The Way – part 6: Balugães to Ponte de Lima

Walking is a very civilized way to travel. So much of our uncivilized, everyday lives is hurried, rushed, squeezed into ever-shrinking packets of time. So much is mechanized, digitized, quantized down to fractions of seconds; so much is performed at speed, on the go, ad hoc, toute suite. The idea of doing something slowly seems to run counter to everything society tells us we must do, must be, must achieve. Faster is better, even if it means skimming over the surface of things without absorbing much of it.

Walking is different. Walking is all about taking time, absorbing as much as our senses can manage, ignoring clocks and schedules to the greatest degree possible. The human is defiantly not mechanical in any sense that isn’t metaphorical – and even then, the metaphor is limited and imperfect.

Walking eschews skimming in favour of immersion. It happens at a speed that allows us – encourages us – to absorb the world around us.

We rose to the countryside sounds of dogs barking, cocks crowing, and a church tower announcing the arrival of dawn. We dressed and packed our things, ate a light breakfast, and then set out from the peaceful village of Balugães. Cobbled roads and tarmac gave way to dirt lanes between vineyard and cornfield, and beneath arching tree branches. The air was cool and the sky was bright and clear. It would be a longer walk ahead of us, but only by a fifth.

We walked, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence. We stopped when we wanted to rest, or to sit and drink limonada in a cafe. We didn’t hurry.

We met others on the Way. There were greetings of bom Caminho and bon dia. We met fellow perigrinos from Canada, South Africa, and Germany. We ate sandwiches at the roadside, and bought bottled water that someone had put out in a cooler for €1. We tried to coax birds and cats to come closer, and generally had the opposite effect.

About five hours after we first set out we arrived at our hotel in Ponte de Lima. It is near the entrance to the city, close to restaurants and bars. There is a market and a fair being set up nearby.

Tomorrow, when it comes, will be the most challenging day of our journey, with an approximately 400 m hill early in the 22 km walk. We may even have to use our trekking poles. I expect we’ll arrive a little later, as a result.

But we’ll deal with that in due course. In the meantime, we have more pressing matters to deal with. Soon we will go in search of dinner, and a bottle of vinho verde.

The Way – part 5: Barcelos to Balugães

Today was a relatively short walk: only 15 km, and mostly flat, rural and often picturesque, with moderate temperatures under mostly clear skies.

We woke early, and in my case often, as I found it nearly impossible to get comfortable on a bed that was too narrow, too short and too firm. And it may be that my dreams were disturbed by visions of oversized polychromatic roosters, like those I’d seen everywhere in town. I had begun to wonder, as we wandered around town, if Barcelos was the centre of strange chicken cult.

When I tried to pst this picture on Facebook, they wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps it violates a rule about cock shots?

It turns out I wasn’t far wrong, and that the legend of the rooster is integral to not just Barcelos, but also to the national identity of Portugal. It also has ties to the Caminho. A pilgrim from a neighbouring village was sentenced to death, but told the magistrate that, as proof of his innocence, a rooster – one the judge had planned to eat that night – would crow at the moment of his hanging. Skeptical, the judge nevertheless set the bird aside. And just as the pilgrim had foretold, the cock began crowing as the innocent man was led to the gallows. The judge ran to save the pilgrim, who later returned and sculpted a cross in honour of St. Mary and St. James, whom he believed had interceded on his behalf. The cross is known to this day as The Cross of the Lord of the Rooster.

Of course, I don’t recall anything quite so elaborate from my dreams. In fact, I don’t recall them at all, and it may be that there were no roosters haunting my sleep. I can’t say.

At any rate, a short time after waking, we went up to the free hotel breakfast, and by nine we were on the road.

The Way wound through the outskirts of town and into a countryside of rolling hills, stone walls, cornfields, vineyards, and the occasional small village. It was prettier than the previous days, with more narrow dirt lanes mixed in with the ubiquitous cobblestones and the less frequent tarmac.

We made good time, in spite of an unhurried pace. We chatted for a while with a German couple from Reims who walked with us a few kilometres, and who told us the corn we saw growing everywhere was for fuel rather than food. We also talked later with some Americans at a bus shelter on the edge of the village of Tamel. We offered them our sympathy for their president, and they said they hoped he would soon be replaced. We said we hoped so too.

It was a little before one that we checked into our hotel in Balugães, a small, pretty village surrounded by farmland.

The Way – part 5: Barcelos to Balugães

Today was a relatively short walk: only 15 km, and mostly flat, rural and often picturesque, with moderate temperatures under mostly clear skies.

We woke early, and in my case often, as I found it nearly impossible to get comfortable on a bed that was too narrow, too short and too firm. And it may be that my dreams were disturbed by visions of oversized polychromatic roosters, like those I’d seen everywhere in town. I had begun to wonder, as we wandered around town, if Barcelos was the centre of strange chicken cult.

When I tried to pst this picture on Facebook, they wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps it violates a rule about cock shots?

It turns out I wasn’t far wrong, and that the legend of the rooster is integral to not just Barcelos, but also to the national identity of Portugal. It also has ties to the Caminho. A pilgrim from a neighbouring village was sentenced to death, but told the magistrate that, as proof of his innocence, a rooster – one the judge had planned to eat that night – would crow at the moment of his hanging. Skeptical, the judge nevertheless set the bird aside. And just as the pilgrim had foretold, the cock began crowing as the innocent man was led to the gallows. The judge ran to save the pilgrim, who later returned and sculpted a cross in honour of St. Mary and St. James, whom he believed had interceded on his behalf. The cross is known to this day as The Cross of the Lord of the Rooster.

Of course, I don’t recall anything quite so elaborate from my dreams. In fact, I don’t recall them at all, and it may be that there were no roosters haunting my sleep. I can’t say.

At any rate, a short time after waking, we went up to the free hotel breakfast, and by nine we were on the road.

The Way wound through the outskirts of town and into a countryside of rolling hills, stone walls, cornfields, vineyards, and the occasional small village. It was prettier than the previous days, with more narrow dirt lanes mixed in with the ubiquitous cobblestones and the less frequent tarmac.

We made good time, in spite of an unhurried pace. We chatted for a while with a German couple from Reims who walked with us a few kilometres, and who told us the corn we saw growing everywhere was for fuel rather than food. We also talked later with some Americans at a bus shelter on the edge of the village of Tamel. We offered them our sympathy for their president, and they said they hoped he would soon be replaced. We said we hoped so too.

It was a little before one that we checked into our hotel in Balugães, a small, pretty village surrounded by farmland.

The hotel is beautiful. A walled courtyard with multiple buildings, and best of all, four resident cats. It’s been a good day for us regarding animals. We’ve seen many dogs and cats, and got to pet a beautiful, old black lab while trying to have a conversation with its owner, who didn’t speak any more English than we do Portuguese.

Our room has a king sized bed, stone walls, concrete floor, and very modern conveniences. The courtyard has lime trees scattered around the plush lawn, stone walkways, and numerous places to sit & drink beer.

Tomorrow we leave for Ponte de Lima, a larger town 18 km from here. But for now, sitting in the cool twilight sipping a Cristal and trying to tempt the cats closer is the moment I’m happy to be in.

The Way – part 4: Arcos to Barcelos

It is 4 p.m. in Barcelos, a pretty town about 10 miles inland from the Portuguese coast. Tourism appears to be the town’s main business, with a lot of modern shops plying their wares in very old buildings. One of the town’s main attractions is an old Romanesque church, built in the 11th century. It is astonishingly beautiful.

We arrived in town a little over an hour ago, shortly before 3 p.m. I was impressed that it seemingly took us less time to walk today’s 20 km than it did yesterday’s 17 km. We began our walk about the slammer time, and if anything, today’s walk was slightly hillier.

Of course, it was also much cooler today, with the temperatures for whole of the morning never breaking 20 Celsius. (I’m guessing, mind you. I don’t have a thermometer with me, and I didn’t see any temperatures displayed anywhere.)

The sun only burned off the cloud cover about an hour before we reached our destination, and even now my weather app says it’s only 22 C, about 8 degrees cooler than Arcos was when we arrived there yesterday.

All of this – the cloudiness, the cooler temperatures and slight dampness to the breeze – along with quieter traffic, by and large, made for a really pleasant walk.

We met more pilgrims on the road, too. A fellow from Ireland, an English couple, the group of Brazilian pilgrims who’ve befriended us along the way, and others, too.

The Brazilians are my favourites so far. So friendly, funny and outgoing. Only one of them, Carol, speaks any English, and neither of us can speak more than a few words of Portuguese, but we all seemed to manage together drinking wine in the courtyard of the hotel last night, and joking around at breakfast this morning. I’ll miss them when we eventually part ways.

The scenery today was even more interesting and impressive than yesterday, as cornfields yielded, here and there, to lush gardens with pear, apple, orange, lemon and lime trees, grape vines, roses, and flowers I can’t begin to name.

The houses, too, were frequently beautiful, especially in the Barcelos suburb of Pereira, where ultramodern casually coexists with medieval ruins, and many houses have small shrines built into their walls and fences.

We lunched in the village of Pedra Furada, named for a large stone with a hole in its centre situated outside an 18th century church. Legend has it that Saint Leocadia was buried alive, and escaped by drilling a hole in her erstwhile tombstone with her head.

Now we are getting ready to go explore Barcelos before dinner, abd then prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s 15 km walk to Balugães.

The Way – part 3: And… go! Porto to Arcos

Adele hiding from the camera behind a way marker.
Today the Caminho became a reality for us. Up at half past six, we had our bags (and ourselves) in the lobby two hours later, as instructed. Then we were driven through suburban and industrial areas not suited to walking, and dropped in the village of Mosteiro on the outskirts of Porto. After saying goodbye to our driver, we strapped on our packs and began the roughly 17 km walk to Arcos.

It was a bright, sunny morning, and the cobbled roads wound between tall stone walls interrupted every now and then by houses, their walls frequently decorated with blue and white tiles depicting saints, or scenes from biblical stories. We heard church bells announcing nine o’clock from towers in several directions.

We stopped at a small church dedicated to Santo Estavo (St. Stephen), in part because of its beautiful tile facing, and in part because a sign indicated “Public W.C.” After using the facilities (adjacent to the car park), we looked through the small cemetery. I’ve never seen so many elaborate grave markers in such a small space. As we were leaving, some fellow pilgrims, a group of six from Brazil, waved us over and told us that someone had gone to fetch a key so we could all look inside. It was astonishing, all the statues and decoration. I’m not religious, but it was impressive how much effort went into making and preserving this place.

We continued on between fields cornstalks a good seven or more feet high. The sun shone brightly and the morning warmed quickly. It was to become a very warm day for walking.

Cornstalks towering over Adele

By noon we reached the village of Vairao, which was a little beyond the halfway mark of our walk. We stopped at a churrasqueira near the town square for lunch. Nearly every table was already reserved, but the owner made room for us. The place soon filled with locals, and queue of others formed while we ate. Adele had BBQ chicken, and I ordered the fried octopus. The food was delicious, the staff were incredibly friendly, and it only came to €16.

The afternoon walk was hot. We went through most of our water, and stopped for lemon sodas about 3 km from Arcos. I’d made the decision not to bring my water pack, and I didn’t regret it. The added weight would have been a pain.

We arrived in Arcos about half past three. The Hotel San Miguel de Arcos is a beautiful place. With stone walls and wood floors. It’s a great place to end a day’s journey, and a blog post.

The Way – part 2: whirlwind in Porto

It’s nearing supper time in Porto, but Adele’s stomach is upset, likely from something she ate. The most likely suspect is the chicken club toasted sandwich she had for lunch, although I ate about a quarter of it and I’m feeling fine. Mind you, I have an iron gut (and a large one at that), so that doesn’t mean much.

We’ve met with the rep from Portugal Green Walks, and got our Caminho passports and guide books. I’ve rearranged my daypack, and am currently hmm-ing about whether or not to use the hydration pack. Pro: it’s going to be warm tomorrow (30ish Celsius). Con: weight. It might not seem like much to start, but after a while…. Mind you, I’ll be draining it as we go. Well, I’ll decide in the morning.

Happily, water is cheap here. I paid €4 for six litres. That’s about what I’d end up paying for one most places back home.

Prior to all of the foregoing, we spent the day touring Porto on one of those double decker sightseeing buses. Well, two of them actually. Anyway, although you can only skim the surface of a place that way, it showed us enough to think we’d like to come back for a longer visit at some point.

Tomorrow, though, we begin our Caminho. We have so many places to see, so many people to meet over the next couple of weeks, there’s no time to think about what we might do in years to come. We need to stay in the moment.

And at this moment, I’m starting to think about supper.

The way – part 1: Vancouver to Porto

Flying is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Even on an ostensibly ‘good’ airline it’s an ordeal. The long indignities of the airport, with its random drug screens and ‘place all your belongings in the tray, yes, your belt, too’; the way you Get squeezed into the ever-shrinking confines of increasingly expensive seats, as they cram ever more passengers into each row; the lousy food (its never a good sign if you have to ask, ‘what is that?’, or when you’re told, ‘all we have left is vegetarian pasta’). If only it were possible to drive to Europe.

But here we are, in Porto. Only 24 hours after arriving at the airport in Vancouver. Of course, some of that time – about eight hours – was spent at the airport in Amsterdam. Luckily, we’d had the idea of booking a hotel room for about six of those hours. ‘Room’ might be generous. If was more of a pod, really. But it was perfect for what we wanted: a place to stretch out, have a quick nap and a shower. If you have a longish layover, I highly recommend it.

It’s hard to say what Porto is like yet, as it’s dark. But it’s quiet, and the few people we’ve met so far have been friendly, and enthusiastic about their city and country.

The hotel here is more than acceptable. I’ll write more tomorrow.

Ready, set, ….

The preparations are done. The BBQ has been cleaned & brought in for storage. The house is closed up. Our bags are packed. We’ve checked in for our flight.

In a few hours, we’ll be in our way. Porto via Amsterdam, then the long walk to Santiago de Compostela. A pilgrim route. And maybe a sort of pilgrimage, too, if not a religious one. A journey of discovery, and of celebration.

I don’t know what I hope to find. Some of it will have to do with places we stop and the people we meet along the way. Some of it will be things we learn about ourselves. Traveling reveals so much about the traveler.

The celebration is less uncertain. It has to do with my continuing life with Adele. We’ve known each other for 28 years, lived together for 27, been married for a little over 25. It amazes me that two people can be together so much and for so long, and still love each other.

It often felt as though we’d never get to this day. There were so many months between the first idea of this journey and this moment. So many things we had to do to prepare. So many tasks that had nothing to do with it, but that we’ve had to do before going: at work, at home. Life seems always to get in its own way.

But here we are, finally, at the starting line: ready and set, and waiting to go.