September 20 – Day 0. „Day zero” because I won’t start running until tomorrow, so practically this day doesn’t count. Don’t worry, I already have stories to tell. Gather around an imaginary fireplace, make some tea and let me tell you about the beginning of my adventure.
My day started at 07:30 A.M. I had a feeling it s going to be special. Or maybe I dreamt, I’m not sure. Agitation. Two or three emotions lost in my pockets. When I boarded the plane, I was curious who I was going to sit next to. The last time I flew from Brussels, France, for Camino de Santiago, I sat next to a girl who drove me 60 km, to the point where my journey began. Not necessarily because I charmed her with a foxy smile, but because she needed to go to a dentist there. I was lucky.
And so I went to my seat, 19F. I was counting the seats in advance, because I was excited to see who sat there. I arrived: a man and a woman. He – twice my age. I noticed that she was sitting in my place, but they asked from the start, in Portuguese, if I wanted to sit near the window or she could sit there. I answered that it was perfectly ok. I got my map out and I started studying it. I used it as a pretext to ask him about Portugal and to find out his story. I love to form friendships with the people I make contact with. He ended up talking to me for two hours about the places I must see. His name is Paulo Pina. I started humming the Pina Colada song. We laughed.
He was going back home. He had finished his last work contract in Ireland – he had worked 15 years there. He will stay home for one month, and then he will go to work in the Netherlands. Half into the flight, I started telling him in detail about what I was going to do. I received an invitation to eat at his house when I got back and he offered to take me to the bus station. His sister, her husband and their daughter drove to the airport to pick him up. Portuguese sounds cool! The people are warm and full of life. They gave me food, they offered me a bottle of water and not only did they take me to the bus station, but they also helped me buy the ticket, like we were relatives. I found out that his sister and her husband had worked for a while for a bank in Bucharest. The world is small. Seriously.
I landed at 08:30 P.M. As I’m writing this, it’s 10:00 P.M. here. At 01:00 A.M., in three hours, I’ll take the bus to a city situated 100 km away from the starting point of my journey. There is no direct connection, so I’ll take another bus from there. No problem, I have time to write, to listen to the people speaking this wonderful language and enjoy every moment spent as I have dreamt: me, with a backpack and a long road ahead of me.
I left Lisbon at 01:00 A.M., and the bus took me to the city of Lagos, 44 km away from my starting point. I was sitting there and thinking… then I decided to go by foot. I was rewarded with an exquisite sunrise.
I started running at 05:00 A.M. I used the mapsMe app, which is brilliant. George (a good friend of mine) made some brutal settings, because the app guided me through people’s yards, on roads which are as wide as my phone, but still it takes me where I need to go. It’s as if it creates trails just for me. I think that even the locals don’t know about them. After a while, the ocean emerged in front of my eyes. I saw beautiful beaches, and I also took my shoes off on one of them, to let the sand tickle my feet. Happiness. I ate in the city of Sagres and then I devoured another 10 km to the starting point. I got there at 05:00 P.M. I went on to run 10 km to Vila do Bispo city, where I went into a Lidl shop and “pillaged” the shelves for supplies. I’m kidding, the backpack is too heavy as it is. I seriously considered throwing away some stuff, but there’s nothing expendable. I only took bare necessities. It’s possible that I will look at things differently after a few weeks. I went back to the side of the road after having appeased my hunger, determined to set up my tent and take a nap. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing hard and it took me an hour to make my bed – with slobber from exhaustion, sitting in a warm tent, protected from the wind. All in all, I walked 44 km yesterday (I considered it a warm up) + I ran 10 km.
I woke up at 8:30 and took down the tent. My sleepiness went away after washing my face and teeth with ice cold water. My next destination was the nearest cafe where I could charge my phone and the external battery. At 10 o’clock I started running: Vila do Bispo – Aljezur – 36 km. Everything went well. I met Daniel at the cafe, who wrote a message on my Facebook page yesterday:
“Daniel here, I’m a travelling massage therapist and vocal coach who is also doing a little martial arts. Have been through different parts of Europe these last two years, always taking a little break back home in Austria. In 2014 I was in Africa for six months, most of the time working in Malawi for a project called Kutukula Moyo, where I was teaching at a primary school and also shared knowledge on how to construct mud stoves out of local resources (they use only half or less of firewood and Malawi as destroyed 90 percent of the forest within the last 20 years) and well… I just had lunch with Christian in the south of Portugal! ?”
In the evening, around 7 o’clock, I arrived in Aljezur. Wonderful city! I almost wanted to lie there in corn. At some point, some very beautiful young blonde girls stopped the car and offered me a ride. I refused. I almost wanted to shout that I changed my mind a while after they left. I stopped at the market, then I ran 6 km in the dark in order to reach my goal for today: 42 km (another marathon, ha ha). At one point, I turned off the frontal flashlight and looked at the stars. It seemed like the crickets were having a concert just for me. It was amazing. This kind of moments make it worth the effort. I set up the tent and gave myself a foot massage. After having dinner with the crickets, I finally fell into a deep sleep in the tent, only 10 km away from Odeceixe.
My day started at about 8:30 A.M. I arrived in Odeceixe, which is situated 3 km from the sea. Ah, sea breeze, golden sand, water as the eye can see, hot sunrays! I ate at a restaurant nearby. While I was studying the map, a curious guy asked me:
– Are you going to the beach?
– Yes, I smiled.
– Oh, it’s very, very nice there.
All locals praise their surroundings, so I wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not. However, Odeceixe beach is amazing. I’ve seen some pretty awesome beaches in Hawaii, but this one blew my mind. A small river passes the sideline and people practice canoeing, while others prefer surfing. I took some pictures of them. I enjoyed the view for an hour, then started walking. I followed the shoreline to the North. Fantastic scenary. It was kind of difficult to run because the road is sandy in these regions.
The sunset caught me tanned and with a broad smile on my face. I kept walking until 9 P.M. I’m feeling excellent!
I followed the meandering shoreline. When I arrived in Vila Nova de Milfontes I started looking for a restaurant with free wifi. I asked two funny kids who I came across, but we didn’t understand each other. My Portuguese is pretty bad and the little girls hardly spoke English. Eventually, out of nowhere, their grandfather, a very gracious man, appeared and was kind enough to help me. He held my hand as if I were a child and took me to Casa do Benfica.
There, I met a very nice waitress, who blushed a little when she saw me. This did not go unnoticed by the guys sitting at the table next to mine. They started joking and saying that she should ask me if I’m married. I started talking to them and told them my story. Trying to recall what he knows about Romania, one of the guys said something about gypsies. The others gave him to understand by certain signs that it wasn’t ok and that he should shut up. I decided to buy them 3 beers. I wanted them to learn something about Romanians.
I left with some delicious take away octopus and stopped 8 km from Porto Cove. 32 km today. The moral of this story is that you have to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Noroc! Cheers! Saúde!
Today I met Lasse and Paul brothers, aged 19 and 21, who live in Germany. Lasse’s the eldest and he’s studying in Berlin. They have been on the road for a month now with a Volkswagen that stopped working when they needed it the most. I gave them a hand and pushed the car for more than an hour. Paul had been stung in the leg by a poisonous fish the day before and wanted to go to the hospital for a check, even if the pain had stopped. So if some of you felt unlucky today, think about the fact that you weren’t stung by some sea creature and your car didn’t break down when you wanted to reach the doctor.
They started the trip from northern France, they were going to spend a week in Barcelona and then return to study in Germany. I was glad that I could help and that our paths crossed.
On the evening I arrived in Santiago do Cacem and set the tent in a park. At 4:30 in the morning the sprinklers started watering the lawn and I got wet, as I told you in the video “Melc, melc, codobelc” posted on my Facebook page. The water did not enter the tent, otherwise I wouldn’t be in the mood for making jokes. Let’s look at the bright side: it was kind of romantic.
36 km for today.
I woke up feeling determined to get to a restaurant faster in order to get to charge my phone. I found a place, but the lady over there simply refused to let me do this and I could’t find a way to convince her, so I went back in the little park where I had the tent the night before. Another lady, much nicer, from an information point, agreed to charge my phone. We talked a lot. She was patient enough to answer all my questions. I also found out that there was a place nearby where I could see giraffes and lemurs. Although normally I declare myself against zoos because I don’t like the idea of keeping wild animals in captivity, I realized that this place was something more spacious and looked a lot like a safari.
Once I got there, I saw a lot of animals, but the interaction with the lemurs was brilliant. They climbed all over me and I was able to closely observe their little fingers that looked like tiny suction cups. I felt like I was their sofa because they seemed to feel quite comfortable sitting on me. They ate out of my hand, licked me, then they used me as a springboard to jump in the trees nearby.
In the evening I had to walk on a sandy road that seemed to never end. At some point I finally decided to set up the tent and I slept like a log. In the morning I woke up feeling physically and mentally exhausted, but it was temporary, I got past it and started running again. The show must go on.
I woke up at 8:30 A.M., took down the tent and started running. I was 30 km away from the city of Comporta. The sandy road that slowed me down finally ended (hallelujah!) and I walked past a creek irrigation around some gardens. Of course, I grabbed a delicious watermelon and a fresh tomato from one of the gardens. I saw a lot of shellfish and, at one time, many storks flew over my head. My first thought was that a lot of children were born in Portugal that day. I laughed alone. Yes, I laugh at my own jokes on the road.
I arrived in Comporta and asked where could I find a supermarket and a restaurant. An old lady took me by the hand (like the grandfather from the other day) and drove me to the destination. We talked all the way: she was speaking Portuguese, while I tried to combine Spanish with Portuguese and Romanian. We got along great. I love locals.
In the evening I arrived at the ferry and I bought a ticket to Setubal for 4 euro. The strong wind did not bother me too much because it was still quite warm outside and sunset on the horizon, which looked like a painting, took my mind off everything else.
Back ashore. I met a guy who was doing his running routine in the evening. He was well equipped – Sunto watch, frontal flashlight, compression sleeves. He told me that he had already run 11 km. I told him that my plan is to to get to Santiago de Compostela. He shook my hand as a sign of admiration and advised me where to put my tent. I followed his advice, set up the tent at the side of the road and slept like a rabbit because the wind blew so hard I actually thought a tree might fall on me. Considering that I wrote all this, it is clear that all the trees that could have fallen were nice enough to spare my life.
In the evening I finally arrived in Lisbon. Ferry crossing turned out to be a great thing, as it gave me the opportunity to admire the lighted bridge, an amazing sunset and the statue of Cristo Rei. When I got in town, the app took me right in the middle of a party, which did not surprise me too much, because the whole city is full of life. Tram Hotel, where I booked an overnight stay is situated right in the center of Lisbon. For €22, you get a bed in a room which you share with 4 persons, and you get to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast in the morning. The ideal place for me and my pocket.
I arrived in the room and I met Scarlett di Sao Paulo Brazil, a homosexual transvestite about 20 something year-old, who had just gotten out of a marriage the day before. When you go on a long journey through the world, preconceptions have no place in your luggage. Scarlett sings more than she talks and she is an open and generous person. She took me out to dinner and did not let me pay at all. We talked a lot, then she showed me the way back to the hotel, then she headed to the club. In six days she will return to Brazil, so she said she wants to take advantage of every moment to have fun. I had plans to sleep, but when I came back to the room, I met Amin, another roommate who told me that he lives near Paris, but travels a lot. Before Portugal, he was in Africa and China. He gave me some tips on sites where you can find great deals for long flights.
So accommodation in rooms that you share with strangers has its advantages. You get to save money and make friends. I guess what I’m saying is… be open minded!
I woke up later than usual, around 9 A.M. I had to take advantage of every moment of restful sleep that only a comfortable bed can offer. At 10:30 I attended the free walking tour of Lisbon with Amin, my roommate from the previous night. Even if it meant to leave town later and run fewer kilometers that day, I decided it was worth it. I mean, come on, it’s Lisbon. Pascal was our guide and he showed us the best tourist attractions.
At 2 P.M. I left Lisbon. After a few hours, in the evening, my app almost made me enter a military unit. I stared at the main gate while the guards stared at me. I found another route, obviously. Eventually, the chosen route brought me near some luxury homes and I felt like an orphan from the cartoons I used to watch as a kid, that orphan that sees goodies for Christmas through the window. The sadness went away quickly because large dogs started barking at me and I decided to change the route. Finally, after some time, I found a place to set up the tent and I slept in a small orchard.
Maybe you’re not capable right now, but with a positive state of mind and desire to work, everything is possible. Staying positive is indeed one of the most precious qualities of an athlete. That, and the quality to remain focused and disciplined. My advice for you is to develop a mind archive filled with positive thoughts and images – family, friends, previous successes, favorite places, a large plate of fries. Soon you will have a number of thoughts on which to meditate when body and soul will cry for relief, says Chrissie Wellington in her book, A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey.
I walked until I got to Torres Vedras, covering 45 km in total. Nothing worth mentioning happened today. The long road is the perfect setting to analyze your thoughts. This is the perfect way to see where your mind wanders. If you don’t have an archive with positive thoughts, doubts will try to break you. I often think about family, friends and my future. I try not to think about how difficult it is, phisycally (fatigue, irritation, pain). I try to live in the present, but when I can’t do that, I usually embrace my finest memories. Of course, being present is the ideal way to enjoy life to the fullest, enjoy the scenery, the sunshine, the hum of insects, the kindness of local people.
I arrived in the city of Obidos, one of the top 10 most beautiful cities of Portugal (in my opinion). I stumbled upon it, frankly, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself in the middle of a festival with various cultural events. After spending a lot of time enjoying a puppeteer’s show, I had lunch at a restaurant in the area. The waitress, a 17 year-old girl, Vanessa, was nice enough to answer all of my questions about her town.
I really liked seeing the streets teeming with people, because usually during the day they all sit in their homes. This is the reason why almost all of the towns that I pass on my way to the North seem abandoned. Fortunately, I made another friend, a cheerful dog that accompanied me for a while. I sang a romanian song, Lie Ciocârlie. I’m not sure if the dog appreciated the gesture. 61 km until I reach Fatima.
I had set my mind on arriving in Fatima, but couldn’t make it. I ran more than 40 km, but the road seemed to go on forever. I am already familiar with the pain, it’s like my sister, but the loneliness is overwhelming. On the largest portion of the road I only see animals from time to time. I spoke to dogs, cows and sheep that I have come across. I’ve already told you how I sang Lie, ciocârlie to a dog.
I set up the tent 27 km from Fatima, as I was too exhausted to continue. Although I was feeling kind of numb, I still was chilled to the bone because it was so cold outside. Well…
Nobody said it was eaaasy
No one ever said it would be this hard ♪ ♫
27 km today. Not that I changed the pace, but I visited Fatima and I allowed myself to stay longer among statues, icons exhibits from museums and churches.
Holy Wikipedia says “The Three Secrets of Fátima consist of a series of apocalyptic visions and prophecies which by some are believed to have been given to three young Portuguese shepherds, Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, by a Marian apparition, starting on May 13, 1917. The three children claimed they were visited by a Marian apparition six times between May and October 1917. The apparition is now popularly known as Our Lady of Fátima.
According to the official Catholic interpretation, the three secrets involve Hell, World War I and World War II, and the Pope John Paul II assassination attempt“.
It’s a charming place. The internet, however, sucks. I’ll blame it on the Fatima energy’s interference with the internet connection.
I woke up at 8 AM and started running. This was the second night of sleeping in bed. As I opened my eyes, I saw a church through the window. I slept in an albergue donativo offering accommodation to pilgrims in general or to those who need temporary shelter. I was alone in a room for 4 people. The shower I took was incredible. And necessary.
I set my mind on running 40 km today. I’m heading towards the town of Pombal, a town in the district of Leiria. I hope tomorrow or the next day I’ll be enjoying the view of Coimbra, where there is one of the oldest universities in the world.
I arrived in Coimbra. I traveled more than 50 km. There were a few things that I enjoyed on the way: I crossed some country roads and a family picking grapes asked me if I was hungry. They invited me to eat at their place, but I refused. Not because I was full, but because I did not want to disturb them. I kind of regretted that later. They seemed happy, as they were laughing a lot: the husband, wife, children and their grandparents – a image that reminded me of our Romaninan villages.
Two women who were heading to Fatima stopped me and asked me what I was doing. One of them took my hands in hers and gave me a blessing just to have a good journey. She seemed really proud of me. After that, a driver honked me and shouted “bravo, bravo!”. An old man told me “good evening, Pellegrino”. They made me happy, I have to admit. I saw cats and got into fights with some not so friendly dogs. I appreciate however that they couldn’t reach me because most of the time there was a fence between us. Tomorrow I want to see the University.
I visited the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest in the world. At first glance, it looks like an impressive fortress. It reminded me of Hogwarts. Well, in a magical way, it does combine the old with the new. The girls who strolled the corridors were very beautiful. Yeah, that’s me, always paying attention. The University is like a museum. Anyone has access. Visitors often come in the classrooms as well. I entered one and took a selfie with a few young students.
To sum up, about 27 to 30 km today. I hope that in two or three days I’ll get to Porto.
Another 50 km today. I walked 2 and a half hours in the dark woods. Brrr! I could not find a good place to put the tent and I wanted to run enough today so I could reach Porto tomorrow.
I started meeting pilgrims on the way. It was a good day. I set up the tent beside a man’s villa. Friendly enough, he welcomed me this morning.
40 km today. I tried to get in Porto yesterday, but I was too tired and fell asleep 12 km away from the city. The weather still helps me. At noon, the sun burns me. The loneliness, however…well, I do talk to cats and dogs. Most of all, I like the chats I have with my shadow. Sometimes I just sing. Looking at the sidewalk, I noticed small white shells. “Porto is not far”, I thought. In the evening, I passed through a village. All men were gathered near the church and in the cemetery. Perhaps because of boredom or because my brain got sunburnt or something like that, I imagined that these villagers are actually vampires at night. I put the tent in some kind of park – there was more concrete than grass, but it no longer mattered. I slept like a log.
Only 13 km of running today. I don’t think I could have done more. I went to Porto and all I can say is that it’s an amazing city. Seriously, I don’t have the inspiration to write more than that. Lame, I know. And I can’t even use the excuse of having had too much wine in Porto.
I found accommodation and after a long and well deserved shower, I spent almost all day in the room. I talked to family and friends, and the rest of the time I just…sat there and did nothing. And I’m not even sorry. I needed this and this recovery is surely going to help me next week.
I left Porto and saw an albergue on the map, only 35 km away. Although I had in mind to run more than that today, I felt like destiny put the albergue in my way, so one can’t ignore fate, right? If the app showed it to me, I must get there, I thought. And I got there, but not before crossing a bridge from where I could admire many noisy mallards. I took off my shoes and sat barefoot while I watched the sunset. Freedom!
When we arrived at the albergue, I realized that I really became a wild man, because instead of sleeping in bed, I felt the need to sleep in my tent. I set it up in the albergue’s garden and I allowed myself the luxury of borrowing a pillow and a blanket. I slept like a boss.
30 km today. On the road to Barcelos, a guy asked me if I have some time to talk to him. He was not a Jehovah’s Witness, as one may expect. He told me he wanted to write a book about the Camino, which he was going to start walking in a few days. I told my stories about El Camino from last year and he gave me the story instead of Barcelos rooster in exchange, which is a symbol of the region. If I made you curious, look for the legend.
In the evening I met two girls who accompanied me for a while. They were pilgrims. At one point, it started pouring, so we stopped at an albergue. I did not want to stay, so I pulled out the rain cape out of the backpack and continued. It was already dark when I knocked on the door of another albergue – there was an old bell actually. On the way to Rio Casas I saw signs announcing accommodation with jacuzzi and pool. And I was thinking ‘Man, how cool would that be!”. A little girl answered the door. She had brought me an umbrella. I entered the gate and suddenly felt like I was in another world, somewhere behind the walls of a large, imposing fortress. A fortress with a jacuzzi. Last night I was a lord. And the owner’s daughter…
34 km today. I’ve arrived at an Albergue of pilgrims after I left Casas do Rio, where I had a super breakfast with my hosts, an Australian and a couple of Belgians whom I told about Romania and my concerns related to corruption. I ran well, but the rain has started pouring for a few hours now.
Before getting to the albergue, I came across a beautiful city – Ponte de Lima. At the albergue I met this Dutchman from Amsterdam who moved to Lisbon 6 months ago: Wiland de Zwan (Zwan means swan) – I call him Super Villain. He is 23 years old. He traveled to India, Australia and many other places.
He says that the formal education system is not for him. He quit college and he is now working for a hotel chain that has hostels in Amsterdam. It’s a cool hostel. In Holland it was called “the worst hotel in the world” or something like that. In Lisbon it’s called Hans Brinker Hotel. He’s cool, I think we’ll keep in touch.
36 km today. I arrived in Tui. That means I officially finished running Portugal – 23 days. It was a brilliant adventure. I love everything that happened and I think I’ve grown as a person. The number of friends certainly increased. It was different from last year’s adventure in Spain. In Spain I met many people. Here I like to think that I met exactly who I was supposed to meet. I’m about to get to Santiago.
36 km today. I started running later than ever this morning because I couldn’t fall asleep until 4 A.M. and I was too tired. I said goodbye to my good friend, Wilan, at around 3 o’clock. I love this man. He’s brilliant.
In the evening I walked in the rain until about 00:00, and it felt great. No stress. I set up the tent on a wooden platform and I thought “God, please prevent the water from entering inside the tent tonight. Thanks” and I fell asleep thinking that I’m almost done. Should I be glad that it will end soon or should I feel sad? That is the question.
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