Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 6: There's Something About Mary.....

Sept 22: I woke up in the morning--I suppose every morning you wake up is a good morning--then ate the hostel-provided breakfast which consisted of bread and cereal before packing up and meeting up with Mary at 8:00. She arrived a few minutes late which wasn't a big deal. It's not like I had a tight schedule to keep. My goal for the day was 31 kilometers to the small town of Alvaiazere--population 8,000.

Sunrise over the Templar castle in Tomar.

We took the dotted green scenic route out of Tomar, mostly on my insistence. The main Camino left town on a road but my guidebook showed this alternative scenic route that Mary didn't know about, and it was absolutely delightful leading through a thick forest and alongside a scenic creek.

A few kilometers out of town, the trail passed over an ancient roman bridge that Mary went completely nuts over. She said she studied architecture and just loved this stuff. I thought the bridge scenic and was in awe of its ancient origins, but I don't really know much about the Romans, Knights of Templar, and such so the history kind of goes over my head. Show me a bridge built by George Washington and I'd take a much greater interest in it! Mary seemed annoyed that I didn't have the same bubbling enthusiasm for the ancient bridge that she did. I didn't mind the bubbling enthusiasm--I wished I had that same excitement for architecture that she did--but I was more than a little annoyed that she seemed angry that I wasn't more like her given me a "why are you even out here?" type of attitude. "Oh, to take photos. Right."

I had told her about Walking 4 Fun. Nevermind that I could take photos on any trail and that I specifically chose the Portuguese Camino because I wanted to do this trail, but she seemed angry that I was mixing "business with pleasure."

Mary talks... a lot, and I found it difficult to have a two-way conversation with her. She'd say something--which might be interesting and I want to make a comment on--but she'd already be onto the next thing and by the time she stopped to take a breath, I'd forgotten what I wanted to say. Once I did cut her off to add a comment to what she was saying--I don't even remember what it was anymore--but she bit my head off saying not to interrupt her. Excuse me? I thought we were having a discussion--a two-way conversation. I didn't realize I was supposed to stand around listening to a lecture.

But it was a minor complaint since I didn't really feel like talking much anyhow. I'd let her go on and if I had some sort of witty comment to contribute, I'd often keep my mouth shut unless she finally stopped talking.

Near the town of Casais, my guidebook listed another alternative route that bypassed the town on rarely used dirt roads--which looked a lot more appealing than the slightly longer road walk into then out of the town, so I suggested we take that. Actually, I said that I was going to take it. I didn't really care one way or another if Mary wanted to take it too, but she decided to play along and stick with me.


The alternative route wasn't marked with arrows, but my guidebook started off with a detailed description of the route, listing turns and distances and then completely dropping the ball halfway through! The directions just stopped and with no arrows to follow, we weren't entirely sure which direction to go when we reached the next junction. Mary was not at all happy about this, getting quite angry about my leading her onto this unmarked trail.

"It's not a big deal," I told her. And it really wasn't. We could see the town in the distance. We knew the trail went into it, then back out of it towards the north. We just had to hike east until we hit the road and we'd be on the trail. It wasn't rocket science. My plan was whenever we came to a junction in the road, take the one that led east. It would get us back on the trail eventually. It was still a heck of a lot better than a miserable road walk on paved asphalt.

Although I wasn't particularly concerned about "getting lost," and was reasonably certain I could get us "unlost" without too much trouble, I played up my hiking experience and "innate sense of direction" in an attempt to calm Mary down. She was definitely not happy about this detour, though, and let me know in no uncertain terms.

She wrote part of her crankiness off to needing an expresso. She hadn't had her morning expresso yet, and it was bothering her.

We continued down the road, taking a couple of turns and generally veering to the east--then the road we were on hit a T-intersection with a north/south road. Which wasn't a big deal in itself--we followed the road north. My expectation was to veer east at the next intersection except that it dead-ended instead. Mary was not at all happy about the idea of having to backtrack.

Screw it! We don't need to backtrack! We could practically see the road that trail likely followed out of town just down the hillside to the east, and the terrain didn't look difficult to navigate. We'll just go cross-country. I guess Mary decided that she was already in too deep to quit now and followed me cross-country.

We walked for maybe three or four minutes before winding up in someone's backyard then onto a proper road again. Mary didn't think it was a good idea to be walking around in people's backyards. Which, in a general sense, I agreed with, but I didn't see any way around the backyard. And there was nobody in sight--nobody was going to care as long as we didn't set up camp or start a fire or something stupid. Nobody was even going to know we were ever there.

The road seemed to dead-end again towards the north and this time, with civilization built up on the east side of the road, I had us follow the road south for about 30 seconds where it intersected another road right next to the Cafe Balroa. On the map in my guidebook, the alternate route was supposed to rejoin the main Camino right at the Cafe Balroa! We weren't just back on the right track, but we had rejoined the path exactly where we had planned to! Turns out, we didn't lose any time at all with our getting "lost."

Once we were back on the main path, Mary swore that she wouldn't take anymore of those alternative paths. She was also happy to stop at the cafe for an expresso--something she'd been desiring ever since we left Tomar a couple of hours earlier. I had grown tired of her talking about needing an expresso.

She was excited to try speaking Portuguese with the person tending the cafe. I got one of those delicious pastry deserts and a Coke, although I was inclined to keep walking. It was earlier in the day than I normally stopped for my first rest.

Eventually we kept walking, and Mary spent the next two hours raving about how wonderful the expresso at the cafe was.

The terrain was generally pleasant. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant. The trail often ran through shade and temperatures had continued to cool. The terrain was getting more interesting too. It was almost entirely flat up until now, but now the trail had finally left the Tijo River and was going through mountains hitting new high points each day.

Mary went on to complain about her camera not holding a charge very well and that when she got back to Canada, she planned to return it to Costco. Which was fine, I didn't think anything of it until she mentioned that she had purchased it three years earlier.

"I think that's probably past their return policy," I said.

"It's crap. They should take it back."

"After three years?"

"I can be very persuasive," she told me. "If they don't take it back, I'll complain loudly. I'll post to their Facebook page and tell people not to shop there. I'll tell all of my friends not to shop there. They'll listen to me. I'll quit my membership if I have to."

I thought that sounded more like bullying than persuasion, but I had the good sense not to express that thought out loud. I hoped Costco refused to take the camera back. I hoped they held their ground. Customers like this are bad business anyhow. It seemed unfair that someone could replace their camera for essentially free every three years. Rechargeable batteries don't last forever either. The camera was probably just fine when she bought it. After three years and it doesn't hold a charge? Buy a new battery!

Later Mary mentioned that she had been big into scuba diving and had done hundreds of dives over the years. I did get my open water certification for diving, but have scuba dived about four times in my life. Hardly a lot of experience, but I loved every one of them. They were awesome experiences! And when she asked where I had dived, I told her: Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico and Disney World.

"Disney World?"

"Yes, Epcot. In their giant aquarium!"

Then she went on a tirade about how aquariums are awful and all of them should be closed down because none of the animals ever survives for more than a year. After she was done with her tirade, I felt like she had a higher opinion of pedophiles than anyone who would dare to dive into an aquarium.

I have to admit, I have no idea what the typical life expectancy of the various animals in an aquarium are, but I suspect that Disney has no desire to draw negative attention to itself with animals that die soon after being introduced. It is true that some animals do not do well in aquariums--such as the great white shark, but there aren't any great whites at Disney. (And good thing too, because I was swimming with the sharks and great whites are notoriously aggressive!) The killer whales of Sea World certainly got plenty of bad publicity as well. I wondered if she heard stories like this--weaving real facts into a story that "all" animals die quickly in aquariums. My gut feeling was that she wasn't the expert on aquariums that she thought she was, but I just shrugged and decided never to mention Disney again. Obviously a sore spot for her.


The last ten kilometers of the day, Mary was clearly hurting which seemed to ramp up her complaints. I was still in good shape--I didn't start getting sore until about 30 kilometers into the day, but Mary hit that point after 20 kilometers and seemed angry that I wasn't hurting as much as she was, then accused me of "holding out" on the fact that I had just finished the John Muir Trail shortly before starting this hike which is why I wasn't hurting so bad. It's true that I hadn't mentioned that I was standing at the top of Mount Whitney a couple of weeks before flying to Portugal, but it's not like I was pushing her to do 30 kilometers today. That's what she had wanted to do and I agreed to it because it was what I wanted to do too. (In my head, I thought, if you stopped talking for 2 seconds, I might have been able to mention my JMT hike.) I had a hunch if I mentioned my extensive hiking experience, she'd have just accused me of bragging, though. It seemed like no matter what I said, it was the wrong thing to say.

The part that annoyed me most was that she would tell other people that I'd been doing 40 kilometer days like it was easy for me. I hurt at the end of those days! It was not easy for me! After 30 kilometers, I'm still sore and told her as much--but I guess I wasn't hurting enough to make her happy.

Truth is, I suspect she was annoyed that I was in better shape than she was. She clearly considered herself to be in excellent shape and probably could walk circles around most other pilgrims, but I think it annoyed her that I wasn't one of them. Mary did have a lot of interesting stories to tell about her past--working in Dubai as a woman, extensive travels throughout Europe, and so forth. She has a very strong personality and is probably used to people being in awe of her travels and experience. I did think it was genuinely interesting, but she seemed to act as if I wasn't in a proper amount of awe of her. Even worse.... in certain areas such as backpacking, I was even more experienced than she was. I don't think she was used to that, and I don't she liked it.

Mary was starting to hurt after 20 kilometers on the trail, so dammit, I should have been hurting too.

This medieval stone bridge is nice.... but Mary seemed unsatisfied that I didn't gush over it like it was the greatest architectural achievement in all of history.

As we approached Alvaiazere, Mary wanted to stay at the local fire station for the night. Many of the fire stations along the trail--at least between Lisbon and Porto--allow pilgrims to stay for the night usually at no cost, and Mary was fond of them. I hadn't stayed in a fire station yet so I was agreeable to the idea. Try something new!

But then she got mad at me for calling them "fire stations." They are "firehalls" she told me. "That's what the whole rest of the world calls them, and since you're not in the United States, you should call them firehalls."

I was pretty sure in Portugal, where they speak Portuguese, that they didn't call it a firehall. They called it bombeiros--or at least that's what the signs we followed to the location said. Maybe it meant "firefighters." But in any case, they most certainly didn't call it a fire anything in Portugal! And I was an American speaking American English. Why was I supposed to start speaking Canadian English in Portugal? How does that make anymore sense than speaking American English in Portugal? It's not like I go around trying to convince non-Americans to change their language for me and to use "fire station" instead of "firehall." I know what they mean and just let it slide as being interesting and different--not something that needs correcting.


Mary was, I realized, slowly driving me insane. On the other hand, every time she said something stupid like arguing that "firehall" was more correct to use in Portugal than "fire station," a little part of me lit up and I'd think, this is a great story for my blog....

But at the same time, I knew I'd have to ditch her eventually before I went totally postal.


We checked ourselves into the fire station where we had the room to ourselves and with a small bathroom and kitchen. The place was a real dump--at least the part dedicated for pilgrims to stay in--and Mary confirmed that it was the worst fire station she had stayed in so far. The mattresses on the bed looked so disgusting, I didn't even want to touch them. I pulled out my groundsheet--intended for camping in the wild!--and put it on like a bedsheet. At least I wouldn't have to sleep directly on that nasty thing.

After taking a shower and cleaning up, we headed out to a nearby restaurant for dinner where I ordered spaghetti and a salad. It seemed like I was eating a lot of Italian food in Portugal: pizza, lasagna, and now spaghetti. =)

We didn't get back to the fire station until 11:30 or so, by which time I went promptly to sleep.

Fig trees!






Cork trees! The red part is where the cork has been harvested.

Mary also told me that she didn't know what these trees were. I told her they were olive trees, but she didn't believe me... until we actually found one with actual olives on the tree. In my head, I couldn't help but think... if you didn't know what they are, how could you possibly know what they aren't?
Lots and lots of olive trees out here!
Casa Torre in Cortica.
Why does it seem like that guy is about to shoot Jesus? And is that a dead cat hanging from its belt?


We'll be camping out at the Alvaiazere fire station/hall tonight!
The fire station was a dingy place, but Mary said the others she stayed in had much nicer facilities.

5 comments:

Bon Echo said...

In the parts of Canada were I have lived they are commonly called Fire Stations but (in my experience) Fire Hall is also occasionally used. Here in Hamilton (Ontario) they are officially called Fire Stations. So no, they are not always called Fire Halls.

Anonymous said...

I've visited Portugal twice, and it's be really fun following along with your travels. And today's post was particularly amusing. Thanks for sharing your trip with others!

Ryan said...

I don't know what the rest of the world calls them, but I *know* they aren't called fire stations or fire halls in Portuguese! =) The whole argument was just absurd to begin with. *shaking head*

Mary Mac said...

Ryan!!!! There's no photo of the gross mattress. I was looking forward to that! I can't take another day of Mary. I'm so irritated just reading about her! She wanted to hike with you so she'd have someone to lecture!

Laurel said...

I know someone who is an incessant talker. I kept picturing that person in Mary's place while reading your blog today and I kept cracking up! I hope you maintained your sanity. I think you did way better than I could have. =)