Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 4: A Grueling Day.... and Cork Trees!

Sept 20: The night was absolutely miserable. I was just about to fall asleep when I heard the first mosquito, and it soon brought an entire army with it. I pulled my head into the sleeping bag to escape the onslaught, but it was hot and uncomfortable without the fresh air. I tolerated them patiently for an hour or so, waiting for temperatures to drop enough that they'd go back and leave me alone, but it never happened! Those stupid mosquitoes buzzed me all night long and kept me from falling into a deep sleep. I didn't even have a mosquito net for my head. It was the last half of September--who knew mosquitoes would still be a problem this late in the year?! The mornings and afternoons certainly had no hint of bugs.

The morning started cool, overcast and pleasant. Once the overcast skies burned off, though, temperatures would soar into the 90s. Again. *sigh*

So I slept in fits and starts, and as dawn approached, I was still tired and more than a little cranky. And anxious to get the hell out of that hellhole. Fortunately, my throbbing feet from the 42-km day I had covered before felt fine and dandy. They recovered well!

By sunrise, the temperature had cooled to a comfortable level--and the mosquitoes finally went away for the day. The morning dawned with overcast and dreary skies, and all of my gear was damp from condensation. I didn't mind the condensation or dreary skies so much as long as the temperature stayed cool, but it was not meant to be. By late morning, the overcast skies had burned off and the temperatures soared into the 90s again. Argh!

The trail led me through the hilltop town of Santarem early in the morning--a bustling city of 29,000. It was a terrible place to walk around--loud, busy and crowded. It was here where the Camino de Santiago finally split from the trail to Fatima, so I'd no longer be following the blue arrows anymore.

At the far end of town, the trail led to up Porta do Sol--an old fortification with commanding views of the countryside. I walked around to admire the views and take a few photos but didn't linger long. I had another long day of hiking planned and didn't have time for long, extended breaks. The trail ducked into a narrow alley then led down a steep hillside out of town. The walk out of town was much more pleasant than the walk into it had been.

Most of the day, the trail led through relatively boring farmlands. I passed all sorts of crops rather than the mostly one-crop (tomatoes) farmlands from yesterday. Grapes, melons, peppers, corn, sunflowers, figs, cork trees (not that cork trees are edible, but it is kind of a crop) and even some stuff that I had no idea what it was. I could have made a salad with all the different crops I passed!

I passed by a lot of vineyards--especially in the morning.
The cork trees fascinated me the most. The bark is cork. Soft and feels just like cork--because it is cork. It looks like cork. But they were trees! How can the bark of a tree be so... corky? I would later learn that about 50% of the world's cork comes from Portugal and cork trees cover about 8% of the Portugal's land area. Portugal is a major cork producer, and you'll see cork products heavily promoted in stores all over the country. Harvesting cork from a tree doesn't damage the tree, and the cork will grow back and can be harvested about every seven years.

Late in the day the trail followed some scary road walks, but I took an unmarked detour to get away from a particularly busy and nasty stretch of road even though it was a kilometer longer. I did take a wrong turn that caused me to walk another kilometer in the wrong direction--which was particularly unnerving since I was so tired, hot and miserable--but what could I do but shout curses at the corn stalks around me, and I was too tired to even do that.

I arrived into the small town of Golega (pop 6,000) just before sunset having covered over 40 kilometers for the second day in a row. Although I had covered 1.4 kilometers less today than yesterday, I took over 2,000 steps more due to my wrong turn late in the day officially logging 60,474 steps for the day.

I had made a reservation for the Inn Golega, but when I arrived, the door was locked up tight and a note on the door said to buzz the buzzer or call a number. I didn't have a phone that worked so the number was out, and the buzzer didn't seem to be working. What to do? What to do? I dropped my pack on the ground and sat down. My feet were throbbing. I could look for somewhere else to stay in town. Or maybe wait for someone to walk by and ask if they spoke English or could call the number on the door for me. I so didn't want to get up and find another place in town to stay. Why the hell wouldn't the buzzer work? Or maybe it was working but I just couldn't hear it? Knocking on the door as loud as I could wasn't getting any results either.

I tried pressing the buzzer again and it moved a bit. Just a tiny bit, but it hadn't moved at all the last time I pressed it and I finally realized that I had to press one side of the button. It worked like a lever, not a button! The buzzer was doing something now! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Open! Open! Open!

But after standing around for a minute, I wondered if it really did anything at all. Another minute went by before a woman came up through an alley and waved at me. Was this the host? Yes, it was! Praise the Lord!

She let me into the hostel and showed me around. The hostel had several rooms, but she said I could take any bed I wanted because I was the only person who had made a reservation and this late in the day, it was unlikely anyone else would show up. I had the whole hostel to myself?! Awesome! I hadn't seen any pilgrims all day, but I figured there was bound to be a tourist or somebody else in the hostel. But no.... It was like having my own private apartment! In the kitchen, she told me I could help myself to anything I wanted that was in the fridge. The items in the fridge were left by pilgrims earlier in the week. I wound up eating a bunch of grapes someone had left. =)

The host didn't stay in the hostel, but went to her home nearby telling me to contact her if I needed anything. She asked if I wanted recommendation for places to eat dinner in town, but I passed. I was exhausted and my feet were throbbing. No, I wasn't going out tonight. I had plenty of food in my pack for both dinner and breakfast the next morning.

After she left, I took a shower to wash off the dirt and grime from my body. My feet were so sore, though, I sat down in the shower and let the water pour over me while I lathered and cleaned up. I was miserable. Glad to be done for the day, but miserable. I couldn't keep doing these 40+ km days anymore. Never again. I had covered over 80 kilometers (50+ miles) in two days in 90-degree temperatures with little or no shade. Screw that! I vowed to cut back to no more than about 30 kilometers in a day--less than 20 miles. It's really at that point when I start feeling the pain. Maybe later in my hike after I've been hiking for a month and I'm better conditioned for long-distance days, but not this early in the hike.

My feet, despite the pounding they had taken the last two days, still had no blisters, and I knew by morning, they'd feel fine again. In the meantime, I limped around the hostel to the kitchen to eat some snacks for dinner, then back to my room to write in my journal practically falling asleep while writing. I could barely keep my eyes open. I quickly fell into a deep sleep. No mosquitoes this time.

There were black grapes!
And green grapes!
And bridges!
And flowers!
And... walking around Santarem was pretty miserable.

It is here where the trail to Santiago splits from the trail to Fatima. No more blue arrows for me--I'd be following the yellows arrows exclusively now! =)

The one thing I really liked in Santarem were the awesome views from Porta do Sol overlooking the Tijo River.
The overcast skies were burning off too, so temperatures were soaring. And humidity... *shaking head* Awful!

Back in the farmlands again....
If Peter pecked a peck of peppers.... he'd have a whole, giant pile of picked peppers. =)

Those are some sad-looking sunflowers....
This looked like a sunflower massacre!

Wild cucumbers, perhaps? Not sure about this one....

All that yellow in those fields are happy sunflowers. =)
They even harvest sunlight out here!

Redneck art sculpture. =)
This cork tree has been harvested on its lower half.

Rain was not in the forecast, but I hadn't counted on these sprinklers! It kind of felt nice on a hot day like this, though. =) I just didn't want anything like paper or electronics in my pack to get wet. (You can't see it well in the photo, but the sprinklers are spraying water all over the road.)
The other problem with the sprinklers.... they created a lot of mud on the trail!

The odd thing about this particular pile of peppers.... it was completely surrounded by corn fields. Where did these peppers come from?!

Sunset is quickly approaching. Gotta get to the hostel soon!
Streets of Golega

Home, sweet, home. I'd have the entire hostel to myself tonight!


Karolina said...

That insupportable heat... my Portugese colleague says that the Alentejo region you are walking through in your blog right now is infamous for heat which is particularly hard to stand...

Ryan said...

I believe it! *nodding* And I'll totally vouch for it! Even in September, temperatures were miserable! *shuddering with fearful memories*