• Theresa Fersch

“I hiked Portugal” 13 Miles to Tui, Spain

Ok so recap of last night. Brian and Vegemite were flashed by a Dutchman, the men’s room was filthy, dinner was terrible, pilgrims drained the WiFi beyond use, a gang of folks verbally assaulted Brian for wanting to use the driers until his clothes were actually dry, and our only remaining clothes clung damply to our bodies. As we sat there in the common area surrounded by noisy pilgrims preparing for our sleepless night with dozens of strangers, we had a realization. We have jobs. We can afford real hotels. Suddenly, we have no stomach for albergues.

I also learned an important lesson yesterday. I need to look at the map to prepare for elevation and to know where the food is. Had I looked at yesterday’s map, I would have seen that it was by far the biggest climb of the entire trip, and with no food options. I would have been better prepared. It was fine not to consult a map on the coastal route because it was all the same and very flat so only the mileage mattered. But as soon as we took the inland route, planning became more important. I can’t even believe I had no food and it rained on the toughest day of the entire hike. No wonder I was so miserable. That won’t happen again. 

As we crawled into our bunk beds last night, Brian texted me saying other people are drinking and having fun. He asked if we’re doing this wrong. I said, “Eh. Today sucked for very obvious reasons. Everyone has bad days though and it’s not always like this. We had a blast yesterday so don’t beat yourself up for not loving every minute. This isn’t supposed be to be easy.”

None of us slept super well and most pilgrims were up around the same time (6:30, 6:45). I was pleased that most knew to bring their items out of the sleeping quarters and to pack their bags in the common area so not to disturb those still sleeping. I remembered how you have to pack and plan the night before so you can find all your items in the dark dormitory. I hoped I didn’t leave anything behind.

The little market attached to the albergue was open and we had a decent breakfast (hot ham and cheese sandwich (called Mista) with coffee) before leaving.

Although most pilgrims were awake, we were surprised most were still in the common area of the albergue. They didn’t seem in a hurry to leave and we wondered if they were waiting out the rain. We didn’t bother. It was pouring when we left and it will most likely continue throughout the day. The Dutchman from last night laughed when he saw me strapping on my umbrella but when I told him it’s very light weight and keeps me dry in the rain and cool in the heat he said, “you look silly but who cares?” I felt like that perfectly summarized my life on the trail.

As we began walking, our wool socks quickly became waterlogged as ankle deep water rushed down the cobblestone walkway. We attempted to avoid it at first but after a while, it seemed pointless. I would count the seconds between each wave of cold water. If there was enough time, my feet would warm the muddy water in my shoes just before they would be flooded again. 

I knew we had a bit of a climb this morning but nothing compared to yesterday’s. I prepared myself for the worst though and was pleasantly surprised when we reached the next town with a restaurant. I knew from the map that meant we did the majority of our climbing for the day already and had huffed through several kilometers before 9am. I could already tell today would be a better day than yesterday. We stopped for more coffee and to just get out of the relentless rain. 

As we were sitting inside drinking our coffee, a young guy came over and said, “I hate to say this to a stranger but can you yank my rubber pouch over my sack?” We all laughed. A lot of pilgrims hike with huge ponchos that fit over their whole bodies and packs. And they think I look silly with my umbrella! Vegemite helped the guy get his poncho on and he wished us a Buen Camino.

Vegemite ate a sandwich quickly and then pushed off before us. We were only a few minutes behind him though. Exiting the town we had to go back down the other side of the mountain and it was straight down. There was some very serious erosion and we talked about how that’s why it’s so important we have switchbacks in New Hampshire. This trail would have taken a couple of hours where we live because the switchbacks would have us walking back and forth down the mountain, but here, it was straight down, and because of all of the rain, it felt like a mudslide. 

I was very pleased with how well my Brooks Ghost shoes held up. Many Appalachian Trail through hikers love Brooks Cascadias and I wore that model on my JMT hike. While they are supposed to have better traction than the ghosts, I found my pair to be extremely slippery and I did not trust them which made my footing very uneasy. So for this Camino, I bought the latest model of the Ghosts and love them!

Eventually, we came to Pereira and I knew our downhill climb was mostly over. By then, the sun was coming out and I could put my umbrella away. We saw a beautiful rainbow coming down off the mountain promising us a beautiful late morning. 

Brian and I stopped briefly to play with a yellow Labrador and a beagle that were in their yard as we were passing. I cannot get over the difference between how the dogs are treated in Portugal versus Spain. When I was in Spain, I lost sleep over some of the horrific conditions I saw the dogs living in. But here in Portugal, just looking at the dogs, you can tell they are considered family members.

We ran into Vegemite just past Pacos which is about half way for the day and apparently is halfway between Porto and Santiago! Vegemite talked a lot about how we should be further along than we were but I’m enjoying the trip so I’m not worried about not getting to town super early. I’m not sure why his internal clock is ticking so fast today. If you compare our progress to previous days, we’re right on track. It’s not even 11am yet.

The young German woman we keep running into was also there and she offered me some magnesium powder for my foot pain. She said it may help with the pain. I knew it wouldn’t but I was grateful for the thoughtfulness. There was also a very happy and dirty puppy that kept jumping in my lap. 

As we started walking again, I ran into a lovely older gentlemen from England who also had an umbrella. We chatted for some time but I eventually outpaced him and wished him a Buen camino. 

The late morning walk was beautiful and quite enjoyable. When I was on my first Camino, I developed the very useful ability to estimate where I was on the trail within a tenth of a kilometer based on the terrain and my pace. I lost the skill quickly after my hike was over obviously but it’s coming back to me again. I was walking with Brian a few hundred meters in front of me and I could sense we had gone about 3 kilometers and should expect a stop soon. I squinted a bit and saw off in the distance, a bring red awning which suggested a cafe with outdoor seating. I’m glad to get that ability back. It makes pacing yourself much easier. 

I knew Velenca, the town we agreed to meet Vegemite for lunch was only about 3 more klms away but I wanted to stop and get another snack and a drink. Also, this may be too much information but I nearly peed myself before getting to the last stop so I didn’t want to run that risk again! It’s just a reality of hiking through civilized areas with few bathroom options. 

At the previous stop with the playful pup and the sweet old woman who ran the place, I had a traditional Portuguese tart. At this stop, I had pear juice and some kind of cold cod cake. It was so good and nothing I would normally order. There were some peregrinos sitting outside when we arrived and they were eating tortilla which is a very popular Spanish dish made of potato and egg. They told me in Spanish that it’s a Spanish dish and I should have some. I told them in broken Spanish that I had a lot of tortilla on the Camino Frances. We’ll be in Spain at the end of today so it’s kind of exciting to start seeing the Spanish influence already. I’m excited to be in a country where I can communicate better. It’ll be nice to be able to read the menu without guessing or having to consult my translator. 

Brian texted Vegemite and told him we stopped again and Vegemite said that was a good call because you enter Velenca via trucking area. I suspected that though as I remember entering and exiting larger cities from my last hike was never fun. There’s always this section of no-man’s land that’s industrial and forgotten. Whenever I walk through sections like that, I say to myself, “embrace the suck. This will pass.”

When we left the restaurant, the temperature had dropped dramatically, it was windy and the rain was picking up again. My puffy jacket was still wet from when I walked to dinner last night in the wrong attire but it’s still warmer to walk in wet layers rather than no layers so I put it on. Poor Brian managed to pack his coat at the bottom of his pack so he was cold and walking very fast. Eventually, the storm passed and we were able to slow our speed a bit. In the meantime, my sister texted me to tell me my nephew just passed his IT certification exam!! I was so excited for him! I hope one day I can get him a job at my company!

As we approached the massive walls of the fortress town of Velenca, I felt like a Titan. This is the last town before Spain. I just hiked Portugal. We found Vegemite sitting at a cafe in the square and met him in true hiker trash style, limping, soggy, and smelling of our own filth. I felt fantastic though. “Guys! We just hiked Portugal!” Vegemite was in a painfully sour mood though. “Actually, you only hiked half of Portugal” he said grimly. “Shut up Vegemite! I don’t need your negativity in my life!” I told him that’s why I’m the one writing the blog and that I’m going to name today’s post, “I Hiked Portugal” just for him. 

I ordered a pitcher of Sangria to celebrate and a ham and cheese sandwich that Vegemite said would not taste good. I told him we can’t seem to get on the same page. Yesterday I was miserable and he felt great and today we swapped. Brian told me it’s from all the rain. AT thru hikers always get depressed in persistent rain.

The Sangria was carbonated which Iwasn’t expecting but I didn’t really care. In my excitement apparently I also ordered a coffee. I really just should be drinking water though. I’m severely dehydrated. Oddly, I’ve had to go to the bathroom many times today. I think I’m probably starting to shed weight rapidly. Another reason to celebrate! 

We discussed bodily functions at the table like we usually do. For the last two days, my Achilles’ tendon on my right ankle has been in serious pain but, I’m reaching that point in my hike when you start to ignore your pain receptors unless they physically stop you from moving. Brian checked on his blisters and decided they are not at risk of being infected. Vegemite said he has one now too bit didn’t seem too worried about it. I told them I peed myself a little today and can’t wait to get to the Airbnb. Brian reminded me that you’re not really a hiker if you don’t pee or poop yourself at least once. And none of us could wait to take off our soaking wet shoes and socks. 

I also told Vegemite that I realized today, the reason he felt surprisingly good going up that mountain yesterday was because he had three massive plates of spaghetti that morning. He said that probably makes sense because he felt like he bolted up that thing with no trouble.  He was all carbed up. And i even remember him complaining that he stuffed himself before we left that morning. I on the other hand had about 2 ounces of leftover lasagna all day which would explain why I struggled so much. It’s amazing how much power your body generates when properly maintained. Lesson learned. Eat Italian before a big climb.

Once finished eating, we walked the remainder of the hike to Tui which is the first city in Spain. We took pictures of the Tui Cathedral from over the bridge while still in Valenca. As we crossed the bridge into Spain it POURED! I was so psyched though. As we walked to our Airbnb I said, “are we there yet? I have to use the bano!” “Theresa you just went 10 minutes ago!” “Back off! I’m losing weight!”

We met our Airbnb owner at her home. She was a nice older lady who rents out the entire upstairs of her house. We rented all four rooms. Apparently, the guys were really traumatized by the naked Dutchman. Lol. She gave us lots of info on Tui before leaving us to rest. She thought I was Spanish and was excited that I knew a little Spanish. I’m surprised how much of it came back to me over the last two weeks as I struggled to learn Portuguese.

After a good long shower, I took advantage of all the personal space to assess my gear and body. Most of my gear is kept in ziplock bags except for my clothes which are divided into three water resistent stuff sacks. The red sack holds my clean hiking clothes, the green sack holds my non hiking clothes (what I wear in the evening), and the yellow sack is my dirty clothes. When the yellow sack gets bigger than my red sack, I know it’s time to do laundry. 

I also assessed my body and decided I’m in good shape. My feet are doing quite well. No blisters. The usual chronic pain is persistent but I’m getting used to it. When the woman offered me her magnesium, I took it to be polite but I’ve had this pain for years and not even cortisone shots dull it. It’s like permanent plantar fasciitis. As for my Achilles’ tendon, I know I joked that I’ll just ignore the pain until it goes away but the pain is getting worse and if it snaps, I’ll be forced to stop hiking. I took some Advil, elevated my leg, and also used my lacrosse ball to roll it out while the guys got settled in. Hoping it’ll feel better tomorrow. 

Tonight we’ll tour the cathedral and have dinner on Tui’s tiny Main Street. Also, apparently Portugal is only five hours ahead of East Coast time but as soon as you enter Spain, it’s six. Didn’t realize that. I thought I was six hours ahead the whole time. That explains why it’s daylight so late in Spain.








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