This post deserves a warning. Some of what you’ll read may be offensive to sensitive types and inappropriate for children, so be forewarned. There, I know that got your attention.
If days on the Caminho can be forgettable, the two after leaving the rest stop in Coimbra definitely fall into that category. Once out of the residential outskirts I’m back in farming areas, mostly small vineyards. Days earlier I had watched a complex machine picking what I thought were inadequately ripened green grapes, but here were perfect purple grape clusters hanging heavily from their vines, and small groups of workers were hand-picking the soft, juicy fruits. Yes, I tasted just a small handful and can vouch for their perfection. As I seemed to be a lone Peregrino coming by, I was a distraction for the workers so they greeted me with “Bom Viagem,” good journey. As a group of three women plus a man – perhaps they were just friends or family – were loading up large buckets on the back of a small truck, I came over to watch, and they immediately handed me a full cluster of grapes. It was then that I asked the man to take a picture of the ladies and me, but that required showing him how an I-phone camera works. It yielded some fun results, but one worked as a real picture.
I knew I had booked myself that night in a place that was some distance off the Caminho path, but I couldn’t remember details. Using my mapping app, I turned off and then walked about two miles along an ever-diminishing country road. It was late afternoon and I was cursing that I’d booked myself too far to have a chance at washing my smelly clothes, but then the road turned right and I could see that I was getting close. First, though, I passed a scene that I watched for three minutes and photographed. It was the scales of a large wine-coop, and I was able to watch a tractor hauling an empty trailer coming off the scale as a fully loaded one was coming on. This was how my picker friends delivered their harvest, here or at another winery, weighing in fully loaded and weighing out empty. Presumably a few days later they’d be paid based on net weight of grapes and some quality factor. Then I moved on a short distance further and saw an ornate sign on a gate, announcing Casa Mogofores, my lodging for the night. Suffice it to say it was a stunning country manor, owned and operated by Gloria who, as it turned out is the wife of the estate’s owner – handed down through his family – and the owner of the area’s largest private winery, some miles distant. Gloria was a delight and seemed to understand my priorities, letting me rush to wash my clothes – yes, I may be obsessed, but you might be too if you were carrying a very limited supply – so they could still get an hour of waning sunshine on the line. After that, she served me tea and natas (sweet custard in a flaky shell). Oh, and did I my plush suite with embroidered linen on the bed? Whatever I was thinking when I booked this place weeks earlier, back in Boise, I was glad for my generous thought process. Oh, there WERE other people there, but we met only briefly. They were three generations of an an American family on a wine-country tour in Portugal, obviously wine connoisseurs. They thought me, a lonesome long-distance hiker, odd and I thought the same of them. So really, I was still alone.
Gloria gave me an early, wonderful breakfast and then she was kind enough to bring me to the place where I had left the Caminho. By 8:30 the next morning, a Saturday, I was back in the trail.
It was another long and uneventful day. Since many of you have likely never seen a eucalyptus forest, I’ll add a pair of photos so you can picture it. Nothing special about it except that, like snakes, the trees seem to molt their outer barks which peel off in huge strips and then lie in large dry piles around each tree’s base. It’s easy to see why Portugal has had horrific forest fires this year as these piles of bark are ready-made tinder.
Mid-afternoon my phone rings. It’s the desk clerk at the hotel for that night. He’s turning away potential guests and wants to know if I’m still coming and when. I confirm that I’m on the way. He adds that the hotel is on the highway coming into town. That’s news to me as I’m aiming toward the town center. I check my map and make a course correction. To get to the hotel, the map leads me through one more forest, but the path will drop me on the highway, near the hotel. Sadly, the last hundred meters or so on this forest path are a dumping ground for untold quantities of trash that people apparently haul out here, thinking no one will see or care, but I do. It disgusts me, and makes me angry. Then I finally emerge onto the highway, and the location is apparently a truck stop. I proceed through a phalanx of parked “veiculo longos” and am surprised to see a person sitting on a black plastic chair amidst the vehicles. Approaching further, I see it’s a woman, and then it’s clear she’s a lady of the night, made up and dressed very provocatively. I suspect I’m not her target market, but I’m there and no trucker is, so she asks if I have a cigarette as if that might start a productive conversation. It doesn’t, and I pass her, thinking what a difference a day makes. Last night I slept in luxury and was served tea and natas; tonight I’m rejecting an unwanted proposition but would sleep in a questionable nearby truck stop hotel. Both are Caminho experiences.