Thursday, February 7, 2013

Day 21, Valença

7:45am. Complimentary breakfast at 8. Oh look, it's raining. And the dog is barking. It was not a restful sleep. What the hotel lacked in heat and extra blankets, it made up for with cold.

And stinginess. This is the first time on this trip that I am angry. Breakfast was 2 pieces of bread with jam or butter, instant coffee or hot chocolate. There was a selection of tea available but mi amigo warned me that we'd have to pay for that. I laughed, assuming he was joking and reached for a packet. His face and empty cup told me he was not joking.

Remember the groceries? The proprietor refused to boil the eggs for us or let us do it. She, however, gladly accepted them as a gift.

We left, flying down the course. We were sick of Portugal, its cold and damp accommodations, its bland food, and the rain. We were going to run to Spain. Adios, Portugal!

Motivated and united, we overcame every flooded farmroad easily even with the raised level of difficulty. Previously, we'd had to navigate narrow stonewall lined flooded roads, but now the stonewalls were topped with thieving thorn bushes. After our fourth gauntlet, the most difficult yet, we congratulated ourselves on making it through dry and with minimal mud and cuts. I took a picture.

"Hey, what's that orange thing hanging there?"

Gyueon's rain cover. The thieving thorns also took his gloves. I dropped my pack and retrieved the stolen goods.

We stopped for lunch and found the Spaniards relaxing at the next table with espresso and little shots of Port. We chatted a little. Amigo convinced us to stay in Valenca because it's "very bueno" and a nicer city than Tuy. He swore that the albergue was excellent. Ok, one more chance, Portugal.

The diner gave off a great comfortable vibe when we got there. The manager, a large woman with a large personality who seems to think that anything worth saying is worth saying loud, patiently helped us order and made a couple good recommendations.

The Spaniards left. All of the other patrons left and we were the only ones left. The manager got into a long argument on the phone, so long and so intense that I was afraid to mention that she'd forgotten my soup. We split during an apparent cease fire.

Today I saw at least 10 crucifixes, staring at me. As the story goes, thorn-crowned Jesus died for our sins. His cause was noble. Why are we doing this walk though? I'm not a believer. What are we suffering for? Why are we putting up with pricks from thorns? The future of humankind does not depend on us.

The story continues: he died and miraculously, was resurrected. I don't believe in miracles either, unless it involves pancakes, light and fluffy, in a talk stack.

We spotted two people sitting outside the albergue. Uh-oh. Another albergue problem. Again? We greeted them, a father and son from Germany. They pointed to the notice and said the albergue will open at 4. "No problem," we said, "it's 3:35". JH and decided that if nobody came by 4:30, we burn the place down and walk to Tuy.

The Spaniards showed up from the other direction. They explained that they walked around rather than waiting. At 4:05, the Germans and the Korean Coalition were impatient. Amigo said, "Latins always late-- it's ok. Maybe they come late. It's ok."

The German son said, "in Germany this would have been open 6 hours ago."

Amigo made a couple calls. "No problem. The volunteer had a crisis. She will come in 30 minutes."

We were pretty sure that meant an hour but just knowing that made us happy. We were right. An hour later, a very nice woman came, apologizing.

The place was worth the wait. Clean, warm, spacious, comfortable, with a good kitchen. We bought groceries (too much milk and juice, I thought) and came back to see another German man had arrived. He claimed to have already seen me twice and spoken to me once but couldn't be more specific than "2 or 3 days ago". I may have seen him at Antonio's-- I recall seeing a person sitting in the corner but we never made eye contact, let alone spoke. There is no way we spoke. This conversation, based on nothing, went nowhere.

JH and I wanted to take a walk around the city but Gyueon really wanted to stay and have some alone time with wifi. He almost came with us because he was afraid if he stayed, horror of horrors!, someone would try to talk to him. He stayed, curled up in his sleeping bag in his bunk in the far corner.

Valença, a city of 14,000, is developed around the huge fortress Fortaleza, protecting the city from atop the hill. The walls of the fortress are rounder than other fortresses I've seen, blending in with the land. Quaint shops and restaurants are squeezed on alongside modern shops and cafes, in a perfect mix of ancient and current. JH's pink umbrella was the only color we saw besides the grey walls and sky.

Most places were closed, presumably because of the season, but we went in a few. JH bought a tablecloth that will remind us of Portugal. We've gotten over our hate on Portugal, I'm glad we stayed one final night.

Back at the albergue. For dinner we finished off the ramen (very crumbly) and supplemented with other veggies. Upstairs, in the dorms, everyone was showering and getting ready for bed. Our Spanish friend (who JH and I have been referring to as Fernando) serenaded everyone from his shower with Spanish love songs in a nice tenor voice. He takes even longer showers than Gyueon.

Everyone is going 24 km to Mos tomorrow but the lone German twisted his knee badly today and may be finished. We are walking 19.3 to Porriño. We probably won't see these peregrinos again.

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