In the itinerary, I said today was going to be 18kms. An easy walk after yesterday’s 25-26kms.
Actually, I realised to my horror that today’s walk was going to be 30kms.
How did this happen? I can proffer numerous reasons – I’d prefer not to use the word “excuses” because that confers an element of liability – but needless to say when I announced this to the tour group last night, I was met with stunned silence.
Probably because I referred to it as a “data entry miscalculation.”
I’d timed my announcement after everyone had had at least two glasses of wine – hoping their slight inebriation would dull their senses – but they were onto me straight away, of course.
Angie asked cuttingly: Have you made any other “data entry misevaluations Bill?”
I told her evasively I’d get back to her on that one…
We decided to leave early the next morning, given that we had to walk such a long distance. I left at 7:30am, and went straight to the ATM machine to pull out some cash. This should have been my first warning.
Instead of using my cash-loaded Travel Card, I used my credit card by mistake. Which means I’m up fort a bucket load of bank fees. This should have alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t yet engaged my brain in meaningful and useful activity, like figuring out where to begin the day’s walk.
I checked the map of the route, which had me crossing the bridge, turning right, and following the river for several kilometres.
So that’s what I did – I crossed the bridge, I turned right, and I followed the river for several kilometres. I even had a bunch of yellow arrows to assure me that I was going the right way – even if some of them were on mobile garbage bins.
I was starting to feel good – even though I’d only had instant coffee from an urn in the hotel’s breakfast room before I left. In retrospect, I lay blame there…
I did though take some nice shots…
But then three things happened.
- The yellow arrows disappeared.
- The river disappeared. Or at least, it turned into a large puddle.
- I saw a road sign to Porto.
I’d walked from Porto two days ago. I like the place a lot, but I didn’t want to walk back.
I was going the wrong way.
I looked again at the map. Yes, cross the bridge, turn right, and follow the river. That’s what I’d done.
But hold on a minute….
You were on the north side of the river, not the south side, you moron.
I turned the map upside down, and then it all made sense. Instead of crossing the bridge and turning right, I should have not crossed the bridge and turned left.
The instant coffee from the urn had totally stuffed things up. I’d been walking for about 45 minutes, which means I’d walked about 3 kilometres. And now I had to walk 3 kilometres back again.
On a day when I had to walk 30 kms, to have to walk an extra 6 kms because I’d ingested bad coffee was not very uplifting. You’ll note here that I refuse to accept responsibility for my stupidity, I lay all the blame at the feet of Nescafe…
So I dutifully walked back, got to the bridge, crossed it, turned right, and headed off – now one and a half hours later, with a deficit of 6kms.
There was a pretty girl sitting behind me. She was staring at me. Why would she stare at me, I wondered. She was young, and very pretty. Surely she was not trying to ht on me.
And then I noticed something akin to disapproval in her stare. Did she think drinking espresso and Coke Zero with ice was gross?
Actually, I realised that she wasn’t exactly staring at me, she was staring at my backpack, on which I’d affixed my Bonds Comfy Undies to get them dry. They were splayed out on the dirty floor…
i downed the drinks fast and headed back out again.
I saw a pilgrim up ahead. I caught up with her, and we chatted. Her name was Sandra, and she was from Germany.
She’d stayed at the fire station in Vila do Conde the previous night – because she was a pilgrim there was no charge, nor did they charge her for the meal they cooked, and the beer they provided.
I told her to drop in at Caterina’s mum’s house – Villa d’Arcos – about 7kms further up the Camino. We had arranged to have morning tea there, and she could join us.
She moved on ahead, and I stayed back and took some more shots.
Caterina’s mother, Belmira, put on a fabulous spread. She told me that most of the group had been and gone. Because I was running an hour and a half behind, there was no way I could catch up to them.
Little did I know that they would take a wrong turn not long after leaving Arcos, and they would – like me – get horribly lost.
I went into an old Roman church not far from Arcos, in part because I’d now walked about 21kms, and i was tired and sore. The church inside was very simple, but it had an energy, a power, that was palpable.
Sitting in a pew, I began to ask myself some questions:
- Why am I doing this tour?
- Was Jesus just a wise young man with a lot of charism?
- How come I say I’m not religious and yet I always come in and sit in churches and ask myself questions which can never be answered?
A strange thing happened. I put my sunglasses back on, about to leave, and the heat from my body fogged the lenses. Everything around me suddenly shifted into another dimension. It was ethereal.
Yes I was exhausted, yes I was merely looking at everything through fogged up sunnies, but it was more than that. I was somewhere else. Time stood still. I couldn’t see anything other than the cross against a sliver of light from a window behind. It was transcendent.
It freaked me out. I took off my sunnies and quickly left.
I’d left Arcos without a water bottle. I’d given mine to Jennifer, because she’d been vomiting and she needed hydration. But I was now three hours from Arcos, walking in the hot sun in the middle of the day, and I was getting thirsty.
No, I wasn’t getting thirsty, I was getting desperately thirsty.
I kept walking around bends in the track, hoping to see a store or a cafe – but there was nothing. I walked another hour – four hours now since I’d had a drink, and I was starting to feel very woozy.
There’d been no villages, no stores, not even any taps in someone’s front yard where i could sneak in and gulp down some water.
I was starting to get worried. I was walking through the heat of the day, and I was beginning to suffer from dehydration.
Then I saw, as if a mirage, a house in the woods. It was a modern house, and there were some men outside doing some painting.
I walked over, and asked if I could get some water.
They looked at me oddly, as if asking themselves: Why would this bloke who looks like a serious pilgrim not have any water?
One of the young painters gestured to me to follow him inside into the house. There he went to a refrigerator, and pulled out a cold bottle of water. I gulped it down, thankfully, then he gave me some more. And he refused payment.
I walked off with my newly acquired water bottle full to the brim.
Today’s walk was largely over cobblestones or on roads. Hard surfaces. I’d estimate 90% of today’s walk was on hard surfaces. My feet were getting very sore.
I got a call from Caterina – a few more of the group had got lost. They were going to use the van to go through to Barcelos, where we were due to spend the night.
I kept walking. I was taking some nice shots.
But when I saw a cafe I decided that after 7hrs walking without a break, other than that time in the church and the early coffee with the Comfy Undies moment, it was time to sit down for a while.
I ordered two Coke Zeros, with ice – and a large bottle of water. I was still dehydrated.
It turned out I’d stopped at a famous haunt – run by Antionio. There was a pilgrim sitting inside and we had a chat. Her name was Cathy and she was from America. Virginia.
As we talked I saw Jennifer walking past, and I yelled out to her.
She’d walked all the way from Arcos – some 15kms or so, and was feeling much better. We decided to walk together into Barcelos, which was still another 9kms away.
I then broached a subject which I’d been considering while walking alone –
Me: Sweetheart, I’ve decided that for the duration of this pilgrimage, I’m going to remain celibate. I think that’s what a pilgrim should do.
Jen: (dryly) Suits me.
Me: (hurt) That’s not exactly the kind of response I was wanting.
Jen: (indifferently) Exactly what kind of response were you wanting Bill?
Me: (pathetically) I was wanting something like – Gee Bill, do you really think that’s necessary? I mean, I think you should seriously rethink that one…
Jen: (says nothing, merely stares at me…)
Me; (quickly) Or words to that effect…
Jen: (again, dryly) This is why I like walking alone…
We walked into Barcelos – across the bridge and into the old part of town. I ended up walking 36kms – Jennifer 20kms. We were both tired and sore.
We went out to dinner at my favourite Barcelos chicken joint, and we all had a great feed.
Coming back into the room after dinner, I realised we’d been given twin beds.
Me: (grumbling) They should have given us a double…
Jen: (smiling) Pilgrim…