Day 10 – Other than the dark and the scrubland, a great walk – Alvaiázere to Rabaçal (13 September, 35.1km, 10.5 hours)

First, I have to say that I feel cheated. I always knew that the guidebook was underestimating distance but now I figured out why (during the 10th day!).  It turns out that the guidebook is giving us linear mileage – as the route is measured on a map. In the fine print, it does adjust it for the actual distance walked. As you Pythagorean Theorist out there would know, some Greek guy figured out that walking up and down both hills and hypotenuses means that you walk further than another person would walk if he was able to walk the same route be on a level surface. I’ll go back when I have access to a PC and fix / enter the real mileage (edited to add: done now). It won’t be much different for the earlier walk which was flat as a pancake (not one of Grandmom’s pancakes made lumpy with curdled milk) but we’re into the hills now and there can be several a kilometers difference each day.

Before talking about today’s walk, I have to mention last nights dinner at Alvaiázere’s O. Bras Residencial. Because of the late arrival and tired legs, we decided to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. The dining room had space for past grandeur but at 7pm when we walked in, only three places were set, i.e., for Melanie and me as well as the Brazillian pilgrim whose reservation was for 8pm. We were eating our first real pilgrim meal of this Caminho with bread, olives, soup, spaghetti, beef, salad and fruit cocktail – more food than we could ordinarily eat. During the first course, a pilgrim couple came to the window to look inside. We gave them the thumbs up and waved them in. After speaking to the waiter though, they walked away.  I felt sorry for the owner so I went out and ran after them.  I convinced them to come back and try it and when we got to the door, I pushed another English couple inside (not pilgrims, just on holiday). We then had a lovely, more realistic pilgrim meal with new friends, Peter and Hilda from Austria and mumble mumble mumble from England.

The walk today started as normal. Keep in mind that “normal” is not a good thing for us. It’s dark and we keep missing arrows. It took many frustrating minutes to get out of this tiny little town. The problem is that the guidebook says “continue into town to the main street”. Great; which one is the main street? I’ve never seen this city in my life.  Is it parallel to the one we’re on? To the left or right? Does it intersect with the one we’re on? Give us a clue, please!

For those following us, other than the little hiccup at the start (from O Bras, continue on the same road until you get to the albergue, then turn left to the main road 50m away, then turn right for the arrows), the rest of the trail was pretty well marked until you come down from Alvorge and cross a major road. That road leads directly to Rabaçal on your left and a few people took that long boring option. They may have been the wise ones. We followed the arrows into the scrubland off the road to the right. At first, we were able to follow the trail but at one point fairly soon, we hit a T junction and the yellow arrow was impossible to decipher, looking more like a line. That’s useful. To make matters worse, there are also white and red blaze markings that coincide with the Caminho trail for a lot of this section. Those clearly said at the junction we needed to turn right (south). We guessed the other direction and were rewarded about 200m further on with a more distinct yellow arrow. Going north was a good clue, but today, we covered every point of the compass. Staying on trail, I even confused my shadow as it danced around to my left, right, forward and aft.   The next place we got lost was after we hit the first tarmac in the scrublands. This is a new trail, different from the Brierley guide. You no longer are supposed to walk along the road through Ribera de Alcalmouque, rather you are directed to a path behind it. Sadly, we only chanced upon the new trail after wandering around the earlier crisscrossed maze of trails for 30 minutes without a single arrow after you exit the road. We gave up and beat our way toward Alcalmouque. The old arrows were still obvious through that town but when they left the road, we didn’t.  We just followed the road all the way to Rabaçal.

By the way, guess who we met there. The Belgians. I’ve now forgiven them for the World Cup. They broke up the walk we did today into two stages, with a stop in Ansiáo, as some of them were pooped.

The Casa de Tourismo is the only place to stay (15€/person) in town and the hostess was surprised when we arrived as they haven’t had 10 people in a while. I told her that more were coming but she didn’t believe me. Sure enough, the Brazilian arrived at 6pm with the Italian contingent and Irish Tony who we met in Tomar arrived at 8pm after some bad advice on a shortcut from the barman in Alvorge failed miserably. The hostess was still able to give everyone who wanted one a single or double room even though some rooms had five beds. So that made our current wave:
5 Belgians
Canadian Tom and Hungarian Ursala
Irish “Wrong Way” Tony
Brazilian early riser / slow walker
German lady with dog
3 singing, praying Italian boys (the rumor is that at least one of them is a priest)
This American and his Singaporean wife

Random thought for the day : the Portuguese seem a lot nicer the further north we have been. They greet us, chat with us (not that we understand), wish us “Bom viage” and every now and then we even get a “Bom Caminho”.  That’s nice.

(Note: this is yesterday’s post as I was too tired to type at 9pm. We’re in Coimbra now, all is good but I’ll have to post today’s fun later tonight or tomorrow. We’re staying here for another day so I’ll catch up then.  10 hours walking today!)

The early morning fog north of Alvaiázere has not lifted out of the valleys yet

On the trail to Rabaçal

The ancient trails