Day 9 – A good day for walking and making friends – Tomar to Alvaiázere (12 September, 34.1km, 10.5 hours)

The rest day helped greatly and we were well stocked with food and water as the last 22km today would have no place to stop for either. We used our old trick of starting to walk before sunrise to save us from walking in the hottest part of the day but for the second time that backfired. Leaving Tomar, we missed a left turn off Rua de Coimbra because we could neither see nor smell the supposed nearby bullring. After continuing on for too far, we recognized the hospital from the night before on our right (we could have walked there!). To our left was a military base. Hey, wait a second… Didn’t the guidebook say something about passing a military base on our right?!?  We asked for directions at the main gate and, after saluting me (I really need to regrow some hair), the guard called over her C.O. and Melanie’s eyes lit up. It’s something about young men in uniform. Anyway, he had biked the Caminho previously so he knew exactly what to do. He invited us onto the base and walked us through a back gate where our yellow arrows were waiting for us. On our way through the base, the captain explained that his regiment was heading out to Kosovo later today, which explained to us why the mass at the old Tomar cathedral the night before was packed with men in camouflage. We also asked if other pilgrims had needed this “tour of the base” before and he laughed. He said, “so far this year… only three… while I was on duty”. Now you figure that there were only something like 1,000 pilgrims (if I recall correctly) that would have walked this part of the Caminho this year and that he may only be on duty for, I guess, a third of the days, we’re in a select 1% who are both awful at directions and brave enough to ask for help from someone armed with a gun. At the back gate, we wished each other well and just like that, a discouraging start was fixed by another angel. This was the only time today were we were lost although there were some difficult paths to find.

For those following us, after Ponte de Peniche, you will see outstanding arrows and a “Bom Caminho” painted on the columns of the IC-9 highway viaduct, pointing the way to pass underneath. Unfortunately, about ten meters past the highway the trail splits in two and neither path is marked. Take the left one that looks like it heads downward and more straight. The clearer track to the right likely goes up to parallel the highway. Also, after leaving the riverbank a little further on, the track will split into three, a right turn going uphill, then a few meters later, a fork, with the left fork heading slightly down and the right fork, that looks to be fairly level. Take the last option, the right (level) fork. A hundred or so meters down that track, you will see that someone has carved arrows into a couple of the trees lining the path.  Finally, don’t count on the café in Cabeleierira to be open. It was not when we went passed and I’m not sure it has been for a while.

Another friend we made today was a old woman near a town called Camino (good name, I guess). We still had 2.25 liters of water but we wanted to top up our other bottles as we also had another 12km to go. We found a house the looked inhabited (surprisingly rare today) and stood outside while a dog barked from the window. Eventually, a woman poked her head out and saw us, we held up our empty bottle and said “agua, por favor” several times but with no obvious effect. She ducked her head back inside and disappeared for too long. We gave up and started walking up the road. Happily, she was waiting for us at a doorway that we hadn’t seen. She took a bottle and filled it with chilled water but then asked us if we wanted something to eat (at least that’s what I understood from her two minute soliloquy in Portuguese with accompanying hand gestures).  We said that she had done enough already and thanked her profusely but she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She whipped out a paring knife and cut off a large bunch of grapes from the vine next to her sidewalk. I have never tasted better grapes in my life. Another angel. (Melanie just told me to add that we were very grapeful.  yuk, yuk, yuk)

Our last friend today was another older woman just on the outskirts of Alvaiázere. I knew where we were but because of a new road cutting across the Caminho, I thought I’d ask her which way it was to town anyway. She laughed hysterically at my pronunciation of Alvaiázere and made us both repeat it after her until we could say it perfectly. I then asked again “donde esta Al-vai-á-ze-rrrrre?” And she laughed again, “Aqui! Aqui” waving her hands in a broad gesture around her. She then happily chatted to (not “with”) us for five minutes, completely in Portuguese. The only words I understood were the last two “no se” which I think means “don’t know” and with a dismissive flick of the hand, she giggled as she walked past us down the road.

We’re staying tonight in the old residencial O Brás, rather than the new albergue for a couple of reasons. First, you walk past it first, which is important. Second, the family looks a little desperate that they have lost business to the albergue as the father and adorable son hang outside greeting pilgrims and asking if they want a room. (Doubles at 35€, dated but with private bath). There is no wi-fi or laundry facilities  here but the hand washed clothes are getting pretty dry in the sun on private the balcony now. All is good.

(Note: this is yesterday’s post but we didn’t have wi-fi access then. We’re in Rabaçal now, all is good but I’ll have to post today’s fun later or tomorrow. We need a short day for me to catch up.  10.5 hours walking today!)

Melanie found her house!  Many houses have gates with the initials of the owner as well as year it was built.  Melanie is happy to claim that as her birth year too.

Ancient rural houses with the odd, colorful new house thrown in for variety

The path and countryside near Casais