Friday, August 14, 2015

Path progress

Hello, everyone.

The path up through Vila Franca da Xira was the last route-based post before we wandered off into various topic-based comments. Today will cover further progress on the Camino Portugues.

The first day of walking had been planned to stop at Vila Franca--which was about 32 km. (20 miles give or take a little) We got in about 5 pm, which was later than desired, but the day was long and hot.

The second day was planned for about 20 or 25 km--shorter, but we'd looked at the stages in the Brierly book and decided that putting the shorter stage second would give us a little bit of a break after a rough first day.
In the event, the heat and remoteness and cobblestones and road walking--that traffic, with no place at all to walk, was scary!--made day 2 as rough as day 1 and 3.

We got lost leaving Vila Franca, walked in circles for a little bit.

Road that wasn't cobblestone!

Beautiful baptistry in church!
Day 2 was a Sunday and I kept looking out for churches that would be having Mass. Finally I gave up altogether. Then, about 3 pm or so, when we got to our stopping point, we found that the town was having its fiesta for Sao Joao that day, with bullfight, and at the bullring later on a barbecue (we skipped it, the sleeping place was a mile or so further on--that may not have been the best decision when we didn't want to walk back to the bullring for food), and wonder of wonders: a note on the church door saying that because of the fiesta Mass would be at 5:30 pm.

Getting into our sleeping place was less easy--the key, for anyone wondering, is that the phone number in the Brierly book was not the one the family answers. There is another number on the signs, and that one works. Also, while they let you in, they don't do the paperwork until 8 pm in the evening. But you can freshen up before then in your room. (This was a frequent thing in the pensaos--we'd come in and the person would take one look at our red faces, windblown hair, and packs and say "let me show you to your room. You can freshen up, and we'll do the paperwork later." I guess the BO was pretty bad!)

Another thing we noticed during the days before Porto was that a number of residential streets with no bars to be had would have gallon jugs of water on strings (leashes, basically) at their gate. Was this what the PCT hikers call "trail magic" water for pilgrims? I don't know.

Day 3 we walked to Santarem. (Portuguese speakers please forgive the total lack of all accent marks in my typing. I have no idea at all how to put them in!) This involved the largest tomato fields I have ever seen in my life. And grape vines. Shade in the 90-plus degree weather (days hitting 35+ in eurospeak) was precious and rare. Dusty trails and dirt roads, not so much.
It can be surprisingly remote in a very settled-up country sometimes.

A shy emu--I tried several times and never got a good shot!

I have mentioned walking on levees before. In this village, we found an open bar and I got a boiled egg. That was almost all I got to eat while walking that day!
HUGE fields! This one is corn (maize.)
 The walk into Santarem is every bit as steep as the guidebooks say. The city is on top of a mesa,  with the usual steep sides and level top. The famous albergue that the cool kids stay in was full. We stayed in the newer one, the one with the blue ad signs as far out as 17 km away on the trail. It had: bunk beds, as expected. Sheets and towels provided, which was a surprise. "Mixto" bathroom/shower combo, which isn't that unusual. Tiny shower stalls, with the widely-spraying shower head some 7 feet up on the wall. Tall cubicle walls, but they don't keep your clean clothes from getting sprayed by the shower. No hooks out of the spray--I don't even remember clothing hooks in the stall in the spray zone. Which was the entire cubicle anyway! One toilet at the end of the bathroom, after you pass the three shower cubicles and the two nice sinks at the entry. All new and in good shape, with a modern "industrial" feel to the decor. A nice bar area with wifi. They offer an 8 am breakfast, if you can stay around late enough to eat it--standard continental fare and coffee. We were 2 of the three people in our dormitory.

We also had a "get real" conference about the state of our feet and our exhaustion. For three days we'd been unable to find adequate food, the daily temps had been well into the 90's (or higher?) as this was an unusually hot year in the Iberian peninsula, and we were getting worn out. If we continued walking to Fatima, it would be 2 more days like the one we'd just had. We concluded that tearing ourselves down that much, this early in the pilgrimage, so that we could say "I walked all the way to Fatima" would just be egotism. We therefore decided to take a bus from Santarem to Fatima, then resume our planned route with the bus from Fatima to Tomar. This would be counted as an extra rest day for the first bus ride and a scheduled rest day for the second in our reckoning. (The bus gets you in early enough to see Tomar sights and rest and so on, so the next day would be a resumption of walking.) The weather sites we checked through the wifi suggested that there would be a break in the heat about when we resumed walking out of Tomar. So we walked to the bus station early in the morning (for Portugal, not early for pilgrims--we ate the 8 am breakfast at the albergue) and got on the bus to Fatima.