After several days of glorious weather in the low 20s it was our turn to experience the joys of walking the ancient Camino trail in the rain. It’s always a good idea to pack wet weather gear when travelling through the north western part of the Iberian Peninsula. Pity the original pilgrims who walked in sandals along rough tracks and often slept out at night. Undaunted by a little dampness underfoot we visited the weekly market in Barcelos, home to the colourful cockerel that is the emblem of the Portuguese nation. The flower and fruit and vegetable stalls are particularly attractive at this time of year.
We arrived in time to witness the town’s preparations to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the most important events in Portuguese history – a popular uprising that culminated in the modern democratic nation. This ushered in the right to vote, universal healthcare, public education, labour rights and age pensions. This was a time of great hope. But four decades after this significant victory, life is very tough for the majority of the population. The economic crisis has hit Portugal especially hard, with youth unemployment at 35%.
Despite these difficulties the Portuguese people whom we meet in both the countryside and towns are most generous and welcoming. Tourism, including that associated with the Camino Portugues, helps to boost the local economy. In a small way our presence here and the purchases that we make are seen as supportive. Tonight we are staying in a small family run guesthouse that was a former chapel, in the tiny hamlet of Rubias. Our traditional three course dinner is being prepared by Sao the owner of the guest house who is also employed by the district council. Her two adult children and future son-in-law will act as cook’s assistants and waiters for our group.
Our walk yesterday took us through some of the more picturesque countryside that we will see on our journey to Santiago. Despite the occasional downpour many of us surprised ourselves by walking much further than we had imagined possible. Others opted early to travel with Victor (our charming taxi driver) and the luggage to pretty Ponte de Lima.
Last night over dinner there was unanimous agreement that a free day in this charming riverside town was preferable to an uphill climb along a muddy track. But we will be back on the Camino trail tomorrow walking over the border into Spain. We expect the sun will shine and accompany us on our way!