “Yes, come with me.” He speaks English, a welcome change.
We go out and down the street a couple doors. Inside, he removes a barrier that keeps his dog out of the hotel. He takes us up a stairway. I can barely see as I make my way up the unevenly carpeted stairs. We turn and walk down a corridor. The light he turns on is almost no help for seeing my way. We enter a set of doors, cross a landing, and go through more doors. Two halls later, he opens a door and turns on a light.
It’s your basic old hotel room: high walls, small twin beds, a wardrobe, shuttered windows, a harsh overhead light, another no-less-harsh light on a single night stand between the beds, one chair, and a cold feel. In fact there is not the hint of heat on a night when the temperature is hanging just a few degrees above freezing. It feels as though there has been no heat in the room for a week or even weeks. Like so many Portuguese buildings this one feels colder than the weather outside.
“Do you have an electric heater?”
“We have heat in the room.” He points to a small radiator sitting under the windowsill where it would give more heat to the window than to the room. Then he points out another radiator in the bathroom. Both are small.
“But there is no heat coming out.” Petra points out.
“I will turn it on now when I go down.”
We retrace our steps through the maze of halls. Once down we agree to put our cart in the entrance hallway. We go back to the bar and bring the cart through the same big doors out into the now steady rain, push it down the street, tuck it into a corner, take out our bags, and tackle the maze back to the room.
The owner has the radiators running hot and assures us that it will be soon warm and cozy. As he leaves we know it will never be so. The pillows feel like they are full of ice cubes and the blankets are frost on the block of ice that is the mattress. This says nothing about the cold walls and floors and bathroom tile. Those little heaters will not make this room cozy in the span of the 12 hours that we are here. But this is the only place in town. This is our stop for tonight.
We open the beds and set them up with our sleeping bags and the extra blankets we find, wash up (the water is at least warm), and breath a bit in preparation for a cold night.
Resigned to our fate, we return to the bar and restaurant. The dining room is a huge room lined with large wine barrels. Several people are setting at long tables. A large portable heater, the only source of heat in the room, stands in the center of the room. An empty table sits next to the stove. Petra leads us there and pulls the table closer to the heater.
The waiter takes our order, goes over to one of the wine casks, draws a pitcher of dark red wine, and returns it to our table. I like it. I never have been able to describe wine tastes and suspect that even if I could many would not understand me anyway. That said, I enjoy the heavy, slightly sweet flavor with a hint of some fruit. Later the waiter opens a bottle of red wine from a back shelf for another customer. Petra asks, “What is the difference with this wine?”
“It is the less cheap wine. This one costs 3.50 Euro ($5.10). The one in the barrel costs only 2.50 ($3.60).”
We try the “less cheap” variety. I prefer the cheap one. I like that hint of fruit.
Petra follows her legume soup with lamb and potatoes. I eat delicious grilled squid that are cooked to perfection, not the slightest rubbery consistency that one often gets with squid fried in the United States. As often is the case in the smaller towns, the portions are huge for the price.
We return to our room full and ready to take on the night. It doesn’t take long to wash, shower, and get under the covers by just after nine. I sleep well and am never cold even though the heat goes off around 11:00.
In the morning we are up and headed to a bar for breakfast by 7:30. Another night in a cold hotel is over. Will Portugal ever learn about heating buildings. Even in the big hotels, the lobby and public areas are seldom heated.

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Jan 2010 08

Where are your comments?

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We have not heard from many of you out there recently. How are you doing with the new year in your life? Yes, we have been a bit quiet here too. But we have been contemplating the rain and how to keep between the drops. We have finally had a couple sunny days in a row. We are in Mealhada, one day north of Coimbra and four days south of Porto tonight. And we are looking forward to a third day of sun tomorrow. So where are you and what are you up to these days? We’d love to hear from you. Every comment is an encouragement.

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Jan 2010 03

Early visuals of early Portugal

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It’s time for some early views from Portugal as we sit in Entoncimento.

Petra looks on the Rio Tejo a short time after we arrived.

We discovered a mirror on the wall of this bar and took our picture.

And this is what we look like from the back of the mirror.

So we moved a bit closer.

Petra as we begin our pilgrimage north towards Santiago.

At one point we had to detour around this rather flooded piece of road.

Looking back at the castle of Santarim as we continue north.

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Jan 2010 02


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Rain is what it does here. The forecast every day calls for rain. And it does rain. But we learning the habits of the weather spirits here. Most of the rain falls in the night and what falls during the day comes in short down pours with lingering light drizzle. It is like little thunderstorms though thunder doesn’t always happen. Big clouds approach, They dump on us for ten or fifteen minutes and they move on. The air is clear for a couple or more hours until the next cloud appears and rains again. Then everything repeats. We have been lucky enough to be near some structure (barn, stand, shed) where we could hide from the downpours most of the time till now.
Yesterday we had three downpours, today none though it was full overcast all day. Yesterday we met the effects of all the rain. A river spilled over the road so we had to wade a hundred yards (100 meters) in two-inch (50-mm) water. Nice cool water on the feet (shoes and socks off) but my feet didn’t appreciate the rough surface of the asphalt. Tomorrow we leave the Tejo River Valley, the flat breadbasket of Portugal. With its passing some of the mud should also pass.

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