“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived” – Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven.
Stage 4 Santarem – Golega
The morning air was crisp, the clear sky making for a perfect walking morning, albeit a 135m sheer decline from Santarem. So I engaged my core muscles, banished my Camino Frances memories, and slowly descended out of Santarem.
Once again, the pathways differed, this time allegedly due to flooding of the Rio Tejo. We, however, suspected it had more to do with the local Municipal’s desire to keep Pelligrino’s off the minor roads. Therefore, the alternative green route in the Brierley book was the only route.
The first stage was fun. We traipsed through vineyards, tomato and melon crops. Then, the bountiful fields gave way bare land, winding dirt tracks, frequently little more than deep furrows filled with rainwater from the previous night’s rain. The heat rose. I started to overheat, slipping into a state of fatigue not fixed by a muesli bar. But, unfortunately, we had exited the countryside and arrived in a hamlet without amenities.
The closest village appeared to be Azinhaga. Somehow I found a spurt of energy and using my two poles to the maximum effect, I motored into Azinhaga. Unfortunately, our hunt for a restaurant resulted in us wandering up and down ghost-like streets. I was exhausted, the searing midday sun having sapped all my energy. Defeated, we retraced our footsteps back to the local bar and ordered Tosta’s.
We left Michael to continue walking and took a taxi to Colega. Once again, Michael’s walk was longer than the 10.3km stated in the guidebook. Our tax driver deposited us outside a beautiful Casa – Albergue Casa da Tia Guid. Our host took us to a beautiful room with 4 beds and a lovely bathroom.
Golega is a horse town renowned nationally and internationally for the horse fair Feira Nacional do Cavalo. The horse breed is Lusitano – “a horse with a brave and intelligent mind, a willing spirit and a unique ability to collect and perform high school dressage including the dramatic airs above the ground.” But the streets had that deserted ghost-like presence we’d found in other rural Portuguese towns.
Doing the laundry…
Our only laundry option had been a plastic bucket placed inside a concrete washtub on this journey. Thankfully the washtub had an angled ridged edge, allowing us to roll our clothes and squeeze out any excess water. Our drying options were clothes-horses weighted down with poles to prevent the wind from blowing them over. When you only have three sets of clothes and one of those has endured a long hot walk, daily laundry becomes equally important as finding a bed for the night and a meal. Especially as Autumn was approaching and drying time was limited. Most evenings, our albergue room became decorated with crisscrossing lines of clothes.
Piggy at Restaurante “O TE”…
After roaming the narrow deserted streets of Golega, we’d given up on finding a restaurant and were heading back to the bar opposite our Albergue when an old man sitting outside a Hotel beckoned us over. He was short, stout, with a bulging belly. “Come in for the piggy,” he said. Then, promptly led us into the front rooms of the hotel and beckoned us to keep following. We emerged into this giant dining room, dripping with faded grandeur.
Aside from salami and the odd bit of bacon, pork has been a no go zone for me for the past 20 odd years. However, his piggy changed that stance. It was succulent, melted in the mouth, and had a rich, smooth meat flavour that brought back childhood family dinner memories. The owner pulled up a chair beside me and preceded to pat me on the shoulder as he tried to engage us in conversation. Later on, he insisted on showing us his butchery and spit-roast operation. Both Michael and I politely refused.
He walked past our room hot and sweaty from his early morning bike ride. I asked him if his wife was around, he said no, but did I need something. I explained that my cousin Chrissy needed some medical attention, and I wasn’t sure how to arrange it. He immediately rushed into our room, took one look at Chrissy’s man repealing ankle rash and said she must see a doctor immediately. But first, we must wait while he showered and changed.
The very kind, generous and handsome Fernando then drove us to a private hospital in a nearby town. He patiently waited, he translated the doctor’s prognosis. Plus, the doctor’s tale about the lack of markings on this stage of the Camino Portugués. Going on to tell us about two girls who had recently got lost on the track to Alvaiazere. After Chrissy’s consultation, Fernando drove us to a Pharmacia to get her prescription filled. He also wanted to take us to the train station. We declined, feeling we’d taken up so much of his working day. Fernando replied that it wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. Fernando reluctantly booked a taxi for us and recommended a place to stay in Tomar.
Fernando epitomises the warmth and generosity of the Portuguese people. They earn very little and struggle to make a good living; he and his wife have three jobs in Fernando’s case. However, neither of them came across as harried; instead, they both exuded kindness and humanity.
Postscript – Chrissy went slightly off-piste through some long grass. This vegetation appears to have had been sprayed with chemicals that have rubbed into her skin. This burn-like infection has probably reacted to her constant sun exposure, causing a secondary infection; staphylococcus. Thankfully the treatment plan has worked, and after a series of light walking days, her condition has cleared.