Note to readers/followers: As a reminder there’s a time gap between my walking the Caminho and my sharing of the experience in these essays. It’s mandated by my energy and time to write at the end of a long day as well as by WiFi broadband capacity. Neither my energy nor the broadband have been enough to stay current. At this point, Sunday, Sep. 24, my walk has ended but my writing and posting of embedded photos will continue until they too reach the destination, Santiago de Compostela.
Now back to Barcelos where I arrived on Sep. 15 after a very long but scenic walk. I’ve eaten dinner, alone as had become the norm for me, and walked through a small section of the old town on the way back to my guesthouse in Barcelinhos, just across the old bridge. As I crossed it I saw a small stage, lit up colorfully, just below the bridge on a flat area of river bank. It was maybe 20 meters from my lodging, just around a corner. I was tired and had only one thing on my mind, sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day. All was fine… until midnight. Amazingly, at that late hour, music started blaring outside, presumably from that stage, and it was LOUD and carried a heavy beat. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was a Friday night, and by now I’ve learned that Portuguese towns party big-time on this one night of the week, and then they’re ghostly dead the next morning. I called Nancy back home and tried to share the rhythmic party atmosphere with her, but I guess these things don’t translate well over 6,000 miles to Boise, Idaho where it’s 5pm.
Having no choice in the matter, I read a bit and kept dozing off and on, but the big party didn’t end until 2am. The only lingering noise then was the chatter of people saying their good-byes and the cleaning up of the setting. The next morning, as I walked by again, the stage was still there, but dark and grey, and the riverbank was relatively clean.
Unlike the evening before, when it was dark, I finally got to see the charms of Barcelos in early daylight. The town has sat high above the Rio Cavado since the late-13th century but prior to then the Romans had a settlement here. Its medieval history is most evident in the remaining fortification wall and in the old town layout of narrow streets branching out in multiple directions from the market square. Clearly it’s a proud town as it appears to be exceptionally clean and quite prosperous. As small as it is, it features fashionable storefronts – still closed early on a Saturday – and finally spreads out into a charming broad promenade lined by well-tended red and white flowers. Beyond this, the Caminho winds through modern residential and commercial blocks and finally turns left along a walled-in pasture with well-endowed bulls grazing, and then it’s out through farms, forests, hills and vineyards.
It’s the vineyards that make the day memorable, especially as it’s the peak of grape harvest season, and it seems to be a family affair that brings exceptional joy to everyone involved. The Portuguese have been friendly and warm people everywhere I’ve walked, but nowhere have they been as effusively joyful as what I witnessed today. I received countless greetings – including “Bom Viagem” – from people on ladders, on tractors or just standing around, enjoying the fruits – literally – of their hard work. Despite the length of the day, their joy carried me forward until I eventually arrived in a park along another river, this time approaching another medieval market town, Ponte de Lima. And here the word market – Feira – was written large… including in garish lights. Unbeknownst to the small band of pilgrims walking into town, it was the area’s annual harvest market celebration, and I can’t recall ever having seen a town – except Las Vegas – so illuminated as this one was. It now comes together. I witnessed a bountiful harvest of grapes today, simple human joy, and there’s much to celebrate. It seems another loud party night was ahead. And indeed it was.