Time after Time…(Cyndi Lauper, 1983).

Day 17- Fontoura to Porrińo- walked 30.9km.

I want to backtrack for a moment.

Last night we stayed in the fantastic Albergue Pilger Pause. Verena, the owner, went out of her way to make us feel welcome. She has an arrangement with the local restaurant 1.5km away, where she texts the order and they deliver for free. She use to cook a donativo menu but it was becoming to expensive. Unfortunately we had run out of cash and the closest cash machine was 10km away. So Verena paid for our meal and we made arrangements to drop the money in her car this morning after “robbing the bank”. She said that this has happened many times to other pilgrims (due to the lack of cash machines around) and she completely trusted us. When we dropped the 20 euro through the slightly opened car window, I sent her a text showing that we had done it. Not long later, we heard an ahoy from behind us. There was Varena running up to give us a big hug and a final farewell. Another Angel of the Camino.

About last night. Well this morning really. It was a treat having the Albergue to ourselves overnight. We woke up refreshed and got fully dressed before I looked at my watch the second time, this time with my glasses on, and realized that it was only 3.50am. When I first woke up I had thought the time said 7.20am, hence when I walked out to leave and saw all the stars twinkling down on us, I new something didn’t add up. Luckily we had emptied our bladders as we couldn’t stop laughing at the situation.

We woke the second time at 7.15 and were on the road by 7.45am (we had already packed earlier). It was another beautiful day as we walked the 10km, mostly downhill, to Valença and stopped at the first cash machine. We decided to have our first cafe break within the walled fortress of Fortaleza. This fortress stands guard on the Portuguese side of the Rio Minho. Due to some road works in this old fort, we got a bit lost and ended up walking outside the wall but still in the fort. It is here we were surprised to see a snake on the path.

When we found the correct Portas da Gaviarra, a little used side exit leading to the steps near the International Bridge, we were a little sad to farewell Portugal. It is a wonderful country. The people have been lovely, although they look at you suspiciously until you say Bom Diaz, then it’s a smile and a Bom Viagem or Bom Caminho. They are also a hard working lot, out tending their fields or farms in all weathers. It was nice to see so much of the country walking through it. Then we crossed the bridge to Spain.

Tui is the first city that greets you in Spain. After paying our debt to Varena via the rowing club, we walked up to the Cathedral and got our first Spanish stamp (sello). As Spain is also one hour ahead of Portugal, I put my watch forward to 11.30am whilst we had our first cafe con leche and planned the day ahead. We had read that the waymarked route out of this medieval town conveniently passes a lot of historical monuments. So we decided to slowly continue on our way and see how far our legs would take us.

The day was again glorious. You have to remember that we are now in Galicia, a region that is notorious for their high rainfall. So we are going forward whilst the weather is so good. Much of the todays path was on tree lined country lanes. There were also a few more idyllic roman bridges to cross as we spent a bit of time beside rivers and creeks.

As it was a Saturday, the Spanish are out enjoying their weekend. We were passed by a few guys on motocross bikes whizzing around the dirt paths. We even passed a motorcycle track where kids as young as four years old where riding at breakneck speeds around the track.

Then there are all the old men playing a version of Gaelic cards in teams at the bars. All enjoying themselves and oblivious to the pilgrims coming in for a beer or a toilet break.

By 5pm we were on our last leg (literally) as we walked the 2.3km along the river path, kicking our way through the fallen autumn leaves. Locals were out jogging or just taking in the last of the sunshine as they sat on the park benches and watched the colourful ducks swim by. A perfect last section before turning into the town and finding a place to sleep. The first Albergue had a sign saying that it was full. A little panic set in. Luckily the next one, Albergue Sendasur, had room for us. They also had an open box of chocolates at the reception desk for anyone to have. I had at least five. I’d earned them.

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River deep Mountain high…(Tina Turner, 1988).

Day 16- Ponte de Lima to Fontoura- walked 26.4km

We had one of those days where we probably bit off more than we could chew.

After a good nights sleep for both of us, we were awake and raring to go by 6.45am. It was still dark but manageable with the street lights until dawn finally arrived. We wandered over the medieval stone bridge (rebuilt in 1368) atop of the Lima River and proceeded to walk down country lanes flanked by vineyards for the next few kilometres.

St James watching us as we cross the bridge at Ponte de Lima.

Our first cafe break was actually at a trout farm at the Labruja River. Cafe Pescaria opens for pilgrim passersby but is more of a fish farm where you can catch and cook your evening meal.

Not long after this, we caught up to our German friends Josef and Hannah. We walked together for a kilometre or so before leaving them at the next cafe. This was the last cafe before the start of a descent hill climb, so there were quite a few walkers and cyclists carb loading on toast and croissants. Not us. We had our banana and coffee and were ready to tackle this monster of a climb. We also thought that all the Germans would eventually pass us. They never did.

The beautiful Hannah and Josef.

I may be slow and steady on the flat terrain but I’m a veritable mountain goat going up hills. I even passed the cyclists. Go figure. Those poor guys had to carry their bikes up the rocky parts. Michael even kept on stopping me from taking his photo because he looked close to death most of the time. I put my head down and kept the sticks chugging along. I was euphoric when I reached the summit and checked out the view.

Joining us at the top and staying with us for another hour on the way down was John, a 65yr old Portuguese man who has walked this Camino over twenty times. I had asked him about the bags attached to the base of the pine trees. I innocently touched the sap and that’s when he told me it was glue. So John probably thought it best to make sure the silly Aussie with her fingers stuck together, got down the mountain safely. On the way, he gave me some great information of the walk to come. He stopped and explained the Moinhos, the ancient mills used to grind maize to make flour and every now and then, he would stop and use his stick to draw maps of Portugal in the dirt, to increase my understanding of his broken English. He was a mine of information and just loved sharing it. I was happy to learn and listen. In the end, we were too slow for him and in a puff of smoke he was gone.

We reached Rubiáes, the town at the end of Brierley’s stage, by noon. Whilst sitting in the cafe opposite the Albergue (admiring the use of shoes for plants), we discussed the possibility of continuing on. We were both still feeling okay even after the climb. So we set our sights on the reasonably priced Albergue Pilger Pause for tonight’s accommodation.

Leaving Rubiáes, we crossed the Rio Coura on another Roman bridge. I believe the Roman military marched up and down these paths in Portugal, hence all the bridges they made to cross the rivers. Then another small climb till we summited at Sao Bento da Porta Aberta and another cafe stop. We needed the energy for the last downhill section to Fontoura. We could see Valenča in the distance and the end of Portugal for us. Tomorrow we will cross the bridge from Valenča to Tui and head into Spain.

Olé.

Good Day Sunshine…(The Beatles, 1966).

Day 15- Portela to Ponte de Lima- walked 24.9km

It was an absolutely beautiful day. The weather was glorious. The walk was perfect. And there was cake!

Seventeen pilgrims stayed in the Albergue overnight. Four 17 year old German school girls bonding on a spring break; Rosemary (a grandmother from Germany) who is walking part of the way with her friend Ely (who now lives in Canada); Joseph (a young German Pharmacist ) with his friend Hannah, who has a lilt of Irish in her German accent ; two Taiwanese friends; a German couple who stuck to themselves a lot; Debbie from near Toronto who is walking with her sister-in-law Susan; a Spanish man and then us. As you can see, the language of choice was German but it was lovely to have some decent conversations with a few of them. All had started from Porto and were starting to get sore muscles and a couple of blisters. We had seen most of them the night before in Rates but as the rain kept us inside last night, we had more of a chance for a chat.

Crossing the 12th century Ponte das Tábuas. The German students are behind us.

This morning as we all prepared to leave (well it was only us and the Germans really), I made a comment to Joseph about how huge his backpack was. He said that it only weighed 5kg or so. For which I replied that I think he was dreaming. We got out our portable scale (yes I know the absurdity of carrying this object when we sacrifice so much on weight reduction but it will be needed at the end of our trip). His backpack weighed over 11kg for which he was very surprised. I want Joseph to guess my weight next time.

We all walked a short way together before their pace was too fast for my little legs and so said Bom Caminho. I’m sure we will see them again somewhere along the way. Then there was the two of us again strolling through Portugal.

After last nights rain, we were expecting to be negotiating puddles all day but that wasn’t the case. Between the sections of eucalyptus forests and beside small country lanes, walking through vineyards with the sun at your back and a cool breeze on your face made for a very pleasant day. We knew there were two uphill sections but they weren’t too strenuous.

Michael herding the goats.

We came across two girls who were on a six day bike ride ending in Porto. The Australian girl and her Scottish friend meet up once a year for an adventure but when we saw them, peeling themselves off their bike seats on an uphill section, they were rethinking this ride, especially as most of it was over cobblestone paths.

Walking into Ponte de Lima was another highlight. First there was about a five hundred metre walk under a shaded pergola covered in languishing grapevines. Then you walk another few hundred metres down a tree lined Avenue that was simply breathtaking. (Michael thought that Harry could easily meet Sally here).

The old town is on this southern side of the Rio Lima which is where our Casa de Neve room resides. We opted to splurge on a room in the old town as the municipal albergue is on the northern side. Our clothes have already been in the washing machine and dried out in the sunny courtyard. We have also walked to the Pastelaria which is dangerously close to our accommodation and consumed two delectable cakes.

Tomorrow we continue the Camino travelling north over the three hundred metre long medieval stone bridge that spans the river. It has 30 arches and is totally dedicated to pedestrians. But tonight we will promenade like a local through the cobbled stone alleyways of this gorgeous town, before partaking in a pilgrim meal.

It was a good day.

Ain’t no Sunshine…(Bill Withers, 1971).

Day 14- Sáo Pedro de Rates to Portela Tamel Sáo Pedro Fins- walked 26.1km

We woke to fog and it stayed overcast most of the day.

In hindsight (a state that I don’t seem to learn from) we should have left later than an hour before sunrise. Again I was thankful for my micro-torch that guided us through an eerily dark forest path. We emerged 5km down the way at our first cafe stop where we paid our 2.50 Euro for two cappuccinos and one plate-sized croissant (that we share). This seems to be our stable breakfast for the Portuguese Camino. It also gives us enough sustenance to last for another 10km or so.

The walk today was mostly on cobbled streets connecting smaller townships with the larger town of Barcelos and its smaller twin town across the Rio Cávado, Barcelinhos. The Municipality of Barcelos has embraced the Camino tourism dollar and has provided plenty of way markers and information boards for the Perigrinos. Barcelos is a wonderful end stage spot with lots to see and do. There is a large abundance of colourful rooster statues around the town. Just like on the Camino Frances, the rooster coming to life to save an innocent man is told here and forevermore will be the symbol of Barcelos (and Portugal).

Great billboard for Pilgrim info.

Inside Igreja Matriz

As Barcelos was 15km into our day, we continued on to the next Albergue which was a further 10km and included two hill climbs. The weather app was predicting rain around 2pm. As we begun our second climb, the mist again engulfed us before becoming a light shower. By the time we reached the Casa da Recoleta near the top of the climb, it was raining. We were very lucky that the hosteliero came a bit earlier to open the Albergue for us.

Mostly made out of bottle caps.

The adjoining church has a very beautiful chime that (although lovely) I hope doesn’t continue overnight as this is the view from my bed.

Go your own Way…(Fleetwood Mac, 1977 ).

Day 13- Porto to Sáo Pedro de Rates- walked 23.2km

After two nights in Porto, we are back on the Camino path bound for Santiago. We had such a great couple of days with Chloe playing tourist and sampling the delights of this little city. Port wine was high on the list, so we did a four hour walking tour and sampled seven different ports. All educated about the syrupy elixir now, although after the third “taste”, I can’t remember many of the facts and figures. The next day, the rain didn’t dampen our mood as we hit the shops; saw the very impressive Livraria Lello (described as the most beautiful bookshop in the world and inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter bookshop ); and a small Duoro river cruise under the Seven bridges of Porto.

Early this morning we waved goodbye to Chloe as she headed to the airport to fly back to London and we went three metro stops further outside Porto to Villar do Pinheiro. Brierley stated that this was an option to escape the city traffic and begin the walk more in the country. We were again excited to follow the arrows but this time we would follow the Camino Central signs. In fact there are a few ways you can be guided to Santiago. The Caminho Central is the more traditional route and slightly inland; the Caminho da Coasta is becoming more popular as the route is a little flatter as it follows the beaches north till the Spanish border; then there are a few stages that link or crisscross these two. It makes the guidebook a little confusing to follow but as long as you keep the sun at your back as you travel north, all paths lead to Santiago eventually. Routes are discussed between pilgrims for days before deciding what is best for them. We went for the more common Central as we were hoping for more shade and accommodation options.

On the whole, the day was lovely. It took till about 10am before the fog fully lifted and the sun shone through but it wasn’t too hot. We walked over many a cobbled path making it difficult to use the sticks for fear of breaking the ends off. There were also sections of heart-in-you-mouth road walking that we always dislike. The highlights were the stone bridges outside Vilarinho and Arcos. You can almost feel the centuries of travellers crossing the bridges with you. History under foot.

By 2pm we made it to the Alburgue in Rates which was the first dedicated pilgrim hostel in Portugal to open in 2004. The town itself dates back to the 11th century and is dedicated to Saint Peter. This hostel sleeps 50 and is well on the way to being full tonight. Oddly we didn’t see any pilgrims on the walk until 5km before Rates. More surprises came when our Australian friends Karen and Richard turned up (as we thought they might walk the Coastal section). We are looking forward to tonight’s meal which will luckily be taken at the Cafe across the road. You see, we have to save our strength for tomorrow’s long walk.

One step ahead of you…(Split Enz, 1980).

Day 12- Grijó to Porto- walked 15.3km

Mistakes happen.

Leaving early to escape the heat of the day is a great plan.

Closing the locked door to the Albergue and then discovering that your walking sticks are still inside, well that puts a hiccup in your day. Luckily we only had to wait 20min outside the door before someone heard our gentle knocking.

We finally hit the road just after 7am. Sunrise was still 40min away. Only 5min down the road was a fantastic coffee shop with fresh pastries. So another delay but at least when we set off for the third time, we were hyped up on caffeine and croissants, and we could see the yellow arrows again.

This is how locals get there buns delivered.

The day was overcast and the humidity was a whopping 70%, making us sweat buckets before even getting to the steep section. The book talks about a delightful 2.5km stretch on the original medieval pilgrim route (including the old Roman road) that runs through the eucalyptus forest finally reaching the high point of the day over the Serra dos Negrelos. Michael was using other adjectives to climb up the uneven cobbled stones whilst becoming a liquid mess. Me, well I put my head down and got into a rhythm with my sticks and the stones. When I turned around, I was way ahead of Michael. Photo time.

Anyway, as it was a short stage, we approached the outskirts of the city quickly after the hill. Walking through a city is always a bit boring and tedious but with the help of Google maps, it can get a whole lot easier. I’m sure the old Roman’s would have loved to have used the Metro if they knew they were passing one as well. They loved technology too. So five stops later we stepped off at Jardim do Moro before walking over the city’s iconic bridge, the Ponte D. Luis 1.

A hop and a skip through the maze of tourists later and we were at the Porto Catedral Sé. Not quite as dramatic an ending for the Lisbon to Porto section (like in Santiago) but still pretty impressive. I even heard one of the many walking tour guides that we saw in abundance in the main square, comment on the yellow arrows that surrounded the Cathedral and pointed us out as an example of a pilgrim. Backpacks still on and unfortunately still a sweaty mess. We looked the picture.

In a town known for its plethora of good quality hostels, we found not a bed was available on booking.com. We just weren’t interested in paying ridiculous hotel rates. So we found a nice and cheap room, a 20min train ride south of Porto, in the beach resort town of Espinoh. We are a block from the beach and the very long boardwalk.

Tomorrow we will return to the city as Chloe is flying over from the UK for a couple of days with her smelly folks. So we will play tourists for a couple of days. I’ll continue the blog when we are back on the Camino.

A holiday for all of us.

I’m just a lucky so and so…(Ella Fitzgerald, 1945).

Day 11- São João de Madeira to Grijó- walked 20.5km

It is always a good day when you find a missing sock.

We had the great fortune to have free access to a washer and dryer at last nights Central Suites Impacto. The day to day washing of our sweaty clothes is a chore that Michael has taken on as I prepare this blog. However in our tired state after yesterday’s long walk, we managed to misplace a sock. Michael’s sock. Michael’s expensive liner sock. A note was written and we lived in hope that someone would find it in their laundry. Then we slept.

This morning Michael made one last sweep of the laundry and there behind the washing machine was the prized garment. So needless to say, we had a spring in our step as we walked out of town. It was a bit overcast but no rain, just a cool breeze on our backs.

Today’s destination was just 20.5km away. The guidebook has this stage at 35.8km with the weary pilgrim walking into Porto. But we decided to break the journey into two days with us arriving in Porto more refreshed tomorrow. However this Albergue (the last before Porto) has just 14 beds. So we left at our usual time but with the realization that we may have to make other plans if we arrived as pilgrim number 15 or 16. Luckily we arrived 3rd and 4th at 1pm. More fortune for all, is that at 7 euros each, we have also scored a room to ourselves. Win win.

The walk was a bit taxing as it was mostly beside busy roads, as I guess we are essentially in a very outer suburb of a large town. And it was all on bitumen except for a very bumpy stretch on an old Roman road.

Our chance for coffee came after I read a poster advertising that for 1.90 euro you could have a coffee, an OJ, bread and butter, and, the clincher, some “Magic potion for the way”. Oh yeah we went there and downed the “magic” shot of port. I have to tell you, there was some real gogo juice in that potion as for the first time on this Camino, we passed two pilgrims. Going uphill as well.

Cheers

We have even caught up with the Australian pair from 3 nights ago, Karen and Richard. So now with the washing almost dried, and Michael out scouting for tomorrow’s yellow arrows, I am resting on the lower bunk with my feet up and counting my blessings.

The greeting squad just around the corner from our accommodation. They were so happy to see us.

Yes that is our washing up there.