We had decided before going to bed that we would enjoy a late start that morning. No alarms were set and we were able to surface at our own leisurely and achingly stiff pace. I read my book while I wanted for Kim to wake. The bed was soft, the room was cosy and the coffee machine was hot. I was immodestly and inordinately pleased with myself for bringing filter coffee instead of instant. Having that little luxury made such a difference to many mornings along the way and as I had a light weight travel drip filter, we didn’t just have to rely on filter machines. I felt well justified in its additional weight and was relieved that I had not added it to the previous day’s wild pack-cull. On reflection, it may have been a little impulsive of me to have stripped my bag of even the shampoo (I discovered that soap is terrible for hair!), but other than that sorely missed item, I don’t think I regretted the loss of anything else. My pack, by this time, was now far too big for its contents. The hard section that sat against my back was too high and I was trying to curve it down into the pack itself. It was at this point I realised I could probably downsize to a 50 litre and still get everything I needed into it. This became even more clear to me when I later walked most of the Canterbury Pilgrimage in July 2018. Even with a tent, blow up mattress and cooking gear, my 60 litre backpack was far too big. I quite smugly realised I can now upgrade to a smaller bag.
Eventually, it was our need for breakfast that drove us out of the door and into the streets. We didn’t have far to walk to A Guarda and felt that we could probably take the day really easy. It was also the day that we would depart Portugal and we felt sad to be leaving such a generous and hospital country. I would miss the pastries and the vegetation that looked so like the Western Cape in South Africa. All along the sand dunes were Vygies and the gardens were full of arum lilies and proteas. In contrast, Spain would be full of orange trees, vines sprawling along concrete posts and rusted wire and Magdalene cakes for breakfast
We walked the short distance into the town’s main strip and found a cafe in which we had toasted sandwiches and more coffee. Afterwards, we strolled up the road looking for a shop that sold active wear. I’d unwisely opted for a pair of trousers that were mostly untried as my other option was a pair that I had deemed too well warn. I’d already traversed the whole of the Thames Path in them. Like my older pair, the new trousers were zip-offs, but the seams had rubbed my inner legs raw. I was using duck tape and Vaseline to try ease the painful chaffing, but I was walking like a bronco rodeo rider. I would never have make it to Santiago in that struggling state.
Thank goodness we were successful. We found a shop and I bought a pair of discounted Nike running leggings. Next, I needed to find some postcards to send to my family in South Africa. As it was our last day in Portugal, I wouldn’t have another opportunity. Kim said she wanted to spend time by herself in the room and I set off in search of the cards. I eventually found a little shop stuffed full of everything from hairpins to sandwiches. I chose my cards and asked for stamps before paying. I then borrowed a pen from the man at the till and filled the cards in. On returning the pen, I asked where I could post them. He very kindly offered to do it himself and I left his shop. It took seven months for these postcards to get to my family. One even arrived while I was visiting them at Christmas. I think there is still one outstanding and may be floating around the South African postal system like a little Caxton time capsule.
On returning to our room, I put on the leggings, zipped off the lower part of my trousers, threw these zipped-off pieces in the bin and put the now-shorts over the tight leggings. I felt far too exposed wearing just the leggings as they were, although I noticed other people didn’t feel as self-conscious wearing only leggings. But, I think it comes down to comfort and the shorts over leggings added greatly to mine. I then packed my bag and we left. The walk was only 12km and we could take it at a leisurely stroll. We stopped frequently and enjoyed cold drinks in a cafe just before getting into Caminha. Here, we caught a ferry and sat on the top deck with our shoes off, our feet up and drank cold cokes and ate salty crisps while watching the Spanish shore quickly approach.
We soon arrived at the ferry terminus in Spain and got our credentials stamped and used the ablutions. It was starting to drizzle and there was a very large group of Belgiums putting on rain gear. They were kitted out in an ensemble of Decathlon clothing and gear and were helping each other with their ponchos while self-consciously returning our greetings.
From here, there are two ways that one can take. One is a road walk and is longer but easier. The other goes over the hill and is strenuous at first. We chose the latter while the Belgiums chose the former. We left them there, organising their gear and ponchos and headed up the hill. It was a hard slog, but once we entered the forest, our chosen route was well worth the hill-huffing. It was so still and quiet and the rain had stopped for a while. Coming out of the woods, we found a cafe in which we each enjoyed a cafe con leche and sat watching the Belgiums troop past us. There was about seven of them walking at varying speeds and distances from each other.
After letting them get ahead of us, we continued into A Guarda and found a cheap two star hotel. We entered the reception room, but no one was at the desk. After a while, I rang the bell. Still no one arrived. So, after a pause, I rang it again. We heard a shout from inside the next room which was just separated by a single open door. The room next door was the hotel’s cafe and there was a man behind the bar that we had not noticed while waiting for service. He was looking intensely at us, acknowledging our presence, but clearly was far too busy being bar-man and waiter to play concierge to us at the moment. So, we unhooked our bags and reclined on the couches, waiting patiently until he finally appeared and gave us a room. We relaxed for a bit and changed into our ‘cleaner’ clothes’ and slops before going out into the town in search of dinner. These ‘cleaner clothes’ doubled as my sleep clothes. They consisted of cotton leggings and a long cotton tunic-shirt. I kept them in a dry bag along with my puffy jacket to ensure that I had something warm, soft and dry at the end of each day. The rule of thumb when backpacking is to only carry about 10 percent of your body weight (kilograms) which severely limits a woman of 5 foot 3 inches. Limiting the number of clothes items therefore seemed essential to my long distance comfort.
So, dressed in our fine apparel, we went in search of dinner. The Spanish seem to enjoy eating late suppers, so when we chose a cafe, there was no one there except us and the manager. There was a big sign welcoming pilgrims with a €9 pilgrim’s meal. We walked in and were welcomed with a smile and a hand directing us towards a whole plethora of table choices. We sat and were immediately served Spanish omelettes followed by chicken, chips then bread and butter pudding. This was accompanied by a glass of wine. The man serving us was a wonderful host. With great panache, he would swoop in and replace our empty plates with something new and delicious. Finally, we rolled out of his cafe and made our way back to the hotel.
We were both very tired and started to snarl at each other. Kim wanted to sit at an outside table and have a beer and a smoke. But I wanted to go to the room and have a shower, wash some clothes and write in my journal. I think she wanted the company, but I was cold, tired and grouchy. So she went by herself and eventually came back smiling, telling me of the people she had seen walking past her.
Walking multiple days of continuous miles is pretty intense. I’d read other accounts of friends who had fallen out during their Caminos. Although we walked it together, we were still individuals with individual needs. Partnered with this, we both lived singly in our own houses with our own pets and had our own particular way of going about our private lives. So partnering two strongly stubborn and independent women was going to cause some friction. But instead of forcing a joining of the hip and arguing, we gave each other the space when needed or when a grouch was forthcoming. I think this conscious elasticity of individual needs enabled us to eventually finish together.