Slow start leads to a refreshing surprise

Inertia: “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest… unless that state is changed by an external force.” That was my problem last Monday morning. I’d had a day of rest in Tomar – if 6 miles of walking through a town vs. 18 miles of walking cross-country can be called rest – but now I needed the external force to start up again. I also had some personal business to attend to – life does go on – and to take a package to the Correios, the post office. Then I had to deal with the inertia problem. I did it by violating a personal code for the Camino.
Across a plaza from the Correios was a taxi stand, and since I’d already frittered away two hours of valuable walking time, I hired a taxi to take me six miles down the Camino. When I got out and finally started walking, I felt bad, but only for a minute. The path was a long uphill, and as I was hitting my stride, the guilt just evaporated. 

By this time – mid morning – the heat was already building into what I knew would be a scorcher for a long daily stage, all of which was going to lift us nearly 1,000 feet (310 meters) in elevation to higher ground. That translates to a day of solid climbing. I say “us” very generously since I was alone and saw no one for most of the day. My approach to climbing is to go slowly and steadily, stopping to rest in place when my body asks for that, and stopping fully – pack off and sit or lie down to take the weight off my feet – for at least 5 minutes every hour. Obviously, because of the heat, water intake is critical too, and that means water needs to be added to your pack. A downside of this Camino up to this point has been the inadequacy of water replenishment opportunities. Consequently you have to carry as much water as you reasonably can; its heavy, and that slows you down. But you don’t care about that like the Camino pilgrims do. “Where’s the good part?” you ask.

Hold on, I’ll get to it. I’m going at my routine uphill pace, take a few photos of scenes I like and think you might too. There are a few spectacular flowers to capture, a photogenic farm or two, and lots of olive groves. I adhere to my rest discipline and the day is pretty uneventful.

As I’m getting up from one of my rests, leaning against a sturdy olive tree, another pilgrim comes by – my first sighting of the day- and we exchange greetings. She’s Michelle from Lake Tahoe, CA and she just started walking today. We’re western neighbors of sorts, so she holds back till I’m strapped up again and we walk and talk for a while. She mentions that she’s out of water. The gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer her some of mine, but we’re talking self-preservation here and I’m running low too. We walk a bit further. Now there’s a very scenic image on the left side of the road we’re on, a beautiful old farmhouse with a pomegranate tree in front and beautiful bluish-purple lilies next to it. I stop to take a photo; she stops too, a few feet away. Suddenly we hear the most beautiful British voice asking, “Would you like some WAHHTER?” Indeed so, we would, especially the dehydrated Michelle on her very first day on the Camino. Next thing we knew, the voice appeared at the door of the house, inviting us to “please, do come in,” and it belonged to a vivaciously attractive young woman, Alex Atkinson, barefooted in a painter’s smock, with white paint-stained hands. She leads us into a kitchen that is a work in progress and invites us to take off our packs. Not only is she serving us “wahhter,” but it’s been upgraded to apple juice… with ice (I mean we’re both Americans; we prefer our drinks with ice). Michelle then mentions my British friends, Mary and Paul – who I wasn’t sure were able to go on due to his ailing knee – and she says they’re not far behind her. At this point I go back out to the road to leave them a note to come stop by this house, there’s a surprise for them. Just at that moment, Mary appears and Paul not far behind her. She’s surprised to see me, especially as I’m standing inside a farmyard without a pack. They follow me in and are greeted warmly by Alex’s two dogs and then Alex and Michelle who are chatting in the kitchen. Now there are five of us standing and drinking apple juice on a blazing hot afternoon, three Brits and two Americans. Alex breezily tells us her story – well, there must be more, but she tells us the story of this house and how she acquired it and what her vision for it is. She calls it The Little Olive Quinta, using a common Portuguese word for farm. Then she tours us through each of the old house’s many rooms, each of which is very much still in process of renovation, but she’s doing most of it alone, hiring tradesmen only as needed. She tells us her neighbors are friendly and helpful but most think she’s crazy to be undertaking such a project alone. She jokes about her dream vision of a future husband – just the right man – walking along the Camino right in front of her house. It could happen some day, but not this day. Yet, we had the most delightfully surprising hour-long interlude on a hot long walk down the road. It ended in her cellar with all of us – including the non-imbibing Mary and Paul – sipping the smoothest port wine that has ever landed on my tongue. It happened to be Paul’s 60th birthday, and I imagined he’d remember  this one. After exchanging contact information, we were off; our destination was still a good distance away. 

Perhaps within a mile from Alex’s we heard another British voice – this one a bit more gravelly – coming from a house by the side of the road. Her name was Lynn, and she was what Paul called a “Brummie,” a native of Birmingham, England. She’d owned her place for longer than Alex, but she too was working to restore it, only at a slower pace and with questionable help. She also offered us refreshments, the Brits chatted, and then we moved on again.

Our destination finally came into sight and caused us all to scratch our heads. Alvaiazere was an out-of-place upscale mountain region community with wide boulevards, highly-stylized public fixtures such as street lights and even recycling bins. Homes were large, architectural gems, and mostly unlived in at that moment. One very wide boulevard, with parallel parking spaces to boot – but zero cars – seemingly went up a steep hill only to a monument that we didn’t visit, and it appeared no one else did either. What began with a sluggish start, was then a was a rather boring uphill slog, turned into an afternoon of the most pleasant and finally puzzling surprises. Would more be in store?

12 thoughts on “Slow start leads to a refreshing surprise

  1. These woman remind me of the movie
    Under the Tuscan Sun! Renovating amazing old farm houses and waiting for the perfect husband! I loved this story! Glad you got apple juice with ice and glad you caught up with friends!!

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  2. Serendipity! The trekkers’ best friend has smiled upon you. It’s so great to see you sharing the trail with others–old and new friends. Glad Paul was able to continue. What a dream to live the life of Under the Tuscan Sun . . .

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    1. In our house, Nancy has the lock on serendipity as a word. It’s practically a theme, so I can’t use it. 🙂 Yes, this was a brief moment of not being alone. That’s the major difference between this and my first Camino.

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  3. Tony that was indeed a gem of an encounter on our Caminho😊 It was a true blessing and a joy to share & celebrate Paul’s 60th birthday- couldn’t have thought of a better way to do so. Thanks to Alex but also to you and Michelle to think of us – a true pilgrim spirit.
    You have some very nice surprises awaiting you as you head north of Porto. The coastal way is beautiful and Vila de Conda, the stage end is delightful. But today was very lovely indeed- so have an early night and start early on your day heading to Barcelos – gorgeous town, very clean, beautiful Churches which are open👍 Lots of flowers and a lively atmosphere- it feels like we are in different country!! On the way to Barcelos, the towns of Rates (very old and full of history and charming too) and Barcelosino (little Barcelos) are also lovely. Plenty of signs of affluence here – hopefully not just expat money though. Noticeably, many, many more pilgrims though…. hope you catch us up. Bon Caminho Tony – go well😊😊

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    1. Thanks for all of that, Mary & Paul. I’m heading out early tomorrow but going the Central route. I’m very hopeful that it’ll be as pleasant as the route you started on. Wow, these fro days have been good in multiple ways. I’ve really enjoyed this big city and it’s energy, slept in two consecutive days and washed all my stuff in a proper laundromat. I’m ready to go. You two have been a highlight of this Caminho and that would’ve been true even if there had been hundreds of others sharing the way with us. I hope we’ll stay in touch. Idaho isn’t far from SD.
      Best Wishes to you both… Tony

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  4. Hi Tony, glad to hear that you enjoyed Porto and caught up on relaxation and laundry 👍😊
    More delights await you as you head north – beautiful paths, cooler temperatures and better facilities all round. Pilgrim numbers are growing dramatically but still all good natured- this morning, for the first couple of hours it felt more like a procession as we left Ponte de Lima (a really nice and historical town).
    In an old Quinta tonight near Rubiaes – the only pilgrims/guests. Young host Ines is very kind and hospitable. Great room with sitting room too and a washing line👍👍. Swimming pool too but too chilly to swim – temp down to 8C tonight – we are on high ground.
    Hope you are enjoying Barcelona – we really liked it. Plenty of chickens round about the Town but none on the menu!!

    Thank you for your kind thoughts. We have truly enjoyed your company and hope that our Camino Ways will coincide again soon.
    Thank you for your blogs – we are really enjoying reading them😊👌. You should serialise them – light and entertaining yet insightful 😊
    Tomorrow we will be crossing into Spain and so Buen Camino from now on and losing an hour too😩
    Love and best wishes M&P

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    1. Hello you two. I miss you. There must be something wrong with me, but I seem to be walking in a bubble in which very few people are sharing with me. I saw perhaps 10 people today and all were very self-absorbed so not open to sharing coffee or conversation. By now I’ve just resigned myself that this is going to be a solo Camino experience, very different from two years ago on the Frances. For all that, I really do appreciate the brief moments we all had. They were a very pleasant exception. I’m fine, though , and just came back from a good dinner in the old section of Barcelos. I toured a bit before sunset and find the place uniquely charming. You be got one more day in Portugal, than you’ll cross into Spain. For me that happens on Monday, assuming I hold up OK. I take it Paul’s knees are getting by since you didn’t complain. Good!!

      I’m going to read a few pages ( The Book of Disquiet by s famous Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa) then my eyes will slam shut. Tomorrow will be long, I believe.

      Take care, both of you… Tony

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  5. Sorry, we meant Barcelos not Barcelona – it’s the dreaded predictive text😩 It would have been some detour all the way to Barcelona 😃👣. Good night

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  6. Hi Tony,
    Missing us? We’re trust ahead of you, indeed, you may bump into Mike Savage, photographer from Salt Lake City; Ulli & Aneta, he is a NATO head in Poland; or Perry, a Journalist (retired) from Sydney. They’re waiting for you on Camino.
    There is a time for self absorption but we miss the Idaho gem in our midst at our cost.
    Buen Camino from Espana.
    P&M xx

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    1. Thanks, but I’ve still not met many others… so yes, I do miss you both. But I’ll keep my eyes and ears out for these pilgrims. Just arrived at my lodging near Rubiaes. Nice house, a short distance before the village. Bom Caminho!!! I’ll switch to the Spanish version soon. Best to you both… Tony

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