Day 20 – Foggy, foggy dew… and then what? – Vila do Conde to Barcelos (23 September, 30.6km, 9 hours)

When we woke up this morning, I poked my head out the window to see whether I’d be cursing the sun or the rain today. It was too hard to tell.  The ground was wet but there was just a very thick fog in every direction. Fog usually brings a change in weather but would it go from “mostly rainy” to “torrential monsoon storms” or from “hot” to “too damn hot”?, I wasn’t sure. It took until 9:30am for the sun to finally burn away the fog and provide the answer.  I’m back to cursing the sun. After a few lovely hours of walking weather, the sun burned down its best rays on us until we walked into the residencial doors in Barcelos. It started to rain at that time either because God knew we were now safe and dry or the devil knew that we would soon want to hang laundry to dry.

We wasted a little time at the start, looking for and following arrows around Vila do Conde in the dark. I knew that they would likely end up at the bridge, heading along the river under the convent but we tried to follow the whole trail. After following some arrows and searching for more, we gave up and headed over to the bridge. Sure enough, there were arrows leading us out of town. After that, they were easy to follow all the way to Barcelos even when they didn’t quite match up to the description in the guide book.

We had an interesting stop for breakfast (the second of three such stops today) in Arcos. The small café had wi-fi which is rare so I used it to download the Google Maps details for the rest of the way into Barcelos. While doing that, another pilgrim walked in and we tried to make eye contact and conversation. That’s what pilgrims do. With his head down though, he quickly walked over to the refrigerator for drinks which was somewhat behind the bar, opened it, pulled out two bottles of water and handed some money to the surprised hostess (usually you ask for the bottles or, at least, ask if it is okay that you can get them yourself).  He then left without saying a word or making eye contact. I’m not sure if he is a mute or if he had taken a vow of silence but that’s rough for pilgrim culture. We later passed him and his friend on the trail, wished them well and got a very awkward mumble of a reply as they turned their backs to us. Again, strange. To counter that, we also met a very nice couple from British Columbia, Georgina and, umm, errrr, what’s his name.  We had a good chat with them but they were a bit slower so we walked ahead. They were doing an abbreviated Caminho for some reason, starting in Porto, taking the train to Matosinhos, walking to Vila do Conde, taking a bus to Rates, then walking to Barcelos. Finally, we did see a few other pilgrims on the trail, some on bike and some headed to Fatima but the one that sticks out in my mind the most was a pleasant Brazilian who was heading to Fatima on his bike. He gave the best “Bom Caminho” yet so when I saw the Brazilian flag on his backpack, I had to shout back to him a Brazilian football cheer.  He so appreciated the song that he turned his head to shout thanks and darn near crashed in the rocky path. I didn’t even have a chance to find out if he knew our friend, Iole.  She is also Brazilian so they must know each other, right? Finally, at lunch, three women pilgrims came in and tried communicating in English with the bartender. They seemed to be having great difficulty, surprisingly since I had just ordered our food and drinks from the same guy. His English was fairly decent and he understood my poor Spanish. The funny part with these ladies was that they were using baby talk and the most hysterical miming of eating. I think the bartender was pretending not to understand so that he could enjoy the show.

Many parts of today’s walk were along some pretty busy, winding, ultra-thin roads. I never felt like someone would hit us but there were a few very close calls. I may have too much faith in drivers here. At least we didn’t see any learner drivers like we did the last time we had similar long stretches.

Also, at this point, I need to mention the cobblestones. Portugal is famous for paving its roads and its colonies roads and sidewalks in cobblestone.  There are large relatively flat ones for roads, small flat ones for sidewalks and sharp, pointy pain-in-the-ass ones for road shoulders on roads that pilgrims need to use because there are no sidewalks on most of our path. After hours of walking on these reflexology stones, walking on anything flat feels very strange. You begin to wonder “did my feet fall off?”  My blogging friend, Mag, tried to warn me because I didn’t have any problems with the cobblestones back in the Lisbon area.  She was right. For me, it’s not hugely painful but it definitely makes you aware of the pads of your feet. I have more of a problem in that it keeps throwing off my balance. It also causes my walking sticks to get stuck in the cracks so often that I had to start aiming every tip placement. Joy. Joy. Joy.

For those following us by a few weeks, good luck. I saw on the news (during breakfast stop number one) that there was some serious flooding in Lisbon. I hope that you are not affected badly.  Also, no matter where you stay in Barcelos, or if you are just passing through on the way to another stop, make sure you visit the churches, particularly the 12th century Igreja Matriz and the Templomdo Bom Jesus, built in 1704.  Both are shockingly stunning inside, with gold everywhere, artwork, wall tile paintings, etc.

Finally, we are staying in the Residencial Arantes. We walked in at 3:30pm and got the last room with a shower. Our private toilet is down the hall but we’re okay with that. It’s 35€ for a large double room, a bit dated but decent. They have wi-fi in the sitting room and it’s right on the Largo de Porta Nova.  We aalso have a fan in the room and that helps insure our clothes will dry tonight.  We also had a nice meal at the Restaurante Oliveiera, next to the statue behind the Igreja Matriz. They do Pilgrims Meals but ask for less salt.  Like everywhere else in Portugal, salt is the principal ingredient in every dish except Jello.

A typical Portuguese cemetery near Touguinha

Foggy, thin, two directional, curvy roads near Arcos

São Pedro de Rates

Entering Barcelos from across the river

The Templo do Bom Jesus, Barcelos


Inside the Templo do Bom Jesus, Barcelos

Sunset behind Barcelos’ former albergue (1500 to 1836)