21 Jun First three days of “The Way”
Day 100 – 103 (17/19 June 2013) – It’s Monday morning, we pack up quickly, eat, and push our bikes excitedly to the campground office to offer our Credentials to be stamped. We are all stoked and happy to start our “journey within the journey” today. Along “The Way” we’ll try to get maybe 2 stamps a day, one where we are staying the night, if we stay at an official place, and one along our route.
According to a camino web page, today’s route should take us along some small villages and hamlets through olive groves and farm land over mostly flat terrain…Well, we found out quickly that what hikers consider “flat” may not suit for bike travelers.
We only had 21 miles to go to our first destination, but the terrain was anything but flat or easy. We have never worked this hard to only get so few miles all day. As we follow the yellow arrows, or the various other El Camino signs, we encounter plenty of dirt roads. Some are going up very steep hills with big rocks scattered all over, other times we road over long stretches of cobble stones leading through some tiny old villages.
When we finally encountered a paved road it took us downhill and then uphill a 10% grade of steep climbing. Occasionally the way was so bad and steep we had to push our bikes. Pushing our loaded bikes with all the equipment was no easy task going up the hill and over the big rocks.
However, we were in good spirits, took frequent breaks, and kept on going.
Eventually, we made it to our destination: the volunteer fire station in Alvaiazere, where pilgrims get to stay the night.
The firefighters showed us where to take showers—it seems firefighters are tough and only take cold showers–they also showed us where to stow away our bikes and where the sleeping cots for the pilgrims are.
The next morning, we wake up to heavy rain. However, it slowly cleared up before lunchtime, so we decided to keep going.
Again, we followed the yellow arrows, which we find painted on lampposts, on rocks along the way, on trees, sometimes the arrow itself is made out of little rocks laid out on the way.
It feels like we are playing a huge game of ‘who can spot the next arrow’ to lead the way. The terrain has not changed much, we still ride over more rocky roads, some are lined by stonewalls, which occasionally crumbled and cause our path to become even narrower; so narrow where we have to take our panniers off to make it through. At some points the way resembles more of a single track mountain bike route which makes for difficult riding on a 100 pound bike.
However, the scenery around us is absolutely beautiful and well worth the effort. Besides, if “the way” would be too easy, it would not be worth the pilgrimage.
We wanted to make it to Coimbra for the night, but decided to call it a day after riding only another 22 miles. Since there is no campground or other facility nearby, we just found a spot in the woods to set up camp for the night.
After another rainy night, we set out for our third day of riding. Today’s route is a little more forgiving and flatter. Big water puddles that are scattered all over the flatter dirt roads have replaced the steep hills and we actually get to ride on some small country roads today.
While finding our route through Coimbra we check out an old monastery church and some other sites. Unfortunately the signage inside the town is not very good and we lose our way for a short while, so we have to backtrack a little to find more arrows.
Eventually, we ride over more hills and make it all the way to Mealhada, which is also known for its Suckling Pig dishes.
Just before reaching the small town we encounter a sign directing us to the Albergue Do Pere Grinos—a hostal for pilgrims—where we decide to stay the night.
Since the Albergue also has a restaurant, we decide to give the local dish a try and spend the rest of the night chatting with the owners.
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