Camino Portuguese da Costa – Day 13, October 1st 2019
Leaving Caldas de Reis
Caldas means hot springs and although a foot fountain was right outside my hostel, there was no encouragement to bathe mine as they dissuade you for hygene reasons.
There is a Bishop’s mitre on the door and otherwise I cannot find out what the connection is between St Thomas a Becket and Caldas de Reis – although of course he may have made pilgrimage here.
Further down the road were clumps of pink lillies growing wild on the banks like the lupins do in Scotland along the motorway between Edinburgh and Perth.
There are many such places to be found along the paths of the Caminos de Santiago.
Pontecesures (on the way)
Just before crossing the River Ulla, on the right at a corner (if I remember correctly) is the place in the above photo. With makeshift furniture and varying quality of food, it is a somewhere to sit out of the sun and get refreshments. It appears to be donativo, but the maitre d’ expected payment and it was obviously a rather random affair. He was not chatty with me, but did serve up the ‘last’ bowl of vegetarian stew (it came recommended). He took a liking to the young couple who came in later, but sent another man who asked questions, packing! The flags and the individual nature of this place reminded me of Manjarín on the Camino Frances.
After crossing the bridge at Ponte(bridge)cesures and climbing up the other side in full, hot sun, the path took me along the banks of the River Ulla towards the San Antonio (St Anthony’s) Monastery of Herbón.
This time I did not bathe as I was keen to get a bed for the night in the monastery on the opposite bank.
I was pushing myself (not great for the still-painful foot) because of spening time over lunch and knowing that there is always competition to get a bed at the Herbón Monastery. I passed a couple who were clearly needing some ‘romantic’ time by the river. They were in no hurry to get there before me.
It was nice and warm and there was plenty to see (photos below). People came to join the line, but were too late and left again – it was a little way into Padrón because it is a detour to get here.
The young couple sauntered in after quite a while, but were too late and went off again.
There were others with injuries far worse than mine. A small group decided to leave, calling a taxi, whereupon exactly the same number arrived late (after others had already turned away) and so they found that there were spaces for them. It just goes to show!
Eventually, after a light shower, we were let in and welcomed by the volunteers. It was very efficient. The accomodation was in small cubicles of two bunks each, ranged along a corridor. (That’s my mess on the bottom bunk!)
After a break in which I spent time meditating in the sun, we were taken on a tour of the chapel, cloisters and other parts of the building. This is practically compulsory and very interesting. The monks were missionaries, sent overseas to spread the word of God, and those left at home ran a school on the premises.
The large garden sports vineries (there is no-one to keep them going now, sadly), kitchen garden (partly in use, as far as I could see), water which has been tested and found to have lots of minerals in it so is truly healing, and various levels and attractive sections making it really interesting.
To reward us for such a long guided tour and talk, we were given a good meal (included in the 6 euro price) around long canteen tables and there was a lovely atmosphere there.
Note: There is always a decent vegetarian option at the shared meals on the Caminos
When I travel away from Edinburgh, my aim is clear: either to walk Pilgrimage (taking the paths people have trodden before me, where their steps have created tangible layers of spiritual tradition); or to explore a given area, what to me is virgin territory.
But when I am home, my walks are more prosaic – to and from work and the shops for my messages (used in Scotland, meaning errands) – placing my feet on known land, pavements I have walked so many times. Then my focus is on forging new connections between familiar places, seeing the same views from alternative perspectives and finding something new in them.
On Jan 11, I joined in the Snapshot Synchronised Walk (Women Who Walk Network) taking a route from Causewayside in a near-straight line to York Place.
After a day of teaching, a good tramp is therapeutic. Via ghostly vennels, northwards along narrow-walled passageways, up slopes, down flights of steep steps, I discovered a gothic-glowing steeple, a jaundiced arch lit by 19th century streetlamps, and scary blue eyes in a repurposed church. The extra-mundane exuded from the normal.
I walked Causewayside from Sainsburys, past Summerhall with its ghoulish green up-lighting,
I meandered along the edge of the Meadows, and the South Loch Gin Distillery (which I hadn’t seen before),
I kept the University on my left,
Until I glimpsed the rear of the National Museum.
I picked my way over the cobbles of West College Street,
Across Chambers Street,
Down steps to meet Guthrie Street half way,
Crossed the Cowgate and took a mini-right to find Stevenlaw’s Close (which I didn’t know was there). Looking right I paused to snap the Stramash Live Music Bar.
On the opposite side of the High Street was Fleshmarket Close,
On the opposite side of Cockburn Street was the downhill flight past the Halfway House:
Through Waverley Station and up the other side, I crossed Princes Street and took South St Andrew’s Street where I popped my head into the old Bank of Scotland which has become a mighty fine looking hotel.
I posted a thank you letter in a pastel pink envelope I had been carrying in my bag for a few days, to my sister in London.
The rain came on.
The wind blew me through the bus station (where a small bag of mini-cheddars were outrageously priced) and out onto York Place, carefully avoiding trapping my toes in the tram lines.
Rounding the corner to Broughton Street I found that the bus stop was closed – again.
All the way down that road I tripped, head down because of the driving wind,
…where I waited 7 minutes, as my coat became increasingly sodden, before taking the bus to my home by the sea.
Leaving the city, I once again rejoined the Via Romana / Portuguese Camino
Being a Sunday, the cyclists were out. When you are walking quietly, focusing on the way your feet meet the ground, allowing thoughts to meander in and out, and then a cyclist shoots past your left elbow with a whoosh and, very occassionally, a Buen Camino, it is a shock. When it happens over and over again, it’s more akin to a small trauma and there is no possibility of resting in your rhythm and pace, you must stay alert.
Shortly afterwards, it poured and it was not possible to take photos. Arriving at the hostel of San Marmede de Portela in the middle of the countryside, there was no-one to greet me, just a couple already drying off. Thank goodness the door was open! I was soaking, wet through. It was a large dormitory and I chose a corner away from the door, not knowing that there was no heating and that by the end of the day the room would be completely full to overflowing (there were pilgrims sleeping in the eating room etc). It was also very dark and although some of us tried to open windows, they were always immediately closed by others.
Wet walking clothes are stinky, especially when there is no drying room or anywhere to hang clothes / store boots except narrow corridors. If you sleep on the bottom bunk and they are like drapes all around you, there is no getting away from the smell. People were using one hair drier between 20 or more, but it takes a long time to dry sodden socks with one. There is a big garden and other buildings outside, but the weather was too terrible to contemplate unless you arrived very late in which case I did see folk sloshing across, seemingly with no other opton, but I didn’t know where they were going.
Run by volunteers, this is a donativo hostel and the men who came along later knew what they were doing and were well prepared. Being well away from shops or restaurants, a great meal was produced and tables and chairs arranged and rearranged to fit everyone in. Sitting alongside all nationalities, it was a jolly occassion (there was nowhere to get away from it if you had wanted privacy). There was wine and hot soup, vegetarian tortillas with salad and, if I remember rightly, a desert too. Clearing up was a communal event and the partying went on, as ever, late into the evening.
San Marmede de Portela to Caldas de Reis
The next day it was still raining, but luckily it cleared. Ugh, putting on wet boots and clothes is one of the worst things after a broken night!
I walked through Santa Maria de Alba, A Cancela and Albergue de Briallos.
There was a most unusual cafe where many of us stopped for a hot drink that morning (some were taking shots of orujo (a sort of grappa) with their coffee, perhaps a way of warming up from the inside). There was only one, older and innovative man serving us all. It looked as if he had used his garage for this purpose and, after serving us, I noticed that he disappeared through a side door. On further investigation, I spied huge vats of grapes steeping.
I am always coming across dead animals on the camino, but today’s fox was still alive. I crouched down and whispered to it, knowing that it would not live long, wishing it well on its journey.
I stayed in the private Albergue Peregrinos Posada Doña Urraca and I do not recommend it, despite the fantastic location. It was dirty and crowded, the rooms are almost at the front door so anyone can walk in and out. The photos on the website do not show it as it is – do not be deceived. It is not a municipal one – I have never seen a government-run hostel be filthy like this.
There was some lively conversation around the table, however, from the US as well as Germany, and a crowd of Polish pilgrims (I have not met people from Poland much at all on the Camino) at the hostel.
It’s a busy and normal town despite all of us traipsing through, with friendly local people and lots of facilities – a big supermarket, cafes and loads of banks. I tried the three cashpoints in one street – one was charging 3.50 euros, one 1.50 and the third nil, so watch out for this when getting cash out. It wasn’t my bank which charged me, nothing to do with getting money from a British finance organisation, it was the cashpoint machine company and I found this all over Portugal and in some parts of Spain. (I use a Post Office Travel Money Card via an app on my phone which charges for the exchange, but doesn’t have an additional service charge like the Bank of Scotland does if I use my everyday debit card when I am abroad).
Have you walked the Portuguese Camino? Maybe you are planning to? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 9 and 10, September 27th – 29th 2019
Mos to Redondela
Walking this Camino was a prize for the long year I had spent writing my first book and the exciting but stressful dash to submit the manuscript to the publishers by the end of August. I had sat down – researching, typing while travelling – and eschewed long distance walks for that reason. Today, as I was ambling along, I realised that there was now some space into which a new project might come – and it came! The great Camino de Santiago forum is absolutely chock-a-block full of interesting information about pilgrimage in Spain and elsewhere. There is a mind boggling amount of collective knowledge in it, submitted by enthusiasts from all over the world, and when I am on the road I often consult it for hostel information, path directions and more. My searches the previous evening had led me to interesting topics related to my previous explorations and that then trickled through my mind as I made my way towards Redondela. Walking is such a great way to allow those creative thoughts to flourish!
Food and Wine on the Portuguese Camino
What, you may ask, can a vegetarian eat while walking the Portugues Camino, when meat is such an important part of the local diet? You can usually find eggs and vegetables (though they are often cooked rather longer than we might do them in the UK) and of course salad galore, though if we are walking out of season we might find we are served the packaged iceberg which is familiar back home. What we can never eat unless we beg at someone’s front door (no, I haven’t done this myself!) are the wonderful tall greens which so many grow in their front gardens, but which are not to be found, not in local shops, supermarkets or restaurants.
So, look out for Padron peppers (very small and grilled ones which are not really from Padron, but more of that in another blog), caldo verde (warming cabbage soup) which is usually not made with a meat stock but check, and also be careful that they don’t garnish it with sausage; bread and olive oil of course; roasted chestnuts (see below); and you most definitely can eat pastel de nata (the most delicious bijou custard tarts) as long as you are not vegan because they have eggs in them.
Conventual deserts: Traditionally, eggs whites were used in convents to starch the priest clothing and the nun’s robes. Left with the egg yolks and time to kill, the nuns had to get creative. Making the most delicious and famous desserts became a tradition in Portugal.” From Authentic Food Quest
If you are pescetarian (that is, you also eat fish, but not meat) you will have no trouble because Portugal is well known for sardines (although very attractive, don’t buy the smartly decorated tins as they are many times more expensive than the ordinary ones – make sure they are Portuguese) in the smaller shops or supermarkets); bacalhau (salted cod fish – variable, some stupendous, some just salty), octopus (pulpo, see above) and other delicacies from the ocean.
Finally, these stages of the Camino Portuguese are close by the Soutomaior, one of the sub-regions of the DO (denominacion origen) the vineyards of the high-quality, light-bodied white Albarino wine, produced by the Rias Baizas.
There are 42 beds, it costs 6 euros, opens between 1-10pm and is open all year round.
Because the room opened straight into the middle of the town, it was extremely loud with revellers late into the night and early hours of the morning.
Redondela to Pontevedra (almost)
This was a good day despite my foot /feet still hurting. Such wonderful scenery and sun! That’s why I love to walk like this – to be in nature, to be surrounded by beauty, to be amazed, step-by-step.
I left just after dawn, the lights still on under the aches of the bridge.
Saturdays are very busy days on the Camino with cyclists and local walkers as well as those who are making their way to Santiago de Compostella.
The Puente (Ponte) San Piao: ‘It is here where a decisive battle for Spain’s independence was held against Napoleon’s troops in 1809 which ended the five month French occupation.’ from Santiago-Compostella.net
The final stage of this day’s walking through the Valley of Tomeza and Salcedo, took me through a riparian area (a wetland by a river). The ground is peaty in places (as in Scotland – there are many connections between Galicia and Scotland), moist forests of alder and willow, oak, ash, birch, chestnut, brambles (blackberries) and even cherry blossom (Prunus padus or Cerdeiro de acio in Galician) and hops can be found (as in my native Kent). The sign said that the presence of otters is a sign of good water quality. It certainly looked bubbling and clear, but sadly, I didn’t see an otter.
This last part was particularly gorgeous – green, verdant and peaceful apart from the trickling water and birds chanting around me.
Accomodation: The previous evening I had come across an air bnb called Casa A Grade online and tried to find out if there was a space, unsuccessfully. I had even phoned and the woman said they did not have any single beds. Well, as I was walking through these wonderful woods, there was a hostel sign. I crossed the quaint bridge and wound my way through what turned out to the the end of the garden. There I came across a plunge pool glittering in the hot sun and it was the same place. And they did have a single bed for me!
I lay in the garden, dipped into cool water, washed and hung out my clothes (which dried in the scorching sun), bought vegetables from their garden plus bread and prepared food for the evening meal. Breakfast was included in what i think was the 25 euro price. All the beds were full – a family room was taken by a mother and father who were accompanying their daughter to a Rhythmic Gymnastics competition – she was a champion), and 4 singles (2 pilgrims and 2 holiday makers) along a corridor and separated by curtains. There is one bathroom and everything was clean. The owners were very friendly and helpful.
Finally, it was only 40 minutes into Pontevedra, but that was another day!
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 7 and 8, September 25th – 27th 2019
La Guarda / A Guarda, Galicia, Spain
La Guarda is in Spain, even though it is a town on the Portuguese Camino. I was happy to be back in Galicia, one of my favourite parts of Spain. I should have liked to see the Celtic hill fort and village of Castro de Santa Trega which connects with Scottish history (I live in Edinburgh) on the top of the hill that La Guarda sits beside, but I was not comfortably ambulant.
In the morning, I walked a short way (30 minutes, 2 kilometers) from the Albergue Municipal in La Guarda where I had spent the night, to visit the churches, but it was a strain and took me much longer than it should have. As a result of the pain in my foot, I decided to turn back and take a different route.
The two churches (above and below) are almost next to each other and I was the only one there. A few people were on their way to work and school, on the main road, and the churches were closed as they always are unless there is a service on. However, I admired their grandeur and solidity, the Santuario de San Roque having seen many pilgrims over the centuries.
Then I rested for 20 minutes and took the bus. It runs from Salcidos to Tui (get off / on near Repsol gas station (estacion de servicio) on N-550) regularly and takes around an hour. This was the second day that I could not walk, something that had, thankfully, never happened to me before, and it was very hard to accept. The journey took me through urban areas with grey stone buildings boasting elegant balustrades around the windows, along the northern side of the River Miño, and deposited me opposite some public gardens bright with bougainvillea and sporting a grand metal statue of cantering horses, the Monumento al Caballo Salvaje.
Tui is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle and with all facilities you could possible need. There is an excellent market, with cafes and shops galore. Not far from the Albergue is a friendly eating place / hostel (Albergue Ideas Peregrinas – not the cheapest, but with a European atmosphere and great, healthy breakfasts, including vegan food), and that is opposite one selling crêpes, and so on…! All tastes are catered for and many people holiday here even if they are not hiking. There is an extensive Natural Park to the north west with hills, Monte Aloia, for excellent views of Baiona, Vigo and the whole region.
I picked up a copy of Jim Crace’s The Melody in the hostel the night before and made the most of my enforced resting time to have a good read. Described as a meditation on grief, it connects with all my recent writing on the subject – there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
I was early into the town from La Guarda and encountered a difficulty: the hospitalera behind the reception at the hostel was talking animatedly to a gentleman who was lounging nearby. On seeing me, she launched into an attack on pilgrims who pretend to be walking, but actually must have come by public transport because they would never, otherwise, have arrived by this time. She laughed, he laughed, they compared notes and got increasingly irate about such behaviour.
I was dying to get the weight off my back and feet, and trying to explain in Spanish that I had not done this before, but had no choice with my foot pain. She ridiculed me and said I shouldn’t be carrying such a heavy load. It was most upsetting and as I became distressed she started to shout, saying that she wasn’t being nasty, just that ….
It is true that the municipal Xunta (the Galician council) albergues are for the pilgrims and that, increasingly, people are either not carrying their own packs or are taking buses and trains some or all of the way. It may have been an external voice, too, uttering the very words which I was hearing inside my head, and been part of my having to come to terms with being human and not always strong. Anyway, I said I would go away and then she started calming down and took me through the familiar process: passport check, credential stamp, payment (cash), and bedding. I was shaken.
It is a large hostel with solid wooden bunks. Although there is a sitting area where you can eat inside at the back, the kitchen is across the little garden and so I sat there for my tea as the sun set and it cooled down.
You can see the beautiful cloisters and internal gardens of the Santa María Cathedral de Tui in the photos on their website.
The tourist information is also in San Fernando Square and the staff are extremely helpful and kind there.
Tui to Mos
It is 25 kilometers to Mos and even though I had rested up for 2 days (well, a lot less walking than usual), it was too far, so I took a bus part of the way and trekked the rest (only 8 kilometers) to see whether I could manage. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy to be on my feet again under the blue sky.
I am walking along the Via Romana XIX linking Braga and Astorga, enjoying listening to the birds and smelling the countryside after being in towns for the last few days. Sometimes the signs are hidden amongst pink roses. In the distance the open fields are empty now after harvest.
There is a native, milky coloured drink called horchata de chufa or horchata de Valencia which is the region where I first came across it. It is made from the tubers of the nutsedge (not the type in the photo above). (Thank you to floral_uk on the ‘name that plant’ forum of houzz.com for this information). It is similar to a Mexican version except that the latter is made from rice, not this sedge.
Mos, Galicia (Redondela Region)
I stayed at the Casa Blanca hostel near the Santa Baia church where I sat in the evening. The albergue is new with a bar that serves ice cream and snacks, and there is a restaurant oppostite which cooks wonderful Padron peppers and does breakfast as well as evening meals. The accommodation is in a separate building and all are situated on quite a hill. There is a coin-operated washing machine and I shared a load with others after much negotiation, however there is not enough room to hang the clothes to dry outside and, anyway, it was already cold at night so my things had to come in at bed time to avoid being damp by morning.
I went up looking for a fruit and veg shop. Instead, I saw a man on the top of a ladder picking grapes who told me I had gone in the wrong direction. On the way back down a woman pulled up in her car and spoke to me in French. She took me through to the back of her gradmother’s house (derelict) into the stepped garden full of fruit trees and picked figs. We stood and chatted over these juicy fruits and then she introduced me to her husband. He filled my shopping bag with massive bunches of black grapes for sharing with the other pilgrims back at the hostel. I laid them on large fig leaves in the self-catering kitchens for folk to help themselves.
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 5 and 6, September 23rd – 24th 2019
Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo to Caminha is 28.2 kms which was too far for me because my left foot hurt, so I stopped in Vila Praia de Ancora instead which was approximately 23 kilometers.
Through Areosa, Afife, then Carreco, and Vilarinho.
This type of circular tower would have been a mill and there is one which still has its four wooden sails, nearby – see below.
Although my foot was painful, it was a wonderful walk across little bridges over the Ria Ancora and its estuary. I sat to look at the map and was bitten again and then kept going around the coast into the next town.
As ever, be careful of automatic translators on your phone / ipad as some of the Portuguese names are also words which mean everyday things and it can be very confusing.
Vila Praia de Ancora
There are separate women’s and men’s dormitories at this hostel. The kitchen is quite sohisticated ie it has utensils and tables and chairs! The next morning I had breakfast in a cafe around the corner, admired the sculpture (see below) and then tried to walk, but could not put any weight on the ball of my foot, despite the pain being on the top around the metatarsal bones of the 4th and 5th toes (TH / GB for those of you who speak Shiatsu).
I took the train (15 minutes) to Caminha (alongside a surpring number of other backpackers) and whiled away the time, first in a cafe and then with a picnic and a good book in the park near the ferry terminal. I was very sorry to have missed the countryside between the two places.
When I arrived I visited the Centro de Saude (Health Centre) in Caminha, using my European Health Card (which will presumably not be valid after we leave the EU – I cannot understand how that will be a good thing). There was a certain amount of hassle with reception photocopying my passport and staff asking each other questions while I waited. The doctor spoke good English and she wiggled my foot, looked at my rucksack disapprovingly, and gave me anti-inflammatory cream and pills. On top of that I had blisters on the other foot, perhaps from the extra pressure I had put on it by limping. One way and another I still had to walk approximately 10 kilometers in all.
The ferry takes 20 minutes, does not sail on Mondays and costs 2 euros.
The time usually changes between Portugal and Spain – one hour difference!
La Guarda / A Guarda (Spain)
Note: there was no need to book at the Municipal Albergues at this stage of the Portuguese Camino, although there were a good number of pilgrims everywhere, but I did book the private hostels via booking.com
It was a further 40 minutes walk to La Guarda (by road), 3 kilometers. I could not walk, so I looked around the car park to see who was getting into their car and then asked the most friendly looking person if he knew whether there was a bus or taxi into the town. He said he didn’t know, but would give me a lift, which was what I was hoping! It only took 10 minutes or so and he kindly put me down close to the Municipal Albergue de Peregrinos (pilgrims), Rua Puerto Rico.
Luckily, it wasn’t far to the shop that evening for ingredients for my tea and I spotted a nearby bakery for the morning.
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 3 and 4, September 21st – 22nd 2019.
Vila do Conde
20 kms from Porto; 24.95 kms to Esposende
It was in this cafe that I accepted a cap and guide book which belonged to a woman who I had been seeing at hostels along the way. I assumed I would see here agin and so took it with me for her. Guess what? I carried them to Santiago but never did see her.
Link to the municipal hostel in Esposende/Marinhas. The Albergue San Miguel is one of the hostels that you have to walk through the town and almost out the other side to reach. The building in front, nearest the main road, is not the hostel but the Red Cross centre (the 2 organisations are connected through the Marinhas council) and the people there are used to exhausted pilgrims trekking through by mistake!
Nearby, and within very easy earshot, was an annual festival venue with bands, demonstrations of rural activities such as threshing, and more food than you might have ever seen in one long hall. People flocked from far and wide to sit around long tables in large family groups and have a good time. It was not possible to sleep, so as they say, when you can’t beat em, join em!
I walked through Monte, Lugar de Cima, Outeiro, Barros Sao Fins, Santo Amaro, Estrada,
I am reliably informed that this plant is one of the food plants for the Monarch Butterfly, in Australia. They prefer this, and another alien, over the native milkweeds.
The way was made up of large boulders and unevenly sized stones, some wet. I went fast to keep up with him which was exhilarating, but I wonder if I twisted my ankle without quite noticing.
And then the heavens opened. Before I could find a place to stop and take my backpack off to cover it and myself (even though I had, minutes earlier, been immersed in cool waters), I was soaked through. It was torrential. And steep, uphill. At the top I sheltered in a bus stop and watched the rain running down in torrents. More and more pilgrims joined me in that tiny space. There was a mobile shop on the Green opposite, but it was a bar – alcohol only, no hot drinks.
Despite their appearance, I was assured that they would not be ripe for eating until December at least.
The way into Viana do Castelo is across the Limia – a long, metal bridge. The hikers share it with the vehicles, although there is a narrow shaft where we walked. I could see the water’s of the Lima River far below through the grid I walked on my walking shoes clanging. The width of one person, there’s no possibility of stopping to rest and as I was limping by this time I must have slowed because I was aware of a queue of others behind me, having to go at my pace. I kept doggedly on with no choice.
I allowed myself to be persuaded to take an extra trip that evening despite my sore feet. What a mistake! Although the sights were inspiring, my physical health suffered and I paid for it for many weeks to come.
Designed by Miguel Ventura Terra, this church venerates St. Lucy of Syracuse.
I am indebted to the people on the houzz.com forum who have an immense wealth of knowledge about plants and are so willing to help.
Robert Louis Stevenson, when he walked in the Cevennes in France, was forced to go slowly so that his donkey didn’t “browse”. In order to make it through a walking day of around 20 kilometers with a rucksack on my back, I too engage a modest pace. I have discovered that slow is good for me. I can see the details of the landscape, I can feel the ground under each heel and toe, I have time to muse.
In his book ‘The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World’, Andy Merrifield wrote about how he would watch Grebouille graze in the field for hours, as a sort of meditation. Merrifield trod in Stevenson’s footsteps and he too discovered the unhurried pace of the beast.
Did you know? Donkey’s Back (lombo da burro) is the name of a rock in the Lapa de Pombas, a fishing port on the west coast of Portugal just south of Almograve? Local fishermen guide their entry and exit to the harbour by using this and other such masses.
Stubborn as a mule
Known to be good at kicking, donkeys also have a reputation for stubbornness and this is usually regarded with derision. However, I am assured by owners that if a donkey refuses to do something there will be a good reason, that it’s all about self preservation. That makes sense doesn’t it? It’s funny how we don’t always put ourselves in others’ (horse)shoes, juding them instead by our own habits, standards or preference and therefore perhaps misunderstanding their reasons for not doing something. If we are to learn from the ass, we will look around us when someone is stubborn and ask, ‘why might that be?’ and ‘is there a good reason?’ before we try and force them.
‘Donkeys have been used for transporting people and goods since biblical times. While donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn, they are also notoriously smart and capable of keeping themselves and their passengers away from danger.’ from ‘What is the differece between mules and donkeys?‘ by Jen Davis
In ‘Stories About My Ass’, Brandon Dickerson writes about how clever donkeys are, how he spent time, sweat and money securing their perimeter fence to stop them escaping. He was just boasting on the phone to his wife about what a good job he had done when Yoti (one of his donkeys) promptly broke through the new boundary with ease and, joined by his companion Donkey, they calmly grazed ‘in his face’ (as it were). From The Great Escape
Mule, donkey, ass, colt…
Mule: A mule is produced when you breed a male donkey to a female horse, also known as a mare. A “hinny,” meanwhile, is produced when you breed a stallion, or male horse, to a female donkey. Mules possess characteristics of both of their parents but are typically sterile and unable to reproduce. (Jen Davis for mom.me)
Colt: a baby donkey such as Jesus was said to be riding on – ‘humble [lowly] and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Zachariah 9:9
Donkeys are herbivores and sometimes they live into their 50s (35-40 years is common). They need shelter from the cold and rain because their coats are not waterproof. Because of this they often die of pneumonia in the UK. from Donkey Quiz
So, riding on a donkey means being humble, or what?
In the prologue to his ‘Canterbury Tales’ (stories about some of the earliest pilgrims), Chaucer writes that ‘a humble beast exalts the rider’, making reference to the Bible (again) and stressing the state of mind needed to ride on one. Some imply that riding a donkey, in this context, implies a lack of concern for smart clothes, the opposite of making an imprression of being rich and lording it over everyone (Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales: An Anotated Bibliography 1900-1982’ by Caroline D Eckhardt and Dorothy E Smith). Others suggest that the donkey represents the Jews (Wikipedia), and yet others that riding thus, signifies a coming in peace because if he had been on a horse it would have denoted war. (William David Davies and Dale C Allison 2004).
Looking at the roots of the Hebrew words (I used this source Mony Almalech 2014 accessed Jan 2020) used to enquire into the meaning of ‘colt of the she-ass’ which Christ sat upon on Easter day, one can start to understand that a he-ass (male, related to the root of the word ‘red’ (of wine and fire) and ‘clay’) implies being base, ie of the earth, material; whereas the she-ass was more to do with ‘white’ (think about her milk) and her tendency to walk with small steps: a he-ass is not related to a she-ass. While we in the West have been led to believe (perhaps as a result of sloppy translations or misunderstanding of cutural references) that the donkey represents humility or peace, Jews of the time (who the bible was written for) will have understood the subtleties of these words and therefore known that Christs’ choice of a colt (son of a she-ass, not a he-ass) was clearly a mount for a King. (The Sathya Sai Sanctuary Trust for Nature knows this too.)
Midas, the man with a donkey’s ears
Midas (the one whose touch turned things to gold – see Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ book XI 85-145) was deemed to have ‘undiscriminating ears’ and therefore given a new, elongated pair, those of a slow-moving ass. These donkey’s ones were ‘covered with shaggy hair and flexible at the base’ all the better to hear with.
Myda hadde, under his longe heres, (Midas had, under his long hair)
Growinge upon his heed two asses eres (wich grew upon his head, two ass’s ears)
lines 95 from the Delphi Complete Works of Chaucer
In his account of walking the Camino de Santiago, ‘Spanish Steps – My Walk with a Donkey’, Tim Moore describes the swivelling ears, noting how alert they are. He starts to realise that when they are raised and rotating (I get an image of a submarine’s periscope), something is about to go amiss.
In Chaucer’s version of the Midas’ myth (a jolly rendition can be found in ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’), the woman in question couldn’t bear to keep quiet about her husband’s special lugholes (well who could, what a story!) so she told the water in a lake. In Ovid’s original, though, it was a ‘servant’ who gave the game away: to the earth from which grew reeds which in turn whispered it to the winds. (I used A. S. Kline’s translation of Ovid for these quotes.)
‘You may have seen a housefly … but I bet you aint never seen a donkey fly.’ The fast-talking (Eddie Murphy voiced) donkey in the film, Shrek
A donkey to carry your stuff
It is now possible for long-distance walkers to have a company transport their luggage from one hostel to another along the Camino de Santiago de Compostella (properly kown as the Camino Francais or French Camino) by car or van, allowing many to make that trek who had previously not been able to. Then there are a few pilgrims who take a mule to carry their bags, but the majority carry their own. I started my long-distance walking habit in Spain with a rucksack on my back (containing what I needed for a 3-month stay: summer, autumn and winter), rather than having a donkey carry it for me, hence my blog is entitled, ‘Walking Without a Donkey’.
Lou Monte sings (in ‘Dominick the Donkey’) about the reason Santa has a donkey: ‘Because the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy. ‘
Finally, here is a recipe for ‘tired donkey’, Galician soup called sopa de burro cansado. It consists of hard bread (100-150g) soaked in red wine (500ml) with sugar (3 or 4 tablespoons)!
Chemin Stevenson / The Stevenson Trail, France GR70 (Grande Randonee ie a long walk) starts in Monastier sur Gazeille in the Haute Loire (Velay area) to Saint Jean du Gard or Ales in the land of the Camisards. It takes about 2 weeks. There is a little film with images of Stevenson on this page.