Day 21 – A new record for us (by mistake, of course) – Barcelos to Ponte de Lima (24 September, 37.3km, 10 hours)

We knew it was going to be a long, hard day but after making it to Porto on Saturday, we had some more confidence. Today was supposed to be 35.8km but we managed to accidentally take an alternative route early in the day, adding another 1.5km for a total of 37.3km. Today’s walk was a half kilometer longer than the walk into Porto and more than an hour faster. We’re still getting stronger but having walked the previous distance made it much easier mentally. I’m running up and down the stairs at the pensao and Melanie would be too if not for the cobblestones.

Today’s walk was hilly but there was an early morning chill that made it perfect walking weather. I love having to move fast to stay warm. For the second day in a row, I could see my breath, at least until about 9:00am when the sun started really toasting us.  Many parts of the walk did have decent shade but I still managed to get a good enough burn to earn a scolding from a pharmacist.

The walk into Ponte de Lima has to be one of the nicest entrances into a Caminho town in Portugal or Spain.  You walk in from the west, along the river with cool breezes blowing over you.  We were on a wide pedestrian walkway, under a guard of honor of shade trees. It really is a delight to enter this town whether you have walked 37km or 20km. Just before the grand entrance, there is a walking path near the river which is just out of sight.  It’s made of the somewhat flat road cobblestones, bordered by the lethal road shoulder cobblestones. Many local residents seem to walk along that path in the afternoon and I noticed they all did the same thing that we did, i.e., walk – next to – the cobblestone paths along the new pedestrian-created sandy trail. Even the Portuguese hate walking on the torture stones.

Note to those following us, the café / restaurant (Café Viana) just off route after the church in Vitorino dos Piâes (you will see it down a crossroad to your right) is a great place to stop for lunch. They have decent food and great service as well as wi-fi. Note though that the adjoining mini-mercado closes for lunch from 12:30 to 2:00pm. Get any fruit or snacks before (or after) that time.

We are still trying to figure out the red and white trail blazes that seem to mark the Caminho almost every place there is a yellow arrow.  They made a reappearance yesterday after going missing for a while. Again, they don’t always mark the exact same route but they come very close to it. Who did this and why?

Another thing that made the walk nicer today, other than the scenery, was the other pilgrims we met. It’s great to see the other people walking and to have a chance to speak with them. There were the three young pilgrims getting on a bus in Vila Boa, saving themselves the last 32.4km of today’s stage. Lazy buggers. There was also Brazilian Marcelo who gave us awesome advice (that worked!) and some Portuguese language lessons. He said that every day, he has a small breakfast before leaving to walk (similar to our banana breakfast), then he’ll walk something like 10km and have another breakfast (similar to our coffee/juice and pastry stop).  But before leaving that café, he tells himself “well that was a nice breakfast and way to start the day”.  I have only 26km to do today (rather than “26 MORE kilometers” that we say).  He tricks himself into thinking that he may be tired but that is from “yesterday”.  We tried it at lunch and nearly skipped along the rest of the way. Bless his soul. He’s a slow but steady walker but he might not be so steady now.  The last we saw of him, he was with Italian Adriano, having his second beer and a huge sandwich. They had 6km to go and looked like they may not stop at only two beers.

We also met a German woman who has bad blisters. Leather boots and skinny cotton socks will do that every time.  She still had 10km to go so we gave her some blister pads and wished her luck. The last we saw of her was at the café near where Marcelo had lunch. At that point, she was with a French couple that we met at lunch.  They were doing a short stage today but started late because breakfast was served late. Uh oh. The last we saw them was five minutes ago because they are in the next room.  This pensao doesn’t serve breakfast so they may not get going at all tomorrow.

Thought for the day: In Ladakh, northern India, everyone greets each other by saying “joolay”. This word also means goodbye, please, thank you and you are welcome.  It’s always said with a smile and there is a musical and almost magical lilt to it.  In the rural areas here, for some people, the “Bom dia” (good day or good morning) can approach the way that  “joolay” is said.  From those older, happy Portuguese we get the most lovely “Bom deeeeeeeya” and it makes you feel good.

One last comment is reserved for our room.  We are staying at the delightful Pensão São João which costs 30€ for a double room, wi-fi, laundry and attached sink and bidet. Yes, you read that correctly. My side table is a sink.  Next to that is my stand for my backpack, which is a bidet.  The toilet and shower are across the hall. I’m just trying to picture myself taking a dump, then running pants-less across the hall to wash my arse. I just hope Melanie hasn’t locked the door in the meantime.

The medieval Ponte de Tábaus

The church in Vitorino dos Piâes

A roadside shrine to Santiago

Walking into Ponte de Lima along the riverside promenade

The bridge over the river that gave Ponte de Lima its name