The adventure of the Saint James’s Way in Portugal
I leave Porto by finding me on the Saint James’s Way without having really sought. Since my car accident and my meeting with Marie and Jorge, two pilgrims fall in love with the Saint James’s Way, I had often imagined to follow this mythical route. I have been much diverted through my discoveries on Route this year, which led me in completely opposite directions. But now here I am. I didn’t think find it here, and I am now determined to follow it till Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral that all pilgrims have in mind for the many kilometers they travel.
I quickly understand that having resoldered my luggage carrier urgently in the city is an invaluable luck. Right out of Porto, the path takes me to my greatest pleasure in small villages, but the roads are paved to 70%. On more than 100 kilometers, the tremors are endless. The solder resists. This is good work. Without this repair, I would have spent my time worrying about not increase the damage by taking 1000 precautions. I would have suffered the road with a luggage carrier in two parts infernally undergoing each paved. The situation would have been very dangerous, slow pace and very long kilometers.
But all is well. I’m on the Saint James’s Way, happy to leave the city and its noise. I ride on small roads without traffic. Without realizing it, I bifurcates on the Caminho Portugues da Costa, along the coast so. Therefore, I find the mighty wind, from front obviously. It is becoming harder as the path takes me almost on the beach.
It is a pleasure to navigate without map by following the yellow arrows that guide pilgrims to their destinations. They are sometimes painted on the floor, walls, utility poles …
I let my mind drift trying to soak up the spirit of the Way.
The Saint James’s Way is relatively well indicated, even if by bike, we must remain vigilant because the speed can make you miss any indication.
I regularly through the forest and sandy tracks where I have to push the bike and be as well as any other pilgrim, walker. Lose speed to enjoy the environment offers its fair share of satisfaction. The pilgrims on this secondary route are rare. I stop to chat with the few of them that I exceed. By bike, I’ll always faster than them, and without slowness, the Saint James’s Way loses some of its meaning. For me it is one path of many.
I advance. To avoid the main roads, the Saint James’s Way climbs the hillside in old villages. What detours to visit a uncountable number of churches. But I stand in the way, although it would be easier for me to stay on the main road in good condition and more direct.
When you enter the city, it’s the same. I often have to climb very narrow inclined streets to see the largest churches installed at the highest point. By bike, the slopes are all the time too stiff in the small streets. To go down the Way takes many steps. I have to constantly turn back around and look for the Way a little further.
Fortunately, people who live near the Saint James’s Way know exactly where it is and put me in the right direction. “Buen Camino” tell them to every pilgrim in sight.
As I advance on this part of the Portuguese Way, it approaches to Nature.
The north of Portugal is wrinkled. Perpendicular to the sea, small mountains follow each other. We must overcome them one by one. From Esposende, I begin to get closer to the hill and climb into a village. At the end of it, I tuen to the right to entering a dirt road. I am pleased that I will again ride in the forest, and I take a picture that shows my happiness. I don’t yet know that a few hundred meters further, I would start living hell.
From this point, the trail climbs gradually. It also shrinks. Stones increasingly large appear. I still don’t understand very well the situation. I crossed the stones one by one. The path narrows further. Soon the stones turn into rocks and take the full width of the track. It continues to climb. The rocks are becoming more frequent, more and more bigger too. I start to have to carry the bike over them, trying to find the more stable and easier path for the wheel. On my right, I begin to see the river below. The path no more that 30 centimeters wide as now, my feet are in constant balance between the steep slope and the little space that lets me track to progress. Some rocks are bigger than others. It starts to become almost impossible to cross with the weight of the bike that any time can train me a few meters down in the river. I have almost no water. I begin to save it. I sweat profusely. The effort is intense. I progress centimeter by centimeter ahead by being as careful as possible.
This time, I find myself facing a wall. Walkers have only a step to cross it. Two huge rocks stand in the track. They meet in the center of the path and this is the only place where I can engage my front wheel. I deposited on top of the rocks at the cost of great effort and take a rest. How to pass the rest of the bike ? I hear some pilgrims who catch me. I have advanced only a few hundred meters. I’m on this track for a while already. I have traveled many kilometers today and it’s one more effort for this end of afternoon. The clock is ticking. I’m still standing in the middle of the track, front wheel resting on these two famous rocks. I resume my walk forward. I can’t stand there. In a last ditch effort, I managed to overcome this obstacle with the bike. The rear wheel is now resting on the rock, the front wheel planted in the ground a little bit lower. I breathe again. I just have to go downnow. I gently releases the brakes to see how the bike behaves, it goes down slowly. I almost crossed the top of this hellish path.
I begin to blow and break my concentration for a second while finishing to go down with the bike. By gravity, the weight of the bike oblige me to make a small step. My right foot has just crossed the border and landed on the slope. I slipped on leaves and weight of the bike pushing me. By reflex, I push it at best as can in the direction of the track trying to stabilize me but I’m already belly on the ground. Fortunately, the slope isn’t too steep. I just got a scare. A walker rushes to join me. It’s a bit late … He wants to try to raise the bike but I think he has overestimated his strength. I get up in less than two seconds, the bike with, helped by the energy of adrenaline. All is well.
Given the state of the track, I wonder if it is reasonable to continue in that direction. I don’t see myself go back and cross again all the obstacles that I have just passed.
And how could I turn around with the bike on this track 30 cm wide ? I talk a bit with one of the 4 Swedes. He released his latest technology GPS that prevents it from getting lost on the Way. This makes me smile. He tells me this mountain track is almost gone (before many others I thought). We will start to go down he told me. His three friends, hurry to get to their hostel (albergue), don’t even take the time to stop.
Go back seems to me abandoned and it’s not in my nature (although sometimes this decision would be wiser). I decide to go forward, but the only condition that this man waiting me not knowing if the track will worsen or improve. He agree.
We start to go down together at a faster pace. The rocks, less big, becoming more easily passable. The track goes down. It helps. Brakes locked up, path a little wider, it becomes more negotiable. I still continue to take great care. I walk slowly. Too slowly to the opinion of the guy, who, after 50 meters, stop turning towards me and without words, join his friends who neither waited him. Congratulations what a solidarity … it seems that we live in the European Union !!!
I breath. The bike is leaning against a stone wall overlooking a path that leads to the river a little lower. Other pilgrims came and without regardless of my presence, continue, without forget however to take out their mobile phone to take a picture of the bike in a split second without stopping to walk.
Here I am again alone, tired of this intense effort without knowing what then expect. I hardly don’t have many water. Facing me, a nice little waterfall. Walkers have barely paid attention to this idyllic environment … Do they have a train to take ?
It’s decided, I installed my camp here for the night facing the waterfall. This will be my reward. I draw water from the river to cook and dehydrate me by boiling over a wood fire to purify it. Tonight Nature has helped me more than Humans !!! I fish without success …
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