Camino Portugues Portugal

Day 1: Azambuja to Santarem

It was difficult to get out of bed – the bed was nice and warm, the room cold. The hostel didn’t serve breakfast, so when I finally made it out of bed and after a quick wash, I  was on my way by 8.30. As I left the hostel, I noticed a stork sitting on a chimney top – the first of several storks I saw today. The local supermarket was open and I went in for a coffee and croissant and bought some ham and bread for lunch. An old lady dropped what she had bought, so I helped her pick it up and carry it to the till, so she could pay. It turned out that she hadn’t finished shopping and spent the next 5 minutes collecting bread and cheese and fruit, blocking the till, whilst I waited to pay for my bread and ham 🙂 

I was walking by 9 o’clock in my new shoes. I crossed over the train station and it seemed as though the strike was still on as there wasn’t anybody on the platform and no trains in sight. Trains did in fact start running on Saturday. It was 34 fairly boring kilometers, mostly along dirt tracks used as farm roads. I an sure that during spring and summer it is possible to see fruit and vegetables growing, but there was very little to see in early February. I passed through two villages, Valada on the banks of the Rio Tejo (river) and Porto de Muge.

There was a cafe in the Valada, so I took a break and rested my feet with a cafe and cake for 1,5 €. There wasn’t a lot going on in the village, where the population is supposedly 822, but there was a fantastic sign with directions to the post office, church, football pitch and cemetery – I speculated about what else one needed in life. I have a rule that I don’t stop until I have walked a third of today’s stage and a minimum of 10 kms – otherwise it hardly feels like I have started walking if I stop after a few kilometers. Valada was 12 kilometers from the start, so that was good, and it turned out to be the only cafe enroute today.

On the map I’d studied before travelling, it looked like one would walk along the river Tejo, but that wasn’t the case. A dyke separated the village from the river for the entire time I walked along it. At some points it was possible to walk along the top of it, which gave some variation.

Whilst taking my coffee in Valada, two fellow walkers passed by. Later I passed them, they passed me whilst I ate lunch and I passed them again. One was Spanish from Barcelona on his way to Santiago via Fatima – I would meet him several times in the coming days, the other Portuguese from Lisbon, on his way to Fatima. Whilst many Spanish and others walk to Santiago  in Spain, the Portuguese walk to Fatima, following blue arrow markers pointing the direction to Fatima and yellow markers pointing away from Fatima. In Santarem the walkers to Fatima and Santiago go in each their direction, but up until Santarem, they follow the same path.

Whilst walking along a 7km dirt track, I passed a marker for 70kms to Fatima and saw several storks flying overhead with twigs in the beaks, building nests. I’d also seen a number of storks sitting on the top of chimney’s earlier in the day.

The final walk up to Santarem is a killer as the town lies ca. 140m over sea level, with a 1,4km climb. I visited a couple of churches including the cathedral associated to the miracle of Santarem (explained in the picture below, click on the image to see a larger image) and the tombstone of Pedro Alvares Cabral, generally credited as the first European to reach Brazil.

The hotel I was staying was close by. I showered, soaked my feet – there were no noticeable signs after wearing my new shoes for 34 kms, and had dinner in the building next to where I am staying. It is a very hyped restaurant, Japanese and Portuguese fusion, and it was excellent- not least the shrimp udon soup.

All in all it had not been a very interesting day, the farm paths were uneven and hard to walk on. I understand that this is due to heavy rains at the end of the year, followed by a long dry period.  On top, there wasn’t a lot to see. Bring back the sand!

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