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.
Most of the previous afternoon was spent in the albergue courtyard in the hot sun. It was idyllic with three large black and white cranes floating on the thermals above, and, when alighting, clacking their beaks with a wooden clapper sort of sound. The sky they sailed through hosted the slither of New Moon. A short walk around the village revealed that the church was shut but the shop open for an individual lemon yoghurt, a bread roll, a tin of mussels, and fruit for breakfast. The evening, communal meal was at the café Kiosk opposite the albergue and much wine was drunk. I sat beside a woman who was walking ‘a contrario’ ie towards Seville rather than in the direction of Santiago de Compostella. The thermal baths in the village got a very good report. The hospitalera (woman who runs the albergue) went to great trouble to book her guests in.
The next morning’s departure was at 7.35am after a great deal of hustle and bustling, the others leaving quite a mess without wiping the surfaces or cleaning the dishes. I was a bit surprised and took time to complete the duties before leaving.
The sun was behind the trees to my right as the walk began, and there was no pavement. It was not until the end of the road that it had truly risen.
My meditation buddies would have been meeting as I walked, so I was thinking of them. There was a dearth of yellow arrows so I hoped there was no mistake. After a while other pilgrims came into sight so I was glad to know it was the right road. As the morning wore on, it was more and more crowded, like the Camino Francés.
My clothes were damp from the dew but it was lovely and warm, not long until I hid behind a rock to take off my early morning warmer layers and walk in a t-shirt. Finally the arrows signed off the road to the right at the services (petrol etc) and onto the serpentine track.
The landscape was all very attractive and a big white bird took off from the wetlands, its massive wings flapping slowly.
Advice: There are no arrows here for a long time but just keep going!
The rocks are covered with blue and red miniature plants. A hare auspiciously ran across my path. I was reflecting on learning to choose, to identify what is necessary to me and not to automatically fall in step with the other as I was bought up to do.
We walkers were overtaking, then falling behind, each other; one in particular determined to make conversation. A woman stopped to pee and the dog stopped too; another to stretch out already sore muscles (day two can be a challenge); a third walked by in silence; a couple chattered excitedly; a further man complained and told people what to do all the time. We were all sorts walking this ancient way, for many different reasons.
As the sky darkened and the air got increasingly damp, the chamomile petals were flattened down. Along the straight farm track I walked with Jo sharing snacks and stories of babies, relationships and the future – whether to plan or not to plan. I realised there were eucalyptus trees starting to appear, as in the North.
And then there were three rain showers in quick succession and I could not see easily through my specs.
Be careful to turn right when you get to the fork with all the signs for Alcuescar! That is, unless you want to go to Los Olivos, an albergue turística. There was a warning at last night’s inn that the owner was using the same yellow paint to lure unsuspecting hikers to his hostel. At this point I am sorry to say that you are not nearly there yet.
First there were underplantings of wheat and rape in the olive groves – so fertile.
And then there was the familiar, mucky industrial outlying townscape, and then I knew I was near Alcuescar. Today it seemed like a long road despite it only being two kilometers longer than yesterday.
It is Saturday: poor unsuspecting Spanish men are running and cycling in the vicinity and they are therefore besieged by the dogs! After 2 hours plus of careering out of the house in full-bark, I bribed them (the dogs that is) with biscuits and locked them up inside. More for me than for the populace really!
At 6. 30am I received message number one of many from G. (the owner of the house in which I am ‘sitting’) telling me about her car break-down on leaving France to return home, so maybe this will not be the last blog after all …
Perhaps if she knew what I did with her other car on Thursday night, she would be here sooner: Sue, G’s colleague, had kindly offered to take me in to Valencia for Las Fallas, a celebration of the coming of Spring. I drove to hers with the aid of Google maps (on the opposite side of the road, remember; in the dark; in a car which is so big for me I need two cushions to reach the peddles), and as usual I got lost.
One U-turn later, I was speeding along a cami (which is a smaller road which runs parallel to the main A-one) in the wrong direction, and, after stopping to ‘recentre’, I followed the instructions and took ‘a very sharp left’ – there was a diagram and everything. In fact I got out of the car to look before I did it as I seemed to be very close to a roundabout and … yes, there was a ridge with black and white chevrons painted on the edge of it, but for some reason I believed Google instead of my instinct. Why on earth? It was hard work, but I persevered. And then the car got wedged – I mean, really stuck: the two front wheels on one side of the bit you were not under any circumstances supposed to try and go over, and the two back on the other.
In retrospect, I do not have any excuses – it was simply stupidity. I got out of the driver’s seat and had a look, disbelieving; I got back in and tried to go forwards; I got out and had another look and then back in again and tried to go in the other direction; I wondered if I might be in danger of being crashed into so located the flashers pretty quickly; then I stood on the road a third time and looked at the vehicle.
Immediately a Citroën stopped and two couples got out. Not long afterwards, another sort of car did the same, and, to cut a rather long story short, one of the brilliant women thought of jamming stones under the front wheel and someone else moved the car and bit-by-bit it was freed. Meanwhile, I stood around and remembered the odd word of Spanish and not one person criticised me or shouted – they just helped. And later when Sue arrived it was just like in Edinburgh: she knew the wonder-woman who had ‘done the trick’, she had actually been her English teacher. Well, that is Spain for you – help coming out of my ears wherever I need it (if you get my drift). Oh, and the car is undamaged.
We did not get into Valencia until about 11pm but it was worth it. Basically Las Fallas seems to be a festival of lights, fireworks, and Disney-style erections in every available plaza (square) designed and built by groups of local residents in a massive competition. Some of the women and girls dress up in national costume with flat circular plaits over their ears. I think the photos speak for themselves. While you look, imagine the loudest possible firecrackers going off unexpectedly behind your back while you run for your life. Perhaps my nerves were a little on edge.
On an altogether calmer note, I visited the San Vicente National Park near Llíria with it’s attractive chapel and fish/duck ponds. Here are some more images for you to feast your eyes on.
This morning I sent in my latest book review and here I am quoting Thomas Traherne in his Centuries of Meditation, (a book I will certainly be reading later). He was a mid-17th century thinker who said that the Hobbesian world view of a material and mechanistic life was likely to make humans feel depressed, afraid and cut off from the cosmos (p. 198 of The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans). I am a firm believer that we all need a well-rounded and vast life, one which contains joy and ecstasy, and adventure as well as peace and quiet. That is why I set off to Spain in the first place in Autumn 2016. Never looked back!
I trained as a dancer between 1981-85 at The Laban Centre which was then part of Goldsmith’s College, University of London. I was extremely unhappy a lot of the time and it was really hard, but even now I am glad for the part where we were taught to listen to the rhythm of the body. Walking is a pleasure for me, and when I pace I can hear the melody of my movements, not because I am any more balletic than any other, but because I learned that skill and it is a conduit for mindfulness. Being aware of each step, the quality of the flow and the balance, brings me into the moment and allows me to stop focusing on the past or future.
Then I can make observations: thyme’s little purple flowers between the stones, and the weird, fluffy and speckled seed heads draw my attention; the volcano-shaped anthill are all a-busy; the heather is clad in its girl colours; and, as my sense of smell returns, the pine, the dogs’ breath.
It is a funny thing, fitness, you only know it is improving if you measure it: a hill which was a struggle on day one is easier now. With the full backpack (which is supposed to be 10% of one’s bodyweight), I find myself leaping up little boulders and breaking into small runs; taking it at a fair lick; the dogs and I overtaking each other; and my ankles, thighs and centre feeling a lot stronger which gives me confidence for the upcoming Camino.
Like all Shiatsu practitioners I know, once the terrible afflictions have passed my clients simply forget and it is only when I ask them, ‘So how’s your..? that they remember and reply’ Oh, that, I have not thought about that since I last saw you!’ You see, it is the same thing – if one is in the moment, life just is the way that it is.
I am house-sitting for G. outside a village in the Sierra Calderona Natural Park, approximately 40 kilometres from Valencia, on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain. The family love animals and each time I visit there are more additions to the collection: to date, three dogs; 5 remarkably plump and be-feathered chickens; copious fish (their murky golden forms almost hidden from view) in the deep pail, and a snake.
G. was a bridesmaid with my eldest daughter, then about 3 years old, at my sister, C’s, wedding. G, C and I all went to the same school in Kent, England, though I am the elder.
The last two days contained more strong rain, but also temperatures of 18 plus degrees, so the aim of boosting my Vitamin D levels after a Scottish winter will realise that, and the virus I came with is all but disappeared leaving only the vestiges of a phlegmy cough and occasional shortness of breath.
In fact, regular readers of Walking Without a Donkey will recognise that I am almost back on form when I note that during yesterday’s walk ‘I heard the silence’ again. That is to say, I heard the wind soughing and my own tread hollow. Hollow but sometimes with an accompanying rattle as stones dislodge, and other times with a pine-needle crunch. What I guess I mean is, I remembered to listen to the external environment not just the chatterings inside my own skull.
Yes, the rushes were faintly shushing; the birds gently twittering, and the dogs panting as they ran between the frothy almond trees in the late sunshine.
I carried my full rucksack for the two evening hours, to see if I could manage. I will be walking approximately 25 kms per day for the 30 or so days I am planning to finish the Via de la Plata camino, and I will also have some food and an extra water bottle, so this was hardly representative, but doing it uphill, at the end of the day when I was tireder, and while I was still not 100% healthy would, I reckoned, give me an idea. It turned out to be most useful, sending me back with a check-list for the future and the mildly asthmatic sensation whilst unpleasant, prompted me to keep looking after myself to get properly well for the main focus of my trip.
Living with the dogs is an adventure: the puppy is a very active guard-dog and two nights have been disturbed by her growling and barking. It actually makes me more nervous of being away from other people rather than less, but I expect it is wild animals roaming their sweet nocturnal ways amongst the brush and nothing to worry about.
Every day the things Sophie has stolen from around the homestead get more and more chewed up, and I find little pieces of them scattered around – the black plastic filter from G’s former pond; an almond from the bowl on the kitchen worktop which has taken her three days to get into; that trowel that may not ever be useful again!
Probably G. does not lie on the terrace that much because the dogs are a bloody nuisance when I try to meditate or do yoga. They are monstrously affectionate, especially by pressing their noses and tongues into my hands while I attempt to be still. I am sorry to admit this, but I realise I am not really a dog person, I like my cat better, because being licked by them is just not my idea of love.
The next day’s mini-trek was backpack-free and I found my way, without trying, to El Puntal des Llops, a Roman settlement dating from 5-11th century BC which thwarted trip I had attempted a few days earlier. Louis and I took it gingerly on the steep approach (from the back), whereas Sophie went up and down at least four different ways in the time it took us!
From the top I could see the city of Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea! There was the backdrop of various Sierras in tones of grey against the blue heat-haze. And, closer to home, the orange escarpments; roads like the soft fabric carpet my brother had for his toy cars, the one with hyphenated road markings; the differently-shaped trees, some pointed, some broccoli-shaped; and shadows thrown by clouds the exact shape of my two daughters’ sister-tattoos.
If you want a day-trip from Valencian busyness, hire a car and park at the bottom. Then take your time to wander up this easy (though stony) path because the site is free and open all hours, and even if Roman walls do not turn you on, the view is ‘to die for’.
On your way down you can look out for the rock detail which this landscape offers: tiny thread creases like my skin after a lotion-free day in the sun; or the face of that elderly man, presumably Himalayan, they kept incongruously showing in the film Mountain; like bricks which have been scored but never sandwiched. See the striations of muted colours: orange brown and pink, and be careful as you put a hand out to steady yourself – it could be a brittle paper-dry pine trunk or a hair’s breadth of cheese-cutting wiry green grass.
At any moment you might be touching deadly sharp bamboo shards or the soft curlicues of what we call ornamental grasses.
I can hear today’s book in my head inspiring me as I tramp: Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss is not just a wealth of punctuation information which I am hoping will have rubbed off on me as I come to write, but is artfully written and its humour made me laugh out loud three times!
It is getting dark when I make my way home and although I have not seen a soul for two days, I several times think there is a man to my right. When I turn to look closely he has been turned into a tree. This is the landscape wherein fairy tales and bible stories were invented – bushes which could be burning with the word of God at every corner; abandoned houses where witches lie waiting for gingerbread children. Perhaps it is the silence combined gunshots ricocheting around or simply my own fervent imagination!