Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 7, Mealhada

After a few days off we feel recharged and ready to walk 22.4 km to Mealhada, although one day in Coimbra doesn't seem like enough. We should have stated just one night in Santarem and two in Coimbra.

Finding the route was easy-- all we had to do was go outside. We turned left, walked to the river and turned right, within 30 minutes we were walking through livestock farm land.

I counted 4 horses and 40-something sheep at one farm. A few steps later, I saw an official sign declaring the size of the farm (7.9 hectares) and the number of animals (6 horses, 60 sheep). Good enough for Inspector Patrick.

We passed through 9 or 10 villages, each a little different from the others. Each house in one village still had Christmas banners hanging. Another didn't have a single abandoned house.

One thing they all have in common is that every house has two barking dogs in the the thankfully well-fenced yard. Some dogs were scary, growling and snarling, straining at their chain or trying to jump the fence (or both!).

One, the scariest of all, we never saw. We just heard a low growl from Hell, claws scrapping on metal, and the THUMP of a body hitting the high metal fence, over and over until we were out of earshot.

Another house had an inner fence and an outer fence, with a mean, aggressive dog patrolling each sector.

On the other hand, we met many nice cats.

We almost screwed up lunch today. We walked by a truck parking lot and didn't check out the little cafes next to it, hoping for something better. We followed a sign advertising a place just 200 meters ahead. We passed a house on the way and the two men outside wished us a good journey to Santiago.

We walked well over 200 meters and there were no more buildings… no restaurant? We backtrack and now there was a woman with the men. Through mime and simple words we asked where we could eat. They told us to continue back, turn left (away from the dodgy truck stop) and go on the big toad. Then one man walked over to his van and mimed putting gas in it. Oh, the gas station! Ok! Abrigado.

Lunch at the AS Bombas, next to the gas station. was simple, good, and cheap; 10.20 for 4 sandes mista (ham and cheese sandwiches), 2 soft drinks, a bag of chips and a Snickers. Excellent service too!

Rain had been threatening all morning, after we stepped back out after lunch, it was sprinkling. I was mentally preparing myself for more.

Instead of backtracking, we stayed on the big road (N1) until the trail rejoined it briefly. Then, we followed the camino through a Eucalyptus forest full of peeling trees and browned ferns. For those 20 minutes or so, we couldn't hear the traffic on highway N1. We spotted our first yellow scallop way marker on a tree, labeled 'Santiago'. 19 more days!

Lendiosa chapel has a bigger outside area than inside. Soon after, a woman picking oranges spotted us, called us over and gave us oranges. She tried to give us an entire bucket but we pointed to our packs to indicate that we couldn't carry anything more. She took the opportunity to stuff 8 or 9 info a side pocket of JH's pack, like she needed more weight.

We decided lighten her load by eating as many as we could as soon as we were out of sight (so we wouldn't get loaded down with more). With every tear of the peel, juice sprayed out, like the fruit was too eager to be released. The smell was intoxicating. The taste, strong and sweet. Three hours later, my hands still smell like oranges. I don't ever want to wash them.

We reached the end of the stage, Mealhada Centro but still had a long 1.4 to get to our home for the night, Alberge Peregrino Hilario. It seemed so far that JH assumed that I'd made a huge mistake, even though she'd supervised all navigations today and vouched for all of the landmarks on the map. "There is the Oasis and a cafe and we are still on the camino going north but yes, you could be right-- I'm probably taking us the wrong way."

I'm still unclear on what exactly an albergue is but I do know that this was a nice place, with excellent hosts. They weren't expecting peregrinos, we were the only ones since two came through on December 17. Anyway, we were told that the bunkhouses were full so we'd have to stay in a private room. I didn't mind but the bunkhouses were all but shuttered up-- closed for the winter obviously. I wished he'd just said that. Besides that, where were the bunk house guests?

It's a family run business, the two brothers take care of guests, father does the cooking, mom takes care of the cleaning. One son was a librarian, the other a lawyer, and dad was an unsuccessful used car salesperson but they gave up there jobs for this.

At their adjoining restaurant, we ate the local delicacy, leitoes, which is spit roasted month-old pig. It was fantastic. I guess you could say we had a meal in Mealhada.

JH: The father is really nice. I feel love.
Me: You feel the glass of old Port gave us.
JH: Write that down for your blog.



1 Inspector Patrick approves
2 peeling trees
3 scallop shell pointing to Santiago
4 FREE oranges
5 dinner

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