Day 15 – For Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Michael & Melanie, there was no room in the inn – Águeda to Albergaria-a-Nova (18 September, 25.5km, 8 hours)

It was supposed to be an easy 18km day today but it didn’t work out that way. We never were lost but we ran into a few challenges along the route.  First was the rain. It only drizzled off and on from Serem de Cima to the outskirts of Albergaria-a-Nova but it was enough to make us keep our raincoats on. Walking in raincoats means that you get soaked with sweat instead of rainwater but at least your backpack stays dry. The rain also meant that many of the trails in the forest had large sections of flooded paths. It was obvious that pilgrims before us had bashed through the undergrowth to get around the floodwaters, so we followed suit. When the drizzle stopped about 20 minutes before we reached our destination, I don’t mean it suddenly got sunny.  In fact, the skies opened up and dumped everything they had on us. It was cold, stinging and drenched us to our marrow (we were already drenched to the bone).

The last challenge was accommodation. It appeared that there was only one place to stay in Albergaria-a-Velha so we tried to call for reservations last night. Unfortunately, the phone number we had did not work. We arrived at the Pensão Parente before the other pilgrims in our wave but they apparently had the right phone number.  The rooms were “completo”. Bummer.  We asked if there was any other place to stay in town and the hospitalera said that there was nothing else but she suggested asking the parish priest as they sometimes let pilgrims sleep on the floor in the church hall. We heard that about that option already but cold showers and cold floors didn’t sound that appealing. The volunteer fire house (Bombeiros) offer a warm shower with the cold floor so that is what I’d take if I were that desperate.  Fortunately, I was prepared.  Using the internet last night while standing in front of the only cafe in Águeda with wi-fi, I found a motel just north of Albergaria-a-Velha (Hotel Ribeirinho, 35€ for a clean, typical motel room) and it is only about 600m off the Caminho. I had the directions to it, in case of emergency and this was enough of an emergency. We walked to this place, checked in and then realized it was still before noon. Melanie came up with the idea of going back out and walking to Albergaria-a-Nova before taking a taxi back here. That would knock about 7.6km off tomorrow’s long 31.5km stage. After checking that we could get a taxi up there in the morning, we set off again.  Melanie carried her whole backpack as she felt that it would be cheating to not carry it.  I took my two cubes of clothes out of mine before going out again though. The backpack doesn’t get its own Compostela for making it all the way to Santiago.

One other thing to note about today’s walk was that we didn’t see a single other pilgrim the entire time.  I believe all the others stayed at the albergue in Águeda and likely slept in a bit with such a short day and, most likely prior reservations here.

For those following us, note that we didn’t see arrows leading out of Águeda on the north side of the bridge.  There were likely there but we just didn’t pick up on where they were at first. This was not a problem though. We just followed the river westward about a half kilometer from the bridge until we saw a road to our right, leading up hill.  There is also a fonte and a tile marker clearly visible at the base of the road so it is hard to miss.  That road climbs up to the railroad tracks, then down the other side before a very steep climb up the next hill that reminded me of the ascent out of St. Jean Pied de Port. At the top of that hill, you will turn left and follow a long straight level road until you get to an industrial area. That road doesn’t have many arrows on it but have faith. Also, after Serem de Cima, there is a good portion of the trail that goes through forest that is not waymarked well. Again, we tried to keep a straight path when offered choices and we also tried to stay to the more worn, larger path. That got us through the right way but there are many places to go wrong in there. At one fork, there is a wooden arrow that was nailed to a tree that likely pointed to the left fork.  Unfortunately, it was broken in half and the dangling piece seemed to now suggest the right fork. We chose the left option and were rewarded with a sign for an albergue at the next stop with an arrow on it. Unfortunately again, the sign was laying in the mud and pointing in the direction from where we came.  Were we on the right course? Luckily, yes because the only other two arrows we saw much further down the trail told us so.

Random though for the day: Albergaria-a-Velha was founded in 1120, specifically to give aid, support and accommodation to pilgrims.  I’m not sure how many beds are in the one pensao that they have but it’s not enough to say they are still doing their job.  That said, we passed one woman who was in a car at a red light.  Despite the rain, she rolled down her window to give us a hearty “Bom Caminho”. Bless her soul.  More and more people in cafés this far north recognize that we are doing the Caminho. That makes us feel better.

Sunrise skies above Águeda

One of the cool houses in Mourisca do Vouga

Another one of the cool houses in Mourisca do Vouga

A Roman bridge near Pedaçães