Camino - Days 4 & 5
Easter day and our first real test, a 33K hike from Barcelos to Ponte de Lima. We left at 7:30 and arrived at our hotel in Ponte de Lima at about 5:30, a very long day of walking. I had decided that I was seriously over dressing for my walks so today I wore shorts and a shirt and my hiking runners, and as we left in the morning it was very foggy and cool and the sun had not yet risen. I was really worried that I had over-compensated and would regret not wearing more warm clothing but it was too late as all the rest of my clothes were in my luggage, waiting to be picked up at our hotel. Being chilly is certainly a motivator to pick up the pace and we came up out of the town as the sun rose, stunningly beautiful and the air began to warm and all was good again.
Just as I took the picture above, the morning air was filled with the sound of repeated, very loud explosions. We quickly learned that every little community sets off rockets and firework mortars to announce and welcome the risen Christ. My first thought was that it would be a sure way of making sure that he left the area in a hurry and in a less than charitable frame of mind but I clearly wasn't entering into the appropriate spirit. As the day progressed and as we moved along our way this was repeated continuously by one community after another. I don't think it did much for the risen Christ but it did absolutely nothing for the sheep, goats, cattle, cats and dogs that we passed.
One other interesting cultural curiosity that we noticed in many houses that we passed was the female head of the household with a basket or bag of petals of various colours, strewing these from their front door out to the street entrance, presumably as a welcome to Christ to visit their home. Far more appealing I would have thought than explosions but also a wonderful insight into the psyche of his male and female worshipers.
The weather was beautiful all day, alternating sunshine and bands of cloud, typical March and we were extraordinarily luck to have had such easy weather on such a very long day. We saw our first other peregrinos today, first since we started. Not many, only about 4 or 5 others but nice to know that we were not alone.
I think today's walk was one of the hardest things I have done in a long while and I began to understand that the walk is as much a matter of getting your mind in the game as your body. We were walking through a variety of terrains, the hated cobblestones but also along trails that carved their way alongside farmers' fields and vineyards. The air was clear and fresh, the colours were brilliantly green and verdent and it was a perfect spring day but we had to cover 33K before we could sleep. As much as anything it was a matter of just making your feet keep moving, which was not always easy. The path is well marked with the ubiquitous yellow arrows but there are very few distance markers so when you do run across one, after having convinced yourself that you have walked at least 20K and you're in the home stretch and you find a distance marker that tells you that you have only walked 14K and there remains as much walking still to do as the longest walk you have done on any of the previous days' walks, it can be disheartening. Just plugging along and keeping your feet moving is not easy but your only choice.
One of my best decisions today was to wear my hiking runners. Not as supportive as my hiking boots particularly over rough, sloping ground but each shoe is about a pound lighter than a boot and over 33K or 33,000 steps saving a pound with each footstep is a massive saving in energy. Also, surprisingly, I brought my little ipod loaded with books on tape expecting to listen and allow my mind to forget distances still to go but I find it very distancing from the environment and puts too much of a barrier in the way, separating you from the immediacy of the walk and the surroundings.
Finally arrived at our hotel to wild celebration by all concerned. A pretty scrappy dinner at a local restaurant and as we arrived back at our hotel the skies opened and put an end to a pretty special day. Too exhausted to do the blog and into bed.
Today, Easter Monday we were on the road by 8:45 with about 18K to cover. After yesterday, felt like it would be a walk in the park but hadn't reckoned on the day's path or on the weather. When ever I awoke during the night I could hear the rain lashing my windows and by morning it had been bucketing down for 12 hours without a break. As we moved out of town in the driving rain, cars periodically stopped to give us information and the drivers were obviously distressed. We began to realize that they were trying to tell us to stay off the Camino trail as it was dangerous since the river had risen and flooded large sections of the trail that ran along the river. We used Google maps to find a road that got us in the right general direction and we could see the river in spate next to the road, roaring away, well over its banks and carrying large branches and debris at a furious pace down river. The manhole covers in the streets were jetting fountains of water through the holes in the covers and when we had left the hotel the receptionist had said that the river had risen so much that the toilets on the ground floor were all overflowing from the pressure of the water.
We connected with the Camino trail on higher ground but did not realize the state of the trail even as we began our climb. Much of today's trail was off road and through hills and forests. We had a pretty stiff climb to get over a range of hills that separated us from our destination and although we were above the river the rain was pelting down so hard that the water was treating our path as a stream and was racing down to join the river. If yesterday was challenge, today was a trial. With the rain drenching down we had a 5K climb over hills and through forest whose paths were mountain streams and were slippery and treacherous in the extreme. Had anyone fallen I don't know how help would have been able to reach us or how someone would have been carried out.
My supposedly waterproof hiking boots were full of water and we were all sodden, soaked, drenched through and through. It took us about 2 1/2 hours for the climb and then the descent on the other side was even more terrifying. The nail on big toe of my left foot is black and blue from being kicked against the front of my boot, has been for the last two days, but today on the descent it was past the point of fun. We were far from help on a forest trail, freezing cold and wet, we had 4 or 5K to go and it was a case of putting your head down and going.
When we finally arrived at our lodging for the night our innkeeper could not believe that we had made the climb and descent in the weather conditions. He was sure that we had taken the road around the hills, longer but infinitely easier. I have to quietly admit that had I known there was a road available I would have been the first one voting for taking it, but over the last two days we have done some magical things and we're all thrilled that we have made it this far.
Weather forecast is more rain for the next couple of days so not sure that it's going to get a lot easier but we'll see. Tomorrow we have a bit of a climb up over some hills and then down to the river that forms the border between Portugal and Spain and we spend the night in Tui, Spain