Roman ruins and the river that disappeared.
18 June 2016
Today proved to be longer than I had planned – almost 35km in total.
It was a bright morning with hardly a cloud as I left the Solar da Rainha. The roads were empty. Within one kilometre however, the arrows were taking me away from the direct route that I had put together on my GPS from the maps and the and guide. The route was beautiful, and took me through some lovely villages.
I passed farmers clearing land for more cash-crop eucalyptus plantations. They showed me how they benefit in the early years of the trees by growing potatoes between the rows. However, we are clearly far from a paperless society. Eucalyptus smells nice in the rain, but so too did the pine trees.
The route is the undulating and the paths extremely narrow in places where they serve on the Camino Portuguese.
The villages are becoming larger, and perhaps more opulent as I get nearer to Coimbra. One such is Alvorge. The village is well kept. The central square has up-to-date maps and a new tap for drinking water (Note – most carry a warning that they are either not for drinking or are uncontrolled. Normally I take the risk, but one tap ran with water so brown, that I now wait for those which are given an official OK).
Alvorge is high on a hill with a commanding view across the countryside. Its church and huge white cross are beautifully maintained. It welcomes pilgrims with an Albergaria which I had not picked up in my research.
The ‘arrowed’ path wound a way across this dry landscape with my lunchtime stop of Rabaçal in view but seemingly getting no nearer. I went past one orchard, with a Danger sign. Not sure what made it so dangerous, but best not to find out…
Eventually I reached Rabaçal but one hour later than planned, and my GPS showing over 5km more than anticipated. The Camino Arrows had followed a much less direct route.
Batteries – at least the human kind – recharged I now headed along paths towards Conimbriga that I had followed in April. The big difference was that the hills were visible and it was dry underfoot. I saw no one for the next 12km. The only life came from a band of dogs in Fuente Coberta.
When I last walked this Camino, there were few untethered dogs. Perhaps the rain kept them in. Now however, they sleep in the sunshine in the little roads but come to life when they hear me approach. Sadly their response can be aggressive and if in a group, quite intimidating. Clashing and waving sticks as they get close does cool their ardour.
The upland streams are now dry. I took a photo of one last April of a running chalk stream covered in flowers. I again show it now for comparison with the same stream at almost exactly the same location. The flowering river plants now cover the dry bed in a dry, silky straw.
On towards Conimbriga. This time the ruins were in sunshine instead of mist. They truly are impressive and well managed.
Journey’s end – after almost 35km – was the Casa de Hospededes Ruinas. The guy on reception greeted me in German, and asked which language did I want to speak – Portuguese, English, French, Spanish or German. English I responded. He carried on in German, in which I am OK, but not great. I responded in English at which he looked puzzled. He did not speak English, nor French not Spanish. Only German and Portuguese. I did my best to convince him to speak Portuguese – his native language – but he kept wandering back to German. It was surreal. In time he told me that he had worked in Germany for many years, and that had become his daily language until he retired and returned to Portugal. He automatically spoke German, even instead of his mother tongue. It was surreal.
Clothes washed and dried quickly in the sunshine and breeze then out at 7pm for a well deserved meal. In fact a great meal in Manjar Romana watching Portugal and Austria.
Tomorrow is a – hopefully- short day into Coimbra.