Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
Dear friends, I hope that this republished version of Fog City Boy #4 captured the images successfully. If so, the credit goes to son Noah. If not, the blame is mine. FCB
Santarem, Portugal – April 8, 2014
I did not remark it in my previous post, but for the record, I started the first day of the Camino (before sending Fog City Boy #3 to print) by doing my AI (active isolated) stretches to prepare body, mind and spirit for the endurance event upon which I was about to embark. Boy was I happy that I did so. The muscles were tight and happy for the attention! And for you doubters out there, yes I did a two minute forward plank. (Technical note: An AI stretch is the opposite of a static stretch, often used in yoga and pose-oriented endeavors.)
On the first day’s journey, I got the first stamp in my Credencial de Pregrino, crossed the street to my pension (where the matron of the house insisted on stamping my Credencial with the stamp of the house, donned my back pack and my Tilley (broad brimmed hat) and stepped out into the rain.
Portugal has a maritime climate so rain is hardly unusual, especially in the spring and fall. The rain was gentle and I blithely headed out in to it. I deviated from the way marked path to visit the railroad station to pick up a timetable for later use (which it turned out they didn’t have) and returned to my travels, only to discover that I had lost my way and I hadn’t even gotten a half kilometer from my point of origin!
I was able to intuit where I ought to be and headed in that direction, but realized that I had gotten it wrong. So I made a new choice of corrective direction, proceeded, and in several blocks saw . . . a small yellow arrow indicating that peregrinos should continue on that street in the same direction.
There were several times that afternoon when I was uncertain of my path. I back tracked and determined that even if there wasn’t a confirming way mark, at least I hadn’t missed one along the way. Eventually another discrete little arrow showed me the way.
The Camino follows the River Tejo for some distance, heading northeasterly from Lisbon. The area through which I passed on that first day was given to light industry and manufacturing. There was a small container cargo terminal with a small (say 500 foot) container ship underway. It had equipment to work its own cargo but appeared to be leaving the berth. I’m not sure why a ship of that size needed a tug tethered to the stern as opposed to the stern quarter, but that was the case. I’m sure the pilot knew how to do the job.
The rain came and went but it was not an impediment to forward progress.
At the end of the long street among the working and abandoned manufactories, I came upon a grand structure that must have housed the offices controlling the factory spread out behind.
The building faced a small balloon shaped park dividing traffic on the thoroughfare. The park serves today as the terminus of a bus line. Narrow gauge tracks poking through the pavement at the top of the balloon confessed its earlier history as the terminus of one of the many tram lines that blanketed Lisbon in days gone by. This one built, no doubt, to carry workers to and from their respective places of employment.
I headed on, eventually passing under a highway viaduct and was pleased to see a yellow X on the back of a street sign, just adjacent to a zebra walk. How thoughtful, thought I, that the Confraternity alerted me to cross the street at this point! I did, and continued on, eventually inspecting the back sides of elegant apartment houses with their loading docks and trash bins. I pressed on.
Eventually, it occurred to me that I was again lost. Had I misinterpreted the yellow X? Well. . . yep. The yellow X means, “Pilgrim, don’t go this way.” I had missed the intended way mark and wandered off in my own direction. But all was not lost. I found myself at the Oriente Station of the Lisbon Metro and the Portuguese Railways. I consulted my guide book and discovered that notwithstanding my blunders, I was where I was supposed to be anyway (almost).
Fast forward, I found my destination for the day, a youth hostel maintained by the Portuguese government and offering lodging to peregrinos not normally accommodated in the youth hostel system. Nice clean bed, hot shower, two-bunk room, a good dinner near by, and off to slumberland.
Then the kids arrived. At 11 pm. There were 56 of them at breakfast the next morning. They were having a good time, so I cut them some space. I nodded off at 12:30. Then at 1 am there was a gentle knock at the door. A pleasant Italian gentlemen headed home to Italy from Morocco was to be my roommate tonight. We shook hands, he went off to find a sandwich, and I went back to bed.
The end of this story is pleasant enough. He was a polite fellow and went on his way. I slept three hours later than I intended, which got me off to a late start on my second day, but the Camino was just beginning.
Once I was up and out the door on my second day of the Camino, things went well enough in terms of progress until after about an hour of walking I missed a way mark and headed up a grade to join the A-1 – the Portuguese equivalent of an Interstate highway. I swiftly concluded that I had screwed up again, reversed course, found the way mark I had missed, and headed into a tranquil if soggy valley along a sandy trail.
Most observers will agree that the Camino is about discoveries. Many discoveries. I made one this day.
A dog may be man’s best friend, but a little yellow arrow is a peregrino’s best friend. Pointing the way. Leading the pilgrim. Reassuring that the way forward is exactly that. You are not lost.
I had neglected to get any lunch, and breakfast hadn’t been all that substantial. I had persuaded myself that there was a cafe just around the corner. But it was not to be.
Understand that as I commenced this section of the day’s endeavors, it had rained steadily for four days – heavily in the morning of the day before. The ground was sodden – not really a problem where the ground was of course sand, shells, and pebbles. They make for good drainage. The principal problem initially was diverting around small puddles that had formed in depressions along the way.
The rain began. Gentle. Not a problem for a hearty peregrino. I noted a number of things along the path. Horseshoe prints headed whence I had come. Cloven hoof prints headed the same way. And droppings of a quadruped that looked like little black marbles. From my heritage in Collinsville, Texas, I recognized those droppings as the product of a goat or a sheep. Both were raised in little fenced pastures along the way. There were rabbits and hawks along the way. Cocks crowed in the distance.
And, I noted two sets of shoe prints headed in the same direction that I was headed. One set smaller, one larger. The larger sinking a little deeper into the soil. A couple out for a hike? Peregrinos? They could not have been more than a couple of hours ahead of me.
The way became a bit more challenging as the ruts in the path deepened and became more frequent. Sometimes, and more frequently with forward progress, one had to walk on the “bank” of the puddle in order to get by.
I became quite impressed with my ability to read the condition of the way and the impressions and accumulations upon it. I fancied myself El Peregrino Forense!
And then, abruptly, the soil changed. The way passes through an opening in a wire fence, and the coarse sand disappeared to be replaced by much finer sand with probably a higher clay content. The soil had retained water from the last four days and drainage was often non-existant. The ruts were deeper. The puddles wider. The foot prints before me seemed to choose the same bank or center high point from which to jump and to which to jump. The slides when balance was lost were chronicled in the deep impressions in the mud. He first, she following his footfalls. And I in turn.
The guide book identified a bridge to cross. I found it. The bed had collapsed and I saw it two meters below in the channel. Fortunately, the chasm was only a meter wide and the leap of faith not too great.
By this time, there was no hope of enjoying the scenery. My focus was down, on the path, avoiding the puddles that seemed to be getting larger with each turn.
Even so, I got a few shots to remember the scenery for later inspection. A lovely, if soggy, valley. The ruins of an abandoned quinta.
And my pack was heavy. No place to sit down and rest for a while. No timely lunch. I was able to hydrate, but nothing else.
I started thinking about things in my pack that I could eliminate so it wouldn’t weigh so much. Do I really need the shower shoes? What about the pillow I got for the alberques? Do I really need that? What about the vitamins and meds? Couldn’t I just swallow them all tomorrow, toss the pill bottles, and go on without the extra weight? How about the walking sticks? Haven’t used them yet. And the long johns I brought in case it got cold. (It hasn’t and it doesn’t look like it will.) I started composing the customs declaration for the impedimenta’s trip back home.
The goop on the road was now adhering to my hiking shoes. Yuck. I had kicked up mud all over the lower sections of both pant legs. But so far I hadn’t fallen into one of these puddles. That was a good thing. So far so good. But would my luck last?
In due course I got through the path and emerged at a small town with a cheerful little cafe and enjoyed their “menu” – a plate lunch of fish, potatoes, rice, and copious array of overdone vegetables. It was late for lunch (about 1430) and the veggies had been in the pot for too long. No matter. I was happy to see a vegetable of any kind. It had been a while.
After lunch, I pressed on and came to the village of Alpriate.
The regional government has provided way marks for pilgrims passing through the county that complement the traditional yellow arrows (to Santiago) or blue ones (to Fatima). The path to Fatima begins on the shore of the River Tejo and follows the Camino de Santiago for quite a distance before separating sometime after passing through Santarem. The way marks are elegant and welcome.
I continued on the paths and the paved rural roads and entered a stretch of the way described in my guide book as, “rejoin farm track through cornfields and market gardens . . .” Well, I found the farm track and proceeded along it. Then I noticed the tread of the man’s hiking shoes I had seen this morning. No companion’s, though. Had she had enough of the mud and sludge? The puddles were longer and wider now than before. Then I saw clearly that the boot marks were headed toward my direction, not from! OJO! (The Spanish equivalent of “Uh, oh.”) Two minutes later I saw the reason why. The puddle ahead looked to me to be the size of Lake Michigan and clearly was impassible. I agreed with my “advance party” and sought an alternative.
I ventured into the farmer’s field to my left, hoping to skirt Lake Michigan and continue on my way. Unfortunately, the plowed and planted earth was even softer than anything I had seen yet that day. I lost my balance repeatedly and only recovered with the help of my (now) trusty walking pole. I eventually made it to asphalt paving and exited the quagmire. My boots were inundated in agricultural soil that was as saturated as it could be without flowing off on its own to the Rio Tejo. My light weight boots now weighed at least four times their actual weight, making trekking further most problematic.
But, I persevered. And I crossed my walking poles off the manifest for the shipment home. But for them, I would have looked like the tar baby in the briar patch.
To make a long story a bit shorter, I found my way through the rough foliage described in my guidebook. It was pleasant enough, though I overshot my intended destination for the day by about 4 kilometers, making for a total trek for the day of about 20.5 meters – about 13 miles.
Although quite proud of myself for having accomplished 13 plus miles today, I was concerned. Don’t go out of the box too fast. Endurance athletes don’t mind expending energy, but they do mind wasting energy. I had intended the first several days to be easier than the norm in order to prepare myself for longer days to follow. But the day just didn’t work out that way. I’ll take tomorrow more liesurely.
I have had many more adventures and misadventures since then. I won’t regale the gentle reader with all those stories. But I will share an acknowledgment and few sights from Vilafranca de Xira, the town I used as a base of operations for two nights, and from Santarem which I will have used as a base for five nights. [I will explain in the next blog posting.]
I want to acknowledge the very crucial and gratefully accepted help I received from Mariano, the owner of the Pensao Ribatejana on Rua de Pracia adjoining the railway station. He was most gracious in providing me with the tools to clean my boots which were caked with mud and which, if not treated timely, would have been permanently reshaped and treacherous to walk in. I recommend his pensao without reservation.
Portugal is committed to handsome tile work and other architectural statements reflecting the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula for over four decades. Artistic tile work is common. I have not known seeing the same design twice! One building in Vilafranca was faced entirely in tile. If you can’t make out the sign above the blue doors, it sports the hammer and cicle and the initials PCP. Posters with their demands are common hereabouts.
The next day on the (asphalt) trail, I rested at a bus shelter and captured the advertisements that flanked the bench.
A Big Mack will cost you € 5.00, fries and a coke are extra. The blouse is € 19.99. Both prices include the VAT.
The plaza at twilight before the Municipal Building in Vilafranca and the Plaza in front of its railroad station. Vilafranca is proud of its bullfighters and that it is an important location for training bulls for the ring. Likenesses of famous bull fighters from Vilafranca adorn the walls of cafes and bars.
On the road from Azambuja to Santarem.
Santarem is a lovely small city with many historic churches and fortifications. The old town commands a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside. A consideration not lost on Julius Caesar, who designated it as his regional administrative headquarters. Two views of Sao Francis de Assis and the convent, and church that bear his name:
Yesterday was a recovery day for me. The blog received considerable attention but was completed today after completing the first leg of my next trek north on the Camino. I’ll write about that in the next blog entry.
With that, I´m off.