So far I’ve had no problem finding my way into towns on the Camino Portugues, and directly to my lodgings, but getting out of town correctly – that is back onto the Camino path – has proven way more difficult. Unlike the towns in Spain that seemed to respond to a contest as to which one can plaster the coolest brass markers into their streets or sidewalks, these Portuguese villages have done nothing of the sort. As a side note, keep in mind that when your only mode of transportation is your two feet, and you weigh about 10-12% more than your actual body weight – that’s your pack if you weren’t paying attention – you don’t want to make too many mistakes that require backtracking. You’re looking for the most efficient, straightest line, direction back to the Camino. I had this problem in Santarem the previous day (see that story separately), but today, getting out of tiny Golega seemed to be even more difficult. Maybe “Camino Brain” is setting in, a special version of stupid. I was so unsure of the correctness of my exit attempt that I did the unthinkable, I backtracked. It’s Saturday around 8am, and it appears that a neutron bomb blast hit during the night, destroying all forms of human life but miraculously leaving canines to roam the world alone. That was Golega.
Finally I spotted a trio of human survivors, three women who’d clearly survived more than this one attack, huddled outside a cafe. They must’ve been startled to see me too, but rather it was the opposite, I didn’t exist in their eyes. I couldn’t understand them, but they were clearly talking about the bomb blast and it’s effect on the town, since no effort on my part to get their attention seemed to work. At last, the one with the broom acknowledged that I was making a nuisance of myself, but when I asked for directions to the Camino she had no answer, nor did her friends (I’m exercising self-control to avoid calling them what I thought they were). Nothing to do now but ask for a cup of coffee – a small source of revenue, and possibly the only one she’ll see again if human life forms are really gone, and after a heavy sigh or two she relented and made one for me. This gave me time to mooch her WiFi signal in order to update a mapping app I’ve gotten to like (it breaks countries into segments and I’d run out of the only segment of Portugal that I had downloaded).
Not to draw this out further, I finally worked myself out of this totally dead – at least on a Saturday morning – town. The walk was pleasant enough and the predicted heat of the day hadn’t set in yet. I’d been in Portugal’s horse capital for 12 hours or so, and, although I saw lots of references to horses, training facilities, and what may have been fancy stables, I had yet to see a live horse. But then, about a mile out of town, I saw a cluster of the magnificent beauties grazing under an irrigation pivot.
Having left a dead town, I soon started walking into what appeared to be a ghost town, but clearly one that had once been of some significance and glory. It turned out I was walking into Quinta da Cardiga. A property of one of Portugal’s kings, many of were named Afonso Henrique, it was given to the Knights Templar – protectors of the region – as a castle. Later it was upgraded to a palace, and the remnants of that were what I was walking past. Today it’s clearly being protected by the state, but it’s not open and its condition is sadly in s state of overgrowth and decay. I do sit down as there’s lots of shade and I’m not certain as to when I’ll have that again, especially as the midday heat starts to build.
Soon comes a stretch I’d been dreading from descriptions in the guide book, a row of wooded hills that have to be crossed. I can climb anything if you give me the time – “remember, Tony, it’s not a race.” One step at a time, relying on my poles to stabilize and propel me on the rocky steep inclines, I work myself up – and eventually over – this obstacle. It’s a eucalyptus forest, emitting a light scent of something strangely medicinal. I reward myself by taking a longer break and call Nancy, back home, who is surely up on Saturday morning by now. I wake her. Afterwards I rest a bit longer, taking a short nap.
Now it’s really hot as I start again. I consumed a lot of water ascending the hills. One more sip, but it’s the last one. The bladder in my pack is empty and I’m not anywhere near a town that I’m aware of. But there’s a farm up ahead. That’s sounds more encouraging than it is; many of these places are like Golega, devoid of humans… and they’re fenced with locked gates. But as I approach the gate I hear a dog yapping – another canine survivor – and then, to my wonderful surprise, there’s a farmer, the first human I’ve seen all day since the three harpies (OK, I’m letting loose now) in Golega. I indicate that I need “agua” and he doesn’t hesitate to direct me to his hose. Another crisis resolved by the kindness of a stranger. I move on and then come upon a small cluster of nice homes at the edge of the woods. Again I see people, and having sucked up lots of water since my garden hose refill, and unsure about my next opportunity, I asked a home owner if I could top it off… that complex phrase is also pronounced “Agua” with a drinking gesture. He obliged, and now the temperature had eased off.
More walking, and soon I’m entering the outskirts of Tomar with the relief that today’s long hard – and hot – day would yield me a rest day on a peaceful Sunday in what I knew would be a spectacular town. But then there were still two hours to walk until I reached my hotel – yes my own room, intended only for one, not for eight. Assured privacy, a long shower, and a good night’s sleep can be magical in transforming a weary Pilgrim into a one-day tourist.