Way behind way ahead

Tash and I leave Santarem following the yellow arrows and the magic blue dot, carrying a mini pack each. The combination of sunglasses, poor eyesight, and satellite view means the magic blue dot has in fact been a blue tarpaulin. We retrace our way. And again, as the signs disappear, until finally down some steps, through an ancient archway, and, within moments, a steep narrow path makes the town a remote memory.

The night before Mikey had taken centre stage with the performance of a lifetime. A rebellious dinner, some classy improvisation with his phone as a light, a soundtrack of the reggae classic Murder She Wrote to subdue the hubbub of his throes, a sink that wouldn’t drain – he checked most of the boxes of things to avoid when travelling with your girlfriend’s parents. Despite his best efforts the show ran through the night. Bravo!

The next morning three of us took stock, and Manika and he taxied themselves and our bags onto the next stop.

The walking was mainly through vines, passing the very occasional quinta with large barns packed with machinery, and arrays of one hundred or so solar panels here and there. I studied the looms of wires and boxes, and performed my error prone calculations. Perhaps these banks produce 40kw, or in English money twelve pounds an hour. But in Portugal, I am told, electricity is very cheap, so solar is rare.

I feel invigorated by the walking. It is strange to be carrying only water and a snack, although the rowdy jostling of the water bottle and crisps still manages to break through my immersion in the idyllic vastness of the landscape. But of course! I am still carrying something.

Plans are rejigged again, against the backdrop of a mostly somnolent Mikey. It’s good he thought to travel with a nurse. An early start is intended, but not quite made, but Tash and I, with slimmed down packs head off.

The questions of miles or kilometres, rates and speed, how much, how long, until second breakfast, until destination reached, how much further to go, how far have we gone, these scroll through my mind, sometimes superficially, sometimes urgently, even desperately. Mikey and I estimated five and a half hours to cover twenty km. Plenty for us in those early days. Tash’s plan had a first week’s training schedule built in. The coach in Mikey approved.

We had booked an albergue in Golega, walked past it twice looking for the pilgrims sign, and finally rang the bell by the large front door of a rather fine house. A woman answers, yes? looking at us somewhat questioningly, but with an enigmatic and charming smile. Tash in her improving Portuguese says this is the albergue? My name is Natasha, we have booked. Yes, okay, you want to stay in the albergue? Come to this gate here. We wait by the gate as a giant hound peers at us through a gap. The gate cranks open onto a beautiful courtyard besides the house, another dog appears, a deflated ball in its mouth, looking excited. We are the only occupants in a lovely simple outbuilding, part of the behind the scenes life of this quite substantial house. There are stables but no horses, a few small barns, a beautiful garden with jasmine in bloom.

We sit in the sun. I feel in love with life as the jasmine drifts in the air. A simple dinner is made, and we stroll through the town planning our next days walk – if we set off early, we might make it to the Templar stronghold of Tomar, where our companions and a few days rest await.

However, the next day it’s my turn to ride the taxi.