I woke up early, looked out the window, this is what I saw –
Today would be the steepest gnarliest section of the Portuguese Camino.
For those of us who’ve walked the Camino Frances, it shouldn’t be a problem. I mean after all, it was only 450m, and we’d climbed much higher steeper mountains than that – like O Cebreiro, and the big mother of them all, the Pyrenees.
So this should be a breeze…
The Landers Express left the hotel in Ponte de Lima early, heading out over the old Roman bridge festooned with palm leaves for Palm Sunday, coming up. The Landers Express is the steam train that encompasses Peter and Julie Lander, and Ken and Angela Mitchell.
They click over in excess of 5km/hr, which is swift – particularly given that Ken and Angie have never walked a Camino before. If you stand by the track as they choof past you, your hair will be ruffled and your cheeks will turn pink…
Steve, Arlene and I decided to walk together this morning. Arlene did some exercises while Steve struck a pose.
The track went through some very beautiful countryside – the most beautiful so far – made more so by the wonderful sunny weather.
After about three and a half hours walking we decided to stop for our first break – at a small bar/restaurant in the township of Revolta, at the foothills of the mountains.
Revolta is how I felt abut the steep climb coming up.
Soon Jennifer and Marie the Basque had joined us. And very soon, the conversation had turned existential.
Marie the Basque kicked it off by saying boldly, and for no other reason than she felt strongly about it, that you could not “cheat” on the Camino. You could not pretend to be someone you weren’t if you walked the Camino.
She said the Camino revealed your true nature – and some couples who were considering marriage walked the Camino to test their suitability to each other. She said they reasoned that if they could survive the Camino together, then they could survive marriage.
Steve proffered that the Camino was not the real world –
I agreed – and said the Camino was a hermetically sealed biosphere where you have no status, no attachments – there’s nothing to indicate if you had a fancy car or a high powered job or you were a millionaire or on welfare – nothing to indicate your place in the world other than the way you related to other pilgrims.
Everything was pared back to the essentials, I argued – and so human failings and strengths could reveal themselves without the smoke screens of power or wealth – or the lack thereof.
Steve’s point was that you can only really test a marriage through the furnace of domestic routine – that walking the Camino was not a relevant test of a marriage partner.
I argued though that the Camino ultimately will reveal your true nature, your true character – getting back to Marie’s point that you can’t “cheat” the Camino – that it will show whether you’re empathetic, tolerant, patient, dutiful – whether you can hang in there and stick it out through the hard times, whether you buckle at the first obstacle.
Steve hurrumphed and grabbed his poles and set off up the hill. I called out to him, pointing out that he’d left his backpack behind. He stopped, realised his mistake, then yelled back that he expected Arlene to carry it for him.
Steve has a wicked sense of humour. Fortunately, so does Arlene.
We climbed – and it was a tough series of steep and rocky sections which challenged us all – expect for Steve, the older in the group, who skipped up the mountain like a teenager.
Steve takes testosterone weekly. He’s been doing this for twenty odd years – via injection. He believes this is what keeps his youthfulness, and he advocates it for every man over the age of 50.
Arlene argues that it’s not natural – that a man shouldn’t go injecting himself with something to keep himself virile. It’s against the laws of nature.
Steve laughs, and says: Hey, if I’ve got the capacity to keep myself young and lean and strong just by taking testosterone, why not do it? Why not make my life better?
Arlene says she can’t win a point against Steve – he has such an elemental view of life – he says: This is who I am. You can take it or leave it. I am not going to change. If you don’t like who I am, then it’s your problem not mine…
Steve takes a lot of photos of flowers. I tell him that’s girly. He says that’s why women find him attractive – because of the balance between the muscles and the flowers. He says women feel safe around him.
Arlene laughs, and keeps walking.
I found the climb tough today. I was getting very hurtful pain in my instep of my right foot. Steve explained that because I was wearing a brace for my right knee, it was throwing the biodynamics of my right leg completely out of whack.
On the uneven rocky surfaces, my knee was remaining rigid, and that was affecting the flexibility of my muscles around my ankle and foot.
It kind of made sense.
I did the climb slowly, and I did the climb down again even more slowly. Steve, being the gentleman that he is, hung back and guided me.
We finally made it to the Casa Rurale by about 5:30pm. The Landers Express had pulled into the station about three hours ahead of us. They were sitting out in the sun on a terrace outside the renovated farmhouse, drinking wine and beer and laughing at us for arriving so late.
Forty five minutes later, Jennifer and Marie came in. They were slow because Marie had convinced Jennifer that it was good for the muscles to go up the hills backwards.
Tomorrow we walk into Spain. And it’s Palm Sunday. Semana Santa – the Spanish celebrations for Easter, will begin to kick in. It should be a fascinating week…