Hotel Brazao was comfortable and affordable, the staff hospitable and the breakfast was incredible and generous. We were well fortified by the time we set forth. It being Easter Sunday, the entrances to the buildings were strewn with flowers and people were walking in groups ringing bells. As we left Vila do Condo and came into Povoa de Varzim, the church bells were all tolling, the roosters crowing and a cannon was firing at regular intervals. People were walking and cycling past us on the path that hugged the beach and wished us ‘bom camino’. Our spirits soared and the joy welled up inside, buoyed up by the amazing and spiritual atmosphere of Portugal and its people. It was difficult to remember yesterday’s pain in our bodies and the dent to our morale that had prevented us from going further. But here we were, in the sun and sea breeze listening to the canons and the bells and felt once again that we were exactly where we were meant to be at exactly that moment in time. Like the Camino had opened up, accepted and welcomed us into its spiritual stream towards Santiago.
We continued along a boardwalk for a few hours before coming to a cafe where we had coffee and natas. Here, we met a family from Sydney and Ireland. They were walking only part of the Camino and were in Portugal and Spain on holiday. We continued to walk with them for a while before I began to flag. The family continued, but I needed to tend to my feet which were aching and reducing my walk to a shuffle. I watched Kim practically dancing down the trail up ahead, feet skipping to a joyful melody only she could feel. She was clearly in top form while I was really struggling. At the entrance to a small wood, I stopped and sat on a wall where I took my shoes off and rubbed Voltarol Emugel onto the soles. Soon, my feet were floating on clouds of anti-inflammatory and I could continue to try keep up with Kim who continued to walk ahead, swinging her trekking pole like a drum majorette.
Around lunchtime, we came out of the woods and into Fão where we hoped to buy some lunch. But it being Easter Sunday meant nothing was open. So, we sat on a bench by the river mouth and ate some of the snacks that I had brought from the UK and cake that I had filched from the breakfast buffet.
We crossed a bridge into Esposende, now ravenously hungry and asked the locals for suggestions of where we could find something to eat on a Sunday. They pointed us down the road and we continued until we came to a courtyard with a Camino pillar and bench. There was a restaurant advertising pilgrim meals. But they were closed. We sat on the bench and looked at googlemaps to try gauge where we were and where we were going to sleep. There is a hostel on the route and a woman had passed us a flyer from a car as we entered Esposende. But it would cost about as much as a cheap hotel. So we opted to find a twin room with its own en suite.
The proprietor of the restaurant, seeing us sitting there outside his restaurant, opened the door, turned the ‘closed’ sign over to ‘open’ and invited us in. He offered us a table and set a couple of beers in front of us. The restaurant was empty except for a few men who stood behind the bar watching a football game on the TV. We were soon surrounded by a feast: roast meat, potatoes, salad, rice, vegetables and soups. We were given another round of drinks and a coffee to finish off the meal. It was far too much food. So we put the leftover meat into tissues and packed it away for later. Leaving, we thanked them for their hospitality, watched the proprietor turn the sign back to ‘closed’ and went in search of a cheap hotel.
We walked into Hotel Zende and blinked in the dull, woody light. The man at the front desk couldn’t speak English and we managed to ask for a twin room by use of drawing pictures. I tried to ask him if it was en suite and that’s were all communication broke down. His picture scratchings made little sense to me. So, he shuffled from behind the counter and waved his hand at us to follow. He then proceeded to take us up curving flights of stairs and long dark corridors with lights that flickered on as we passed under them until we came to a door that looked like every door along the passage. He slid an old tarnished key into its lock and we walked in happy to see that there was indeed an en suite and two clean beds. In addition to these fine luxuries was a balcony with chairs and table. We didn’t have to consult long. We put out bags down with a sigh and went downstairs to pay for the room.
‘Do you sell wine?’ I tried to ask him. Any google-translate words completely forgotten in my exhausted and bumbling state.
The man looked at us blearily and in some confusion.
‘White wine?’ I repeated. Unsure about how to proceed. The man looked helplessly at another younger woman who came bustling over and took over the conversation in much better English. No pictograms required. She took Kim, me and the old man to the bar and they riffled through the cupboards and fridges before disappearing into the back. Meanwhile, Kim and I stood on aching feet, feeling very awkward and giggled nervously. Finally they returned with two bottles in hand. We paid and took the one bottle with two glasses with many relieved ‘obrigado’s and went back upstairs to the strange little room.
The décor and en suite was like something from an Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. I stood in the bath, under a showerhead that could have belonged in a museum and tried to not imagine shrilling violins, the curtain whipping back and a gleaming knife descending. There was not a sound from anywhere along the corridor. We were tucked away in some strange part of that convoluted hotel floorplan.
With dripping clothes hanging around us on the balcony, we sat watching the setting sun with our feet up and sipped our wine, relishing the peace and stillness of the evening. Still being full from the late lunch, we finished the day with slices of cold meat (the remnants of the pilgrims meal), and Snicker Bars that I had brought with from the UK. I rubbed more Voltarol onto my feet and slept like a baby.