Daniela and Tiago both set out for work around 8am, but were kind enough to let me stay for longer. I had been up on time to leave earlier, but my legwear, which I’d taken to get fixed when I arrived, had developed another hole in the short ride from the day before. The tailors where I’d taken to get it repaired wouldn’t open until 9:30, and so I wanted to wait for them.
When I showed up, Fátima, the lady in charge seemed surprised to see me. I showed the new holes and she showed just how weak the material was by putting her fingers through it like it was tissue paper. I said that I really didn’t care what they looked like, they just needed to stop getting holes, and last me at least until I get back to the UK where I’ll probably be forced to buy a replacement pair. She said it’d be 15 minutes so I went to sit outside to read a book called Call of the Camino which I’d downloaded to get a bit of history. True to her word, 15 minutes later she popped her head outside and showed me the heavily reinforced knees. Not pretty, but they’ll do!
The caminho (camino in Spanish) starts at the main cathedral in Lisbon, but I’d passed by it the day before on my bike so felt no need to go back. I headed out to the first easily findable place in the walking guide I’d downloaded, Parque dos Nacões, and ended up very close to where I’d been on Friday. It’s where the Expo was held when it was in Lisbon, and has a lovely bike path to get to it. It’s not just a bit of paint, but there is some vegetation and small barriers put in to separate bikes from traffic, a fantastic job.
I had some supplies from Lidl and decided that having ridden about 10km I deserved a break, and started making sandwiches. While sat around I met my first pilgrim. Ronald, from Belgium, had just set off on his 7th caminho and seemed to be very well organised for a march to Santiago. He had a GPS and had already downloaded the route to it, something that I had for the days that would follow at least. We spoke for a while, but then he had a long day ahead of him and had to get going, commenting that he was still trying to find his first yellow arrow, the markers for the way to Santiago, and that the path was much less well organised than the other caminhos he had done. Apparently of the 2 million people that go to Santiago ever year, only 0.5% of them start in Lisbon.
After I started off again, it took another 25 minutes until I saw my first marker, which pointed down a promising looking footpath. It was great, until I got to the remnants of the previous two months torrential rainfall where the path was flooded. It was my first insight into how the path, while doable by bike, isn’t aimed that way at all, and especially not at a touring bike laden up to 50kg. There was one part where the path vanished, and I got to carry my bike across water with a couple of metre drop down. I probably got to walk about 1/3 of the footpath, partly due to my cowardice, as at times it was little wider than my bike.
Emerging at the other end, I ran into my next pilgrims. 3 Alaskans who worked as fishermen in the summer but being out of season had a few weeks to go do the caminho. Well, 2 of them anyway. The other one was 2 years old and being carried on Stephanie, her mum’s, back! Sean, the husband, apologised for his very white legs and we spoke for a little before I kept on rolling.
A couple of hours spent bouncing between a river path, a main road and then a back road that went through an industrial estate I came across Poxi, a Romanian who had little money and not much in his bag. He had done the Caminho before, but a couple of days earlier when trying to find a ride to a music festival in Spain had seen the yellow arrows and decided it was a sign to head back to the camino. He had been travelling around the Iberian Peninsula for a few months, and was disappointed that he couldn’t speak Portuguese yet. I got off my bike and we walked together to the next town as he told me about his plans to sleep out under the stars, which with the weather sounded perfect.
After leaving Poxi I decided to keep going. It was starting to get dark, and a little chilly, but I was OK and wanted to make the best of the nice weather. I had been on the main road, and took a 10km detour to get back to the caminho – the type of poor decisions I make when I’m a bit tired – which ended up being pretty but the small hamlets I went through were without the slightest sign of life as the sun had already gone down. I met a farmer and asked him about a good place to camp, and he said that I should keep going the 20km to the city of Santarem because there were bandits in the countryside.
I decided I’d keep going to Santarem with the idea that there was not only a Lidl, but also a bombeiros. The town is up on a hill and of course that meant I had to go up the hill, and down the other side to the Lidl which I arrived at just before it closed at 9pm. Having stocked up, it was back up the hill to the bombeiros. I’d considered dropping past on the way, but I was both concerned about Lidl closing and also of them saying I could stay and being confused with my plan to leave immediately. I really should have gone first, because when I got back up there I was told that there was another station and I would have to go there to get help. The other station of course being just round the corner from Lidl.
At the bottom of the hill I found the bombeiros and introduced myself as normal to the officer in her mid-20s, and was told that of course they had beds and hot showers that I could use, but it’d be €10. Nope. I explained that I wasn’t really after a room and just needed a space to sleep, and pointed at an example of a corner where I would happily pass the night. The officer shook her head and said that it wasn’t an option and no matter how much I tried to ask for help I was told that it was very much Portuguese Firemen policy and that whichever fire station I went to would be the same. She mentioned the Red Cross, who were of course back up the hill, and so I went there but without much optimism having been turned down each time I’d tried at the Red Cross in Latin America.
Back up in town I found an old monastery which is now the Red Cross building and spoke to the security guard. He said everyone had gone home but after a bit of chatting he showed me to a big empty room where perigrinos (pilgrims) are allowed to sleep. Success! I was disheartened with the news about the bombeiros, but glad to have finally been able to stay with the Red Cross.