Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 9. May 31, 2016. Recondela to Pontevedra. 18 kms.

Now to my three score years and ten
I add five more, and sigh again.

A nice, thick piece of tortilla set me up for the day.

Then it was off along little country roads, through a forest, and up a hill and down again to the sea at Arcade, a delightful spot with a good swimming beach.

Along the way, I confirmed with a Spanish woman that the leafy ingredient of Caldo Gallego is indeed a kind of cabbage, of which there are many varieties, she said. Kale, is one of them, in fact.

From Arcade, after a few teasing little ups and downs through narrow lanes, we climbed steadily along dirt tracks and stony paths into the hills again. Farmers were chugging up and down on their little tractor-trailer combos, either large garden tractors towing a trailer or a tractor and trailer fixed together, tending their small holdings, usually of grapevines, cabbages, of course, various other vegetables, and sometimes a few roaming chooks. The gardens are always attractive to the birds, but this demure little scarecrow wouldn't have frightened many away.

Sometimes you have the delightful experience of reaching your destination before you expect to, and I arrived quite early at the edge of town, booking in at the private Albergue Aloxa, where, on looking at my passport, the hospitalier commented perceptively on my date of birth. She didn't offer me free lodging, though. 

But making my way down through the unattractive modern city to the old town was almost another day's walk in itself.

I had a beer at a bar at the edge of a grand plaza in the old medieval city. It is in fact a combination of four plazas.  I suspect that some buildings were razed a long time ago to make one large space. A variety of arcaded buildings form half of the grand plaza; the Convento San Francisco and the pilgrim chapel, the Sanctuario da Peregrina, the rest. The later is a spectacular baroque church, as simple as baroque can be, and formed in the shape of a scallop shell.

A little boy ran at the pigeons that were scrambling for the food someone had left them, but they paid little heed, making way for a moment, and then resuming their scratching. Bolder individuals pecked about my feet after the chips I had dropped. These pigeons come in such a variety of colours, from white like gulls, to piebald like magpies, to a gentle russet brown. And they waddle back and forth like chooks in quick motion.

I texted Manzu to see if he and Trevor were up for a drink and a meal, and strolled on. Suddenly, across the plaza, a bearded man was waving frantically ar me. They too had sent a text, but neither had arrived. Semaphore was a more effective means of communication.

We talked much about the current political situation in Britain with the looming Brexit referendum, and the consequences of a "yes" vote. They are ardent supporters of the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, arguing that he is less extreme than the North American press would have us believe. They have a theory that he might emerge as prime minister out of the resulting chaos if Britain votes "yes".

We dined well on calamari, pimientos, pulpo and pork.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 8. May 30, 2016. O Porrino to Redondela. 15 kms

There once was a Spanish amigo,
Who loved his Caldo Gallego.
When his body would fail,
He'd eat lots of kale
And gone was his muscle fatiguo .

Would that I could grow kale like that! For that's what it is, I'm fairly certain, this leafy vegetable that makes up the bulk of Caldo Gallego, the soup of Galicia. In Portugal, Fred the Brazilian, had said that the word in his language translated into cabbage, and that's what kale is, a kind of upwardly mobile cabbage. I have seen it grow as tall as I am.

This morning I followed minor roads out of town as they crossed back and forth under the highway, For much of the time I kept apace with a blind man and his wife and daughter. She, the wife, was leading him and giving a running, or walking, commentary on the state of the path.

The country is much greener now. When I mentioned at breakfast that it looked like rain again, I was mildly reprimanded by a woman who said, "Ah, but you are in Galicia. Because of the rain, it's green!"

After a coffee at Mos, it was a steady climb up to the park around Mount Cornedo. I kept getting mixed up with a packet of day trippers who spoke with familiar accents and took photos of everything that didn't move. But I shouldn't mock. I started out my Camino-walking in a group like that many years ago.

From the park it was a leisurely downhill stroll into Redondela. I couldn't resist taking this photo of a kerfuffle of chocks basking in the sun in a yard on the way down. Happy chooks!

Lazy bones, lying in the sun,
How'd you think I'm going to get my day's work done?

Arriving early, I found a lower bunk at the large municipal hostel. After my chores, I treated myself to a plate of pulpo. It was magnificent: salty, sandy (you feel that you're crunching on the odd grain, but you're not), and rubbery (not so your teeth are going to bounce apart as you chew, but a firm, springy texture). And a young vino tinto, foaming on the surface, which arrived in a china breakfast bowl, 

... a beaker full of the warm south,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.

Reason enough in itself to come to Spain!

Consequently, for supper, I had only a couple of beers and the complimentary tapas that came with them.

There are very many people on the Camino now, too many, really, even to develop a nodding acquaintance with. I have heard the Portuguese Camino is now second in popularity only to the Camino Frances. Our albergue was full by late afternoon, the neighbouring private hostel soon after.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 7. May 29, 2016. Valenca to O Porrino. 20.3 kms

If we do meet again, why, we shall smile.
If not, why then, then this parting was well made

I have bid farewell to Jacques. I decided to break the long day into two: he has continued to Recondela; I am stopping at O Porrino. It is hard to part with the friends you become close to on the Camino, and we lingered over a couple of beers before going our separate ways. I wish him well.

And speaking of friends, I was idling my time away in the Wifi room here at the hostel in Porrino, when the hospitalier hurried up the stairs and hurled a string of Spanish at me. "Amigos" was the only word I caught. I followed her to find that the East Anglians were asking for me. They had seen me in town and had tracked me me down. I look forward to running into them tomorrow.

It was a quiet Sunday morning as we left the hostel in Valenca, and crossed the bridge into Tui in Spain. Some pilgrims had stayed on the Portugese side of the border; others had crossed the river; but by now they were all on the road, from both the central and coastal caminos, the reds and blues and greens of their pack covers strung out in front and behind.

At a small town just out of Tui, on a large sheet of canvas draped across the fence of a school, I noticed a very strange slogan, in English:

We are what we are, not what we wanna (sic) be

Not much point in going to school, then. But there must be some other explanation for this strange poster.

We spent much of the morning walking through a park. I noticed that here the Aussie immigrant was no longer sticking to its enclave but living in harmony with the indigenous population. (See photo above.)

Along the way we met a man taking his sheep for a walk. Like all sheep they were trying to go astray, but he managed to keep them under control.

Five or six kilometres out of Porrino, we had to choose between the traditional way into town or a more scenic but longer variant along a river bank. Short of time, we chose the shorter route. A bad choice: four kilometres without a bend, factories and wharehouses to the left, factories and wharehouses to the right, industry without end, for ever and ever.

Walking itself isn't a very enjoyable activity. It's the things that go with it that give pleasure: the song of the birds, the sound of the surf, the smell of the sea, the touch of the breeze, the green of the fields, and above all, variety and surprise. Without these, all you can do is put your head down and walk like an automaton. And compose fragments for Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Doggerel, or the Oxford Book of Excruciating Verse.

I decided to stay at the private hostel, the Albergue Carmino Portuguese, at Portillo. For 10€ rather than 5€ or 6€, you can enjoy a little luxury. Well, I did not find it in the showers, always among the criteria for passing judgement on an albergue. Certainly, I was able to have a two-handed shower, for the nozzle remained on its fixture on the wall above me, but the tap was a button on the wall which, once pressed, provided a minute's worth of water. This is not usually a problem, because you can lean against it while showering and ensure a continuous flow. But the water was neither hot nor cold: it was warm enough to be endurable, but not enough to be enjoyable. We weren't going to linger in our showers and waste water.

No, the luxury was not in the showers but in the dorms which resembled rows of storage lockers, one on top of the other, each containing a double bed with sheets and a curtain across the front to ensure privacy, and within, a little reading lamp and a plug for charging the devices. And, of course, there was Wifi. Well worth the extra four or five euros!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 6. May 28, 2016. Carminha to Valenca. 28 kms

As one who always likes his weight to watch,
I'm proud to say my belt is in one notch.
It's not as easy as it seems, I fear,
Amigos on the Way enjoy their beer

It was much easier to lose weight in France. Breakfast is not the finest hour of French cuisine, and one will not get fat on a few crusts of bread. And if I avoided the plat du jour a midi, then I was in good shape to enjoy a beer or two at the end of the day. But the breakfasts here are more substantial, and fellows like Preben the Dane and Jacques the Swiss do not wait until the end of the day for their first beer. And it is rather bad form to let them drink alone.

We left a little later this morning, Jacques and I, because I had slept in, a blessed relief to have had a decent sleep at last. Even so, we were too early for breakfast, so we crossed a bridge and, hungry, headed on to the next town. We have decided to continue in Portugal along the river to Valenca.

Five kilometres on, at Xeixa, we ate, and then split up, I following the arrows into the village, hoping for relief from the highway, Jaques predicting that the way would lead back to the highway anyway. After several hundred yards along an idyllic river path, I was back on the highway, with Jacques half a mile ahead.

I ran into Bree and Michaela, young American girls, whom we had been passing from time to time. I took a chance and asked them, "Are you rooting for Bernie?"

I should explain that I have been caught out before. Last year, I ate with a man who seemed to be a congenial American. He was from Washington, he was on the Camino, he must be a Democrat. What did he think about Obama's second term, I asked him. He went apoplectic. "He should be impeached!" he shouted. That was the end of that.

So a little warily, I asked, "Are you rooting for Bernie?" "Yeah," they chorused. But they weren't optimistic about his chances. But perhaps they belong to the wave of young Bernies who will triumph next time around.

At the next village, I followed the arrows again. This time they led me down rural roads and tracks, through little villages and a rural industrial area that keeps the villages alive. Finally I arrived at a magnificent red bicycle path with a prominent yellow arrow which left me in no doubt that this was the way into Valenca.

I am staying at the very comfortable Albergue S. Teotonio with lots of room, wifi, and very hot showers. 

It's funny the things you see on the Camino. I have just watched a fellow putting his washing out to dry in the rain.

Camino Portugues. Day 5. May 27. Viano do Costelo to Carminha. 27 kms

For hours on end I lie awake,
Sore afraid a breath to take,
As all around the bodies groan
And snort and snore and fart and moan.
And in a bunk across the aisle
Not one or twice, but all the while
From up on high, a lady coughs
Contagion in an airy froth,
Which like the mist on winter nights
Descends upon us hapless wights.

There was no room at the inn last night for any late-arriving pilgrims. There we were, both dorms full, all bunks, top and bottom, occupied. As always, it was something of a struggle to keep a window open; some people prefer warm, stuffy, body odours to the cool night air. And a lady was coughing.

We were in the foothills again today, up and down, skirting the villages with the sea below, seeing the church spires and thinking we were coming to a cafe, only to veer up again along a stony track. Sometimes we passed between tall stone walls, with bracken on either side, and not the oak and beech and chestnut you would expect, but gum trees.

I was sore and sluggish today, lacking sleep, and the plat du jour and a pint of beer at Vila Priaia de Ancora didn't help. After that it was ten kilometres along the coast to the Alberge at Carminha, quite a lovely seaside town at the mouth of the Rio Mino, which divides Portugal from Spain. Here the way splits. Some will take the ferry across to Spain and continue along the coast; others will stay on the Portugese side of the river and cross into Spain at Valenca.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 4. May 26, 2016. Marinhas to Viano do Castelo.21 kms.

One can learn more in a day on the Camino than in a year at school (Carolus Sapiens)

I ate breakfast this morning withTom the Dutchman, Fred the Brazilian (on the left), and Jacques the Swiss.

Tom was leaving us and said good-bye in front of the Cafe. He is riding his bike to Santiago from Porto, and back home from there. An avid cyclist, he will keep riding until he falls off his saddle. He told us that in Norway each year they close a motorway and give cyclists 24 hours to ride the 540 kilometres. He had done it in 22 hours. What enlightenment! Can you imagine closing down the 401 for a day? 

Fred told the two old codgers to the right that because they were in the photo, they had to come on the Camino with us.

It was a glorious day of long, rambling conversations along long, rambling paths. What did we learn from each other?

Fred is a computer scientist and explained to us how to share photos on our iPhones. Jacques is a retired agricultural teacher. He could sniff out a cow from some distance away. I was able to explain the difference between the Simple Past tense and the Past Perfect.
I learned a lot about Brazilian politics and culture. Fred maintained that the Brazilians would have preferred to have been a British rather than a Portugese colony, because they traced their current corruption back to their former colonial masters. From Jacques I learned the interesting meanings of the word "cul".

Jacques wanted to know the meaning of the word "amazing". He had heard it used by various Anglophones along the way. We discussed the etymology of "amazing" and "astonishing", noting that one had a French equivalent, but the other didn't. I suggested that he could coin the word "labyrinthant".

We ventured into the forest, and soon we could hear the rushing of a stream. It is a sound not unlike the roaring of the surf, but higher in pitch even as it increases in volume. Soon we came to a narrow stone path across the stream, which had now become much wider. I immodestly give you a picture of me, standing "like a Colossus" on the bridge.

We took photos of one another in turn as lines of cyclists crossed the bridge, interrupting our poses and forcing us to precariously step aside. I doubt if I have ever seen so many cyclists at once before. I learned later that it was a public holiday (Corpus Christi) and everybody was out.

For the most part, the way passes by the parish churches, and not being a fan of garish baroque I give most of these a miss, but the church of S. Tiago at Castelo de Neiva was interesting. During the restoration of the church in 1931, they had found a dedication to Santiago dated 862 A.D. Unfortunately, an altar had been built in front of it.

The altar has a bit of everything: Jesus on the cross, the two thieves, the Virgin pierced with eight arrows, and the sinners in hell looking longingly upwards as flames consume their flesh (If I give up my worldly pleasures, then those who don't had better bloody well be punished!)

Then we came to a cemetery surrounded by Eucalyptus trees.

In the shade of Aussie gums
Not koalas, but cadavers,
Rest 'til Kingdom comes.

It was a long 21 kms, "Nous marchons comme les senateurs," said Jacques. What an apt expression!. But it was a good day, a real hike along rocky paths though woods and hills. And then a stretch along the highway across a kilometre-long bridge built by Eiffel, and into the tourist town of Viano do Castelo.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 3. May 25, 2016. Vila do Conde to Marinhas. 29kms

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean

How the surf was pounding on the beach this morning! Huge breakers rolling in to shore, bursting into foam on the sand, or spouting like geysers on rocky outcrops further out to sea. And always the roaring of the surf.

I continued along the promenade towards Povoa do Vazim, another station balneaire. Little cafes squatted on the sand, empty at this early hour. On the beach beside the town itself, huge earth movers were scooping up the sand and rearranging its natural contours. Lines of skeletal bathing sheds, bereft of their canvas covers, stretched out to sea. 

The promenade became a boardwalk. Walking on this is not as easy as you think. Plodding on the planks becomes monotonous after a while, and where the lower parts are covered in sand, passage is nigh impossible.

The sand is grand
When it's in your hand
Or on the strand
In time that's planned
For frolicking fun and farce.

But when you trudge
Through the heavy sludge,
And can hardly budge
In the viscous fudge,
It's a veritable pain in the arse.

But then the terrain changed. As I left the outskirts of town, the path veered inland along sandy tracks and cobbled lanes, harder on the feet than even the bitumen road. Greenhouses stretched out in rows towards the sea.

I met a couple of Irish girls, one of whom was from Tipperary. You can guess what I said to her, and you can imagine her response. And then a Hungarian woman, wheeling her backpack, paused at her Slough of Despond, a black muddy bog which crossed the road. She retreated into the woods, presumably to lighten her pack in some way, and put it back where it belonged.

For much of the way, I was walking with Jacques the Swiss. The East Anglians have joined the Central Camino. After four hours of walking, and desperate for a coffee, we eventually arrived at a crossroads in a little town. "Cafe," we said to an old lady on the corner. She pointed in both directions. We tossed a virtual coin, and headed to the left.

It was a happy choice. The cafe was owned by a family that had lived in France. They took a liking to us, and fed and watered us well. It was there that I learned the answer to the mystery of the picket pens. Apparently, they were used by farmers for storing and drying seaweed for the garden.

We had been travelling inland to cross the river from Fao to Esposende. At the hostel we met a couple who had missed a turning and continued along the coast as far as they could go. They had to flag down a passing fisherman to take them across.

We are staying at the Alberge St. Miguel at Marinhas. A good meal, where I ate a very fine Polvo (Pulpo) in congenial company, ended in a comedy of errors as the proprietor grappled with our attempts to pay separately. One of our number, a Brazilian, took the patron to task for failing to serve his customers.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 2. May 24, 2016. Matasinhos to Vila do Conde. 22kms

A prodigious sight!
This poor little mite
Knew not which side to pee.

By no means a dunce,
Both legs cocked at once,
He sprayed out the back, did he.

It's the little things that brighten your day. There he was. A little terrier, standing on his front legs, both back legs raised in the air, in full spate, oblivious to my amusement. Was this a sign of his political leanings, I wondered. Symbols matter. I have a good friend who keeps clean tissues in her left pocket, soiled ones in the right, as a mark of her politics. Was this dog a centrist, eschewing excesses and extremes?

I left late this morning, with the rain pattering on my poncho. So much for my hopes of a paddle or a swim. I made my way back to the beach, where it was more of the same as yesterday.

Since Porto, I have been walking much of the time with the sea on my left and hotels and apartment buildings on my right. I left behind a busy port at Matasinhos, and this morning I passed a light house and an ugly gas-fired power station. But otherwise, affluent urban housing stretched forever in either direction. 

I was tiring of this, and was even thinking of abandoning the coastal path and heading inland. But then the sun came out. And I encountered the acrobatic canine urinator. And I met my first companions of the road.

Trevor and Manzu are from Norfolk. "Very flat, Norfolk," I said. I had been waiting a lifetime to utter those words. To my amazement, Trevor is 76 and has weathered the ravages of time better than I. Still, it always comforting to meet someone older on the Camino. Manzu is originally from Bangladesh, and we chatted for a while about the assassinations that have been plaguing the country. I learned later that he has been touched by this violence himself. But he is optimistic that secularism will survive.

He asked me if I was walking the Camino for spiritual reasons, and when I gave my answer, he said, "Not enlightenment but peace and calm." A nice line!

Not enlightenment, but peace and calm,
No pious revelations of the mind,
Nor sanctifying light, nor healing balm,
But final understanding, of a kind.

Eventually, as I left the environs of Porto, the terrain became a little wilder, and instead of squeezing between the road and the beach, the boardwalk passed over sand dunes anchored with pigweed, dandelions, other sundry weeds, and even grass. I tried to identify some of them using an app called Plantnet, the botanical equivalent of Shazam. For example, I learned that the flower below is knapweed.

This is a very rocky coast, where igneous rocks have intruded into Precambrian beds as old as existence itself. A few hardy souls were pottering about, bag in hand, looking for something in the fissures and crevices. Waves pounded on these rocks with the full force of the Atlantic behind them.

Stretches of sand curved between the rocky promontories, but the beaches were deserted. More than one person has warned me against swimming on this dangerous coast.

As always, I was struck by the curiosities, strange to me, but no doubt having a simple explanation. Along the boardwalk, I passed a series of square pens, which once must have served some purpose, but now were filled in with sand.

Hardly the place for a garden plot. And the pickets would offer little privacy or shelter from the wind.

I was intending to walk on to Povoa da Vazim, but as I passed through Vila do Conde I came upon the recently opened Alberge Santa Clara, very bright and clean and comfortable, so I decided to stay. A handful of others had the same idea. A Franco-Swiss fellow, Jacques, and I did a load of washing together.

While I waited for my washing to finish. I ventured out for a beer. I was forced to drink a Heineken. What a dreadful drink, as bland and weak as the proverbial liquid bodying forth from the hand-standing terrier! There is nothing in Europe to compare with the body and taste of our Canadian craft beers.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Camino Portugues. Day 1. May 23, 2016. Porto to Matasinhos. 10 kms

Those boots were made for walking

I am walking the Camino Portugese from Porto to Santiago. I should have been leaving from Lisbon, but a bit of folly with a fir tree and a chain saw resulted in a couple of cracked ribs and a rescheduled trip with less time. I am now a sorer but wiser feller.

The flights to get here were uneventful: Victoria to Ottawa (via Toronto), Ottawa to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Porto. What a tiresome airport is Frankfurt! Long queues to get through immigration, a busy bustle back through security to the domestic flights, a very long walk to the gate, and then a crowded bus ride to the plane. In security, something about my person must have aroused suspicion, because after a body scan, the guard took me aside for a physical check, had me remove my boots, and gave my calves a very good feel.

This year I am wearing a pair of Zamberlans, my third pair, and therein lies a story. My first pair of Zambs had worn out after fifteen years and thousands of miles, but my second pair lasted only two years. These I returned, but declined a refund when the employee explained that I had in fact received fair value since the soles of hiking boots were now built for comfort rather than durability.

You may remember that in the fall I had worn a pair of very expensive Scarpas. Well, at the end of the walk the heel was within a millimetre or two of wearing through the black rubber into the softer grey compound beneath, and that's when the sole falls apart. Again I returned to MEC, told the story of my Zambs, presented my Scarpas, and said that this time, I would happily accept a refund.

She readily agreed, and it must have been the right thing to do, because, after I had bought my third pair of Zambs, and received credit at the store for the balance of the refund, I went back to buy some Darn Tough socks (lifetime guarantee) for a total of $67.20. And how much was the credit remaining on my account? $67.20!

My second pair of Zambs are living happily in retirement on Mayne Island, housing a couple of red geraniums.

I wasn't sure whether to walk the regular Camino Portuguese or follow the coastal variant, but as the plane approached the airport it cruised along the coast for a while, and I could actually see the path along the shore. It looked appealing. And when I visited the tourist bureau in the centre of Porto, and posed the question of which route to take, the woman warned me of dangerous road walking at the beginning of the standard route, so I walked down from the cathedral to the Rio Douro, followed the right bank down to the sea, and then walked along the coast to Matasinhos.

From time to time, I was passed by a quaint old tram, advertising Irish whisky and chocabloc with tourists. What a hit this would be in Victoria!, I thought, running from Ogden Point, around the harbour, along Government Street and across the new bridge to Esquimalt. Two hundred cruise ships, thousands of passengers on each. It's a no brainer!

There is nothing more boring than a tale of another person's series of mishaps, so I won't tell you of my misadventures and missing stops on the Metro as I took an unintended circuitous route downtown, but I will tell you of the response to a more serious mistake I made, in saying 'Gracias' to a person who gave me directions on the street.

"Never, never say 'Gracias'", he said. "Say 'Thank you', or 'Merci', or better, 'Obrigado'.
But never, never, never say "Gracias".  

Chastened, I walked on. Clearly, the Portugese on their thin slice of the Iberian Pennsular, guard their language as fiercely as the Québécois in Canada. And apparently, there are a dozen ways of saying thank you in Portugese, each with its nuances, and using the wrong one can give offence.

I can recommend the Hotel Leca da Palmeira in Matasinhos, clean and comfortable, with a generous breakfast, for 36 €. Obrigardissimo!