Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
Porto, Portugal – May 1, 2014
Hello from Porto – home of port wine, a harbor, and lots of statues celebrating Portugal’s glorious past. Here’s a statue that particularly caught my eye.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, after Lisbon. It is a bustling, successful commercial center. More about Porto later.
The Way from Coimbra required 8 days (at least at the pace I have embraced). Here are some highlights:
I walked from Coimbra to Mealhada on Easter Sunday and was charmed by the custom still observed here of distributing greens on the paths to the parish churches and to the homes of the faithful. Flowers decorated monuments, shrines on roadsides, and memorials at the cemetaries en route.
The Way also took me past a tile painting that struck my interest because it did not have a religious theme or commemorate a local event. It just celebrated a local product!
Toward Mealhada I came upon an advertisment for an alberque that was opened a year or so ago. That is a first for me. Because I was still staging from Coimbra I did not check into the alberque, or check it out. But clearly from the "billboard" the hospitaleros understood what peregrinos need after a long, hot day on the Way. I passed the alberque on the next day. It is a newly constructed facility and clear evidence that the Camino infrastructure is developing in Portugal.
The next day took me from Mealhada to Anadia. As I head further north on the Way, I have come upon an increasing number of way marks placed by the local municipalities – further evidence of the developing infrastructure. Usually the mark is a blue tile with a yellow concha and a yellow arrow pointing the way. Generally these are glued to walls or posts driven into the ground. They are a welcome addition to the yellow arrows that have traditionally pointed the Way.
But these handsome way marks likely won’t replace the yellow arrows that adorn utility poles and various street furniture (sometimes curbs on the streets) for several reasons. First, the municipalities likely can’t afford to place a tile adjacent to every yellow arrow in Portugal. Second, painted arrows can be placed higher on a pole than the municipalities want to place their tiles, and accordingly, the yellow arrow can be seen at a greater distance. And third, another critical way mark, as I discovered and reported several weeks ago, is the yellow X – alerting the peregrino not to follow the wrong path. I haven’t seen a municipality-placed yellow X yet. All that said, here is a very substantial and elegant municipal way mark I encountered along the way.
This day was a short if hot day and I was quite pleased with both the 3-star Hotel Cabecinho in Anadia, and also the Restaurante d’Avenida next door. The restaurant is a new venture, a buffet style but full service restaurant. The entrepreneurs are the charming and effervescent Michelle (an Australian ex-pat) and her husband Dino Santos. Both are hospitality professionals and bring their skills to this new venture. It was a blessing to be able to construct one’s own lunch (and dinner) to reflect the tastes and needs of the individual peregrino.
The Way from Anadia to Agueda includes some country track, but also some serious highway treking. I spared the gentle reader images of those segments of the trek, but in the spirit of full disclosure, here is an image from this day’s walk. The lorrie is not stationary!
Here’s another stretch of the Way. The roadway below cuts through a Roman Aquaduct, the access road above runs under one of the arches.
Further along, I captured two way marks of interest – the first one showing the distance remaining to Santiago de Compostela, and another marking the Way to Fatima, which follows the Camino though at this point in the opposite direction.
On the way into Agueda, I found yet another fountain of note. The Fonte do Atalho dates from 1467.
Rain was predicted for the day from Agueda to Albergaria-a-Velha. And for once the weatherman’s prediction was accurate. The rain started exactly one minute after I left the hotel. It was gentle – at first. And then, as I headed out of town, the heavens opened up and I was drenched. Fortunately, I had protected my pack in advance. In due course, I found a doorway to dodge the rain until it faded, briefly. I set out again. And the rain returned, receded, and returned again. And then windchill took over. Fingers were numb and purple.
It’s not that it doesn’t hurt. It’s just that it doesn’t matter.
OK, I get that. I have been getting that for a while now! But does that extend to. . . "it’s not that you aren’t wet, it’s not that you aren’t cold, it’s not that you aren’t covered with mud. . . it’s just that it doesn’t matter?"
The answer, of course, is yes.
Clear your mind, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will make it. You will arrive at your destination for the day.
Eventually, quite damp, I arrived in Albergaria and checked in to a 1-star pension that for all its limitations, was much more commodious than the dump in Santarem. I treated myself to a hot shower in the WC down the hall. At least the water was hot when I stepped in and lathered up. . . . Well, you can figure out what happened next. I survived the experience but never got around to washing my hair.
The next day’s destination was Oliveira de Azemais. I treated myself to a 4-star hotel that had a special rate of €35 for peregrinos. That was a deal much too good to pass up. And there was plenty of hot water.
There are lots of eucalyptus trees in Portugal, which surprised me but also pleased me. They reminded me of the ones back home in San Francisco. Those in the City and nearby were planted, many by Adolph Sutro, in the expectation that they would make good building material because they grow fast, tall, and straight. Unfortunately, when eucalyptus dries, it tends to split, and so the stands planted in the Bay Area never became a commercial success.
But the Portuguese must know something because the eucalyptus here is clearly farmed and harvested when the trees are relatively young. Here’s an image of a eucalyptus plantation I passed through. Note that the trees are planted in straight lines and equidistant one from another.
After passing through the plantation, I imerged on a country lane graced with a lovely statute.
After another woodland trek, I emerged to discover a narrow guage railroad that I would follow (for a time literally) for the rest of this day and much of the next. The Portuguese National Railway actually operates a small commuter train several times a day on this little railroad. The ties, rails, and ballast have been replaced recently, judging from their appearance. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the little train in operation because it was the weekend, and no trains were running that day!
A little after noon I came upon a cafe in Pinheiro da Bemposta and decided it was time for lunch. Not all cafes actually provide "real" meals, but I was pleased to learn that this one did. There was a pleasant 20-something young lady who spoke a few words of English and explained the menu. They had meat, eggs, potato, and salad. I said, "ok, but not too much!" That is a concept that is not associated with lunch in Portugal. What arrived, and what the young lady herself had prepared, was a breaded veal steak atop two slices of ham with a fried egg on top, a lovely composed salad of lettuce, tomato, onion, and red and green bell peppers. . . and a half a plate of french fries. As I said, "not too much" is a concept not associated with lunch in Portugal.
The meal was well-prepared and tasty. I did pretty well in demolishing the lunch, except for the french fries. Yes, I ate about one-third of them, but not the whole portion. When the young lady saw that I hadn’t finished the fries, she got a stricken look on her face – clearly quite worried – "not good?" she asked. I explained that I just couldn’t eat them all. She accepted the explanation but I don’t think she was convinced. I think she thought she failed in some way. I gave her a nice tip when I paid the bill, and her face brightened. I think she was relieved that she really hadn’t failed after all.
The next image is of a public laundry. I have seen a number of them along the Way. They are still used by women [sic] doing the family’s laundry. The design of all of the outdoor laundries is similar. First, there is a source of swiftly moving water nearby. The laundry is placed nearby and water directed into the structure. There are two compartments (presumably one for washing and one for rinsing) and around the borders are smooth but gently sloped "ledges" on which to work the laundry. I think the design is borrowed from an earlier time when women went down to the river and beat the laundry on a rock. The one below had a plaque stating that it was constructed in 1956, and another plaque stating that it had been rebuilt in 1994.
The Way from Oliveira to Sao Joao de Madeira boasted a midieval bridge that is maintained and is still in use.
The next day took me to Grijo. Part of the Way traverses a Roman highway and judging from the looks of some of the stones, many likely are original.
As has been the case every single day I have been in Portugal, I have been treated to the solar clothes dryers in use throughout the country.
So, when I got in that evening, I decided that if all of Portugal could let it all hang out, this peregrino could use a solar clothes dryer, too.
The day from Grijo to Porto was pleasant and generally uneventful. I came upon some interesting water management structures along the way. An architecht of my acquaintance told me once that in designing a structure, you only have to worry about two things: Gravity and water.
Portugal has the same gravity issues as the rest of the world. But Portugal has a lot more water to deal with than most of the world. The sound of rushing water is with me on the Way almost daily – sometimes heard but not seen. Here is a charming catchment channel along the Way. The water is channeled into a culvert under the road and into a gutter that abruptly disappears into someone’s backyard garden!
Arrival in Porto a couple of days ago was kind of a watershed for my Camino. Arrival here completes the first "half" of my Camino pilgrimage. The distance from Lisbon to Porto is actually somewhat over half the distance from Lisbon to Santiago (376.0 of 616.6 kilometers, or 233.1 of 382.3 miles). These statistics do not include the many kilometers walked while lost, which is a recurring fact of life for all peregrinos!
But also, Porto concludes the largely solitary trek from Lisbon. I only met 9 peregrinos along the way. Since I have been here in Porto, I have met more than that already!
Porto is the site of many grand buildings, broad plazas, and the Cathedral from which most peregrinos on the Camino Portugues begin their journey. Here’s a picture of the Cathedral and one of me in front of it.
And with that, I’m off.