The Way – part 10: O Porriño to Arcade

I didn’t expect bagpipes in Spain. But I’ll get to that later.

We woke up in Portugal, having spent most of yesterday in Spain. From the sound of it, we dodged a bullet being transferred back to Valença from O Porriño. I’ll elaborate on that in due course, too.

After another unsatisfactory breakfast at the otherwise satisfactory hotel, we were driven to a roundabout in the middle O Porriño. (Our driver had been given coordinates in advance, so there was no need for me to try to mumble something half way intelligible in Spanish.) and from there we began our 22ish km hike through this section of Galicia.

Spain is pretty, although O Porriño is not – it seems like the Red Deer of this region: utilitarian, industrial, and mostly plain, if not quite ugly. Happily, the way soon led us away from the blandness of warehouses and depots, and into forested areas and along lanes through small villages.

The coffee had been so terrible at the hotel in Valença, that all I could think about was finding a cafe to restore my faith in humanity, or at least Europeans’ ability to make coffee. Eventually, after much taunting by signs promising a cafe would appear eventually, we came to one beside a chapel in the village of Mos.

After a more than adequate Americano (and con leche, for Adele), we popped into the chapel to get our credenciales stamped. It was a relatively small, and from the outside unassuming church, but elaborately ornamented inside.

We continued on, past fields with scarecrows, walking from village to village, feeling increasingly like peregrinos. It’s become one of our favourite words: perigrino/-a.

‘Perigrinations of a dangerous mind,’ I said to Adele.

‘Well, I definitely know one perigrino with a dangerous mind.’ (I took that as a compliment.)

After another few hours of walking, we were starting to feel both hot and hungry, and we stopped at a chiarrusqeria along the way and had an amazing calamari sandwich. It will sound strange to anyone who hasn’t encountered it on a menu, but it was amazing.

Refreshed, we got back to walking, with more than two hours left to cover. It was past one o’clock (Spain is an hour ahead of Portugal, so we lost time without delaying), and the temperature would only continue to climb as the afternoon wore on.

Climb it did, and so did we, although not before a brief reprieve in a wooded park, where I swore I could hear bagpipes, of all things.

‘It’s probably church bells,’ Adele said, but as we walked on it became clearer that it was , in fact, bagpipes that I was hearing. Ahead of us, getting closer with each step, someone was playing bagpipes. In Spain. It was completely unexpected.

We emerged into a clearing where a young woman was standing, straight as a ramrod, squeezing and fingering her pipes with a big smile on her face. We stopped and chatted, as best we could, and bought a card from her, and let her stamp our credenciales with her homemade, unsanctioned stamp.

After emerging from the trees, we descended into a suburb, only to have to climb again a few kilometres later. I had been led to believe, from all my reading in preparation for this trip, that temperatures would have moderated at this time of year. Apparently I was misled. And the heat – again reaching into the 30s Celsius – does not make hills any easier. Neither do Adele’s blisters, or the toe she fractured three weeks before the trip.

Still, eventually we put the hills and heat behind us, and reached the hotel in Arcade, where we rejoined our Brazilian friends. They had spent the previous night at a hotel on the outskirts of O Porriño. It had no air conditioning, and one of them said she’d taken five showers trying to cool down. Bad coffee or not, I guess we dodged a bullet there.

Tomorrow will be a short walk to Pontevedra, where we will stay an extra day, saying goodbye, hopefully not forever, to our friends from Rio.

The Way – part 9: Valença to O Porriño – España (and back again)

Did I mention that we booked our hotels, baggage transfer, and sundry other services through a company called Portugal Green Walks? So far it seems like it was a great decision, so thanks to Adele’s friend Sunny for recommending them!

When we booked our Caminho, their usual hotel in Porriño was booked full up, so although we’ve already spent our last full day in Portugal, we still have tonight. The little bit of O Porriño we saw didn’t really inspire me, though, so I don’t mind another night in Valença, even if this hotel is a pretty big step down from some of the others we’ve stayed in on this trip. Great staff, ok room, sub-par breakfast. Great location, though, just beneath the walls of the old city.

Last night we had an amazing dinner at Fatum, an excellent Portuguese restaurant just inside the inner wall (in fact, within that inner wall, I think). We shared a brilliant sausage and cornbread crumble, house made cheese and a ‘tomato carpaccio’ salad for starters, and a stunning pork knuckle confit for a main. After that, we were too full for dessert.

We loved the meal so much, Adele asked if she could get a picture of the chef and our server. They were both amazing women.

This morning, we had an unsatisfactory breakfast (the coffee was terrible – first time that’s happened in Portugal! – and in spite of the yawning chafing dish, there were no eggs or meats, other than cold, square cut ham), we set off for Spain.

The Way today was mostly beautiful. After a short jaunt through the old, walled city, we wound our way through the cobbled streets and alleys of Valença, to the Ribeiro Minho, which is the natural border between Spain and Portugal. We crossed the bridge inspired by Gustave Eiffel, and we were in another country – just like that. No customs declaration, no security checks.

We talk a lot about “the world’s longest undefended border” between Canada and the U.S., but it’s largely a fiction. Just try crossing over between customs checkpoints! Actually, don’t. It’s a really bad idea. Maybe someday our border will be as easy to cross as an EU border, but I doubt it.

Today’s walk was mostly off the beaten path, and notable for both its prettiness, and the very unpretty temperatures. We often found ourselves longing for a shady reprieve from the sun, and wondering how much further we had to go.

We took a couple of detours recommended by Portugal Green Walks, which added a bit of extra distance to our walk, but eventually we found ourselves in Porriño. We summoned our transfer back to the Hotel Lara in Valença, and arranged our transfer forward to our starting point in Porriño in the morning. From there we’ll walk to Arcade, having said goodbye to Portugal for the last time on this trip. It will be bittersweet. I’ve fallen in love with Portugal – its food, its wines, its language – but I’m also looking forward to experiencing Spain.

But that can wait for tomorrow.

The Way – part 8: Cossourado to Valença

I am sitting in the shade outside a kitschy shop in Valença that doesn’t re-open for another five minutes. Adele has has wandered off on me, but was aiming to come to this shop, so I’m hopeful that she’ll be here soon. It is hot today. The weather app says 33 C.

Today’s walk was a short one, which was a good thing after yesterday’s slog. We sauntered from Casa da Capela to Hotel Lara in about 3.5 hours, in mostly downhill trajectory, with little to report. We stopped in a couple of capelas to light candles for people. The second time Adele put in €2 and about 10 candles lit up, so everyone should feel well covered. We also stopped at a restaurante & bar along the way, where the barman made us fresh squeezed lemonade.

After checking in early at our hotel, we’ve come up to the old walled city, which is where Adele and I briefly parted ways. Now back together, Adele tells me that she meant the tourism information office, which I point out is not a shop. ‘Whatever, I can’t find it.’ I say to follow me, and set off down the cobbled road.

‘It’s not down that way’, Adele calls to me.

‘Yes, it is’, I say. ‘Trust me.’

‘It’s closer to where we came in.’

‘No, it’s this way.’

I am right, of course. We go to the tourism office and get our pilgrim passports stamped, look around in a few shops, and then return to the hotel. It’s too damn hot for unnecessary walking, and besides, we have a long day tomorrow. We’ll be leaving Portugal and getting our first look at Spain.

The Way – part 7: grinding in northern Portugal – Ponte de Lima to Cossourado

I’m drunk. Since arrived at our hotel, I’ve had about a bottle and a half of vinho verde. Yes, I’m a lightweight. I’m old. -ish. Get lost.

Today was a hard day. The guide book said it would be, although it softened it by saying this would be “the most challenging day” of the Caminho. Christ, I hope so!

If you’re at all familiar with Vancouver, you’ll understand when I say it was like plunking half the Grouse Grind into a half marathon route. We gained 405 m – 1330 feet, for those of you who still think in such terms – during our ‘walk’ today. Most of it concentrated in a relatively short distance.

But we made it, somehow, and were even the first to arrive at our hotel. More drinking time for us! Winning!

For quite a while this morning, I wondered if they’d oversold the ‘challenging’ aspect of this stage. The we reached the grind – or what I’m now referring to as the ‘Portuguese Pummel’.

Thankfully we had purchased (and remembered to pack) trekking poles – although one of Adele’s crapped out, so we each used one. (Fair’s fair, right?) These proved invaluable in getting us up the rock-strewn gullies that appeared about 12 km into our 22 km hike.

It wouldn’t have been nearly so bad, though, if not for how hot it was. The temperatures reached the upper 20s C by 11 a.m., and by the time we reached the peak of our climb we’d hit 30 C, maybe more. The view, though, was spectacular.

Even after that zenith, though, today’s walk was a slog. The last time I drank this much water in a day (not counting the wine) was when I quit smoking, a little over 20 years ago.

We eventually arrived at our hotel, the exquisite Casa da Capela, at around 4 p.m., having left Ponte de Lima around 8:15 a.m.

It was a gruelling day, but I feel amply rewarded by the hotel, the food they served us for dinner, and – of course – the wine. (Oh, they also have a pool, not heated, which was great for soaking our feet in.)

Tomorrow, thankfully, will be a shorter walk, and mostly downhill.

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 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 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 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.