The third morning found us groaning in pain and smearing anti-inflammatory onto our feet. It took us a while to get dressed and downstairs into the breakfast room, but eventually we were seated and drinking coffee while a waiter brought us rolls. He then came around again with some sliced tomatoes. Again he passed us with some Portuguese croissants. After stuffing ourselves with this odd assortment of dry baked goods, he surprised us with cheese and sliced meats. But we were already so full, thinking that we had already been served all that was on offer. It was certainly a strange and awkwardly deconstructed breakfast. Having too many rolls, I stashed one away for later, knowing my hunger often hits hard and at inconvenient moments.
This route was more strenuous than the previous days but just as beautiful. We walked through woods and followed paths that were actually streams and leap-frogged from dry spot to dry spot, smugly congratulating ourselves on our choice of waterproof boots and consequentially on the fact that out socks were still dry. We came to a village and sat in the corner of its cafe and restored ourselves with a coffee and a bottle of water. The way alternated between woods, cobbles and roads. We could see the sea from the hills that we were traversing, but the way did not hug the coast as it had done the first two days. Instead, it climbed up and down hills and passed through sleepy stone villages.
It being Easter Sunday, nothing was open and we were hungry and needed the toilet desperately. The Camino did not provide us with a discreet bush when the urge became a need, but instead provided us with a beautiful church with public toilets stocked with clean facilities, toilet paper. But no soap. Thankfully, we had provided ourselves with hand sanitiser and felt greatly relieved. We had a roll and enough snacks to continue until we found a cafe, but did not have any hope of relieving our growing need for lunch.
People say the ‘Camino provides’. It seems idealistic and naively hopeful to say it and I, being the perpetually doubting Thomas that I am, did have my doubts on the legitimacy of such a unicorn-like claim. Yet, here we were, well provided with water, ablutions and smiling morale boasts from strangers. The the whimsical of these provisions happened in one of the muddy woods. Kim had left the plastic bottom of her trekking pole in the boot of her car and only realised this when we were walking on the boardwalks because the tip of her pole kept slipping between the wooden beams. She had to stow her pole away, hold it or twill it to avoid getting it stuck in these gaps. She was annoyed with herself, but there was little we could do about the situation. That is, until we stepped over a puddle and found a plastic bottom for a trekking pole in its shallow depths. I stopped and looked at it, waiting for Kim to join me. As she walked up, I smiled and pointed into the puddle, ‘Look. It’s true. The Camino provides!’ With a laugh she stooped down and withdrew the sodden plastic piece from the mud and promptly fixed it to her pole before looking up the path and thanking the Camino most wholeheartedly. With a chuckle, we continued. Once again, buoyed up and optimistic.
For hours we walked, hungry and tired. Feet throbbing and backpacks weighing us down. At one point, I stopped and looked at Kim. Desperation and hunger clearly showing in my expression. She returned the looked and said, ‘I just want a cheeseburger and beer right now.’ It was exactly the same thing I was going to say to her when I had stopped. Beer and burger. Beer and burger. It became a taunt and a chide in my brain, driving my feet forward and towards a town or village that might have a cafe or restaurant that might happen to be open on an Easter Sunday. The chances looked very slim. There was nothing we could do except to place one foot in front of the other and continue to Viana do Castelo.
Finally, we came to a village with a park and a bench. Walking up to the bench, Kim sat, ‘I can’t. We need to stop for a bit.’ I took my bag off and propped it up on the bench beside her before walking a bit further into the town to see if there was maybe a shop or any prospect of acquiring food. And there it was – a huge cafe. Open. I actually ran back to Kim who looked at me in surprise, one hand still in the Haribos, and in a rush told her about the cafe. We grabbed our bags and dashed down the street, irrationally worried that they would close before we got there. We chose a table in the corner and I went up to the bar, ‘Do you have cheeseburgers and beer?’
‘Of course.’ He said with a smile.
Oh my word!
‘I’ll have two of each please.’ I paid and returned to our table where I took my shoes off and sprawled with my feet up on another chair.
The burgers and beer were amazing! The thought of them had sustained us for so many miles and now they would sustain us until we reached our hotel. The ‘Camino provides’ no longer seemed a facile and overly-optimistic wish. It had thrice provided that day and would continue to provide food for thought and soul for a long time afterwards.
When returning from the bathroom, I saw Kim talking with someone at another table. It was Harriet! She had also been in Esposende, but had stayed at the hostel and had set out after us. She was sitting with her feet up, shelling peanuts and chatting with Kim. I joined them and caught up on the day before exchanging numbers. We said that we would meet up later that evening for dinner.
On finding a cheap hotel, we bought a bottle of wine and just sat in the foyer on some wonderfully comfortable chairs with out feet up on foot stools. We must have been there for about 45 minutes, just relaxing before heading up the stairs to our room. While sitting there, we had an excellent view of the long bridge that had been our entrance into Viana do Castelo. As we has walked along its impressive length, the wind had blown us and the cars had whipped passed us. We had hunkered down into the gale and I could feel my trekking pole being blown sideways. I had held onto it with both hands, put my hood up and pulled myself along. Now, as we sat drinking from our wine glasses, we could make our Harriet pulling herself along that same bridge, buffeted and blown as she crossed its impossible length.
Later that evening, we all met up and ate at an over-priced restaurant before heading to our accommodations. My feet buzzed, but I felt quite good after the meal, wine and company.