Monday, June 19, 2017

Day 36: Goodbye, Portugal; Hello, Spain!

Oct 22: I woke up and hit the trail at 8:00. It was a bit dark out—too dark, really, for taking photos. Normally 8:00 would have been fine for this purpose, but there was a thick fog and a heavy cloud layer that obscured the rising sun. I left anyhow certain that the light would be good enough for photos within minutes.

Immediately upon leaving the hostel, I crossed a street and entered the feature that Valenca is best known for: the fortress. Strictly speaking, the main trail skirts around the side of it, but my guidebook suggested that you’d be insane to miss is and if there’s one thing everybody knows, it’s that I’m not insane. ;o)

The fortress of Valenca
Large castle walls enclosed a small town of narrow cobblestone streets and the place was magical. This early in the morning, almost nothing was open and the streets were largely deserted but I was okay with that. The lack of light frustrated me because I wanted to get amazing photos of this wonderful place but my photos generally turned out blurry, dark and completely unsatisfactory. But it was also cold, the air wet with fog and I didn’t want to wait around for who-knows-how-long before it was light enough for decent photos. I did the best that I could, but my photos were all sorely disappointing and didn’t capture the essence of the place at all.

The fortress was surprisingly large and in excellent condition—I’ve never seen one that was so large and in such good condition before. I wished I had taken a day off to explore to explore it in more detail. Next time, maybe! Amanda, I thought, would have absolutely loved the place. It’s a shame that she wasn’t here to see it.

At the far end of the fort, I followed a path into a dark tunnel that left through a mostly hidden entrance. And the tunnel was completely dark when I went through. I wasn’t sure if the lights weren’t functioning at the time or if they just didn’t exist in the ancient fortress. If there were lights that weren’t functioning, it wasn’t light enough for me to see them.

I had a headlamp in my pack, but it was buried deep down because I never imagined I would have had a use for it and I wasn’t inclined to stop and fish it out. There was a hint of a light at the end of the tunnel where it curved to the exit, so I walked slowly, feeling the cobblestone path under my feet and holding my arms out to make sure I didn’t run into anything in the dark and felt my way through. It was a short distance—I knew I could make it, even in the dark. I just had to go slow to make sure I didn’t hurt myself.

I exited the castle walls and headed down to the main road where I rejoined the yellow arrows pointing to Santiago and within minutes followed them over a bridge soaring over the Minho River and the Portugal-Spanish border.

I was leaving Portugal, and this time, I would not be returning after reaching Santiago.

The Spanish/Portugal border
Now the trail led through the town of Tui, Spain, a pleasant place but had more of a sprawling, disorganized feel to it than Valenca. Tui was also the most popular starting point for people who walk the Portuguese Way because it’s the last major town with a train stop where one can start their walk and still qualify for a compostela in Santiago. Which is somewhat ironic since it’s also the first town in Spain. It amuses me that so many people who walk the “Portuguese Way” may very well never have taken a single step in Portugal!

But I’ll also say, for anyone who might read this thinking about doing the same thing, go ahead and start in Valenca instead. That place is truly amazing and it’ll add something like 2 kilometers to your walk. Don’t miss Valenca because of it being a mere 2 kilometers further away! And you can actually tell people you started your Portuguese Way hike in Portugal! (You don’t have to mention how little of Portugal you actually saw, though.)

Anyhow, I followed the path through Tui and was astounded at the sheer volume of pilgrims I was passing on the trail. It seemed like I saw a hundred different pilgrims along the route. Where did they all come from?! I didn’t know any of them either. All new faces, all new people.

Another hour or two later, I reached a split in the trail. The main route, according to my guidebook, veered left and was a bit longer, but more scenic. An alternate route led through a straight-as-an-arrow road through an industrial part of town and was ugly.

I was torn about what to do upon my arrival. Normally, I’d pick the more scenic route, regardless of whether it was longer or not, but today my goal was getting to Redondela. If I took the short option, it would cover 34.5 kilometers—that would make it my longest day on the trail (except for, once again, my back-to-back 40+ kilometers days on Day 3 and 4). It would be the third day in the row I replaced my third-longest day on the trail. I was sore and tired at the end of the last two days, and I knew I’d be sore and tired at the end of this day. Not to mention that the ground was soaked from rain overnight and it looked like the rain might start up again at any time. The longer route was a kilometer or two longer—still doable—but I wasn’t really all that excited about the extra mileage.

So I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I reached the junction. I took a break at the junction trying to decide, and after a 10 minute rest decided to hell with it! I’ll probably never be back here again so I may as well take the scenic route. Full speed ahead!

Somewhat surprisingly, yellow arrows pointed in both directions. Usually when there’s an alternative route, only one of the routes is marked and you just have to “know” about the other one and make the appropriate turn. This was well-labeled in both directions. I suspected the shorter road walk was the original route, and later the alternate route was added to make the walk more pleasant, but they left the original route intact for those who wanted the shorter option.

So I started walking the longer route and I didn’t go more than one minute in that direction when a car pulling a trailer pulled over and a guy opened his window and said—in Spanish—that I needed to go the other way. “Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re going the wrong way,” he replied. I pointed to the yellow arrow on a utility pole not ten feet away that was leading me in this direction, and pointed back at the two different signs that showed the trail split just behind me. I didn’t mention that my guidebook also showed this route. It was a valid route. I didn’t have a doubt in my head about it.

“No,” he insisted. “It’s a dead end.”

It made absolutely no sense to me, though. Was there a mudslide that blocked this route or something? Did he know something that I didn’t? I tried asking him more about why, but I couldn’t understand very well since he only spoke Spanish. He picked up his phone and phoned a friend, spoke to him for a bit then gave me the phone. His friend spoke English and told me that I was going the wrong way.

“I get that’s what he’s saying,” I replied, “but I see yellow arrows pointing in this direction. I saw two different signs saying that the trail split here and both routes worked. My guidebook says this route is even the recommended one. I’m not saying that the other direction is incorrect—I just don’t understand why the direction I’m going is supposedly incorrect.”

He asked me to give the phone back to his friend, which I did, and they talked some more in Spanish, then he gave the phone back to me.

“He said the yellow arrows just point to a restaurant. They put up the yellow arrows to trick pilgrims into going to their restaurant.”

That still made absolutely no sense to me, though. Who builds a restaurant at the end of a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere? The road surely goes all the way through. And it seemed unlikely they’d have included the route in my guidebook if it didn’t go all the way through. I was sure there is a restaurant up there, but I doubted very much that the trail just dead-ended at a restaurant.

At this point, the guy was just pissing me off, though. I had already wasted five or six minutes arguing about which route I should take and it didn’t seem worth the effort. I had been half tempted to take the shorter route anyhow—why the hell was I arguing about a route I hadn’t been excited to take in the first place?

“Fine!” I finally relented. “I’ll go the short route!”

I walked off, pissed and angry.

Yes, this route had a thrill a minute!
The route was immensely boring. Completely, utterly straight as an arrow for a few kilometers, running through industrial areas walled off with barbed-wire fences, and I cursed the stupid Spanish guy that sent me in this direction the entire time.

About halfway down the long road, that same Spanish guy drove by. He was no longer towing a trailer, but he honked and slowed down to make sure I saw him and he gave me a thumbs up sign with a big, stupid grin.

I just wanted to give him the finger, but I did nothing except curse the man under my breath.

I wondered if maybe he owned a small cafe or something along this route and wanted pilgrims to take this option hoping they’d stop and buy something. Just in case, I decided that I would not patronage any business until I reached the town of Porrino where the two routes merged again. If that was his plan, I wasn’t going to line his pocketbook!

The sole redeeming thing about taking this route was that it cut a mile or so off my already long day’s walk. But I was still bitter about how the whole incident played out.

The rest of the day’s hike was uneventful, and late in the day the clouds and fog started to burn off and there was even a little sun. I covered about 35 kilometers in a respectable 9 hours, arriving in the town of Redondela late in the day.

Streets of Redondela
I was back on familiar territory now for Redondela is where the Coastal Route merged in with the Central Route. I booked myself in the main hostel in town that appeared to be completely full by the end of the evening. We were packed in like sardines. Where did all these people come from?!  My guidebook showed the maximum capacity for the hostel was 44 people across two rooms, and I didn’t see an empty bed in either room. Undoubtedly, there were even more pilgrims in other hostels and hotels around town. I knew the route out of Tui was busy, but we were near the end of October now. How can the trail still be so busy so deep into the off-season?!

When I checked in, I was told that the check-out time was 8:30 in the morning. WTF?! Seriously?! That was screwed up…. It was still dark out at 8:30! When I crossed from Portugal into Spain, I changed time zones. It didn’t start getting light until about 9:00! Apparently, there’s no law against kicking people out of a hostel before sunrise, but if you ask me, there should be! I knew I couldn’t start hiking that early in the morning. I decided that I’d find a cafe, eat a snack and kill time until it was light enough to start walking.

I was also annoyed with the hostel when I tried to log online and the wi-fi wasn’t working. Argh! This day was really getting under my skin…. But thank goodness, it was finally over. Maybe tomorrow would be better.

Valenca is so worth a visit if you're in the area! The town in the fortress is adorable!

Across the river... Tui, Spain!

This bridge will get me over the river from Portugal into Spain. Hello, Spain! (Again!)

Streets of Tui, Spain.
Tui Cathedral--a lot of pilgrims start their walk from here and don't even step foot in Portugal--which is kind of ironic considering they'll be walking the Portuguese Way.

That's another neat, medieval bridge in the background but somewhat to my surprise, the trail didn't actually cross it!

Stupid short route. *shaking head*

This woman was very excited to be in my photo. =)

A quick grocery stop!

Whoever painted this arrow was obviously compensating for something! ;o)

I'd be spending the night at this hostel in Redondela tonight. *nodding*

1 comment:

Debbie St.Amand said...

I wonder if you could check the route on Google Earth, to see if that guy was right about the dead end, or if he was just yanking your chain.