7.5 hours walking (part of it over a goddamned mountain), 21.9 km walked
(Waling time includes meals and breaks)

We’d had such a good day on the road to Ponte de Lima, and liked the albergue so much, that we’d gone to bed in a great mood and had anticipated a good night’s sleep. But once again, it was memorably bad. The beautiful wooden floors creaked, and someone got up in the night about every twenty minutes. We were sharing the room with a tour group who were walking together, and they got up before dawn, having conversations, packing, and generally making too much noise. After twenty minutes of that, one of them flipped on the dorm lights, to a chorus of groans from people like us who were not walking on the same schedule. The light-flipper responded with the kind of smug shrug that starts wars.

So at 6am, Sammi and I were awake, grumpy over their rudeness, and ill-rested. We got a slow start as a result, with a very slow-moving instant coffee and yoghurt breakfast in the albergue kitchen, and were back on the road by 7:30am (which was a fairly normal starting time for us).

Despite all of that, it was a beautiful day, and the walk out of Ponte de Lima is really cool – quite a lot of it like the photo above, walking on a stone pathway beside a stream, over a hill and through farmers’ fields, and our mood improved somewhat. We’d been walking for an hour and a half when we came upon Pescaria, a fishery that offers camping, fishing, and also a cafe. After some reluctance, because we were still a bit grumpy and wanted to get on with things, we decided to stop and get real coffee and a bit of breakfast. And we were so glad that we did!

They call themselves an “Oasis do Caminho” and it’s entirely apt. A large cafe, with a patio overlooking a river where the fishery is, a great menu that includes vegetarian options, good coffee, friendly staff, just a little paradise. The crepes with Nutella were reviving, and made us feel better about our sleep-deprived state, and when I asked the waiter to refill my water bottle, she gave me a fresh wedge of lemon. My only regret is that we couldn’t stay longer, and that we forgot to get sellos for our crendencial.

Lots of parts of the Caminho aren’t the gorgeous idylls you see in pictures – including ours – it’s often along scrubby dirt paths with no shade, through suburbs, alongside (or under) highways, and sometimes boring. On a hot day, these stretches can be brutal. It’s more frequently beautiful or interesting, but I think it’s good to go into it with some perspective.

But then you come to a sweet little spot and remember why you’re on this trip. Revolta is a village with the tiny Capel de N. S. Das Neves – Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows – and it’s the last stop before you go over the mountain. This is the steepest climb of the Caminho Portugues, over the ridge of a mountain, up from the Labruja valley and down into the Coura Valley. Cafe Cunha Nunes is pretty bare-bones, but it’s the last spot to grab a bite to eat, bathrooms, and water before your reach the summit, and to get some love from the very affectionate cafe cat.

We stopped in the chapel around 10am, taking a rest and eating some snacks in the cool space with other pilgrims, trying to marshall our internal resources for the climb ahead. The chapel and its statues were lovely – clearly very old, and local, and the chapel itself is well-kept, with fresh flowers and candles burning (like so many of the shrines and chapels we passed along the way). A cross behind the altar is decked with tokens left by pilgrims.

It was Mother’s Day back home, so we sent mom a quick picture from the road around the time she would’ve been waking up back home.

It was already a hot day, and with little sleep the night before, we weren’t looking forward to the climb ahead. Or at least, I wasn’t. At the chapel, a British lady who was walking alone befriended us, and started the climb with us.

As we started to ascend the mountain, we were joined by a lot of cyclists – clearly this is a point where the cycling Caminho and the walking Caminho converge. I was glad to be on foot, and cheered the sweaty bikers as they passed to encourage them. The British woman’s conversation quickly became troubling – we discovered a tenuous connection (We’re from Peterborough, Canada, and she was from Peterborough, UK), and her remarks about how Peterborough, UK used to be lovely but wasn’t now because of some extremely racist reasons made me want to drop-kick her down the hill. A stop at the Fonte das Tres Bicas (Fountain of Three Spouts) gave me a chance to dunk my head, my hat, my handkerchief, and my whole shirt; the day was so hot that I was roasting. And we took the opportunity to leave the British woman behind here, and power on up the hill despite the heat to get away from her.

In some places the path is quite smooth and well-maintained; in others, it’s a steep ascent with loose rock. It’s easy to lose your footing or turn an ankle, and so we took frequent breaks for water and kept our eyes on the path ahead. The forest is quite lovely, but you don’t get a lot of time to look around you, unlike most of the paths we’d been on so far. And you can see, in some places, where decades or centuries of foot traffic have worn a holloway into the mountainside, as deep walls of earth rose beside you. Some of the pilgrims we’d gotten to know along the way were in their 70s, and they were climbing along with us like troopers, sometimes passing us.

Approaching the top, we passed the Cruz dos Frances or Cruz dos Mortos, where Napoleon’s troops were ambushed and killed during the peninsular war in the early 19th century, many of them, I’m sure, going to their graves wondering why the hell they were up a mountain, anyway.

Along the way there bags hanging from the pine trees, collecting pine sap, which we’d never seen before.

Reaching the top of the mountain, I was annoyed to find that there was no spectacular view or anything, just a bit of bare rock surrounded by tall pine trees and some rough facilities, including a slightly dodgy-looking water fountain. I have many questions about why the route goes over the mountain instead of around it, but my continued annoyance may be at least in part due to having had so little sleep the night before. When I mentioned that I didn’t understand why we’d gone over a mountain to a fellow pilgrim, she said “Because it’s the Caminho, of course,” which is very likely the answer.

We ate our hardboiled eggs and other snacks, an insufficient lunch that we’d hoped to supplement with a promised cafe at the top of the mountain which turned out to be a trailer selling burgers. Then started the even-more-treacherous descent down the mountain, once again almost entirely dry streambeds with loose rock. It was a relief to get back to the valley.

Finally we were able to stop for a real lunch at about 2pm, Roulote Bar, where the salad, omelet, and beer were very refreshing, and where a bunch of old German and Austrian guys asked to sit with us and we tried a little conversation. I think they kept telling Sammi that she looked like a model, if I’m remembering correctly.

One thing I really enjoy about ordering salads along the way is that they don’t come with a vinaigrette – some places will give you packets of oil and vinegar and some sort of salad cream, others will have containers on the tables. Somehow I found that my salads were often super-delicious with this simple vinaigrette.

In my memory, I remember feeling like we stayed too long at Roulote Bar, as we sat there for half an hour enjoying the rest and the shade and the cold beer after a long climb. But in reality it was only about half an hour, and we’d both been starving for hours. It’s one of the stresses of staying in municipal albergues that you constantly feel like you should be getting on, even when you really need a rest, or have found a pleasant place to hang out or explore.

Finally, at 3pm, we made it to Rubaies – as we wearily approached the Albergue de Peregrinos de S. Pedro de Rubiães, two pilgrims sprinted past us and ducked in ahead, to our chagrin. We knew we were arriving late, and that the chances of getting a bed for the night were slim, and we waited in line behind them feeling a dread in the pit of our stomachs. But luck was with us, and we got the last two spots – a couple of mattresses dragged out from storage and placed on the floor of the hallway.

This is a lovely albergue in a picturesque spot, and I really wished we’d arrived earlier to be able to enjoy it more. A converted schoolhouse, it has good showers, laundry, and kitchen, as well as lots of outdoor spots to lounge and rest. On the outskirts of Rubiaes, it’s close enough to a couple of restaurants that you have a little choice about where you eat.

Dinner at Restaurante Bom Retiro was… edible. The pilgrim’s meal is often an affordable option, but not always a delicious option. I got something with fish, Sammi got something that was probably vegetarian, and we each got our little pitchers of wine. Sammi was worried that her white wine had soap or something in it, because we hadn’t really had any Vinho Verde yet and weren’t familiar with it, but she drank it and enjoyed it.

Now that we’re back in Canada, we both crave it, but it seems you just can’t get that kind of Vinho Verde here – at best, you can get a kind of meh white wine that’s called Vinho Verde, but is nowhere near as delicious. So if you find yourself in Portugal, don’t wait 6 days to try it! I usually dislike white wine, so I avoided it until Sammi started raving about it, and I regret that.

Around 8pm, we headed back to the albergue and made a stop at Café São Sebastião for a few beers on the patio in the sunset. Noting that they opened at 6:30am, we made plans to stop there in the morning before getting back on the road.

Follow our Caminho Portugues adventure!

Landing Day in Porto
Day 1 – Porto to Vila Cha
Day 2 – Vila Cha to Rates
Day 3 – Rates to Barcelos
Day 4 – Barcelos to Ponte de Lima
Day 5 – Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes (you are here)
Day 6 – Rubiaes to Tui
Day 7 – Tui to Porriño
Day 8 – Porrino to Redondela
Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra
Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas des Reies

When I’m done posting these, I’ll also post an article with my collected advice for anyone thinking of walking the Caminho/Camino, and I’ll link it here!

Photos by Candace Shaw and Samantha Shaw

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