Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Day 13: A Painfully Slow Day

Sept 29: I expected to cover a little under 20 kilometers today--my shortest day yet--so I slept in late then goofed around on the Internet killing time before hitting the trail by around 9:30.

And for the most part, it was an utterly miserable day of road walking--including a particularly nasty stretch that followed along the shoulders of the busy N-1 highway. It was a spectacularly ugly, noisy, and horrible part of the trail.

My guidebook showed a "calzada romana" (Roman road) that sounded like it was away from cars and might be pleasant for a stop near the halfway point for the day, and I decided to shoot for that point for an extended break. It looked like the only place all day that might be off a car-choked road lined with civilization.

And it was... nice! Yep, that was definitely the spot for me to take an extended break, lay down, and read a book. =)

I'd been there for about 10 minutes when a hiker coming from the other direction arrived. I didn't see many people hiking from the opposite direction--they do exist, but most pilgrims are hiking towards Santiago. There are a small handful following the blue arrows (now pointing behind me) towards Fatima. Typically we never said anything more than "hello" and "goodbye" as we passed each other, but this one stopped and sat down to chat for a while.

She was young, very pretty, and all I had said was, "Hello!" and she immediately recognized the American accent. "American, are you?" she said with a distinctly British accent.

"Guilty as charged," I replied.

She introduced herself as Christie, and was from a "small town" called London. "You've probably never heard of it," she said jokingly.

"Hmm.... I think I might have. Is that in England?"

I had assumed she must have been walking to Fatima because... why else would she be walking the "wrong" direction on the trail? But no, she had started her walk in Bilbao, Spain--then hiked the Camino Norte, then picked up the Camino Primitivo before finally reaching Santiago. But she didn't want to stop and decided to keep walking on to Lisbon and maybe keep walking after that. She didn't really have a specific destination in mind. Just walk until she got tired of it or ran out of money, I suppose. She had already covered a whopping 1,000 kilometers since starting her journey. I was a little envious. I want to see the Norte and Primitivo routes, and she'd already seen them both!

Christie, from the "small town" of London.

She had decided to walk the Portugal Camino next--but in the "wrong" direction since she was already in Santiago. She had noticed that she seemed to be following blue arrows, but she hadn't really trusted them because she didn't know what they were for or where they ultimately led and kept looking behind her for yellow arrows to confirm that she was still going in the correct direction. So I got the chance to explain that the blue arrows led to Fatima, and it overlapped the Camino--at least up until Coimbra where the two paths diverge. Although she could walk to Fatima, then reconnect with the Camino afterwards. Didn't really matter, I suppose, since she had no set destination in mind.

She had stopped for about a half hour to chat but eventually got up to continue her journey. I was a little sad to see her go. It was nice having company to chat with. I enjoy reading books on my Kindle, but I'd been doing an awful lot of that lately. People made things more interesting.

I went back to reading my book for nearly an hour before my legs started getting restless and I packed up and continued down the trail.

I only walked for about an hour and was still going too fast. I needed to kill more time, but there were no good spots apparent on my map ahead so I stopped at a cafe in town where I could sit in a proper chair and get food and drinks served to me.

On the door of the cafe was an illustration of a delicious hot dog, so I pointed at that trying to order one. Plus my usual pastry and Coke, of course. The Coke turned out to not have even been refrigerated--disgusting room temperature stuff, so I asked about ice. I didn't know the word for ice in Portuguese and tried to pantomime dropping ice cubes in the cup and shivering and pointing at the cup. I didn't know if he had any ice, but come on--room temperature Coke? The Coke didn't have to be cold (although it would be nice), but I wasn't going to drink a hot Coke. Not going to happen....

The guy did understand me and filled up my cup with ice. Awesome. Now I could get a cold Coke. =)

The hot dog came out a bit later and.... it looked absolutely nothing like the illustration I pointed out which looked like a standard, regular, run-of-the-mill hot dog. This looked more like a sandwich with hot dogs (two of them!) inside as a meat filling. Yeah, okay.... whatever. I'd still eat it, but that was no hot dog.

This was what I got when I ordered a "hot dog." =)

I lingered for another hour and a half, killing time, then continued on to the small town of Grijo and my destination for the day.

I went to check into the hostel, and another pilgrim from Holland gave me a tour of the place pointing out the various rooms. One room she pointed into she told me had a Canadian woman in it, and when I saw the gear, I thought, Mary! Oh, God! That's totally Mary's gear! I didn't express my thoughts out loud, but I fell into a panic. How do I get rid of Mary?!

Mary wasn't there at the time, but she had to be nearby. Her gear was here, after all. I would have immediately changed to a different hostel if there had been another one in town, but this was the only game in town. Crap.

I selected a room on the second floor, a floor above Mary and as far away from Mary's room as I could get. I knew I'd probably run into her at some point in the hostel, but I wanted as much cushion between us as possible.

After setting up, I headed next door and joined a table with a bunch of other pilgrims including three French people who spoke no English at all and the woman from Holland--whose name I still hadn't gotten and now felt awkward to ask--who did know English. She translated a bit between the French people and myself, but her French seemed a bit rusty. Still better than my French, though!

I got an ice cream sandwich and another Coke, which the French people insisted on paying for. I hadn't even realized it until I tried to pay for my stuff and the clerk wouldn't take my money because it had already been paid for. Well, then... thanks! =) When they talked to the clerk in French, I had no idea what they were up to.

When I returned to the hostel, I finally ran into Mary who seemed surprised to see me. "I thought you would be further ahead by now," she told me. She probably wished I were further ahead, which I was wishing as well at the moment. So I explained that I was meeting my girlfriend in Porto and couldn't get there too early and had to slow down.

The pilgrims were offered a "family dinner" nearby--for a price, of course, which the French people and Hollander went for. I didn't really want an elaborate meal, but decided to go mostly for the company. Mary was vehemently against it saying that they were serving a month-old piglet for dinner. "It's just a baby!" she told me.

I wasn't sure how that was relevant. Was it okay to eat an adult pig, but baby piglets somehow crossed a line? But I was happy to agree with her. "Yes, it's barbaric," I told her. I hoped the piglet had been raised humanly and killed humanly, but I didn't really have any way to verify if that was the case or not. If it was raised for food, though, I couldn't see the distinction between killing it after a month or after a year or after a decade. But if Mary boycotted the dinner, I won't have to see her there so I was perfectly happy to push her on the point. So I readily agreed: "It's barbaric," and nodded my head wisely.  =)

At the anointed hour, everyone except Mary headed to the nearby house where we were served a family dinner which included salad, rice, and... chicken. It definitely wasn't pork because I found a chicken wing in the meat, and I was very certain that piglets did not grow wings. The family dinner also included a few screaming but adorably cute kids who lived at the house. I guess it wouldn't be a "family" dinner without the screaming kids nearby. =)

The family spoke Portuguese, of course, and enough French to chat with the French people. I felt a little left out, though, only being able to communicate with the woman from Holland. She was the only other English-speaking person at the table. Oh, well.

We finished dinner and got back to the hostel fairly late at night--after 10:00, I think--and headed to sleep.

This is a fairly well preserved original stretch of a Roman road, hundreds of years old and the location of my first extended break for the day.

When I first saw this sign, I thought, "Oh! The alburgue is close! Only 6700 meters!" Then I did the math and realized that 6700 meters is the same as 6.7 kilometers. Which isn't really that close. (Over 4 miles.) But it left me scratching my head and wondering.... why did they list it as 6700 meters and not 6.7 kilometers? Why use meters at all if you're talking about something greater than 1 kilometer?

The door of the hostel had these arrows at the exit. Turn left for Santiago, and right for Fatima!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Day 12: Struggling with another slow day....

Sept 28: Ultimately, I had a wonderful night in the woods. A few flies had come out near sunset, but they weren't the biting plague like a swarm of mosquitoes, and they hung around for just a short time before retiring for the night like a proper insect should.

Slug on the trail!

I woke up early, but I wasn't in any particular rush hoping to cover about 24 kilometers today. I would have preferred to do closer to 30-kilometer days--that seemed to be my sweet spot of not feeling too bored by going too slow and not hurting myself by going too fast. But I was scheduled to meet Amanda in Porto in a couple of more days and I needed to average about 20 kilometers per day to get there on time, so I was limiting myself to 24 kilometers today. Still more than I really needed, but it was the best option for lodging closest to the 20-km mark I was shooting for.

Although I wasn't in a rush, I couldn't help but wake up early. The air temperature was pleasantly warm--no cold to drive me back into my sleeping bag. But I was ready to start walking by 7:30, and I held back because it was still too dark out. I was a bit surprised by this. When I first arrived in Portugal, 7:30 wasn't dark. I'd been in the country for about two weeks and I could tell it was getting light noticeably later in the morning than when I first arrived. I lingered in camp until about 7:45 when the tops of the trees started lighting up in sunlight. It was still somewhat dark for my camera, but I could make it work. By 8:00, I expected the sunlight to reach all the way to ground level.

The day's hike was generally easy but boring. I stopped for a break by a "ponte medieval" (medieval bridge) to pass some time. A few pilgrims passed, but I didn't really know any of them. I said they could stop and join me, but they kept on moving. I read my book but grew restless after an hour or so and continued a short way into the town of Oliveira de Azemeis arriving there just before noon as the heat of the day cranked up.

I was moving too fast. Despite my hour-long break at the medieval bridge, it was only noon and I had a mere nine kilometers (about 5.5 miles) to my destination. I figured it would take me maybe 2 hours to reach my destination in Sao Joao da Madeira. I was definitely in no rush.

I stopped at an outdoor cafe for a lunch break where I ordered a hamburger (mediocre, at best), pastries (delicious!) and two Cokes. It didn't take me long to finish the food, but I lingered at the table for nearly two hours reading my book and killing time.
When I started hiking in the morning, the landscape wasn't lit up yet, but the tops of the trees were in sunlight. I figured the ground below would be lit up soon.

Growing increasingly itchy at sitting around, I finally paid my bill and hit the the trail again. Temperatures had soared during my break and sweat poured down my face the last two hours to Sao Joao. The last couple of miles weren't particularly pleasant passing by busy, congested roads and shopping malls. It had the feel of a big city, even though my guidebook listed the population as being only 21,000 people. I had to think that the suburbs swelled the area's population much higher than that.

I made it into town which, as far as I could tell, had no hostels at all. So I booked a hotel room for myself for 25 euros. A bit more than I would have preferred paying, but not exactly breaking the bank either. The hotel was a bit run down and I didn't get a private bathroom, but it was serviceable.

I stayed in the hotel room for the rest of the day watching television shows online, eventually going out in the evening to get dinner and read in the plaza in front of the hotel, but generally taking it easy.

These short days were growing increasingly frustrating for me. My legs wanted to go! And tomorrow, my plan was to cover an even shorter 19.4 kilometers into Grijo. Good grief, how would I survive?

They still use steam trains here?! Way cool! =)

That utility pole is actually stuck into the top of that mound of dirt, which for some reason I found very fascinating! They couldn't move the pole? Or was the pole installed after the mound was formed? It just seemed like a weird place for a utility pole.

It looks like an abandoned wreck of a train, doesn't it? =) But in actuality, it was moving down the tracks, in use, and I had to stop to let it pass so it wouldn't hit me when I crossed the tracks.
Ponte do Salgueiro, an ancient stone bridge. (Not the one I took a break at, however. This trail has a lot of ancient stone bridges!)
Corn crib

That building on the left is a giant, indoor shopping mall.

Tower in Praca Luis Ribeiro, and in front of the hotel I stayed at. =)
Is that supposed to be a pilgrim riding a snake?