Learning to Walk 12


(38,203 STEPS – 28.65 KMS – 17.79 MILES)

“…I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Poster advertising a Norah Jones concert in Cascais, Portugal.
I do well in pilgrim life – wandering on foot, my possessions on my back, but every now and then there’s a draw to the civilized world. A Norah Jones concert in Lisbon in July is one of those.

Leaving Coimbra

Coimbra is a good place. And had we known it was such a good place, I think we would have planned for an extra day here, but we didn’t, so we didn’t.

Outside of the Old Town, it’s just a normal suburban walk along the streets and highways, on pavement all the way to Trouxemil, 9 kilometers way. Trouxemil was also significant because it had the first open café, finally a breakfast. The café was worth the effort – good coffee (there’s no such thing as bad coffee on the Iberian Peninsula), good pastries, a small market, and an owner that understands pilgrim hospitality!

When I arrived, all of our loosely formed pilgrim tribe was there taking their first break, including Doug. Walking the Central Route through Portugal from Lisbon to Porto was mostly unoccupied. Several days in and we had only met a total of 8 pilgrims walking to Santiago. 5 of them were at this little café as I walked up.

The biggest inconvenience of being a slow starter is that when the slow-starter arrives at the café, the early-starters are finishing their break. By the time I had coffee, pastry, and a table at the sidewalk café, all the others were strapping on their packs and leaving. Once again, alone in the presence of my favorite company…

Sheep grazing in a suburban yard.
Political/Environmental thought of the day – every suburban lawn should have a few sheep grazing in it.

The Joy of Getting Lost

Fortified in Trouxemil, I walked the streets to Sargento do Mor. In this little town, the Way is alongside the N1 highway. And when I say alongside the highway, I don’t mean on a nice gravel path 30 meters safely to the side, I mean the Way was the shoulder of this busy highway.

It was the most miserable 1 kilometer of walking I’ve ever done. Cars and trucks were whizzing by at the speed of sound, scattering dust, gravel, and exhaust fumes in their wake. With every step I was poised to jump into the ditch should one of these vehicles lose control.

I checked the app on my phone to see how long it would last. Fortunately, not much farther. The app said not to follow the old arrows that continued along the highway, but to turn left towards Barcouço. There would be another arrow pointing the way through a eucalyptus forest to the north. Eucalyptus forest or a walk on the should of a busy highway? No brainer, I excitedly exited left at the right moment.

After half a kilometer, I wasn’t in the eucalyptus forest, but on a road leading to Barcouço. I walked another half a kilometer hoping to see the yellow arrow but didn’t.

In my haste to get away from the highway, I missed the sign pointing to the forest and now it was too late to backtrack. I looked at Google Maps and found there was a way through Barcouço, through Rio Corvo, and into Mala, and back on the Camino eventually. The downside, it would add another 4 kilometers to the day’s walk.

I pride myself on being able to navigate my way through places, it’s as if I have a built navigation system. But this blunder set me off…the earlier walk along the highway had gathered the firewood, this navigational error had set the flame. And so began 30 minutes of self-deprecating self-talk. By the time I walked through Barcouço, I was full-blown surly. Outside of town, I recognized my self-inflicted woes and realized it would be crazy to continue this way. I opened a specially designed playlist* for just such an occasion (music that makes me happy) and plugged in the earbuds.

After a couple of songs, I noticed that I was walking through a nice, hilly, eucalyptus forest. Sure, it was on a road and not a trail, but there was no traffic and no other pilgrims. It was fantastic! My foul mood had obscured this reality.

By the time the third song started, Fool in the Rain by Led Zeppelin, my mind started to turn, mainly because of John Bonham’s drumming in the song (especially @ 3:46 to 3:54 of the video). He played with gusto, as if it were his last ever album (it was). The next song, the greatest ever recorded**, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler played the guitar with mastery! Then Young the Giant and Cough Syrup – Sameer Gadhia sings with passion. By the time Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle started, the “happy hormones” were firing in my brain.

Everything, everything will be just fine. Everything, everything will be alright, alright!

I strolled through Rio Corvo like the king of Portugal! And not far from Rio Corvo, I passed a trail emerging from a eucalyptus forest, this was the official Camino path I had missed earlier. Everything was going to be alright.

I enjoyed the walk through Mala, Lendiosa, Mealhada (where I bought new sunglasses!), and all the way to Sernadelo, home for the night!

I know that sometimes I am prone towards these dark places but am learning how to power through and emerge from the other side. To keep moving is critical, and good music certainly helps.

*There are varying schools of thought on this – the purist will say the true pilgrim must walk with all senses tuned in to the possibilities, no distractions. Still others lean heavily on external inputs in the form of Siri, music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. I lean mostly towards the no-input position but will listen to some good tunes if needed.

**This is a subjective statement, so don’t argue. However, Sultans of Swing is the greatest song ever written.


Outside of the statue of Bacchus riding a wine barrel, there’s not much going on in Mealhada/Sernadelo. It’s just a place to stay on a pilgrimage walk. If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or have a diet that prohibits pork, this place is tough for you. It is considered the Leitões (suckling pig) center of Portugal, pork is the primary dish. We joined some other pilgrims at a Michelin restaurant specializing in the dish, it was tasty!




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