The Camino (or the Portuguese word, Caminho) is like life, and life, like the Caminho, has its ups and downs, its adventures, surprises and disappointments. Some days are exhilarating and some are just hours passing by without much to recall. Such were the next two days after a night in Alvaizerere. After having met the two delightful, but uniquely different, British homeowners along the path, the group of us, Mary & Paul, Michelle and I had dinner together in our aging hotel’s dining room. It was only my second meal with others since arriving in Portugal ten days earlier. We had good, simple fare – squash soup, grilled pork with homemade potato chips plus salad, and topped off by a flan cake. After all it was Paul’s birthday. Bushed from a long uphill day, we said our good nights and headed to our rooms. We rejoined very briefly for a light breakfast the next morning, and then, as is common on the Caminho, everyone started their day on their own terms, their own schedule. There is no organizer, group leader or such that says, “we’ll meet at the bus- or whatever- in 10 minutes.” You just go when you’re ready. M&P are fast despite Paul’s ailing knees. He’s tall with a long stride, and the shorter Mary is just a beautiful, charming walking machine. They’re off and who knows when or if I’ll see them again, but at least now we have contact info. Michelle is taking yoga teacher classes and says she’s going to do some yoga. I’m neither fast nor stretchy, so I just start walking.
Over breakfast, Mary had mentioned that she had trouble finding lodging in that day’s stop, Rabacal. I said I couldn’t remember having had problems, then thought nothing further. I was now on my way, starting with a climb out of a pretty fog-bound valley. Somewhere during that first steady climb I heard a train whistle. Hmmm, I thought, I wasn’t aware of train tracks up here, but anything is possible. Then I heard it again, louder. Seconds later a small white van comes around a bend and pulls up quickly in front of a remote mountain dweller’s home. Right then the front door opens and an elderly woman comes out leaning heavily on her cane. The van driver steps out and opens the back of his van… full of baskets of breads and rolls in various combinations of grains, shapes and sizes. He’s the baker, and he delivers bread, announcing his arrival with a shrill whistle. Now an ambulance pulls up, stops and the driver walks across the quiet street to get his breakfast rolls. I watch and then the baker invites me too. I point to a beautifully brown crusted roll and he hands it to me, then waiving off my payment. The kindness of a stranger just made my day and it’s barely 8am. I gnawed on that heavenly roll for the next hour.
The rest of that day was like life sometimes is, unremarkable. At a noon break, though, I thought, as I usually do, about that night’s lodging, and I recall Mary’s comment about the difficulty she had. I checked my “booking.com” app and see my place for that night, good. I touch the “location” button and then the “map” button. Suddenly a very long – too long – blue pathway line takes me 120 km (75 miles) northwards to a town by the same name as the village I’m heading toward. Yes, I had booked myself – very easily, but incorrectly – to a place in the wrong Rabacal. Thankfully it was a quick fix to cancel the wrong place – for a small penalty – and find a new place, but as Mary had said, there wasn’t much, in fact there was nothing. So I booked a guest house – Otium House – outside a town along the Caminho that was 10km BEFORE the planned destination, tiny Rabacal. Long story short, it was where M&P had booked as well, so we reconnected, if only very briefly, upon arrival and again the next morning for a very early, short breakfast. The place, by the way, was super – or is lovely the word – and I only wished I’d had more than a scant 12 hours there.
Since we had left the Caminho path by some distance, each of us wanted to restart where we stepped off, so we had a taxi take us to those points. I got out first and started on a foggy path, and M&P went further as they had already walked my section the night before. And so it goes, alone again.
The day proceeds unremarkably, but I know it will be long, requiring several crossings of hills between me and that day’s stop, Coimbra. I push the difficulty of the day out if my head as I know tomorrow will be another rest day, a time to recover if needed. The scenery along the way is peaceful, field tracks and narrow, rocky trails through orchards and olive groves, and then a relatively easy slip over a saddle between two more imposing hills. I’m disappointed in my planning, though, as I pass by one of southern Europe’s premiere Roman settlement museums, before Coimbra, and don’t have the time to see it, except for some external remnant walls. But I felt vindicated a few hours later as I reached the peak of the last hill before climbing down into the large university city as just the perfect evening light reflected off the distant hillside buildings, giving Coimbra a spectacular glow. There it was, at about 6:30. It would be a slow two-and-a-half hours later that I’d descend from that perch and climb up one of those city hills toward my accommodations, the top bunk in a four person room in an old mansion converted into a very suitable hostel. Like life, the Caminho provides low points and high ones.