Sunshine, Rain, Joy, Pain

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Today was a long and varied day- sunshine in the morning walking through lovely towns with cobblestone streets, followed by a nasty downpour that wasn’t in the forecast. It was probably the most beautiful scenery to date, climbing in the mountains, especially the sight of a valley full of calla lilies growing in the forest, much like the trilliums back home- bringing joy. The pain came at the end of my 34.7km, with my feet cramping up and the development of a strange rash on the back of both legs. The last 8km seemed to go on forever (9 hours start to finish) and it was a challenge to appreciate the sights by that point. That being said, once I arrived at the pilgrim hostel and settled in, the pain was quickly forgotten and a stroll around town and dinner company ended the day well. Early night and a shorter day tomorrow. Cooler temperatures are a blessing.

Hopeless Wanderer

So, today I was just a girl on a train, taking a rest day and moving from one city to the next, in order to continue my Camino journey in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, train travel in Europe has proven challenging, and today was no exception. As the train I had been travelling on for several hours started to reverse directions, it dawned on me that I had missed my stop. Fortunately, the next stop wasn’t far, but I had to wait and then missed my connection. (Not as bad as the time I travelled by train from Paris to Leon, and instead of taking the 10 minute transfer train, into the city, wound up on the fast train with no stops right back to Paris 😳) When I finally reached the right stop today, I was going to have to wait another 2 hours in the middle of nowhere and end up who knows where. So , feeling rather hapless (and directionally hopeless) , I hopped in a cab and arrived in Barcelos for the evening. The real journey will begin again tomorrow. All I need to do is find my first yellow arrow or a pilgrim going my way in the morning.

Small Mercies

It was another early start to the day and another 30k day, but this morning was shrouded in mist, so the heat was tempered until noon. There was a bit of a “gorillas in the mist” feel to the scenery, as I walked beside a mountain range that was only partially visible. Unfortunately, no gorilla sightings- the wildlife viewed so far consists of snakes an6A38EB60-4B1D-4A25-A662-01B483553CFC160A122C-A9CA-4069-A805-8B2D2EB99AEDd lizards, that make erratic movements in the undergrowth and freak me out as I’m walking past, rabbits, yappy dogs that sneak up from behind and try to nip at your heels ( I just stare them down and bark back). The wildest sighting thus far has been a cat that was a doppelgänger to our odd coloured family pet. Strange but true.
The Portuguese Camino is more demanding than the Camino Frances in that the stages are longer and the infrastructure- accommodations, cafe/bars, water fountains and restroom facilities, are fewer and farther between. This takes more preparation as far as carrying provisions along, and can result in “improvisations” when necessity calls. It was getting to that point for me today when the first two cafes listed in the guide were closed. But then the clouds parted and this lovely facility appeared at the side of the road, along with several tents being offered “donativo” – basically by freewill offering. The eco toilet consisted of two buckets filled with dirt, the idea being to simply go and then cover your offering over with a scoop or two of dirt- very cat-like actually- maybe that’s where they got the idea. Anyway, so thankful for small mercies along the way! I’ve been walking on my own for the past three days so that may explain the banality of my subject matter. It is always nice at the end of the day to meet up with fellow pilgrims and share a meal together. I will be taking a train forward a few stages tomorrow so it will be unlikely that our paths will cross again but I have enjoyed our “little while” friendships and the fellowship of these good people.

Angel

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Today started well. I was awake at 5:30a.m. and on the road shortly after 6, in a desperate attempt to beat the heat. The forest trails, with their ancient, moss covered stone fence rows, left me daydreaming about the knights that would traverse these same pathways, protecting pilgrims in medieval times. And as I carried the heavy load on my back, I reminded myself of the Squire from Monty Python’s movie Search for the Holy Grail. All that was missing was a little mud on my face and a couple of hollowed out coconuts and voila- a pretty close re enactment. Made myself laugh for a moment. However, by mid afternoon I wasn’t laughing anymore. My water was almost gone and as I approached the village where I thought I was stopping for the night, I discovered the next village was the one I was actually after. At that point, my 3 year old self had a pity party- tears and all. I wanted to throw my knapsack into the nearest field, call a taxi and be done with the nonsense. However, as the pathway met the asphalt to the village, an elderly woman standing in her doorway that directly fronted the roadway, beckoned me to cross the road. She quickly went into her home and brought out a chair for me to sit on in the shade of the building and handed me two large oranges. Through sign language and a cobbling together of French, Portuguese and English, I discovered her name was Maria and she told me she had lost her husband several years previous. After a lovely break, she filled my water bottle and probably saved me from dehydration today. I told her she was my Santa Maria (Saint Mary) and she kissed both of my cheeks as we parted ways. Sometimes God sends you an angel at the exact moment you need one! Feeling blessed.

Day One

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Day one is complete, a journey from Thomar to Alvaiázere if anyone is tracking. According to my pilgrim guide, I trekked 33.2km (but actually 39.9 if elevation were included.) Portugal is a beautiful and hilly country, with very little flat land. Most of the day I walked alone through small towns, with their picturesque orange tiled roofs, pathways and forests. I enjoyed “nature bathing”, just hearing the birds, noticing my surroundings, smelling the fragrance of the eucalyptus and pine forests. The towns were teaming with beautiful flowers, as spring is in full bloom. I notice I’ve become a little like my dogs 🐶 🐶, who have to sniff at everything around them. I found it hard to pass by the profusion of roses that overhang the fences along the way without “stopping to smell”. I happened across a pair of amourous cats ( well he was trying hard- if cats could roll their eyes, that was the look she was giving me). You tend to notice all the very small and seemingly insignificant things when you walk alone with only your own thoughts for entertainment. I began my journey at 7am and ended at 4 pm- 9 hours walking in 33 degree weather. Tomorrow I will start earlier and I’ve already booked into a hostel with a swimming pool! For now, I will seek out supper with some of my fellow pilgrims and enjoy my 1 euro a beer or glass of red. Cheers for now.
Photo- the photo is our very friendly hostel owner who stamps the pilgrim passport with great enthusiasm- adding not one but 3 homemade stamps to each passport!

Castle Day

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I love how the universe sometimes says “hey”! Today we parked behind this car that bore today’s date and my initials (as a kid my maiden name was Mulder, so my initials were JM) Some of you may think that’s a little too whimsical- but then again, so am I- my favourite animal being flying pigs…just saying…
So, I feel a little guilty posting this because I haven’t actually started walking my Camino yet. I arrived in Lisbon yesterday, checked into a lovely hostel and saw the highlights of the city From the back of a Vespa 🛵 (great app called With Locals that offers fun things to do in cities all over the world). Mama, the owner of the hostel – called Home Lisbon- offered a communal homemade meal, where, whom do I sit with but 5 fabulous women- all from South Western Ontario! It’s like we Canadians sniff each other out. It was a great meal with lots of laughs. Today, I hired a driver to take me to my launching point, a former Knights Templar castle town called Tomar. I hope to begin walking bright and early tomorrow morning, as the forecast is 33 degrees and sunny- a little too hot for this girls’liking… I really hate profuse sweating… Swits and swass (sweaty t&a) are just plain uncomfortable! Oh well, we will see what tomorrow brings. For now, wishing all mothers and those who have a mother a very happy Mother’s Day! From Portugal 🇵🇹 with love ❤️ JMV

Risk

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Growing up in small town Alliston, my siblings and I spent hot summer days swimming at the manmade lake at Earl Rowe Park. It wasn’t uncommon for us to swim out to the small island and tramp around its perimeter, or dive off the bridge near the concession stand. We were kids, and kids take risks. That’s all part of growing up. Now, however, swimming to the island is prohibited, considered a “dangerously life threatening feat of endurance” by the powers that be. I suppose for some, this could be considered wisdom. Not for me- the rebel within me rises up and says, “Oh yeah, watch me. Let’s swim to that island- let’s show “them” (whomever “they” are). As I contemplate my upcoming journey, I do take into consideration “the risks” involved in such a venture. Am I safe as a woman travelling alone? What if I get lost? ( that’s a given), what if I get injured, what if I go manic again (rest assured, I am bringing my medication), what if I die?!? Some have asked, aren’t you afraid? Of course I am! I’m just not afraid enough to let it stop me from embarking on this journey. You all know the cliche- “feel the fear and do it anyway”. So what if, worst case scenario, I die? Well folks, I know where Home is…I’d miss ya’ll- but I know there will be a wonderful reunion one day. In my opinion, eulogies are wasted on the dead (tell people how great they are and how much you love them right now- don’t wait until it’s too late!) so I hope you’d have an Irish wake (even though I’m not Faken Irish) , a fabulous dance party in my honour (I will be there… you just won’t see me) and then plant me as a tree – so I can give shelter to the birds and shade to the weary traveller. However, let’s be realistic, the probability of death is quite minimal, so everything else that comes my way should be manageable, don’t you think?

Angels

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Today started well. I woke up at 5:30am and was on the road by 6:25, trying to beat the heat. At times the scenery, forest trails with moss-covered ancient fence rows, got me daydreaming about medieval times when the knights would traverse these very same pathways in protection of the pilgrims along the way. And as I thought about that and the heavy load I was carrying, I very much reminded myself of the squire in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. Truly, all I needed was a little mud on my face and two hollowed out coconuts and voila- a very close re enactment! Made me laugh to myself. However, by 2:30 pm I wasn’t laughing anymore. The trail just kept going on and on and lovely as it was, there was no shade from the hot, hot sun. I was out of water and feeling a little relief at the sight of a town ahead, until I realized it wasn’t the town I was stopping at for the night. Then, my 3 year old part took over and I had a little pity party for myself… tears and all, feeling like ripping my knapsack off and heaving it away, questioning why am I doing this? However, as I came to said town, an old woman stood in the doorway of her home that directly fronted the busy roadway. She asked if I spoke French and beckoned me over to her side of the road. Before I could respond, she had manoeuvred a chair out onto the street front and bade me sit, while she disappeared into her home and came out bearing two large oranges that she forced into my hands (though I protested that I only needed one- she wouldn’t have it). She pulled up a stool and with many gestures and by piecing together several languages, I discovered her name was Maria and she communicated that she had lost her husband 5 years ago. We sat for a while “talking” in the shade and then she graciously filled my water bottle and probably saved me from dehydration today. I told her that she was my Santa Maria (Saint Maria) and she kissed both my cheeks as we parted. Sometimes God sends an angel just at the moment you so desperately need one! Feeling grateful.