Enraptured by a raptor on the Camino to Verdelha de Baixo.

Day 2 – 12th October 2016 Parque das Nacoes, Lisboa to Verdelha de Baixo.

Hello friends!

In explorer’s footsteps

We were up, packed and out of the youth hostel by 7.40am and didn’t wait for brekkie, which wasn’t available  until 8.30am and, as you may well know by now, that is slightly late for a pilgrim!  The night before we picked up some Frusli bars, bananas and fresh mango juice from the local supermarket round the corner and for these snacks we were truly grateful later on. We headed on down to the water front in the murky, morning drizzle.

Earlier, I’d checked out the handy Camino Weather Map by Follow the Camino, which indicated that for the month of October, in and around Lisbon, we would likely have 20 sunny days and 11 rainy days with temperatures between 14.6° C and 22.4 °C. So to be greeted by drizzle was no surprise and we were well prepared. Besides the drizzle felt warm!

The air was pleasant, if somewhat humid.  Brett switched his Garmin fitness watch on, which had a GPS so we could track real distance. Like many pilgrims before us, we had learned from our previous Camino experiences that the Camino Guide books by John Brierley are just that – ‘guides’ and not hugely accurate, because the kilometre or mileage markings can be ‘elastic’ to say the least.


Happy pilgrims ready for the off on the waterfront, Lisboa.

We strolled along the sea front between two landmarks named after the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the tower behind us and the bridge in front of us. Vasco da Gama, the 1st Count of Vidigueira, was the first European explorer to reach India by sea (1497-1499). Here’s a peculiar link to el Camino de Santiago – his dad was a knight in the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword, an order of chivalry originally dedicated to protecting pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. I wonder whether his dad inspired him to travel and see the world like mine?

Onwards past the bronze statue of Catherine of Braganza, consort of Charles II, who looked a bit wild like the mad, Queen Elizabeth the first in Blackadder. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for her dowry discussion. Apparently her dowry consisted of Bombay, Tangier and tea.  That’s certainly a step up from the old bottom drawer isn’t it? I wonder what kind of tea…methinks twasn’t builders, Typhoo or Yorkshire.

A walk on the wild side

Joggers were out in abundance, many of whom seemed a bit startled when we wished them a cheery “Bom dia”. No-one wished us “Bom Camino” in return, again a marked contrast to the Camino Frances when “Buen Camino” became the regular greeting throughout the day between pilgrims and passers by. No, I wasn’t feeling the love. We didn’t see a single pilgrm on our way, instead we found ourselves in the company of a flock of flamingoes. Instantly the song “Pretty flamingo” by Manfred Mann popped into my head. A while later we came across some impressive street art and less impressive, but still affectionately familiar, Camino arrows.

At the mouth of the Rio Trançao, we veered off left to follow it and spotted a strange footbridge, no longer in use. The engineer responsible must have been having a laugh. We were so glad we didn’t have to climb this one, a pilgrim’s worst nightmare on a long walk!

Disused footbridge – pilgrim’s nightmare

I enjoyed following the river, watching the sea birds flying in. We tramped along a muddy pathway along a raised ridge lined with gigantic bamboo, which was more than a little overgrown in places.  Who looks more at home in the foliage?

“ Me ol bamboo” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, found it’s way into my head and remained there as a tenacious ear worm, while I stepped carefully over thousands of industrious ants, sleepy snails, a stag beetle and numerous inch-long black centipedes. Where’s David Attenborough when you need him eh? I’m sure he’d have a field day!

I struggled on a section between two of the ruined buildings mentioned in the Camino guide map,  where there was a fork in the trail, no Camino signs and the left hand option up a steep muddy bank was the correct one. I was glad of my carbon fibre trekking poles for support and Brett’s helpful hand to get up it. We walked on to Brett’s rendition of  “Yesterday”. Further along the trail, we were both greatly saddened and disgusted to see the verges of the trail used as an automotive parts/ dump;  a pile of oil filters, and heaps of car body remnants were strewn all over the place.

At 13.4 km we eventually reached the village of Alpriarte and our first coffee stop – note first coffee stop, there’s nothing between the youth hostel and here.  We had hoped to drop by this new albergue, run by Via Lusitania (an organisation like the Confraternity of St. James) but it was closed until 2pm  and here we were at elevenses looking for a café.

The new 10-bed albergue in Alpriarte

We didn’t have to look far. Just up the road and off to the right for a few metres stood a small café, where we downed two cups of coffee, a bag of crisps each, some more muesli bars and then my husband presented me with a little package – some hazelnut choccies by Hotel Chocolat that he’d carried all the way from Marylebone Station.  How thoughtful and romantic of him. He knew I’d reach an energy low at some point on the journey. Of course I was happy to share them with him (honest)…

The pilgrim code

The heavens looked a bit threatening and it started to mizzle again. We tramped onwards and turned onto the road, when we saw two beaming faces coming towards us, hands stretched towards us offering us sticks to clean our shoes with (our running shoes were caked in mud and straw) and they were dressed in outdoor active gear. They must be fellow pilgrims! At last…

It turns out that Jeremy and Judith, were two ‘hospitaleros’ (volunteer hosts) from Durban, South Africa, who were running the new albergue. They had walked the Camino Frances but had not yet walked the Camino Portugues. It’s funny how pilgrims can instantly recognise each other and strike up a conversation like long lost friends. This is all part of the unwritten pilgrim code, which also includes being mindful of opportunities to help someone out. We stopped to have a chat. They said it was very slow going at the new albergue, because it had only been open for 6 months. They told us it could take 10 people, and beds were simple mattresses on the floor. There are 2 loos and a shower and a kitchen for self catering. Great! It is a shame we didn’t know this before we left the UK. The reason why we stopped at the Parque das Nacoes was to shave off 10 km from the exceptionally long first stage. If we had known about Alpriarte we may well have stayed overnight in Lisbon and then trekked the first 20 km out to stay in this hostel. Never mind. It seemed really sensible to have an albergue at the 20 km or so mark from the start as this is a decent and manageable day’s hike.

Judith and Jeremy were keen to find out our opinion of the Camino trail. We made some suggestions on how the route could be improved, not least cleaning it up a bit and putting more signs up, and they said they’d pass them on. They mentioned they only had 3 pilgrims staying in the last week and I think the were hoping we’d turn back  to keep them company! Some of you will know that the dearth of pilgrims en route contrasts with the vibrant sense of community on the Camino Frances,  so if you like peace and quiet then this could be the walk for you! I didn’t mind the peace and quiet though and thoroughly enjoying walking with my lovely husband.


Tip-toe through the bamboo!

Close encounters of the feathered kind

Utreia towards a dormitory town and the sea, where we paused for a moment to look across at the Vasco da Gama bridge in the distance and where we had started today. Ominous clouds loomed overhead.

The Camino takes us to the sea, Vasco da Gama bridge in the distance

We crossed over the road the into the wetland area and the cleverly camouflaged Guarda Rios café made from white shipping containers covered in weathered planks of wood. Brett and I were both pooped at this point, in desperate need of a couple of glasses of real lemonade.  I really should commend the café for serving their beverages up accompanied by The Clash’s “Should I stay or should I go?” (a personal fave of mine) closely followed by Pink Floyd’s “Another brick in the wall” (a personal fave of Brett)..they have excellent taste!

From there these intrepid pilgrims stepped onto a long boardwalk by the sea (cue song “Under the boardwalk”, Otis Redding, played at our wedding) and walked straight into a magical encounter and the highlight of the day. Suddenly the heavens opened, warm rain poured down and we sought shelter in a bird hide. After the shower passed over, Brett tentatively ventured out and met a solitary raptor by the fence. Was it a falcon or a hawk? He or she seemed very tame and appeared as though he/she wished to communicate with him. I broke off some muesli bar and put down some crumbs but the bird turned it’s beak up at oats and cranberries. Rain pit-patted down on us again and we dived back into the shelter. Our little raptor friend followed us into the hide, swooped low over Brett’s head and shoulders and to my complete surprise landed on my head. I could feel it’s sharp talons grip my scalp, gently but firmly. What to do now?

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I was overwhelmed and couldn’t help but wonder if this bird was trying to impart a message to us. Perhaps it was our power animal?  I reflected on my last Camino, when I encountered several animals on the way and looked into their symbolism after I returned home. We shared this story with some of our friends via Facebook and some suggested that the bird could be a lesser kestrel, a member of the falcon family or a hawk. My friend Alan, who I walked some of the Camino Frances with last year, sent me a message about the falcon as a power animal “Be sure of success, you are on your way to your life’s goal. Positive news is on its way. Your gift is to trust in the future”. One of Brett’s friends, Kathryn also sent us a message about shamanic journeying relating to the hawk as a power animal and here is a brief extract of the article:

“Hawks are the protectors and visionaries of the Air. They hold the key to higher levels of consciousness. This power animal enables us to awakens vision and inspires a creative life purpose. Having Hawk as power animal means your life will be filled with responsibility, because Hawk people seek the overall view. You will most probably be aware of omens and spirit messages”

Either way, the messages are inspiring words of encouragement as we continue along our journey, confirming to us that we are in the right place at the right time and following our life path.

This beautiful experience stayed with us all the way into the outskirts of Alverca, where the weather really closed in. We donned our new Vaude rain ponchos and sloshed up the hill to Verdehla de Baixo, 1. 3 km off the main Camino route.  Here we found a double room with shared bathroom for 30 Euros (pilgrim rates)  at Hospedaria Alfa 10 on Estrada da Alfarrobeira.

Distance walked today = 26.18 km

Cumulative distance walked = 36.38 km

More news coming soon…

Peace, love and light,

Sarah xxx



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