Day 9 – 19th October 2016, Tomar to Alvaiázere
The only way is up
Thanks for journeying with us. Tomar has to be one of our favourite places along the Camino Portugues so far, elegant, historic, beautiful and a peaceful place of rest, despite the fact that it is a bustling town.
The next morning we rose early to enjoy a buffet breakfast and chatted to a Japanese traveller before heading out and crossing the bridge spanning the River Nabão. We didn’t see a single pilgrim. Soon we found ourselves on farm tracks, winding through greenery, and passing by olive trees and eucalyptus.
“Stop in the name of love” by The Supremes and “In to the valley” by The Skids, were two songs that happened to pop into my head, although I couldn’t remember all of the words, while we walked up hill and down dale. At the Ponte de Peniche, we paused for a moment to admire the medieval architecture of the bridge.
We continued onwards through pine and more eucalyptus, under the motorway flyover and upwards, where we were able to catch some spectacular views across the forest clad hillsides, dotted with white houses.
Well actually, the Camino trail seemed to only go up for most of the morning! And so “The only way is up” by Yaz and the Plastic Population became a pleasant earworm as I meandered along.
A signs and some lessons
As the sun made an appearance and climbed higher in the sky we stopped in the little quirky village of Calvinos for a welcome second breakfast at Café Cabeleira. (Yes those pilgrim habits of satisfying the ‘stomach alien’, that takes residence, when one burns 3- 4,000 calories a day, cannot be broken).
We decided to stock up on fresh juice as well, for extra energy and an immune system boost! I spotted the familiar yellow arrow on the wall opposite, this one was marked with a yellow capital S – It was my sign! Oh well, perhaps not, it probably means we are going in the right direction for Santiago de Compostela.
Our hilly trek continued for kilometer after kilometer in the humid heat. We were grateful for the magnificent scenery and the friendly greetings from the people we met along the way. Today’s walk was certainly one of the best hikes we had experienced so far, but tough on the body, especially my feet!
Somehow, the Camino Portugues feels more physically challenging than the Camino Frances, owing to the long stages, more often than not 25 – 30 km of walking per day and a dearth of reasonably priced accommodation. Some of the lessons Brett and I have learned along this Camino journey are:
- Train first – If you are planning to walk the Camino Portugues from Lisbon it is advisable to do some training first to increase your stamina and clock up the distance you can comfortably manage. You have to feel OK with long days between 28 and 35 km on average;
- Increase your budget – On the Camino Frances it is possible to manage on 30 – 35 Euros per person per day, because dormitory beds and pilgrim meals are cheap. On this stretch of the Camino Portgues, however, prices are higher. Even albergue beds can be 20 Euros per person (compared to 5 – 8 Euros on the Camino Frances);
- Rehydrate more – Although we set off later in the year (almost 3 weeks later), than when I began my walk along the Camino Frances, the weather seems hotter and drier most of the time. Therefore, it has been imperative for Brett and I to rehydrate more. We regularly top up our bottles with mineral water (as there are not as many potable water fountains along the trail) and sometimes with fresh orange juice.
An afternoon bimble turned to struggle
The afternoon treated us to more magnificent views across woodland and hillsides. However, I struggled with pain in my right foot and fatigue. Brett encouraged me onwards, singing “I wanna hold your hand” by The Beatles and his cheery smile. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have coped without him by my side. I might have given up by now.
We came to Portela de Vila Verde, through which we began to climb a ridge, but we dropped down a little too soon, according to the Camino guide and criss-crossed numerous narrow lanes through the fields. At one point, I sank onto a stone wall and wanted to cry. My right foot hurt so badly, I could barely rotate my ankle and I was exhausted.
I gestured to Brett for him to go on ahead and I would catch up with him later, but he wouldn’t go on. He was worried that I wouldn’t make it and didn’t want to leave me wandering through the Portugues countryside on my own. It did seem a little bit strange that we hadn’t encountered a single pilgrim en route, in marked contrast to the Camino Frances, which sometimes felt too busy. I burst into tears. It was becoming too much, and we still had several kilometres to go until our rest stop for the evening, Alvaiázere, which comes from the arabic Al-Baiaz meaning the ‘land of the falconer’. To me, this already had a comforting ring to it, especially following our close encounter with the little raptor on our way out of Lisbon.
Would I make it to our destination or would I end up sleeping by the side of the Camino trail? That was Brett’s stern warning to me…Not wanting to appear a wimp, I willed myself to go on. We stopped in a village to down some iced tea and sat outside, where we guzzled several cans. We took off our trail running shoes for a while and Brett massaged my poorly right foot, which temporarily improved rotation so that I could continue walking. The last 5 – 8 km of the day were almost unbearable but Brett motivated me to keep on going. The trail into Alvaiázere seemed endless. It was a long walk into the town centre and no falcons in sight. We kept our eyes open for a sign to the albergue and had to ask directions a couple of times to be sure.
An amazing find in the land of the falconers
Eventually, we reached the centre of town and found Albergue Pinheiro’s above the launderette. Our relief was tangible. Immediately, we met the Irene Pinheiro, the mother of the owner, who was so kind that I burst into tears for the second time. How embarrassing! Irene didn’t bat an eyelid though. Perhaps she had seen it many a time before. She kindly explained her son would be back soon and in the meantime she let us in and we were able to have a private double room, with shared bathroom for 10 Euros each plus breakfast for another 2.50 Euros each! Had I died and gone to heaven?
After a shower and a brief nap, Brett and I met Carlos, the owner, who bore a passing resemblance to the actor Anthony Hopkins. Carlos is a real Camino enthusiast and has gone out of his way to make pilgrims feel especially welcome. John Brierley, the author of the famous Camino guides, stayed here and Carlos honoured him by naming one of the rooms after him.
Carlos invited us to present our pilgrim credencials so we could receive not one but three unique pilgrim stamps that he had personally created. At this moment, I remembered a crucial scene in ‘The Way’ film when the happy band of pilgrims turned up to Ramon’s Albergue, where Ramon also had created a unique stamp, but that is where the similarity ends….(phew), because we were more than happy to stay at Albergue Pinheiro’s!
Carlos introduced us to his friend Pedro, a photojournalist working in travel and tourism. He was a jovial soul, very amenable and a mine of information. Pedro took the time to give us plenty of top tips for walking the coastal route, including recommendations for albergues and advice on how to break up some of the long stages.
Carlos and Pedro recommended Café Quintanha for dinner, where we bumped into them a bit later on and heard more Camino stories!
Distance walked today = 34 km
Cumulative distance walked = 207.38 km
Day 10 – 20th October 2016, Alvaiázere rest day
Brett and I decided to take a rest day, here in the land of the falconer. I needed some time for my right foot to settle down and we both enjoyed a lie in for a change. I relish the rest days on the Camino. They are precious.
Today we pottered around the town, took delight in several coffees, made our own lunch, rested some more and chatted to the various guests trickling in during the afternoon. There were two Dutch cyclists, a German photojournalist called Harald, a Canadian lady and an Irish guy. Not every person was a pilgrim on the Camino, however, we were all pilgrims in one way or another, along this journey we call life.
In the evening, we all joined the same table for dinner, once again at Café Quintinha, where the food is excellent and great value and we are looked after by a great host and hostess. Afterwards, Harald interviewed me about both of my Camino journeys for an article. Meanwhile, Carlos and Pedro took Brett out to a country house they were renovating for a future tourism project. It was a long trip, but Brett found the property interesting and they were able to talk about construction methods and tips.
On their return, Pedro gave me some fresh leaves from an aloe vera plant they had found and showed me how to apply it to my sunburned face. Aahhh relief. Such kindness. Carlos gave each guest another special stamp to remember our stay by. Somehow, we knew we would never forget our sojourn here.
Distance walked today = I didn’t count ha! How liberating!
I wonder what tomorrow will bring…
Peace, love and light,