Day 6 – 16th October 2016, Santarém to Azinhaga.
How do you confuse a pilgrim?
Well we had to leave the earth angels of Santarém behind sometime! Brett and I were up and about way before they served breakfast at the Hotel Vitoria so we headed out just before it got light and made our way out of Santarém down some steep, cobbled trails towards the river. We grabbed coffee, pastries and a bottle of water in a small café on the outskirts of the city and then wandered round and round in circles looking for the familiar yellow arrows.
It’s our favourite game at the moment…who can spot the arrows first. There aren’t as many Camino symbols along this stretch, so we have to keep our eyes skinned to spot them. Eventually we did and followed the trail into the countryside, wending our way past fields of maize, ready to harvest; rows upon rows of sunflowers, hanging their heads in moments of melancholy and cork trees, with sections of bark cut away, so they look strangely naked.
The terrain was rather flat out here so I put my trekking poles away…
Oddly enough, the yellow arrows were more frequent and easy to recognise in the countryside. Brett had no problem spotting them…
But there was one sign that confused us somewhat. Arrows pointing along and up at the same time. Does this mean a pilgrim should levitate? I guess this is taking the Camino term ‘Ultreia!’ meaning onwards and upwards a tad too literally!
The air was hot and humid and we soon worked up an appetite. Our lunch stop was in Vale de Figueira, we had the pick of three cafés in a row (which appeared like some kind of test…will we pick the right one?), we chose the middle one and bingo it was probably the most popular, made great ‘tostas’ and was also the local ‘pastelaria’ – result! I’m not sure why a village of diminutive size would need three but then my home village of Long Itchington, also fairly small, has seven pubs…so there you go. It’s one of those mysteries of the universe, I guess…
The future is bright with renewables but flooding remains a risk
Brett and I continued on the Way, stopping briefly to enjoy the gentle breeze from a stream, lined with weeping willows.
As the day, became hotter and muggier we found ourselves without shade, following the trail through open fields once more. We observed that several of the large farms had installed rows of solar panels in the fields. We had also noticed many of the houses had solar panels on their roofs too. I remembered reading a Guardian article earlier this year about Portugal being a bit of a record holder for running on renewable energy alone for four days straight in May 2016. They are forging ahead with their National Renewable Energy Action Plan and show others how it can be done. I think Portugal deserves a round of applause. I really hope the UK can follow suit and decrease it’s dependence on oil, gas and nuclear power, increase renewables and cease fracking altogether.
Stopping briefly for ice tea in a dark and dour café in Pombalinho, we resumed our walk on a flood plain, a powerful reminder of which was a flood marker, showing the heights that flood waters had reached over the years. The worst year was 1979 and flooding occurred as recently as 2013.
Serious flooding is a disaster risk in many countries of the world and numerous scientific articles attribute this to the impacts of climate change and socio-economic development and are likely to worsen in future years.
A personal vision on the Camino
Onwards and upwards, round and round the houses, following the blue signs to the Casa de Azzancha in Azinhaga, our destination at the end of a long but interesting day’s walk. It took forever and my feet were killing me! I have to say though, the Casa de Azzancha was well worth the wait as it was the first place that really felt like a Camino albergue. Miguel recommended that we go to Colombia to visit the ‘Ciudad Perdida’ (Lost City) in Santa Marta District. Brett invited him to come sailing with us, if and when we take Theros through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean on our round the world trip. We swapped contact details just in case.
Our dorm was a large room in a family home, which we shared with one fellow traveller, Miguel from Colombia who had been to the cyclist convention and competition in Santarém. He had cycled over 170km on the first day of the competition and then over 160 on the second, so he, too had sore legs! The dorm had single beds (no bunks), which were lovely and comfy with clean cotton sheets, towels for every guest. There was a shared bathroom, free tea and wifi. A bed in the shared dorm cost 20 Euros per person including breakfast and dinner was 10 Euros per person including a main course, dessert, wine and juice.
Helena Maria Silva Santos runs the house, in which there are also private rooms. Over dinner, Helena explained that her day job, working in real estate, doesn’t fill her heart with joy any more and her personal dream is to build a big albergue on a plot of land she owns. Her albergue will have plenty of shared communal areas and she’ll also provide home-grown fresh fruit and vegetables. She hopes the Camino Portgués will grow in popularity in the coming years and she wants to be prepared!
A Nobel Laureate’s words ring true and relevant today
Azinhaga has an interesting history. José Saramago was born here in the year 1922 (same year as my dad). He was a writer and a recipient of the 1998 Nobel prize for literature. Considering we face uncertain and precarious times owing to the farcical US election circus, the Brexit shenanigans, ongoing tragic war in Syria (and other conflict hotspots around the world) and threats of war between the USA and Russia, which could trigger a world war, José Saramago’s powerful words reach out to us across the years – in judgement and an indictment of dangerous human folly:-
“Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
I think we are blind. Blind people who can see, but do not see.
What kind of world is this that can send machines to Mars and does nothing to stop the killing of a human being?”
“People live with the illusion that we have a democratic system, but it’s only the outward form of one. In reality we live in a plutocracy, a government of the rich.”
And also relevant today, he reminds us that we are agents of change and this gives me hope:-
“As citizens, we all have an obligation to intervene and become involved – it’s the citizen who changes things.”
By coincidence or synchronicity, however you like to look at it, after our evening meal, Brett played a moving song on his tablet “Snowblind Friend” by John Kay and Steppenwolf. The lyrics contain a similar powerful message – that we are one and should intervene to help and care for other people, especially in their desperate moments. If you don’t know the song, here are the lyrics and on these, I shall leave you for today:-
You say it was this morning when you last saw your good friend
Lyin’ on the pavement with a misery on his brain
Stoned on some new potion he found upon the wall
Of some unholy bathroom in some ungodly hall
He only had a dollar to live on ’til next Monday
But he spent it on some comfort for his mind
Did you say you think he’s blind?
Someone should call his parents, a sister or a brother
And they’ll come to take him back home on a bus
But he’ll always be a problem to his poor and puzzled mother
Yeah he’ll always be another one of us
He said he wanted Heaven but prayin’ was too slow
So he bought a one way ticket on an airline made of snow
Did you say you saw your good friend flyin’ low?
-John Kay and Steppenwolf
Peace, love and light,
PS. Distance walked today = approx. 28 km (because the GPS watch shut off on the outskirts of our destination)
PPS. Cumulative distance walked = 131.38 km