Thursday 8 December 2016

A Long, Slow Journey 2: Into a Rhythm

I am searching for a rhythm; one that will serve me for a 250km long walk. The beat of my feet, the click of my walking poles, the in-pause-out of my breath, are its basic components. But there’s also the need for water, for rest, for food, for coffee, for toilet stops. And when I factor in time to get lost, and found again; time to find companionship, and to be silent; time to be open to all that I see, hear and smell around me, the rhythm of a long walk becomes complex, richly layered, unpredictable, mesmerising even.

[Finding our way through a eucalypt-lined lane] 
I further complicate it by carrying 1.4kg of camera gear around my neck; part millstone, part magic lantern. Before we’ve gone 50 metres, I’m the clucky parent trying to record those first steps, calling everyone to stop for a photo. It becomes a frequent cry, one the others will get used to, and sometimes choose to ignore.

[Lynne, Tim and Merran caught by the camera] 
We’re barely accustomed to following the yellow arrows through the cobbled and tiled lanes, when we reach a small café offering sellos (passport stamps). Pilgrims wanting their compostela (certificate of pilgrimage) need to have two stamps per day in their credencial to show they’ve actually walked the caminho. Not knowing where our next coffee or stamp will come from, we gladly stop for both. This too will be part of our daily rhythm.

[A beautiful example of Portuguese tiles] 
Early on Tim earns his stripes as our chief way-finder. We dub him Tim the Navigator, a nod to the 15th century Portuguese prince/explorer Henry the Navigator. Yellow arrows can only get you so far. Using his mobile phone’s GPS, Tim is able to point us to a suitable sit-down lunch venue. The village café is packed with locals, surely a good sign. Better still the locals, taking us to be pilgrims, make room for us and help us with our orders. We end up going for the “pilgrim menu”, a three course meal, including wine, for just 8 Euros each! A fine way to cap off a morning's work, we think.

But after that the afternoon grows harder. Part of that is in a literal sense, as a lot of our walking is on ancient cobbles. Picturesque they may be, but after 20km or more, their unyielding unevenness starts to tell. Our feet are gripping and bending at unaccustomed angles. Soon my smallest member – the little toe on my left foot – is paining me. The others too are finding aches and blisters in various places. Already the caminho takes a toll.

[Map of the long road ahead; courtesy Portugal Green Walks] 
Conversely we’ve also heard that the caminho provides. As we walk alongside a eucalypt plantation, we recognise some Tasmanian blue gums and I find a large five-lobed gumnut wedged between some cobbles. It feels like a personal welcome to us from Portugal. 

[A Tasmanian blue gum nut nestled in the cobbles] 
And then as we pass a farm gate in a crooked, stone-walled lane, a farmer calls out to us. He’s recognised us as pilgrims, and wants to pass on a small blessing. He signals us to wait, and hurries into a field to pluck some plump, ripe tomatoes. He returns and presses one on each of us, asking only that we remember him in prayer when we get to Santiago. The caminho provides indeed, asking for prayers instead of GST.

[A kind farmer, 2nd from right, supplies us with tomatoes] 
On that first day we’re very ready to stop by the time we reach the village of Arcos. Our hopes rise when we start to see pilgrim houses, and fall when Tim’s device tells us our accommodation is on the far side of the village, perhaps another 2km. That too becomes part of the rhythm: tempering hopes; managing disappointments; walking on regardless. But eventually humble, moving feet overcome the distance. And a hot shower and a good lie down help to heal any disappointments. Our first day done, we’re starting to find our rhythm.

[Walking towards Arcos, Portugal] 

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